Monday, September 1, 2014

حول المؤتمر الصحفي للدكتور حيدر العبادي : ظروف بلادنا تتطلب تشكيل حكومة وحدة وطنية جامعة On Dr. Haidar al-Abadi's Press Conference: Our country's circumstances require an inclusive, national unity government

PM-Designate Hadar al-Abadi
The following is a summary of a press conference held this past week by Prime Minister-Designate, Dr. Haidar al-Abadi, and reported in the Iraqi newspaper, Tariq al-Sha'b, on August 28, 2014.

In the press conference, Dr. al-Abadi made some very important commitments.  Most important is his goal of creating a government of national unity representing all segments of Iraqi society, one  that will be "strong, effective and capable of creating a national effort and will promote the inclusion of all nationalist forces."

In the press conference, Dr. al-Abadi promised to address the complaints from Sunni Arab in Iraq's western and northern provinces about damages caused by bombing and shelling during fighting there.  He committed the Iraqi government to investing in developing these provinces.

A particularly important point that he made was the need for private militias to be placed under the authority of the Iraqi armed forces, a policy that will be welcomed by Iraq's Sunni Arab minority. Dr. al-Abadi indicated that no militias would be allowed to carry weapons outside of control of the state.

Dr al-Abadi criticized the "quota system" (nizam al-muhassasa) that has been used since 2003 to select holders of cabinet and other government position and offered ways to address its shortcomings.  Likewise, he promised to engage in a "war against corruption" and to improve the functioning of government.  These remarks will certainly be welcomed by Iraqis who seek democratic reforms and more effective delivery of government services.

In the short term, Prime Minister Designate al-Abadi said confronting the security threat that Iraq faces would be his most important task.  Once again he sent a message of national reconciliation by welcoming the military cooperation  between the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in fighting terrorism.

In sum, Dr. al-Abadi made clear that his goal is to "build a democratic, federal and united Iraq," that is based on true reconciliation. While many might argue that talk is cheap, these remarks set a very different tone from Dr. al-Abadi's predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki, whose autocratic and self-serving "my-way-or-the-highway" policies did so much damage to Iraq's efforts to build a democratic polity.

ED 9/1/2014

كان المؤتمر الصحفي الذي عقده رئيس الوزراء المكلف منذ ثلاثة أيام مطلوبا لاعطاء اشارات وتقديم توضيحات في شأن تصوراته لمعالجة مشاكل البلاد، والتحديات الصعبة والخطيرة التي تنتظر الحكومة الجديدة، وللكشف عن بعض ملامح المنهج والاسس والمعايير التي ستعتمد في تشكيل الوزارة، والأولويات التوجهات الاساسية للبرنامج الحكومي من وجهة نظره.

تميزت المقدمة التي عرضها العبادي في مستهل المؤتمر، كذلك اجاباته على اسئلة الصحافة، بالايجاز والمباشرة في الطرح، وان التمعن في ما ورد في مجمل حديثه أثناء المؤتمر الصحفي، يسمح باستخلاص عدد من الافكار والمؤشرات المتعلقة بالوجهة السياسية، وبالمقاربة والاسلوب في التعامل مع القضايا العقدية، وهو ما ينطوي على ادراك لمقتضيات حشد الطاقات والقدرات الوطنية في عملية تشكيل الحكومة لمواجهة الهجمة الارهابية الهمجية وترميم الجبهة الداخلية المتشظية.

فقد استمعنا إلى عرض مكثف لبعض عناصر وأولويات رؤية الدكتور العبادي للحكومة المكلف بتشكيلها، لعل من أهمها رغبته في أن تكون واسعة التمثيل، " قوية وقادرة على توحيد الجهد الوطني وتحظى بقبول وطني واسع"، كما بدا انه يدرك ان مثل هذه الحكومة لا تنبثق من دون حوارات ونقاشات جادة ما بين الطيف الواسع من القوى والكتل السياسية، الممثلة في البرلمان وغير الممثلة، ولا من دون سعي دؤوب وصادق لاعادة بناء جسور الثقة، التي تقوضت بفعل طول امد الخلافات القائمة بينها، والتشنج في العلاقات والتخندق في المواقف، وطغيان خطاب وممارسة التعصب الديني والمذهبي والقومي، وتأجج الصراع حول السلطة ومغانمها في اطار نظام المحاصصة.

لكن د. العبادي لم يتطرق في مؤتمره الصحفي إلى طائفة من القضايا والمجالات، التي يتوجب في رأينا أن تحتل مكانها ضمن الأولويات، ومن ذلك الموقف من نظام المحاصصة وسبل التحرر منه، وكيفية خوض الحرب ضد الفساد الذي ينخر في الدولة ومؤسساتها ويعطل عملية البناء والتنمية الاقتصادية، والرؤية والتصورات المتعلقة بالنهج والسياسة الاقتصاديين وأولوياتهما، ودور القطاع العام والقطاع الخاص في الحياة الاقتصادية، وما يتعلق بالشأن الأجتماعي ومكافحة الفقر والفجوة المتنامية في الدخل والثروة بين من يملكون ومن لا يملكون، وسبل تحقيق تقدم على صعيد العدالة الاجتماعية.

وفي رأينا ان عملية تشكيل الحكومة تخضع لمحدَدَين اساسيين، احدهما دستوري يتمثل في التوقيتات المنصوص عليها، والآخر سياسي يتصل بان تكون حكومة وحدة وطنية حقيقية جامعة. وقد رَشَح من المؤتمر الصحفي ان هناك رغبة في الالتزام بالأمرين، الا ان تحقيق ذلك صعب ما لم تتوفر الجدية لدى جميع الأطراف والاستعداد لتيسير عملية انبثاق الحكومة، كما لا بد من التنبيه الى محاذير اتخاذ التوقيتات الدستورية مبررا للالتفاف على مبدأ تشكيل حكومة وطنية واسعة التمثيل.

وفي هذا السياق نشير إلى ان هدف تشكيل حكومة وطنية جامعة، هو حاجة ملحة تتطلبها ظروف البلاد الحرجة، وقد تجسدت في المطالب الشعبية وفي رأي المرجعيات الدينية ودعوات المجتمع الدولي والمحيط الاقليمي، لذا فمن الضروري تجنب التصريح او التلميح الذي قد يفهم منه ان في ذلك تفضلا أو منّة، فبدون هذه الحكومة تتعذر مواجهة التحديات الكثيرة امام البلاد، الامر الذي ينبغي أن يتحول إلى قناعة راسخة.

وانطوى المؤتمر الصحفي على مواقف وتوجهات بخصوص عدد من القضايا السياسية المفصلية، الاساسية في حياة البلاد وفي ما يؤسس لأي برنامج حكومي يتصدى بفعالية لمشاكل البلاد ويحقق وحدة وانسجام عمل الفريق الحكومي، ومن أبرز هذه القضايا مسألة التصدي للارهاب باعتباره تهديدا وخطرا ليس على العراق، وطنا وشعبا، وحسب وانما على المنطقة والعالم، وبهذا الخصوص اكد رئيس الوزراء المكلف ضرورة تضافر جهود القوات المسلحة وبيشمركة الأقليم والحشد الشعبي، ورحب بالتعاون والتنسيق المتناميين والفاعلَين بين القوات الاتحادية والبيشمركة، وقال ان التسليح الذي يحصل عليه الاقليم من عدة اطراف دولية يجري عبر الحكومة العراقية وبموافقتها، وكان هذا توضيحا ضروريا لإزالة الشكوك والهواجس التي تثار في هذا الشأن، وليس من دون دوافع تحريضية من قبل البعض.

ونجد أن المؤتمر الصحفي بعث برسالة ايجابية إلى ابناء المحافظات الشمالية والغربية، وإلى المجموعات التي تبدي استعداداً لمقاتلة داعش والارهاب، وعكس توجها سليما نحو فتح صفحة جديدة في التعامل معهم وتفهم مطالبهم، لاسيما في ما يتعلق بضحايا القصف المدفعي والجوي من المدنيين.

وكان العبادي موفقا ايضا في تشديده على وجوب حصر السلاح بيد الدولة، وعدم القبول بحمله من قبل الميليشيات والحشد الشعبي خارج مظلة الدولة والقوات المسلحة، كذلك في تأشيره التجاوزات بحق المواطنين، التي تصدر عن جماعات وافراد يدعون الانتساب إلى ميليشيات أو إلى الحشد الشعبي.

ويسري هذا على مطالبة العبادي وزارة الداخلية والقوات الأمنية باعتماد الشفافية في الكشف عن مرتكبي جريمة مسجد مصعب بن عمير ايا كانت انتماءاتهم، ونحن نتطلع الى أن يشمل ذلك الجناة مقترفي جرائم معسكر سبايكر وعموم الجرائم والتجاوزات المماثلة، تعزيزا للثقة باجهزة الدولة وترسيخا لهيبة مؤسساتها، ولإزالة مظاهر الانفلات الأمني التي تهدد أمن وسلامة المواطنين.

واقرّ الدكتور العبادي من جانب آخر بوجود مشاكل غير قليلة في العلاقة بين السلطة الاتحادية والاقليم، تراكمت وتعقدت بسبب تأجيل حسمها وترحيلها من دورة إلى أخرى، وتعهد بالعمل الجدي على حلها وتذليل معوقات ذلك، وليس خافيا أن التركة ثقيلة في هذا الملف، كما في غيره، وان الحوار والمرونة والاستعداد لتقديم التنازلات المتقابلة تبقى مستلزمات ضرورية يتوجب توفرها لدى الطرفين.

وتضمن المؤتمر الصحفي مواقف وتوجهات تتعلق بعلاقات العراق الخارجية، وتؤشر الرغبة في التجاوب مع ترحيب دول الجوار وبلدان الخليج والبلدان العربية الاخرى والكثير من دول العالم، بتكليف د. العبادي تشكيل الحكومة، وهو ما يشكل رصيدا مهما يمكن الانطلاق منه، كما تعكس النزوع الجاد إلى تحسين العلاقة مع المحيطين الاقليمي والدولي على مختلف المستويات.

ولعل من اهم ما يواجه البلاد والحكومة القادمة، اجلاء التباينات في فهم المواد الدستورية التي تنظم العلاقات وتوزع السلطات بين الحكومة الاتحادية وحكومة الأقليم، واتخاذ خطوات عملية لاعادة توزيع السلطات والصلاحيات بين المركز والمحافظات وفقا لقانون المحافظات، كذلك استكمال بناء المؤسسات الدستورية للدولة واصلاحها ورفع كفاءتها وبناؤها على اساس المواطنة ومعايير الكفاءة والنزاهة والاخلاص، وهو ما يمثل تحديا رئيسيا يتوقف على انجازه الكثير مما ينتظره المواطنون في مجال تأمين الخدمات شبه الغائبة حاليا، وتحقيق النهوض في الاداء الاقتصادي والاداري.

ان الفترة المحددة دستوريا لتشكيل الحكومة قد لا تكفي للتوصل إلى رؤى موحدة إزاء القضايا التي تتباين المواقف بشأنها، ولرسم خارطة طريق عملية نحو تعزيز اللحمة الوطنية والتوصل إلى مصالحة حقيقية، وبناء عراق ديمقراطي اتحادي موحد بطريقة تضمن مشاركة الجميع، وتؤمّن حقوقهم ومصالحهم والاحترام لهويات سائر مكونات شعبنا، ومن هنا تبرز الحاجة إلى ايجاد اطر ثابتة، تتحقق فيها المشاركة الوطنية الواسعة، وتجري ضمنها الحوارات والمشاورات بشأن اوضاع البلاد.

ونحن نرى في الدعوة إلى مؤتمر وطني للقوى المؤسسة والمشاركة في العملية السياسية، خطوة ضرورية بهذا الاتجاه.

وقد ثبت حزبنا الشيوعي العراقي تصوراته ورؤاه بشأن اولويات برنامج الحكومة المقبلة، التي نريد لها ان تكون حكومة وحدة وطنية ذات قاعدة تمثيل واسعة، في مذكرة وجهها الى رئيس الوزراء المكلف بتأريخ 25 اب 2014 وانطلق فيها من التجربة المريرة للسنوات السابقة ودروسها.

واخيرا وبجانب الترحيب بالتوجهات المعلنة في المؤتمر الصحفي لرئيس الوزراء المكلف، لا بد من القول ان الأمر يظل مرهونا بتحويلها الى اجراءات عملية وخطوات ملموسة على الارض.
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افتتاحية "طريق الشعب"
الخميس 28/ 8/ 2014

Thursday, August 21, 2014

50 Shades of Blame: Hackers, Apathy and Conspiracy – Voter Registration in Tunisia


First Day of Voter Registration, June 22, 2014. 
Habib Bourguiba Avenue, Tunis, Tunisia. 
Photo Credit: Sarah Weirich 
Guest contributor, Sarah Weirich, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA, recently returned from conducting research in Tunisia. Her interests include the relationship between gender, democratization and historical memory.

I stood in the middle of Avenue Habib Bourguiba, in the heart of downtown Tunis, sitting at a café while finishing an interview with a local leader from the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT), when I noticed police blockades being set up all around the avenue. I asked my interviewee what was going on and she said, “Oh, it’s just the first day of voter registration. It’s normal.” 

As so often happens during my research in the Middle East, “right place, right time” is the motto that prevails. I finished my interview and my coffee and went to investigate. I saw the tent above being built, TV cameras being set up, and police barricades all around. I fumbled for my camera where I quickly took a few pictures without being too obvious. 

There was excitement in the air and reporters everywhere. However, there were not many people who came up to register during the time I was there. I somehow expected 100s of people to come and register to vote (since this would be the second time since the revolution that the people have been allowed to vote in Tunisia since their historic free election back in 2011).  

Because of its strategic location in the center of the Tunisian capital, and perhaps also because of the ample shade provided by the trees lining the street, this particular tent has been recording the highest number of registrations in the city, according the Independent High Authority for Elections employees who work there. But perhaps not the day I attended. So I began to ask why. 

Despite accolades from the west about Tunisia’s recent announcement of its second parliamentary and presidential elections, the elections’ one month voter registration period has proved anything but easy.  Over the course of the next few weeks, the Independent High Authority for Elections (Instance supérieure indépendante pour les élections, ISIE), the national body responsible for election administration, reported that it has only registered approximately 150,000 new voters.
The Tunisian parliament
This number represents less than four percent of the 4.1 million voters who registered for the country’s 2011 parliamentary elections, a number which reportedly comprised only 55 percent of Tunisians eligible to vote. In those elections, the Islamist party Ennahda won the largest share of seats in the assembly, which was due to be replaced by a permanent parliament in October 2012. 

But the process was heavily delayed by political crises, which culminated with the assassination last year of two opposition MPs by suspected Islamist militants and finally forced Ennahda to hand power to a technocrat administration headed by Jomaa.

Recently, lawmakers approved the timetable for Tunisia’s second post-Ben Ali elections. The parliamentary vote is scheduled for October 26, 2014 followed by the presidential poll on November 23, 2014. In the event of a run-off, the second round will be held on December 28, 2014. However, registration numbers are still low. The low turnout is due to a number of factors.

First, many have been reluctant to register because of the timing of the registration process. The authorities scheduled registration during the summer when Tunisian university students are finishing their exams as well as the fact that Ramadan occurred in summer this year. Not many people are willing to go and register during Ramadan. Moreover, registration is only possible before 6:30 p.m. The centers are closed at night, which is when most people go out during Ramadan to break their fast and celebrate another day. 

Second, there is a lack of communication from the ISIE. According to Mouhab Karoui, President of I Watch, a Tunisian anti-corruption watchdog: “We had expected a major campaign on the streets, the radio, and the internet, like in the 2011 elections. But the communication strategy this time has not been efficient. ISIE’s budget for communication is 1,000,000 dinars ($588,391). But with this budget, they could only reach a maximum of 6,000,000 Tunisians.”  

Informational signs are more frequent and visible in the streets, and many advertisements have been broadcasted on national television during iftar meal hours. However, according to people I interviewed, they are “boring and uninteresting.” Thus, the government voter awareness campaigns, based on celebrity spokespeople, did not reach many people and have proven ineffective. A lot of people I spoke with did not know when voter registration began. There was never a clear strategy, it seems. 

Third, people cannot easily determine the closest registration center to where they live. There are no signs to indicate the location of registration centers. Even on the ISIE website, there is not a lot of information. There was even confusion about how to register. Do I need a passport or national security card? Can I register again if I already have? Can I register anywhere or does it have to be the correct municipality? If I live abroad, can I still register in Tunisia? These were some of the questions I heard about the confusion to register to vote.

Fourth, this is made worse by the current political situation in Tunisia. People are apathetic about politics at the moment, especially the youth. Politics no longer means anything to them. The responsibility for this does not just lie with ISIE. They did not have a choice with regard to the timing of the registration process. According to the constitution, elections had to take place before the end of 2014, but the National Constituent Assembly only ratified election dates at the last minute. 

Finally, computer hackers (yes, hackers) have disrupted online voter registration in a series of attacks. ISIE had for the first time allowed registration to take place online and by SMS in order to boost registration. Shortly thereafter, ISIE’s registration system was suspended following a “pirate attack.” ISIE did not report who was behind the hacking.

Under Ben Ali, Tunisia was said to have some of the world's toughest internet controls but these have now been dismantled, leading Ennahda to secure an easy victory, in this author’s opinion. That this attack, at least, was short-lived is encouraging news in light of the challenges hindering preparations for legislative and presidential elections to be held in October and November, respectively – think a months-long political stalemate, a spike in terrorist activity, and ongoing dissent within Tunisia’s National Assembly. 

Fifty Shades of Blame
When the ISIE launched voter registration on June 22, 2014 the process was scheduled to end one month later – but low turnout and a profound apathy among eligible voters prompted the ISIE to extend voter registration until July 29, 2014. The total number of registered voters is now close to 5 million. Yet that still falls far short of the 7 million Tunisians who are eligible to vote.

High turn-out is critical this time around. Tunis is looking not only to quell domestic unrest, but also to reassure outside observers, boost foreign investment and tourism, and accelerate Tunisia’s stalled democratic transition. The challenge was a daunting one: how to dramatically increase voter registration before the extension ends amid a climate of economic lethargy and widespread public dissatisfaction, not to mention a fractious national assembly. 

Already, Tunisia’s major political parties are crying foul and demanded a one-month registration extension. Some political parties have directly blamed ISIE’s leadership for the low turnout. Leaders of the leftist opposition coalition, Popular Front, accused ISIE head Mohamed Chafik Sarsar of political bias and desire to replicate the 2011 election results, that led to a victory for the Islamist Ennahda Party. 

Sarsar has, in turn, blamed the low numbers on the “reluctance of voters to participate in the next elections.” With a struggling economy and a transition characterized by political deadlock, many Tunisians may have lost faith in the promise of a new political system and might question the competency of politicians.

Without a sufficiently large and representative number of registered voters, political parties will find it difficult to claim electoral legitimacy even if they win elections. Newer parties that did not exist during the 2011 elections, like Nidaa Tounes (one of the main secular parties that counters Ennahda), will be especially disadvantaged by stagnant voter registration lists. Most alarmingly, a lack of registered voters means that a large portion of Tunisia remains outside the country’s newly opened political system.
Beji Caid Essebsi
Presidential candidate Beji Caid Essebsi, head of the opposition Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia) secular party, warned that failure to extend the deadline could affect the dual elections’ credibility. The subtext there lies in the difficulties Tunisia’s smaller political parties will face in trying to dethrone Ennahda, the Islamist party that dominated the 2011 elections and ran the government until being forced to step down in January. Essebsi notes, “We hoped to increase the enrollment to give everyone a chance. [...] The Ennahda machine is already running.”

Which Way Forward?
Tunisia’s current political landscape bears striking resemblance to 2011. At the same time, three years of volatile transitional politics have weighed on the public’s confidence, as Tunisians become increasingly impatient with lack of growth, persistent unemployment and unreformed institutions. Against this backdrop, energizing voters this autumn will be difficult. 

Tunisian parties must offer credible platforms grounded in concrete measures to improve the economy, insulate the country’s porous borders from Libya’s increasingly precarious security climate and additional security and terrorist threats, and remind citizens their efforts in toppling the former regime were not in vein. This pragmatic embrace is not impossible, but will require all Tunisia’s political players to search for common ground; purely adversarial posturing could facilitate Ennahda’s de facto monopoly.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

ISIS's Strategic Threat: Ideology, Recruitment, Political Economy

Captives murdered by ISIS forces in northern Iraq
The establishment of  al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan was followed by a proliferation of terrorist organizations: al-Qa'ida in the Mesopotamian Valley and al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI), the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qa-ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Shabab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria.  Now the global community faces the largest and most dangerous terrorist movement of all, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Renaming itself the Islamic State on June 29th, the first day of Ramadan, and establishing a so-called "caliphate" in large areas of northeastern Syria and northwestern Iraq, ISIS is no longer just a terrorist movement, but a full blown state.  It has established courts, "amirs" who rule local regions, and a full-blown bureaucracy that has enacted a system of tax collection, a "marriage office" that arranges for widows and young women to marry ISIS fighters, and even offices that issue passports and license plates. 

As ISIS continues its attacks in northern Iraq, including efforts to seize the Kurdish city of Arbil, and makes further progress around the Syrian city of Aleppo, the terrorist threat that it poses not only to Iraq and Syria, but to the world beyond, continues to grow.  How has ISIS become so powerful and been able to make so many successful military gains?

To begin to answer this question, we may start by asking: What is ISIS and what ideology does it espouse?  How does its ideology attract recruits?  Why are so many members ready to give their lives for what many would argue is an ill-defined cause?  Equally importantly, how does it fund itself?  What is the relationships between its ideological and military strategy and its sources of funding?  What is ISIS' ultimate goals and how can it be stopped?

Ideology  ISIS' ideological narrative is not well developed.  An offshoot of Wahhabism and Qutbism in its most violent form, its Manichean ideology postulates a world where evil has subordinated the good.  As with other extremist movements that claim to be Islamic, it argues that the core problem is that Muslims have been seduced and corrupted by the West and thus deviated from true Islam.

For all the efforts to legitimate its raison d'etre and goals in Islam, and its assertion of having established a new "caliphate," ISIS is quintessentially a  movement of the 21st century.  Unlike al-Qa'ida Central, the organization adopted the title the Islamic State of Iraq in 2004.  al-Qa'ida has never referred to itself as a state and its primarily focus has been attacking the West. 

Unlike many extremist movements, ISIS does not sees itself as an organization whose goal is a geographically ill-defined Umma Islamiya (Islamic community) to be established at some point in the future. Rather ISIS has pursued the creation of a modern nation-state, a concept obviously not in use at the time of the Arab-Islamic caliphates.  While ISIS does periodically issue threats against the United States and the West, that state is focused on gaining territory in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq.

Reviewing ISIS videos and declarations (e.g. al-'Abuwat Anja' or "Destructive IEDs";  https://archive.org/details/furqan_ied) , a core component of its ideology is the notion of a historically consistent Western aggression against Islam.  Certainly this aggression has deep historical roots since ISIS constantly refers to Westerners as "Crusaders" (al-Salibiyun). 

But in ISIS' historical memory, the more relevant aggression is to be found in the Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916 that the British and the French concluded to divide the Middle East into states designed to serve their respective interests.  Hence ISIS' highly public display of the destruction of berms that demarcate the Syrian-Iraqi border as they went about establishing their "caliphate."

In that sense, ISIS' appeals to many Muslims who see the West as having neo-colonial ambitions in the Muslim world.  ISIS asserts that its goal is to eliminate the "artificial boundaries" that separate Muslims in the Middle East and throughout the world.

ISIS, unlike the subservient Muslim clergy who submit to Western dictates, is engaged in a defensive Jihad (al-jihad al-dafi'a) to protect Muslim countries from latter day Crusaders. As "proof" of this subservience, it posts photographs on its website of Muslim clerics in the Middle East meeting with Western officials.  This narrative is another example of how totalitarian movements use theories of conspiracy and victimization to mobilize and create solidarity among their members. 

Conspiracy and victimization suggest the implicit idea that Westernization is a form of disease, much like the current Ebola epidemic in Western Africa.  Diseases bring nothing but hardship and suffering and thus must be eradicated at all costs.  This mindset helps explain how those who implement Western interests in the Middle East can become so dehumanized that killing them becomes a form of cleansing and purification, namely through eradicating a disease.

ISIS' desire to unite all Muslims under a caliphate relates back to its Wahhabi roots that provide
the foundation for its ideology, particularly the notion of the Unity of God (al-tawhid).  Because only ISIS defends of Islam against the West, it is incumbent on Muslims everywhere to obey its orders and support it on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria to attack its enemies in their own countries..

Unlike the Taliban, who were largely content to rule Afghanistan and Pashtun areas of neighboring Pakistan (al-Qa'ida being allowed to operate there notwithstanding), ISIS sees its ideology as tied to continuous expansion of territory.  Its immediate goal is to control Iraq and Syria and then move more deeply into Lebanon.

ISIS headquarters, Raqqa, Syria
At the same time, ISIS is eminently pragmatic. Like Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army (jaysh al-Mahdi), that has reemerged in various forms since being disbanded in 2008, or the pious sounding Shi'i militia, the League of the Righteous People (asa'ib ahl al-haqq), ISIS seduces its members into believing that, despite the brutality and criminality that are the movement's hallmarks, they are working for a noble cause.

While articulating a brutal and totalitarian ideology, it has also been able to accommodate a wide variety of Sunni regions and tribes that are under its control.  It will often make temporary ideological concessions to achieve military and financial success.  It even has allowed certain regions under its control to have relative autonomy.  ISIS' modus operandi is to gradually impose restrictions on areas it controls so as to not alienate the local populace.  This is the policy that it has followed in Mosul where only recently has its harsh rule begun to enforced.

Clearly articulated in ISIS' publications, visual media and public statements is the ideological goal of  eliminating all sects and ethnicities that is considers "apostates" or enemies of Islam.  Its hatred for the Shi'a, Christians, religious and ethnic minorities such as the Yazidis, Shabak and Turkmen, has been made tragically clear by recent events in northern Iraq.

Yet the attraction of ISIS' ideology should not be viewed solely on its own terms.  The ideological vacuum in Iraq and Syria, following the collapse of Pan-Arabism as a unifying and secular ideology, and the failure of moderate Islamist movements to make headway during the Arab Spring, such as the al-Nahda Party in Tunisia and the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, has created an ideological space that ISIS seeks to fill.

Thus it needs to be realized that it is less the strength of ISIS' ideology than the vacuum of alternative ideologies, including a meaningful democratic Islamist ideology.  Pan-Arabism is associated with corrupt, dictatorial one party regimes known for their violation of human rights.

Recruitment  ISIS has gone through several stages in terms of recruiting members.  First, it tapped into the anger of Iraq's Sunni Arab community after the US invasion of Iraq  and the ill-conceived dissolution of Iraq's conscript army and the De-Ba'thification Law implemented by the Coalition Provisional Authority in May 2003.

The CPA's policy of "80%," namely winning over the Shi'a and Kurds but largely ignoring the 20% Arab Sunni population, created great fear among Iraq's Sunni Arabs that they would have no political role in post-2003 Iraq.  Thus many former Sunni army officers in the Republican Guards or in Iraq's conscript army, as well as Ba'th Party members, joined the insurgency.

A second source of recruitment has been Sunni Arab tribes.  ISIS has both played on their resentment of the Alawite dominated government in Syria, and the Shi'i dominated government in Baghdad after Saddam's toppling in 2003.  In Syria, tribes in the eastern portion of the country resented state policies that came to favor the Alawite and Sunni merchant elites in Damascus and Aleppo.  In Iraq, Sunni tribes resented no longer having privileged access to state resources as they had had under Saddam.

As Ahmed Hashim documents in his excellent study, Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq, many officers of tribal backgrounds had begun to adopt an Islamist ideology during the 1990s. This ideological shift reflected the collapse of Pan-Arabism in Iraq after the Gulf War and Saddam's shift to an emphasis on "religion" with the creation of his so-called "Faith Campaign" that began in 1993 and was led by his second in command, 'Izzat al-Duri

A third and the most recent source of recruitment is youth from Chechnya, Turkey, the Arab world and Europe.  ISIS has a well developed social media network that it uses to lure young men to join the movement.  In the UK, it has tried to recruit boys as young as 15 to ISIS with the idea that "you're not too young to die." (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2723346/Youre-not-young-die-British-jihadists-bid-recruit-boys-young-15-social-media-sites.html).

Youth abroad have multiple reasons to be attracted by ISIS.  In Europe, many find themselves without employment in countries with high standards of living that they can't enjoy.  Many live in slums that not only separate them from the majority population. They lack job opportunities and services and thus have little hope that the future will bring a better life.  Finally, many feel that they live in societies that are hostile to Islam and thus can't find a community with which to identify.

Joining ISIS offers a sense of belonging by joining a community of like-minded Muslims.  It also provide employment because ISIS fighters receive salaries of $400-$500 month (not to speak of what a fighter can steal from "infidels" such as Christians and Yazidis).  Joining ISIS gives meaning to the life of many youth because they are now fighting for a cause.

ISIS's ideology of establishing a "caliphate" links its members, young and old alike, to a distorted Golden Age during the rise and spread of Islam. Their efforts on the battlefield, or engaging in terrorist acts, will help resurrect the glories of the Arab-Islamic caliphates.  ISIS' rejection of national boundaries resonates with the feelings of youth from abroad of not belonging to a specific nation-state.  We might use the term "post-nationalist" to refer to foreign youth, who are often trans-national migrants, or rural to urban migrants within the Middle East who do not identify with the nation-state in which they live

ISIS provides youth, and its members generally, with a (false) sense of empowerment.  Access to weaponry and the ability to intimidate represent an antidote to the feelings of marginalization, alienation and powerlessness that young men felt in their former environment, whether a slum in a European or Middle Eastern city, or in a village as a peasant trying to help his family make ends meet.

Recruitment is further aided by ISIS' extreme patriarchy and its condoning of rape, sexual slavery and "sexual jihad."  The lack of respect for women and their degradation embodied in ISIS' extremist interpretations of Islam are exacerbated by young males feelings of impotence in the face of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and Africa, or inability to become part of European societies, economically or culturally. Subordinating women becomes another way of achieving a (false) sense of empowerment.

Political Economy  One of the under emphasized aspects of ISIS' success is its ability to amass an enormous amount of funds.  From a political economy perspective, there is no need to reference ISIS ideology.  Many of the tribes that have pledged loyalty to ISIS have done so for financial exigencies.  In Syria, many tribes were hurt by the Syrian regime's economic liberalization policies, while in Iraq, tribes aligned with Saddam Husayn's regime lost their "sugar daddy" in 2003.

The Iraqi insurgency that began in late 2003 in the so-called Sunni Arab Triangle of Iraq received large contributions from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, as well as from wealthy private citizens in these countries.  In Syria, radical "Islamist" groups received significant funding from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.  However, currently ISIS has moved far beyond the need to rely on such funding.

With the initial funds it received, ISIS was able to purchase weapons and engage in kidnappings for ransom, extortion and multiple bank robberies. In Mosul, it is said to have stolen $429 million dollars from local banks after it seized the city on June 10, 2014.  Although its brutal policies in Syria led other Islamist groups such as the Jabhat al-Nusra to attack it and almost defeat it in 2013, it was able to use its base in Iraq's al-Anbar Province and its underground network in Mosul to mount a counter-offensive.

After winning back the territory that it had lost in 2013, ISIS used its access to Syrian oil and dams that generate electricity to bring in large amounts of funds.  In fact, there are reports that ISIS has sold oil and electricity to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Asad.

Oil wealth has thus been one of ISIS' key resources. The terrorist group has created a network of tribes who receive shipments of oil and crudely refined gasoline that they can subsequently sell on the black market.  ISIS has created a network of plastic pipes that go under the Syrian-Turkish border where they supply a large group of smugglers who buy Syrian oil at deeply discounted prices.

While the Turkish military has tried to destroy this pipeline network, it has only been partially successful.  Turkey, an early supporter of ISIS and other radical groups in Syria, now confronts a large underground smuggling ring of bootlegged oil and gasoline.  This smuggling of oil and gasoline across the Syrian border into Turkey has created financial interests that will be very hard to uproot.

In addition to kidnappings, extortion, theft and the sale of oil, gasoline and electricity, ISIS has used the computer skills of a sub-group of its members who live in Britain to hack into the credit card and bank accounts of the wealthy in the UK (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/jihadist-hackers-targeting-celebrity-business-4057294).

Combining all the income derived from all its economic activities, ISIS is by far the richest terrorist organization (or should we say state) in the world with an estimated wealth of $2 billion (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/15/iraq-isis-arrest-jihadists-wealth-power).

Looking to the future  ISIS poses a much greater threat than that posed by the Taliban or any other terrorist organization.  It controls  considerable territory in one of the world's largest oil producing country, and threatens not only Iraq and Syria, but Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states. 

ISIS is not only flush with funds but counts among its membership a cadre of technologically and social media savvy professionals, including those who possess the ability to hack into computer systems around the world.  ISIS' slick advertising continues to attract youth from all over the world, as far away as India, China and even the United States.
ISIS fighter Abu Ayyub al-Maghribi explaining why he seeks martyrdom
In my next post, I will present the case for why the United States needs to mobilize an international effort to destroy ISIS and its "caliphate" before this social and political cancer morphs into something much more dangerous.  That ISIS' members feel no compunction about beheading children, raping women and killing innocent civilians who happen to be in their way, and revel in dying rather than living, are deeply disturbing phenomena.  Stopping ISIS and the growing terrorist threat in the Middle East and elsewhere will require an international effort, involving military, political and public diplomacy efforts.  As a New York Times columnist recently out it, the Obama administration needs to do more than just treat the ISIS threat as a "humanitarian driveby."


Friday, August 15, 2014

The Challenges Facing Iraq's New Prime Minister


Iraq Prime Minister-Designate Haider al-Abadi
Guest Contributor, Dr. T. Hamid al-Bayati,  was Iraq’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2006 to 2013.  He is currently Adjunct Professor in the Graduate Program, Department of Political Science, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA. Ambassador al-Bayati's most recent book is From Dictatorship to Democracy: An Insider’s Account of the Iraqi Opposition to Saddam. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Since parliamentary elections were held in Iraq in April 30, people in Iraq, the region and the world held  their breath, waiting to see if a defiant Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki would continue to rule Iraq for a third term. Despite wining roughly 30% of the seats in the April elections, Maliki had made many enemies during his two terms as prime minister. Thus it was not at all clear that he would be successful in serving a third term.

For example, the president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Masoud Barzani announced after the elections that, if Maliki remained in power, the Kurds would hold a referendum with the goal of declaring an independent state.  Some Sunni Arabs in Mosul and other areas of  north central Iraq, including some politicians in Baghdad, stated publicly that they would prefer the rule of  the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to that of Maliki.

PM Designate Haider al-Abadi greets Pre Fouad Masoum
While negotiations for choosing a new prime minister were ongoing, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) surprised not only the Iraqi government but the entire world when it managed to take over Mosul, Anbar, and Salah Al-Din provinces within a few days time.  The ISIS threat grew  as its forces were even able to  threaten, Baghdad, Iraq's capital, and Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. 

Despite winning 30% of the vote, Maliki faced much opposition within the Shi'a community as well. The majority of Iraqi Shi'a, and their political parties, such as  Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq (SIIC)), the Sadrist Current (al-Tayyar al-Sadri), and others, blamed Maliki for the Iraqi government's failure to stem the ISIS attack and for his divisive policies that many argue laid the basis for its military successes. Meanwhile, in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, bombings and violence have continued to increase. 

In short, in June and July, Iraq was on the verge of a full scale civil and sectarian war between the Sunnis and the Shi'a, on one hand, and between the Arabs and the Kurds, on the other hand.  There was increasing discussion of Iraq's disintegration and the possibility that it might fragment into three parts.  That would mean the end of a country that had been united for almost a century.   Thus, the problems and challenges that Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi faces are enormous, complex, and chronic in nature.

I have known Haider al-Abadi since we were classmates in elementary school in Baghdad. We were neighbors and we used to play football on the same team.  Later we both joined al-Da'wa al-Islamiya Party (Islamic Call Party) when we were teenagers,  At times, we were both members in the same secret cell of that party.

I left the Da'wa Party after some differences developed within the party leadership in our neighborhood in Baghdad's al-Karada district.  Nevertheless, Haider and I remained friends and we also have a family relationship.

After being imprisoned and tortured, I fled Iraq and lived in the United Kingdom where Haider had already moved. We both lived in Manchester and completed our Ph.D degrees at Manchester University. After we finished our studies, Haider and I moved to London where we worked against Saddam’s regime. I organized a group of 10 Iraqi leaders who represented different political groups, that included Haider, and we met every month in London from 1995 to 2003.
    
I can describe Haider as a highly educated and successful professional.  I can also vouch for the fact that he is an honest person.  However in Iraq, most of the problems that arise in the government come from the advisers surrounding political leaders and not from the leaders themselves.

In April 2006, I became the Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations when Dr. Ibrahim al-Ja'fari was the Prime Minister.  In December of that year, Nuri Al-Maliki became Prime Minister.  In September 2007, he came to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly meetings.  

During his stay at the UN,  I told Maliki that I had to be frank with him and say what I think, rather than what he might like to hear (as we say in Arabic, "Your friend is the one who tells you the truth and not the one who agrees with you").  I told him, "You are the Prime Minister of Iraq and not the Prime Minister of  the Da'wa Party. Therefore you have to have people around you who represent the Iraqi people and all their different ethnic, religious and sectarian backgrounds."

Maliki asked: "What can I do?  Even President Bush told me that the people around me should be close to me."  I responded by saying: "I am not talking about your chef de cabinet or your secretary but about your advisers. You should select advisers from the Sunni Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen, and Assyrian-Chaldean Christian communities, and you should have experts in all fields who are well known and highly respected both inside and outside Iraq."

That evening, I dropped Nuri al-Maliki at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Manhattan's Battery Park.  When I went to pick him up the next morning, he told me in the secret service limousine that he had decided to listen to my advice and that he had already telephoned people in Baghdad to implement my suggestions.  Unfortunately, the Prime Minister's staff did not ultimately include the best quality advisers, nor did it reflect Iraq's sectarian and ethnic diversity.

The biggest challenge facing the new Prime Minister will be to select a team of advisers who have the capability to give him the appropriate advice and the courage to tell him their actual views and policy recommendations. The Chinese have a saying: "To be a member of a group of lions is better than to be a head of a gang of rabbits."

Prime Minister al-Abadi's second challenge will be to repair the damage in relations between the central government and the Kurdish Regional Government. The Kurds have enjoyed a semi-independent status since 1992, after Saddam Husayn withdrew his forces and government personnel from Iraqi Kurdistan.

During the conference of Iraqi opposition forces that was held in London in December 2002, in which I was one of a 6 member preparatory committee that included the recently elected Iraqi President Foaud Masoum, we agreed that federalism would be the best way to have Iraq's Kurds remain part of Iraq and not seek an independent state. We also agreed that federalism should exist within a unified Iraq, should not be based exclusively on ethnic, sectarian or religious bases, and should be the right of all Iraq's citizens.

PM al-Abadi and Parliament Speaker  Salim al-Juburi

The third challenge facing Haider al-Abadi will be to repair the relations between the Iraqi government in Baghdad and Iraq's Sunni Arab population who feel that, since 2003, they have been marginalized, oppressed and deprived of their rights.

It is very important for the new prime minister to recognize that the Sunni tribes and the Awakening Movement (Sahawat al-'Iraq) fought the al-Qa'ida terrorist organization when Iraq was about to slip into sectarian warfare after the terrorists blew up the holy shrines in Samarra in February 2006.

The fourth challenge will be to implement reforms in the running of the Iraqi government, so as to fight corruption, improve security and build the necessary infrastructure to provide services to the Iraqi people such as water, sewage, electricity and employment opportunities.
.    
The fifth challenge is international rather than domestic and will require repairing the relations with regional and international powers, especially Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE, as well as the United States.  Prime Minister al-Abadi will need a strong team and not just a single individual to shape Iraqi diplomacy in a way that will enable Iraq to establish a new era of strong relations with the countries of the region and the world.

There are Iraqi experts in all fields throughout the world and Prime Minister al-Abadi should invite them to visit Iraq and select those who would like to help their country and its people, without the expectation of salaries or official positions.    

Now that Iraq has selected Prime Minister-Designate Haider al-Abadi, who I know will form an inclusive and national unity government, we Iraqis hope that the United States and other members of the international community will help us move forward in defeating terrorism and building a new, democratic Iraq.