Friday, November 26, 2010

Muslims in Christian Schools: Religious Friction 101


by David J. Rusin

As Muslim enrollment increases at Christian schools, especially in Europe, so too does interfaith conflict at such institutions. A recent piece in Le Figaro highlights the stresses placed on French Catholic schools in particular. For example, the report describes how one had set up a crib for Advent, but "a Muslim parent demanded its removal, saying 'a Muslim cannot hear that Jesus is the Son of God.'" At another, Muslims walked all over a well-intentioned but hapless administrator:

A headmistress … offered Muslim students a room in which to pray and to help them avoid being caught in rain in the school courtyard. The students have turned it into a prayer room and invite other people who have nothing to do with the school to pray with them. Since then the director has been unable to use this space for other activities.

Of course, Christian schools also share many of the challenges faced by secular ones, such as students refusing to swim during Ramadan due to fear of swallowing water (an old standard). No word from Le Figaro on whether Muslims in French Catholic schools respond to lessons on evolution or the Holocaust any more positively than their public school counterparts do.

A 2008 New York Times article explains that France's hijab ban in state-run classes has pushed Muslims to Catholic schools, which are not bound by this law and must accept students of all faiths to qualify for subsidies. Yet even the less critical Times piece could not ignore the ensuing cultural friction. For example, it relates the story of one Catholic school's headmaster who, after a series of accommodations, finally had to "put his foot down when students asked to remove the crucifix in a classroom they wanted for communal prayers during Ramadan."

Christian schools elsewhere are caught in a similar cycle. NIS News reported in 2008 that "two Amsterdam secondary schools with a Christian basis are to close during [Eid al-Fitr] to accede to their Muslim pupils." A year later, a Dutch Catholic elementary school with a handful of Muslims was planning to serve halal food at a Christmas meal, but officials reversed course following parental outrage. In the UK, bishops have recommended that Catholic schools include prayer rooms and washing facilities for Muslims. The Times of London has also noted that at least one Muslim-heavy Church of England school "no longer observes the requirement to have an act of daily collective worship that is 'consistently and recognizably Christian.'"

Showing more backbone, Catholic schools in Ireland have banned niqabs for pupils, while an English one recently barred a face-covering visitor. The board of Trinity University in Texas, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, also earns credit for resisting demands, initially driven by Muslim students, to remove the phrase "In the Year of Our Lord" from diplomas.

Overall, the situation in many Christian schools resembles David Solway's analogy of the West's multicultural experiment: you welcome a guest into your home, only to watch him "introduce a new set of house rules which you, the proprietor, are expected to abide by." But who really deserves greater blame here: the pushy guest or the owner who is too timid to stand his ground?

David J. Rusin

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

The Public Be Damned


by Evelyn Gordon

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

Evelyn Gordon

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Bias by Deliberate Omission: BBC Censorship of Palestinian Rejectionism Continues Unabated


by Robin Shepherd

Two items of fundamental importance to understanding Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians have come to light this week, and both have been completely ignored by the BBC’s news teams. The first (see last entry but one) is the comprehensive survey of Palestinian public opinion showing that a solid majority of Palestinians view a two-state solution to the conflict as a mere stepping stone on the way to destroying Israel and taking “back all the land for a Palestinian state” ruled by Islamic law.

The second (see this article in today’s Jerusalem Post) is a “study” approved by the Palestinian Authority which denies that the Western Wall in Jerusalem has anything to do with Judaism and the Jews and is in fact the western wall of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

It is, of course, simply impossible to understand Israeli doubts about Palestinian sincerity in forging a lasting peace unless one knows such things.

If dominant opinion in Palestinian society has no intention of forging such a lasting peace and aims to use a two-state solution as nothing more than a first move in a two-stage strategy of annihilating the Jewish state, then why on earth should Israel be expected to make concessions for a deal? If the Palestinian Authority itself is now making the ludicrous claim that the Western Wall was originally a Muslim construction — a claim that would mean an archeological site dated as being more than 2,000 years old is no more than 12-13 hundred years old — then it is clear that it remains mired in the kind of denial about Jewish ties to Jerusalem and the rest of the region which is nothing short of deranged.

Try putting yourself in the Israeli government’s position and telling the Israeli people that potentially dangerous concessions should be made to the Palestinians in the name of a long term peace based on mutual respect which the Palestinians themselves plainly do not believe in.

That changes the complexion of things somewhat, does it not?

And that is why such obviously vital pieces of information have been ignored by the BBC and most of the Western press. It is important to add that these issues have been plastered across the Israeli press, including the English language outlets. In other words, every western correspondent living in Israel is aware of all this. The decision not to publish on them must, therefore, have been deliberate.

That, I’m afraid, meets any reasonable definition of journalistic censorship — the willful omission of crucial information because it would change the way the audience understands what is going on. In this case it would drastically diminish the credibility of the Palestinian position, while simultaneously making it clear to any objective observer that the Palestinians and not the Israelis represent the true obstacle to a lasting peace.

And that, of course, is why the people of Britain and much of the English speaking world have simply not been told.

Robin Shepherd

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From North Korea, Lessons About Syria


by Tony Badran


The West’s experience with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il could teach it lessons about dealing with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (AFP Photo/KCNA via KNS)

Commenting on North Korea’s newly revealed uranium enrichment facility, and its subsequent unprovoked shelling of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, former US president Jimmy Carter offered the following trite assessment: “No one can completely understand the motivations of the North Koreans.”

As less credulous others have pointed out, Pyongyang’s game is a rather transparent case of “nuclear blackmail.” A proper understanding of this type of chronic extortion could lead to a better grasp of the ways of other rogue regimes, such as Syria, and how best to deal with them.

The US has been involved in an embarrassing failed endeavor to get the North Koreans to denuclearize. The regime in Pyongyang has notoriously played the world for fools and has mastered the art of nuclear blackmail, using talks over its nuclear program as a shakedown racket to extract aid from its interlocutors.

At the same time, not only does Kim Jong-Il renege on his commitments, he also proceeds to sell banned nuclear and ballistic technology to other rogue states, including Iran and Syria. The latter’s secret nuclear reactor, which was destroyed by Israel in September 2007, was built with the North Koreans’ help. Secure in the conviction that he will not face serious retaliation, Kim continues to stick his thumb in the world’s eye.

Some analysts have understandably focused on these developments’ implications for the ongoing standoff with Tehran and what it means for the future, should Iran achieve breakout capability. However, Pyongyang’s actions, at their core, also mirror Syrian behavior, namely, the regime’s support and sponsorship of terrorist and militant groups – a fact which, remarkably, appears to escape observers and policy makers alike.

Jimmy Carter’s remark about North Korea was echoed not long ago by an anonymous US official who voiced similar befuddlement vis-à-vis Syria.

“We do not understand Syrian intentions. No one does,” the official told Foreign Policy magazine in April.

The established approach to Syria’s relationship with radical groups has been governed by the premise that all of Damascus’ alliances are driven by a single preoccupation: retrieving the Golan Heights from Israel. This makes the resolution of the conflict a rather straightforward transaction: offering the Syrians what they want will result in the termination of their unsavory alliances and destructive behavior. Similar to what Jimmy Carter wrote about North Korea's new centrifuges, Syria's ties to militant groups are assumed to be "on the table."

The US continues to conceptualize the problem along those lines, which is why we always hear Western officials asserting that what Syria’s president Bashar Assad “really” wants is to align with the West, as that would be the path to prosperity for the Syrian people. Somehow it is lost on these officials that for the last four years, as a result of a series of devastating droughts, hundreds of thousands of people from eastern Syria have been forced to abandon their villages, are severely impoverished and are facing malnourishment. The Assad regime, meanwhile, has been busy stepping up transfers of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah and setting up logistical bases for the Shia group in Syria.

As with Pyongyang, Damascus’ calculations and priorities are clearly very different from what Western officials presume. What matters for the Syrian regime is pursuing the policies that best fit its self-image, one of the primary “key player” in the region – if not the nexus of the “five seas,” as Assad is fond of saying.

Just as the nuclear shakedown and the sale of nuclear and ballistic technologies are North Korea’s only currency, so too does support for extremist groups constitute Syria’s only asset in its quest to actualize the role it envisions itself playing, both with respect to its interaction with the West, as well as its maneuvering with regional, especially Arab, rivals. It is these alliances that afford Syria the ability to project power – or at least the illusion thereof – beyond its actual weight.

As such, the entire conceptualization of the negotiation process with states such as Syria and North Korea becomes problematic. For the West, negotiations are a means to the definite end of a one-time, quid pro quo transaction that will result, in Syria’s case, in the cessation of support for militant groups once and for all in return for redressing a particular grievance. The Syrians meanwhile have made it clear that their view is radically different. As one official told the International Crisis Group in a January 2009 interview, “They [the Americans] talk to us when it is a question of cutting ties with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. But if we do, will they carry on speaking to us?”

To expect the Syrians to abandon their only access to relevance is to engage in fantasy. If decades of failure with the Syrians have not been enough to drive this point home, perhaps watching the ongoing North Korean extortion racket might help. But then again, don’t hold your breath.

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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'Israel Can't Rely on Turkey or NATO for its Defense,' Expert Says


by BARÇIN YİNANÇ

Given the Turkish governments animosity toward Israel, the Israeli government would be foolish to think a missile defense system in Turkey would defend it from an Iran attack, according to an American foreign policy expert.

Ariel Cohen, from Washington think tank The Heritage Foundation, criticized what he called the Turkish leadership’s adamant position on not letting any data collected by a planned NATO missile defense system radar be shared with Israel.

"This position suggests an ill intention against the security of Israel," he told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review during a Tuesday interview.

"This position can be perceived as potentially a support for those who'd like to attack Israel."

Cohen countered arguments the NATO missile defense system is being constructed to protect Israel from an Iranian attack. Turkey joined NATO countries in a decision to adopt a missile defense system covering all the alliance's territory at the summit in Lisbon last week, despite critics’ arguments that the system would also aim to protect Israel.

Israel has its own missile defense system against potential missile attacks, Cohen said. Iran does not need to use Turkish airspace to hit Israel, he said, adding that Israel has complicated relations with some other NATO countries that are critical of some Israeli policies.

While he described the outcome of the NATO summit as a win-win situation for both Ankara and Washington, he warned the question of operational control of the system remains an important one.

“Everything should be agreed in advance. And it should be agreed on in a way that the system could not be shut down on the whim of one general or politician," he said.

Cohen believes Turkey's general strategic vector is worrying a lot of people. Turkey's refusal to let United States soldiers use Turkish territory to enter Iraq in 2003, as well as its refusal to let U.S. warships enter the Black Sea, the offer of the Turkish-Russian platform which excluded the European Union and the U.S. during the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 and more recently the Turkish-Brazilian initiative on the nuclear standoff between Iran and the West, are all examples of worrying developments, he said.

While Turkish-U.S. relations are currently not at their peak, Turkey would be unlikely to find a more sympathetic U.S. government than the Obama administration, Cohen said. "Any government in the future will be tougher."

"Obama has spent tremendous political capital by coming to Turkey in the early days of his administration, to highlight Turkey as a model of a democratic Muslim state. But he was thinking of the Turkey of eight years ago. This image no longer applies. Turkey has wasted its goodwill in Washington. Many in the U.S. are disappointed," he said.

The U.S. has to be clearer in terms of what Turkey will gain if it maintains its Western orientation, according to Cohen. "Washington should also be equally clear on what Turkey will lose if it has an anti-western orientation."

Cohen also criticized the U.S. for remaining passive in public diplomacy, saying it should have objected to movies like "Valley of the Wolves" that depict a negative image of Americans.

BARÇIN YİNANÇ

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Judge's Ruling on Islamic Groups as 'Unindicted Co-conspirators' Made Public


by John Gerstein

A federal judge's long-secret ruling that federal prosecutors violated the rights of three major American Islamic organizations and others named as unindicted co-conspirators in a Texas terrorism support case finally became public on Friday.

However, publication of the ruling is a mixed blessing for the groups: the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America and the North American Islamic Trust. That's because U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Solis found that the government presented "ample evidence to establish the association" of the three organizations with Hamas, a Palestinian group that the U.S. has labeled as a terrorist organization and with a defunct charity convicted in the terrorism support case, the Holy Land Foundation.

NAIT appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to overturn Solis's ruling and have it unsealed. The federal appeals court recently agreed that the ruling should be unsealed and suggested that parts of it went too far, but the appeals panel refused to change it.

Jason Trahan with The Dallas Morning News, who covered the Holy Land Foundation trial, posted Solis's ruling online for the first time here. I first reported on Solis's sealed ruling here on this blog about a year ago while it was still under wraps.

Just in passing, I'd note that The New York Times reported back in August 2007 on the groups' legal motions complaining that they'd been smeared by the federal government. The paper has yet to return to the subject.

John Gerstein

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Muslims vs. French School System


by Soeren Kern

The secular nature of France's public education system is being increasingly undermined by religious demands from Muslim pupils and parents, according to a new report drafted by the French government. The report, which describes the failure of French efforts to promote multicultural values, says that teachers in schools with a high proportion of Muslim children are being threatened on an almost daily basis by Muslims who object to courses about the Holocaust, the Crusades or evolution, and who demand halal meals and "reject French culture and its values."

The136-page draft report is titled "Taking up the Challenges of Integration in Schools," and has been drawn up by a French government agency called the High Council for Integration (HCI). The HCI was created by the French government to conduct research and to provide advice on issues related to the "integration of foreign residents or those of foreign origin." The HCI, which visited more than 200 schools and met with staff and others involved in education over a period of several months, will present the final report to French President Nicolas Sarkozy in December.

The report, among its many findings, says that Muslim pupils and parents in France are pressuring educators to stop teaching about world religions, the Holocaust or France's war in Algeria. They are also trying to silence discussion of events related to Israel and the Palestinians, or American military actions in Muslim countries.

"Teachers regularly find that Muslim parents refuse to have their children learn about Christianity," the report says. "Some think it amounts to evangelization." The report also says "anti-Semitism ... surfaces during courses about the Holocaust, such as inappropriate jokes and refusals to watch films" about Nazi concentration camps. "Tensions often come from pupils who identify themselves as Muslims."

The report says that although teachers can discuss the transatlantic slave trade without incidents, they face harsh criticism from Muslim pupils when they teach about the history of slavery within Africa or in the Middle East.

During Ramadan, some Muslim students harass others who do not observe the annual daytime fast, the report says. Boys who identify themselves as Muslims and reject French values harass girls who do well in class as "collaborators" with the "dirty French." Some girls ask to be excused from gym or pool sessions because they are not supposed to mix with boys, the study adds.

In some areas with large Muslim populations, many pupils shun school cafeterias for religious reasons, even though most schools offer alternative dishes when pork is on the menu. "Demand for halal menus is strong, even for the very young in public crèches [day-care centers]," the report says. "In some cities, there are petitions for halal – and sometimes kosher – meals."

The study says that the French state could allow alternatives to pork, but cannot allow halal or kosher meals because the price for ritually slaughtered meat includes a tax paid to religious organizations that certify the food is properly prepared. "The school cannot, in this sense, participate in the religious education of its pupils or conform to principles that it does not recognize," the report states..

It also states that illiteracy is very high among Muslim immigrants and that some children begin primary school with a vocabulary of only 400 words, compared to an average of 1,500 words for children from native French families. Muslim children often use their own, minimalist, version of the French language in a deliberate attempt to differentiate themselves from French society; the resulting poor communication skills often makes it difficult for them to find a job later on in life..

Muslim children also suffer from poverty as well as the lack of education of their parents, according to the report.. The problems are compounded by the fact that many immigrant parents arrive in France with little or no education, and are not interested in having their children obtain a "French" education.

The study says that many teachers are disheartened and often lose motivation in the knowledge that their efforts to integrate Muslim children into the French way of life are being rooted out when they leave school in the evening. Teachers often are forced to relent and give up on lessons out of fear: their insistence on following the contents of lessons and offering counter-arguments regularly leads to threats and violence from children who repeat their beliefs in a dogmatic manner that excludes any possibility of discussion. This same spirit of rebellion, according to the report, hinders efforts to impose discipline in general.

The report concludes: "It is becoming difficult for teachers to resist religious pressures…. The school environment is exposed to strong ethno-cultural tensions. … It is now at a place where new demands are being found which originate from a refusal of multiculturalism, religious identity issues and even the rejection of the culture and values of the French Republic."

The report recommends that teachers should reject religious demands by Muslims by explaining the country's principle of laïcité, the official separation of church and state. "We should now reaffirm secularism and train teachers how to deal with specific problems linked to the respect for this principle," the report says.

(Laïcité strictly relegates religion to the private sphere. It also promotes the idea that French citizens are French first, and that ethnic, racial, national and/or religious considerations take a back seat. Both of these concepts are being challenged by a growing number of the estimated five to six million Muslims now living in France.)

French schools must insist on co-education, equal rights and mutual respect, the report advises: "Being a French citizen means accepting challenges to one's opinions ... this is the price to pay for the freedom of opinion and expression. … Must we recall that the crime of blasphemy has not existed in France since the French Revolution?"

The report advises that the way forward is to enforce obligatory nursery schooling to teach immigrant children French – as well as the values of laïcité – at an earlier age. It also proposes teaching French to parents, reinforcing laïcité-based discipline, reminding parents that social benefits are given on the understanding that children attend school, and teaching children the values and symbols of the French Republic, the principles of democracy, the role of national defense, citizen civility and other state-related values.

The HCI study adds to the long-running debate on the Muslim challenge to laïcité in French society. In 2002, a book titled Les Territoires perdus de la République (The Lost Territories of the Republic) warned about rising anti-Semitism among Muslim pupils. In 2003, the Stasi Commission Report and a French National Assembly Report led to the 2004 ban on conspicuous religious symbols in schools.

In November 2009, President Sarkozy launched a state-led debate on national identity, inviting citizens to help define what it means to be French and sparking a wider debate on immigration policy. In February 2010, France entered into a heated debate over halal hamburgers. In September 2010, the French Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill banning the burqa-style Islamic veil on public streets and other places. The ban will come into force in early 2011 if it is approved by France's Constitutional Council.

In an interview with the French newspaper Journal du Dimanche, HCI President Patrick Gaubert said his agency decided to study how pupils from Muslim backgrounds adapted to the state school system because "this is at the heart of the challenges that French society must face." Gaubert also said the HCI would soon issue a separate "assessment of our integration policy that will show our relative failure in this domain."

Soeren Kern

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Gaza's Women: Who Is Defending Their Rights?


by Khaled Abu Toameh

It is not easy to be a woman living under a fundamentalist Islamic regime like the one in the Gaza Strip. Over the past three years, women in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have been facing a campaign of intimidation and terror that has forced many of them to sit at home and do nothing.

The fact that women are oppressed under radical Islamic regimes is of course very disturbing. But what is even more disturbing is the silence over abuse of women's rights in the Gaza Strip.

Has anyone heard prominent Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi come out in public against Hamas's repressive measures against Palestinian women? Where are local and international human rights organizations, especially those that claim to defend rights of women in the Arab and Islamic world?

Has any major media outlet in the West thought of making a documentary about the suffering of women under Hamas?

Or are they so obsessed with everything that Israel does [or does not do] that they prefer to turn a blind eye to what is happening in the Gaza Strip?

Has anyone dared to ask Hamas why sending women to carry out suicide bombings is all right, while it is not ok for them to walk alone on the beach or be seen in public with a man? Have "pro-Palestinian" groups in North America and Europe ever thought of endorsing the case of these women by raising awareness to their plight?

Since Hamas seized full control over the Gaza Strip in 2007, Palestinian women have been deprived of many of basic rights, such as strolling along the beach alone or smoking in public. Under Hamas, female lawyers are not allowed to appear in court unless they are wearing the hijab.

They are also barred from going to male hairdressers. A woman who is seen in public with a man is often stopped by Hamas policemen and questioned about the nature of the relationship between them.

Women in the Gaza Strip who have dared to participate in public political and social events have been repeatedly harassed by the Hamas government. As a result, many of them have been forced to stay at home out of fear for their lives.

Even Palestinian women's groups in the West Bank do not seem to care much about the conditions of women under Hamas. Have any of them thought of organizing demonstrations or campaigns in protest against abuse of women's rights under Hamas?

Khaled Abu Toameh

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Dutch Will Look into NGO Funding of Anti-Semitic Website


by Benjamin Weinthal


NGO Monitor slams Dutch ICCO for funding 'Electronic Intifada'; Dutch FM says if true, will have a 'serious problem' with the Palestinian site.


The Dutch government has been funding the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, a Dutch aid organization that finances the Electronic Intifada website that, NGO Monitor told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, is anti-Semitic and frequently compares Israeli policies with those of the Nazi regime.

NGO Monitor’s exposure of Dutch government funding for the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) prompted Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal to say on Thursday, "I will look into the matter personally. If it appears that the government subsidized NGO ICCO does fund Electronic Intifada, it will have a serious problem with me.”

That government funding amounted to €124 million in 2008. The European Commission also funds ICCO.

Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, said, “This type of poisonous activity is precisely why European government funding of NGOs requires close oversight and full transparency."

“Based on our experience, we assume that the top Dutch government officials are completely unaware of the link between money given to ICCO for aid, and Electronic Intifada, a group whose rhetoric and activities undermine hopes for mutual understanding.”

The ICCO website devotes a page to Electronic Intifada, praising its work as “an internationally recognized daily news source” that provides a counterweight to “positive reporting” about Israel. ICCO’s website notes its three-year funding pledge for Electronic Intifada.

NGO Monitor told the Post that “EI executive director Ali Abunimah is a leader in delegitimization and demonization campaigns against Israel. In his travels and speaking engagements, facilitated by Electronic Intifada’s budget, he calls for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and routinely uses false apartheid rhetoric."

“Abunimah also equates Israel to Nazi Germany, comparing the Israeli press to Der Stürmer, referring to Gaza as a ‘ghetto for surplus non-Jews,’ and claiming that ‘Zionism is not atonement for the Holocaust, but its continuation in spirit.’” NGO Monitor criticized ICCO’s employment of Mieke Zagt, who is “the ICCO official directing the funding to EI,” a “former employee of Amnesty International’s Middle East division, and a vocal proponent of BDS herself.” BDS is the abbreviation for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.

Marinus Verweij, who became chairman of ICCO’s executive board earlier this month, wrote the Post on Thursday, “Electronic Intifada was launched in February 2001. It publishes news, commentary, analysis and reference materials about the Israeli-Palestinian situation... It has become an important source of information from the occupied Palestinian territories. Newspapers such as The Washington Post and the Financial Times have frequently used material from the Electronic Intifada.”

He continued, “The rights of Palestinian people to a decent way of living are central in the news brought by the EI. The EI reports frequently about the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the State of Israel. In no way is the EI anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.”

Verweij said ICCO “has a policy of supporting both Israeli and Palestinian organizations who abide by the principles of human rights and international humanitarian law. ICCO supports the Electronic Intifada since 2007. Mieke Zagt is one of the program officers for ICCO working on the Middle East. She is implementing the policies approved by the executive board of ICCO.”

Verweij declined to comment on Zagt’s advocacy for BDS activities as well as Electronic Intifada’s comparisons of Israel with Nazi Germany.

Speaking from The Hague, Ronny Naftaniel, head of the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, told the Post, many “Christians are not aware that funds are being misused” by ICCO and thought ICCO funding would be used for projects in Africa. The Dutch authorities should be made aware that “taxpayer money is going into anti-Israeli propaganda” and ICCO’s funding sources should be investigated.

Ward Bezemer, a spokesman for the Dutch foreign minister, wrote the Post by e-mail, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands subsidizes Dutch NGOs, like ICCO, which support civil society in developing countries."

“NGOs report retrospectively on program implementation and activities to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to ICCO, it has contributed financially to the funding of the website Electronic Intifada, [which] was funded with Dutch subsidy until 2010. From 2010 on it has allocated only non-subsidy funding to this activity.”

Bezemer continued, "Whether ICCO has promoted anti-Semitism (a criminal offense) is to be determined by the public prosecutor on the basis of Dutch law.”


Benjamin Weinthal

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J’lem Fears Lebanon is Fast Becoming Iranian Satellite


by Herb Keinon


Erdogan suggests Hariri tribunal delay findings for a year, says during period regional players could act to settle other crises in area.


Amid increasing concern in Jerusalem that Lebanon is turning into an Iranian satellite, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened the “septet,” his top ministerial forum, on Wednesday to discuss the situation.

No statement regarding the content of that meeting was issued. One government source, however, said it was clear that Iran’s expanding role in Lebanon, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited last month, was of grave concern to Jerusalem.

“An Iranian satellite state on Israel’s northern border has crucial implications for Israeli national security,” the source said.

The meeting also came amid growing apprehension that Hizbullah could provoke a crisis with Israel if the international tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri were to find Hizbullah responsible, as is widely expected. The tribunal is likely to issue an interim report by the end of the year, and Hizbullah has openly declared it would “cut off the hand” of anyone who tried to arrest a Hizbullah member in connection with the case.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel had to be aware and prepared for the eventuality that “someone will try to deflect the tension [in Lebanon] onto us.”

The security cabinet’s decision earlier this month to withdraw from the northern half of Ghajar was widely viewed as connected to Lebanese internal developments, with the hope that such a move would strengthen the hand of the central government in Beirut in its struggle with Hizbullah.

Hizbullah has used its call for an Israeli withdrawal from Ghajar, as well as a withdrawal from the Mount Dov (Shaba Farms) area, as a rallying call necessitating its “resistance.”

On Monday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said it had uncovered evidence that strongly implicated Hizbullah in the assassination.

The report detailed aspects of the ongoing investigation that strongly linked Hizbullah to the Hariri murder via an intricate Lebanese network of mobile phones.

An analysis of phone records allegedly pointed “overwhelmingly” to Hizbullah’s involvement, the network concluded, showing that the members of the group had been in frequent contact on the day of the attack and coordinated the detonation of the bomb that killed Hariri.

In response to the report, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the slain prime minister’s son, said on Tuesday, “I personally think that the media leaks do not serve the course of justice.”

President Shimon Peres, meanwhile, was asked about the developments in Lebanon at a press conference in Ukraine, where he is on a state visit.

“Israel has no conflict with Lebanon,” he said. “According to the UN, Israel fulfilled its resolutions relating to Lebanon.”

Peres added that the “difficult” decision to withdrawal from half of Ghajar was a “gesture to Lebanon.”

The problems inside Lebanon, according to Peres, were the result of internal Lebanese conflicts between Hizbullah and “traditional Lebanon. Lebanon was a quiet country, and Hizbullah is a foreign creation that wears the mantle of religion and collects missiles in its territory in the service of Iran.”

Peres said he was sorry about what was happening in Lebanon, “a country with whom Israel has no conflict.” The president said he hoped the country “will overcome its internal difficulties.”

Meanwhile, Israel Radio reported that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested during a visit to Lebanon on Wednesday that the Hariri tribunal not release its findings for another year, and that during that time the key players in the region work to solve other Middle East problems, such as a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, and easing tension between much of the Arab world and Iran.

Erdogan, during a speech in northern Lebanon, said that if Hizbullah were found guilty of the Hariri assassination, it would impact the entire region.

He then turned to the Jewish state, saying Israel needed to know that if there were peace in the region, the country would benefit, but if there were a war, Israeli citizens would also be among those harmed.


Herb Keinon

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

How the "Sons of Iraq" Stabilized Iraq


by Mark Wilbanks and Efraim Karsh

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 8, 2008, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. and coalition forces commander in Iraq, reported a dramatic reduction in violence levels and civilian deaths from fifteen months before when Iraq seemed on the brink of civil war.[1] Petraeus attributed this turning point to the increased numbers of coalition and Iraqi forces, part of the surge declared by President George W. Bush in January 2007, but he gave equal credit to the predominantly Sunni popular movement known as the Sons of Iraq (SOI). "These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas," he said. "With their assistance and with relentless pursuit of al-Qaeda-Iraq, the threat posed by AQI, while still lethal and substantial, has been reduced significantly."[2]

Lt. Col. Mark Wilbanks (left), Maj. Gen. Muther al-Mawla (center), and Abu Haidar meet at the offices of the Implementation and Follow-up Committee for National Reconciliation, the International Zone, Baghdad, September 15, 2009. Mawla was appointed to oversee efforts to incorporate Sahwa members into the Iraqi state apparatus.

Initially known as al-Anbar Awakening (Sahwat al-Anbar), the movement made its appearance in the summer of 2006 when local sheikhs, disillusioned with the insurgency that had ravaged the province during the past two-and-a-half years, offered their support to the coalition forces. While pundits and commentators have varyingly acknowledged the significance of the movement, less is known about the motives and the thoughts of its key participants, including those members of the coalition forces with whom the Awakening worked.

What motivated these Sunni tribesmen to sign loyalty oaths to fight for an Iraqi government with whom they had only recently battled viciously? What were U.S. officers thinking when they provided military training and money for arms and equipment to men who, more often than not, had been their enemies just a short time before?

While the program was successful in reducing violence and quickly spread throughout Iraq, it did not prevent the ruling Shiite elites from viewing the Sons of Iraq with suspicion. Nor have the achievements of the recent past guaranteed that a true reconciliation between feuding sides has been reached. Through a fascinating series of interviews held in late 2008 and 2009—as the program was being unwound—the outlines of this unlikely social and military development can be glimpsed.

The Sunni Insurgency

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the collapse of Saddam Hussein's repressive regime unleashed sectarian and religious enmities that had been kept in check by the tyrant. As early as April 2003, while coalition forces were still mopping up the last traces of Baath resistance, a prominent Shiite leader, Abdul Majid al-Khoei, who had just returned from exile, was murdered in the holy town of Najaf.[3] Four months later, on August 29, 2003, a car bomb exploded outside that very mosque, killing more than 100 people, including Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Iranian-sponsored Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).[4] On February 1, 2004, another 100 people were killed in two suicide bombings in the Kurdish town of Erbil.[5]

While some of this sectarian violence was perpetrated by Islamist Shiite militias that sprang up in southern Iraq in the immediate wake of the invasion, the main instigator was the minority Arab Sunni community, about 20 percent of the total population, which had dominated Iraqi politics for centuries and which resented its exclusion from the new state structures established by the victorious powers.[6] In no time, the "Sunni Triangle"—the vast area between Baghdad in the south, Mosul in the north, and Rutba in the east where most of Iraq's Sunni population resides and consisting of the four governorates of Baghdad, al-Anbar, Salah ad-Din and Ninawa—was in flames.

For some insurgents, notably members of Saddam's regime and tribe, the overriding motivation was loyalty to the fallen tyrant. For others, such as the tens of thousands of soldiers and officers who had lost their jobs when the predominantly Sunni army was dissolved in May 2003, it was a desire for revenge. There was also a deep sense of humiliation felt by those who had long considered themselves the only people capable of running the affairs of the Iraqi state. All feared and resented their possible domination by the despised Shiites and their perceived paymaster—Iran's militant Islamist regime—and all wished to regain lost power and influence.

These grievances were further reinforced by tribal interests, values, and norms. The Sunni Triangle is a diverse mosaic of hundreds of small and medium-sized tribes, as well as a dozen large tribal federations, notably the Dulyam and the Shammar Jarba, each comprising more than a million members. Under Saddam, many of these tribes, especially the Dulyam, had been incorporated into the regime's patronage system. With such material benefits and political prestige curtailed after the U.S.-led invasion, many tribesmen joined the insurrection.

Such was the tenacity of the insurrection that in September 2006, Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, questioned the U.S. ability to defeat it. "It is our job to win," he said. "But it is not the kind of fight that is going to be won by military kinetic action alone … I think the real heart of [the matter] is that there are economic and political conditions that have to improve out at al-Anbar, as they do everywhere in Iraq, for us to be successful."[7]

The Anbar Awakening

To make matters worse, the Sunni Triangle's location near the Jordanian, Syrian, and Saudi borders made it the first port of call for al-Qaeda terrorists and other foreign elements. The overall number of these infiltrators was insignificant compared to the many thousands of Iraqi insurgents—some estimates put the number of al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq at less than 1,300[8]— but they exerted a disproportionate impact on the course of the fighting by recruiting significant numbers of Iraqi jihadists, providing invaluable military and logistical expertise, and mounting most of the mass-casualty suicide bombings.[9] At the same time, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) expected compensation for the security they helped provide to their local allies, often crossing the line from payment to extortion. Muscling in on time-honored smuggling routes and trying to forcibly wed women in order to build tribal ties exacerbated tensions. But AQI began to overreach in their efforts to control the area. A U.S. Marine colonel cited this example:

Fallujah … I remember the day [March 2007] that I got there. I think it was the secretary of the city council, his nephew … a 12-year old boy [who] was hit by AQI right on the main street in Fallujah. Ran him over with a vehicle several times. Broke several, maybe all his bones. Then threw him on the door step of the secretary of the council's house and shot him in front of everybody. … We couldn't get there. Everybody got there too late. The populace knew who did it. They knew why they did it. … They had had it. That was it. They stopped. They stopped listening to AQI. They turned.[10]

Al-Qaeda's overreaching was coupled with a growing awareness that the Americans, who did not interfere with traditional sources of revenue or seek to change tribal custom, would eventually leave. AQI, on the other hand, was determined to impose its version of Shari'a (Islamic law) on the entire population as a stepping stone to the creation of the worldwide Muslim community (umma).

It was this realization that led to the advent of the Sahwa or Awakening movement. With the coalition anxious for local allies who would help defeat the insurgency and prevent its retrenchment, and a growing number of ordinary Sunnis and tribal leaders increasingly disillusioned with the mayhem and dislocation occasioned by the fighting, a meeting of minds was only a question of time. The acting national security advisor to the Iraqi government Safa Hussein al-Sheikh explained:

Most people don't know that the first time we thought about the Sons of Iraq was ... in 2005 … Things were getting worse from a security point of view ... This was opposed directly and strictly by the leadership of the MNF [Multinational Forces] at that time because they thought this was the creation of militias ... Then at the end of 2005—at that time al-Qaeda had almost full control of Anbar province and other areas—something happened on the border with Syria. It was the Albu Mahan tribe and another tribe, al-Karabla, big tribes on the border. They live mostly on smuggling ... And one of these tribes made some kind of an agreement of understanding with al-Qaeda ... So both tribes there were fighting between themselves ... My colleagues and I advised that we should support the tribes against the tribe [that was allied] with al-Qaeda.[11]

On most occasions, however, the tribes made the first offers to cooperate. A U.S. Army captain related his experience with a first contact:

We had gotten a call in the TOC [Tactical Operations Center], and we were located in Camp Blue Diamond. North of the river was our task force headquarters. And there was a report that one of our task force level HVTs, high value targets enemy personnel, was at the gate and asking to come in and talk with our task force commander ... Hindsight being twenty-twenty and seeing how it played out, it doesn't seem as alarming, but at this time, he was a high value target, was known or had allegedly ... been involved with attacks against coalition forces, had been successful, had been a leader ... How do you react? There had not been a precedent set for something like this. We had never seen anything like this. So it was really an exercise in good faith and you know those were some tense times.[12]

A former insurgent-turned-Sahwa fighter gave his side of the story:

No one supported me in my work but the American forces. They did that because I brought a backhoe, and I bermed all the roads in my area. I left only one road [open] with a checkpoint on it, so I can control my neighborhood since I have only thirteen people working for me. My house is high, so I can monitor the entire area. Even the Americans, they couldn't drive through these [berms] with their tanks and Humvees, but I told them: "There's no need, this is a safe area." The area is about ten kilometers by ten, maybe less. It was closed for all but me. No one can come through this area without being noticed. I was in constant contact with the American soldiers in the area, and we agreed that they will come to my area dismounted. My area is very close to Blue Diamond, which was an American base. The distance between us was three kilometers, so the Americans would stop with their tanks at a distance and would then come to us on foot.[13]

By mid-August 2006, such low level contacts had led to a formal meeting between Col. Sean MacFarland, the newly appointed commander of U.S. forces in Ramadi, and Sheikh Abd as-Sattar Abu Risha, a prominent tribal leader, who had just issued a manifesto denouncing al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and pledging support to U.S. forces. MacFarland described the scene at Abd as-Sattar's home: "The walls were just lined with guys in sheikh robes. … I go down and see the governor about once a week, and it's just me and the governor. I go into Sheikh Sattar's house, and the place is packed."

Soon an agreement was struck, and by November, an estimated 1,500 recruits sent by the sheikh had joined the revamped police training program for Ramadi. In comparison, a mere forty men had previously signed on to the Ramadi police force, then numbering only 150 officers in total.[14]

This collaborative pattern spread rapidly throughout the province, and before long coalition forces were providing training opportunities, first in Jordan then in Anbar, to the growing number of volunteers, who often had previous army or police experience although not to Western standards. A senior marine officer described the recruitment and training process:

You had to kind of read and write. You had to have, I think, twenty-two teeth. … They had mixed standards, and we would vet them and, of course, BAT [Biometrics Automated Toolset System] them ... And so this is all good stuff. But we would build the police and the army by recruiting. And they would recruit and basically use the sheikhs. The next day six hundred or seven hundred guys would show up, and we would put them through the process. Who was eligible, who met the criteria to join the army or the police. So we built the first and seventh Iraqi army divisions, and we increased the police from about 5,000 to almost 28,000 in that year. And that was the Sons of Anbar.[15]

After a probationary period, the volunteers were allowed to carry their own weapons, which many of them bought with money provided by the coalition. There was also an effort to train Iraqi women—the "Daughters of Iraq"—to replace female Marines responsible for female body searches at checkpoints.

Being "concerned local citizens" (CLC, as they were initially called by the coalition), rather than professional soldiers, the Sahwa volunteers were not allowed to carry out offensive operations. Instead, they were tasked to perform defensive missions such as manning checkpoints and providing intelligence on insurgent activities and locations. The dividing line between these activities and actual participation in fighting was, however, more often than not, blurred. A junior U.S. officer recalled:

Although the CLCs were not supposed to be used offensively, there was no stopping them this day because they were pretty amped up about losing some of their friends.

I was on a roof, and I'm talking to F-16s that are flying around, and we've got air weapons teams, and there is a lot of activity ... we're getting ready to move out. Maybe four or five CLCs, a couple of IPs [Iraqi police], a couple of SWATs [Special Weapons and Tactics], ISF [Iraqi Security Forces]. It is just this big mix of dudes.

I talked to the [Sahwa leader] ... who spoke English: "I'm going to be bounding up this way, and we're going to get there. You'll provide over watch, we'll go in and take it. When we say it's clear, then we'll pull you guys in, and then we'll leave you guys up there to control the area."

And he maneuvered his guys up there. And it was just an amazing day.[16]

The new recruits proved particularly efficient in the fight against the al-Qaeda jihadists and their local allies. The Sunnis knew where al-Qaeda fighters lived and worked because they had harbored them initially, and they had no qualms about using the same brutal methods in fighting back. This resulted in a swift routing of al-Qaeda in a revenge-based frenzy: "They hunted al-Qaeda down with a vengeance. They dragged al-Qaeda guys through streets behind cars ... they had videos of feet on the altars in mosques ... It was pretty much just a ruthless slaughter."[17] An Iraqi official recalled how a tribal sheikh gleefully told him how he had a certain al-Qaeda operative beheaded: "And then he smiled and said, 'I want to show you something you will like.' One of the [al-Qaeda] people who tried to assassinate him, and he showed me on the telephone a picture of a head."[18]

At times the savage war against al-Qaeda pitted members of the same tribe against each other. A U.S. colonel recounted this example:

The Zobai tribe came under a lot of friction. They literally told us to stay out of the Habanniya Zoba village-Khandari area for seventy-two hours because Zobai against Zobai were going to fight. Al-Qaeda against the tribe ... al-Qaeda would come into the village, and they would sit down and have a meeting. It is tribal, and they would negotiate, and if they couldn't solve the negotiations, then there was going to be a fight. After twenty-four hours of fighting, they couldn't handle it, and they asked us to come in and support them. So for about the last week of March, we had a fairly significant fight, and for the Zobais, that was the first example and demonstration from the U.S. side that, yes, we will fight against al-Qaeda, and we won't arrest you.[19]

Helping the Surge

Within a year of its advent, the Awakening movement had dramatically changed the security situation in Anbar with monthly attacks dropping from some 1,350 in October 2006 to just over 200 in August 2007.[20] By now, the movement had been established on a national basis as the coalition sought to replicate its success in other parts of Iraq. It played a particularly prominent role in improving the security situation in Baghdad as part of the troop surge, helping to slash murders by 90 percent and attacks on civilians by 80 percent, as well as destroying numerous insurgent networks. Its contribution in other provinces was no less substantial: By the end of the year, al-Qaeda leaders admitted that their forces throughout Iraq had been decimated by over 70 percent, from 12,000 to 3,500.[21]

No less importantly, the Sahwa eventually became a tool for promoting sectarian reconciliation and weaning fighters away from sectarian militias. This process began in fall 2007 in the Baghdad suburb of al-Jihad, a Shiite neighborhood aligned with the radical militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, where the government sought to elicit mass participation in the Awakening program. Working with these Shiites was difficult because Sadr forbade anyone from dealing with the Americans. Yet, he would broker a cease-fire and enforce it by passing the names of Mahdi Army leaders whom he could not control to the Iraqi government for arrest or elimination with the knowledge that this information would be shared with coalition forces. An Iraqi official recalled:

It was a really ambitious project. There were some successes in al-Jihad in which we brought people from the Sadrists and included them in the Sahwas with close cooperation from Colonel Franks who was the local commander there, and he is an excellent man. His mind is very well-oriented to these kinds of activities. And we first had to talk to the Sadrists in the areas. The environment there is better than any place else to include the Sadrists into the Sahwas because these Sadrists were surrounded by areas of Sunnis.

There was a funny discussion with the leaders there of the Sadrists when I told them. [Usually with] Shiite people, I try to appease their fears and their concerns. [But] I did the opposite there. Increased their fears.

They are not the majority, and they do not have the upper hand. So this is one point. The other point is that the Sadrists, in general, do not have good financial support. And the payment in the Sahwas is pretty good for them. But they have a problem [in] that their leadership will denounce any person who talks to the Americans.

The general concern was that the balance of Sunni-Shiites would change. So I said to them: "It is in your hands. If you don't get your people to join, it will change, and you can do nothing about it." And it was a very hard time for them because they couldn't say, yes, because of Muqtada al-Sadr. So they tried to give me a message that "If we don't know and something is arranged, it is okay." [Laughter]

Once the Jihad area went, the rest of the Sadr areas wanted the money, and they followed suit. But other things happened, and this project wouldn't continue as we wished. When al-Basra operation came, in their minds, the process [ended. Still] al-Jihad was maintained as a quiet area.[22]

This example was, however, more of an exception to the rule as the Iraqi government was slow to acknowledge the merits of the Awakening movement. In fact, as the coalition accelerated recruitment and institutionalized regular salaries to its members, the government remained wary of this large and predominantly Sunni force—which had grown to some 80,000 members by early 2008—and its future political intentions. A senior Iraqi advisor to the coalition forces recalled the situation:

The Shiites thought, it is a conspiracy. That is: al-Qaeda cannot be tolerated, so now they came in other clothes [sic], and they are trying to surround Baghdad. And maybe the Americans, because of the violence, are desperate, and they want to bring the Sunnis back and that is why they support them. So this theory of conspiracy controlled the minds of the Shiites inside the government and popularly.[23]

After much haggling, the Americans managed to persuade Nuri al-Maliki's government to take over the Awakening program and to incorporate it into the newly established security and state structures. In the words of a political advisor to Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, second ranking officer in Iraq at the time and source of much of this behind-the-scenes wrangling:

[What was] very interesting was the cultural difference. The Americans would come every day and say: "Look at how fantastic the Sahwa are and what they are doing," and the Iraqi government just didn't believe it. So the Americans brought more power points—and bigger ones—and paraded them about pointing to all the great things the Sahwa have done. And then with Safa [Hussein al-Sheikh's] advice, we started talking about the bad things that some Sahwa had done. And once we started to admit that some of them were involved in violence and involved in bad things ... then the government felt at last that we were more trustworthy. So that was the famous meeting in December [2007] where General Odierno stood up and said, "Here are the bad things; these are the good things. We want the government really to take control of this program, and this is what we suggest." And the prime minister said, "I agree with everything that General Odierno suggests."[24]

Forging Relationships

On the ground, young officers and soldiers knew little of the higher level maneuvering that went on between the coalition and the Iraqi government. For them, the Sahwas were not abstract programs but human beings who formed close relationships with their coalition colleagues. They suffered casualties alongside the coalition forces; their wounded shared rides in medical helicopters, and they formed the kinds of bonds of mutual trust and respect that can only happen in combat. A U.S. Army platoon leader explains:

We showed up to the JCC [Joint Command Center] to pick up the first round of CLCs we were going to institute across the city. It was just very comical because I've got about half of my platoon with me, and my other half is holding a patrol base where I am getting ready to take some of these guys. We're sitting around the JCC outside the mayor's office and all of the sudden, they come walking in. And they're proud, they're happy, they're like, "I'm part of this thing, and we are going to go do this, and it's going to be great."

There ... were three groups. One we called the classic camouflage because they were all in the same uniform. They all had T-shirts with … a regular woodland camouflage print on it, and it also had the text that read "Classic Camouflage." …

The next group that comes in we called them the Headlamp Platoon because, for some reason, every single one of those guys had a headlamp. So they had no uniform, but they had headlamps. And the last group we called the AQI group because they came in, and … they looked just like jihadists. There was one guy Hassam ... He was a natural leader. … he looked American ... He spoke English pretty well, and he was [a] teacher.

I don't know what [their agenda] was ... But for a period of time, their agenda and our agenda were perfectly aligned, and we all worked together pretty well to secure that place. And we formed pretty tight relationships and we earned their trust ... they earned our trust.[25]

Respect was mutual. Officers who attempted to speak Arabic and who attended Iraqi events and participated in tribal customs were respected. As an Iraqi general and former Sons of Iraq member recalled:

Lt. Col. Silverman is an extraordinary officer. He is special. He worked in the al-Jazeera area ... So he has been able to establish an excellent relationship with these tribes. The relationship that they had between the U.S. Army and the tribes was abnormal … extraordinary … awesome. If they have a funeral, he will go to the funeral reception.

This is our tradition. This is our culture, and he was doing the same thing. He would go into the funeral, and he would say salam aleikum. And he would recite al-Fatiha. I'm sure he doesn't know what it means, al-Fatiha, or he cannot read, but after he finishes, he would do this [wipes his hand over his face]. Exactly how the normal Iraqi people do it. And he would also pay and contribute [to] the funeral reception. The people, the sheikhs, the tribes, they liked him. They were impressed. He was Lawrence of Arabia, Silverman. If we had tribal conflicts, he would sit, and he would judge. … The tribes liked the hookah [water pipe]. He would sit with them, and he would have his hookah with them. You would say this guy, he is an Eastern man. He is Iraqi, but in an American uniform.[26]

The Iraqi general continued:

I would like to tell you the story of an American officer. His name was Patrick [Capt. Travis Patriquin, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division]. He was a friend of Sheikh Sattar. Sheikh Sattar used to call him Hisham, not Patrick, because he had a mustache. He would always sit with Sheikh Sattar's kids. He was very close to the police. He was an extraordinary person … He got hit with an IED [Improvised Explosive Device]—got killed.

We named one of our police stations after him. We called it Hisham Police Station because all the policemen knew him by the name Hisham, not Patrick. Until nowadays Sheikh Sattar insists that we call the police station Hisham, so until now we call it "Martyr Hisham's Police Station." Hisham, who is Patrick.[27]

Col. Richard Welch, an Army reserve officer with counterinsurgency training and a Special Forces background, did not stand out in a crowd, but that belied his intensity and tenacity. He took a pay cut from his job as a prosecutor in Ohio and missed his grandchildren's birthdays and had been in Baghdad for four of the five years from 2004 to 2009. This put him in a unique position to develop relationships that kept people alive. One such relationship was with Sheikh Ali Hatem of the Dulaym tribe, whose grandfather had allegedly ridden with T.E. Lawrence against the Turks. Welch recounted his experience:

Working with the tribes and working with a lot of these religious leaders actually facilitated me getting connected with insurgent leaders on the Sunni side and … militia leaders on the Shiite side. So I began talking with them about what we now call reconciliation … talking to them about how to stop fighting, to try and join the political process …

Most of the other groups out of Baghdad came out of these meetings with the tribal leaders and the community leaders … getting them connected with the brigade commanders and battalion commanders. And they began to work with them ... [Those sheikhs interested in reconciliation] would call and say: "Colonel Welch, al-Qaeda is attacking us and we need help. We need supplies." [During] many of those phone calls you could hear gun shots in the background. You could hear the fighting going on. …

I was out at Camp Liberty [near Baghdad airport] walking to the dining facility with my deputy and my cell phone rang. I noticed that it was Sheikh Ali Hatem so I answered it immediately. He said, "Colonel Welch, I need your help … Al-Qaeda overran Sheikh Hamed Village up in the Taji area, north Taji. And our tribe is getting ready to counterattack and take back the village. But we need you to contact the unit up there because we've seen helicopters flying around, and we don't want them to engage [attack] us ... So we need to let you know which ones." So I said, "Okay, we will take care of it." So I kept Ali Hatem on the line and sent [my deputy] back. I said, "You've got to get the G3 [operational commander on duty] you know." ... Because I couldn't move. I had to get the coverage for my cell phone where it was out at Liberty. So we finally were able to contact the unit, and literally, the helicopter pilot was ready to pull the trigger on them ... The commander told us that later. They were ready to engage these guys. But then instead they flew over watch and supported them taking that village back.[28]

Show Me the Money

Though there was initially no money involved for the Awakening movement, this issue quickly came to the fore. Just as tribal support for the "Great Arab Revolt" against the Ottoman Empire had been motivated by the glitter of British gold and the promise of booty (nearly half-a-century later Lawrence of Arabia would still be remembered by Bedouins as "the man with the gold"),[29] so the Anbar sheikhs were not immune to the allure of American money. Brigade level commanders doled out millions of Iraqi dinars and, in some places, U.S. dollars every month, and by the summer of 2007 the movement was fully subsidized by the coalition. This was one of the reasons the coalition, rather than the Iraqi government, took the lead in the Sahwa program. As a senior Iraqi official explained:

Some people in some areas came to us and wanted to work with the government because they thought for some reason that it was not good for their reputation to work with the Americans to fight al-Qaeda. And our main problem at that time was that the government didn't have the means to completely help them. So at times we felt really embarrassed.[30]

In addition to monthly salaries, the coalition also paid for results. One Sons of Iraq member reported:

Yes, we did that with the support of the coalition forces when we captured some gangsters. After missions, the coalition forces used to issue letters of appreciation for us and gave us a reward. And that was good. I got $700 from the coalition forces: $300 for salary and a $400 reward for a total of $700 in one month—U.S. dollars.

I saw gangsters trying to kidnap a girl. She was driving her vehicle, and I was watching them. I started to shoot and shot one of them. I released her and that is why I got the reward and letter of appreciation.[31]

Such letters of appreciation, on tattered pieces of paper and blurry from being copies of copies with the previous recipients names blanked out, were more valuable than money. A signed letter by the coalition, regardless of whether the words were level on the page, was a sought after status symbol.

In other places, where the security situation was relatively good, coalition funding of Sahwa activities was effectively little more than a jobs program. In the words of a local sheikh:

Let's be honest. They established the Sahwa in our city after all the doors had been shut in our face because there was no chance to hold jobs. The first reason for establishing the Sahwa was because there were no jobs; the second reason—to provide money for the families; and the third reason—to protect the civilian people.

When we joined the Sahwa, we had to remind each other why most of us were insurgents ... Either get us a job or Iraq will go back to the way it used to be.[32]

By January 2009, the U.S. government had invested more than $400 million in the Awakening program with a median monthly cost of more than $21 million, peaking at nearly $39 million in March 2008.[33] For Petraeus, this was a worthwhile investment that not only saved lives in Iraq but also U.S. taxpayers' money. As he told the Senate Armed Services Committee:

These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced violence, not to mention the priceless lives saved have far outweighed the cost of their monthly contracts.[34]

As with other fields of U.S. activity in Iraq, the overriding preoccupation with security and stability often resulted in mismanagement and waste. Being totally result-oriented, the coalition forces were primarily interested in having all checkpoints manned, arms caches uncovered, and the violence decreased, leaving the methods for achieving these goals at the sheikhs' discretion. This in turn resulted in serious accountability problems, such as ghost employees and poor control over the distribution of cash payments as the sheikhs habitually rotated people around and took a cut for managing the program. The program was also vulnerable to corruption and embezzlement on the American side, as demonstrated in December 2009 when a U.S. officer was convicted of stealing approximately $690,000 from funds allocated to the Sahwa program and local relief and reconstruction.[35] The Implementation and Follow up Committee for National Reconciliation (IFCNR) cleaned up the program when they took over payments in late 2009 by paying the Sahwa directly. However, this did not prevent the sheikhs from taking their share ten feet from the payment point.

Patriots at Last

On September 4, 2008, the Awakening movement's massive contribution to Iraq's national security received a long overdue official recognition when an executive order issued by Prime Minister Maliki officially named its members Sons of Iraq and called for the incorporation of its members into the Iraqi state structures.

The practical implications of this change, however, were far more elusive. Although the Iraqi government undertook to integrate approximately 94,000 SOI personnel (from the 100,000-plus membership list provided by the Americans) into the Iraqi security forces (ISF) or other Iraqi ministries by the end of 2009, by April 2010, only 9,000 had been absorbed by the ISF, and another 30,000 had been hired by non-security ministries.[36] These delays were partly due to the fact that many SOI possessed rudimentary educational credentials (in Baghdad, 81 percent of SOI members had only elementary or middle-school educations) and were, therefore, unfit for many government positions. But this also reflected the government's residual suspicion of the group—as well as other former militias—alongside lingering disagreements with Washington regarding the movement's size and the attendant funds required for its absorption.

While ordinary Sahwa members were slowly incorporated into the state apparatus, the movement's leaders, whose sense of honor prevented them from taking menial government jobs, were looking forward to political careers as part of the national reconciliation process. Their hopes were bolstered by the fact that the Maliki government, knowing that its treatment of the SOI would be viewed by many Sunnis as a litmus test for their future integration into the country's sociopolitical system, assigned the process to the IFCNR.

In what turned out to be a stroke of genius, the head of the committee quickly appointed one of its members, Maj. Gen. Muther al-Mawla, to oversee the transition. An open and affable person, who wore tailored Western suits and readily shared pictures of his grandchildren, Mawla brought a paternal sense of security and calm to the process that put everyone at ease. He would bring in pastries that his wife had baked or share a feast with his coalition colleagues late into the night. At the same time, as former commander of the National Guard and the Iraqi Special Forces for the new government, he was more than capable of holding his own in the bare-knuckle world of Iraqi politics and conducting negotiations with those who, on many occasions, had been on his Special Forces' most wanted list.[37]

The statements of Abu Azzam al-Tamimi, a former Sahwa leader in the Abu-Ghraib area, are most instructive on the issues surrounding ongoing efforts at reconciliation. Sounding hopeful and relaxed at the al-Rashid hotel in Baghdad's International Zone, he expounded on the integration of the neighborhood's SOI in government jobs, his personal safety, and the forthcoming March 2010 elections:

Some of them are still Sahwas till this moment. I got a chance to join them to the Iraqi Security Forces back in 2007. In the middle of 2007, I had coordination with them but not control.

I have no relationship with [Brig. Gen.] Nasser [al-Hitti, commander of the Muthanna 3rd Brigade, Abu Ghraib]. He knew that he had no capability to arrest me, but he was trying to do that.

We are trying to create or establish our own political entity. And that is why we are going to set up a meeting tomorrow here in this hotel to discuss this issue with all the Sahwa leaders.

We have a joint committee now and are negotiating with [Prime Minister] Maliki. Yesterday [Sept. 4, 2009], we met with the main people from the Da'wa party ... Maybe we are going to establish the one front together, or we will have other options.[38]

Some former Sahwa leaders, such as Sa'ad Uraibi Ghafuri (aka Abu Abed), a major and intelligence officer in Saddam's armed forces, are not able to run for office or form political alliances for fear of being arrested. He is in Jordan waiting to get a visa, based on glowing recommendations from American officers who knew him, and seeks a new life in the United States. Some in the Iraqi government, however, see him differently as he wanted to control an area that the government also sought to control. Abu Abed, while in Jordan, discussed his past as sheikh of the Adamiya area in Baghdad:

After a while we defeated al-Qaeda from al-Fadil to Muadam, Palestine Street to Adhamiya [a Baghdad neighborhood]. It was just like one line, one road, we cleared all the area. And I used to … set up meetings with all the leaders from al-Fadil and this Rusafa side weekly. People got to listen to them and to report about that. So all the Iraqi government was watching, and they were surprised how we defeated al-Qaeda in those areas, freed the people, and maintained stability and security in this area.

After that ... the Iranian ambassador in Iraq gave an announcement. And he said [that] all those Sahwas were like gangsters. They are bad people, and we need to get rid of them. … I told him, "If the ambassador has an issue in Iran, let him go and solve his issues in Iran. He is not supposed to be involved in Iraqi matters. He has no right to do that." And after that I got the result. I paid for that because I got a phone call from the colonel [Welch], and he told me, "You need to leave your home because there is an arrest warrant against you for your disagreements with the Iraqi government." So I asked him why? … I have been fighting al-Qaeda, and we defeated al-Qaeda, and the Iraqi government they just gained everything, the benefits of that.

[Gen. Eric E.] Fiel, [Brig.] Gen. [Donald M.] Campbell, and even Gen. David Petraeus, and Gen. Odierno, he visited me in my office too.

During a reconciliation meeting, however, someone tried to kill Abu Abed.

I left my office with eight vehicles, and I used to use my own vehicle. It was a Toyota Land Cruiser armored vehicle, very, very strong. And when I went to Amel al-Shabby Street, I saw those seven hummers there, and the Iraqi soldiers they [had] been walking in the street.

[My security chief] said maybe the guard ... went to drink some chai. I told him no, this is unusual ... They [detonated] a big IED, and the sound of the explosion covered all [of] Baghdad ... I was flying, and I hit one of the vehicles, and I can still remember when I was covered by the rocks and the dust.[39]

Conclusion

Just as the peremptory dissolution of Saddam's army in May 2003 without the existence of an adequate substitute opened the door to insurgencies of all hues, so the disbanding of the social movement that had been instrumental in turning the tide against al-Qaeda in Iraq during 2007-08, and the decision to incorporate its members into ministries rather than the Iraqi security forces has left a dangerous security vacuum. Most SOI in Anbar were incorporated into the Iraqi police and army, but not so in Baghdad.

The 100-plus violent attacks during the March 7, 2010 elections serve as a stark reminder that extremist elements—most notably AQI—continue to pose a clear and real danger to the nascent Iraqi democracy. Across the country, up to 367 people, including 216 civilians, were killed during March, and the pace of killing accelerated in April when more than a hundred people were killed during the first week of the month.[40]

Some senior Iraqi officials are still unable to see the writing on the wall. Gen. Abud Kanbar Hashem Khayun al-Maliki, the Baghdad Operations Center commander, refused to allow the tidal wave of kidnappings, assassinations, and bombings that rocked the capital in the last quarter of 2009 deflect his determination to dissolve the SOI. On November 27, 2009, he stated:

By the time the year is up, we will fulfill the obligation of the order and employ all of them. … Those people have sacrificed a lot, and there were a lot of lost lives and a lot of martyrs. Some of them were martyred for their country, and some were injured, and some were damaged in some way. This is a central plan for the Iraqi government. The Iraqi government was serious about this plan. And they wanted to make sure that this plan is successful and is implemented ... In short, the Sons of Iraq was an experimental plan to implement laws and enforce the rule of law [whose time has come and passed].[41]

Whether General Abud's forecast is accurate, and more importantly, whether the results of the Sons of Iraq's dissolution bode well for Iraq's future remains to be seen. It behooves Washington, which, after all, has sacrificed much blood and riches to secure and stabilize this nascent experiment in democracy within the Arab Middle East to reflect on these developments as it seeks to remove its military presence from the Land between the Rivers.

[1] Associated Press, Apr. 8, 2008.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Time, Apr. 10, 2003.
[4] CNN, Aug. 30, 2003.
[5] "TIMELINE: Major Bombings in Iraq since 2003," Reuters, Aug. 22, 2007.
[6] Although the Kurds of northern Iraq are also predominantly Sunni, they had never been part of the country's ruling classes and have consistently been oppressed by their Arab co-religionists.
[7] Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, teleconference news briefing, Iraq, U.S. Department of Defense, Washington, D.C., Sept. 15, 2006.
[8] See, for example, James A. Baker, et. al., The Iraq Study Group Report (New York: Vintage, 2006), p. 4.
[9] Mahan Abedin, "Anbar Province and Emerging Trends in the Iraqi Insurgency," Terrorism Monitor (Washington, D.C.: Jamestown Foundation), July 15, 2005.
[10] Wilbanks interview with U.S. Marine Col. Jeff Satterfield, Multinational Force West, Camp Ramadi, Fallujah, Nov. 12, 2009.
[11] Wilbanks interview with Safa Hussein al-Sheikh, former Iraqi deputy national security advisor, International Zone, Baghdad, Oct. 28, 2008.
[12] Wilbanks interview with Capt. Christopher P. Dean, Task Force 237, 1st Armored Div., Camp Echo, Diwaniyah, Sept. 28, 2009.
[13] Wilbanks interview with Gen. Tariq al-Asal, police chief of Anbar province, Ramadi government official and former Sons of Iraq leader, Nov. 12, 2009.
[14] Time, Dec. 26, 2006.
[15] Wilbanks interview with Satterfield, Nov. 12, 2009.
[16] Wilbanks interview with U.S. captain, former platoon leader, 2-23 Infantry from 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Div., Muqdadiya, at Camp Victory near Baghdad Airport, Aug. 14, 2009.
[17] Wilbanks interview with anthropologist David Matsuda, Baghdad, Sept. 14, 2009.
[18] Wilbanks interview with S. H. al-Sheikh, Oct. 28, 2008.
[19] Wilbanks interview with Col. Kurt Pinkerton, former lt. col. and commander, 2-5 Cavalry Aviation Brigade, Abu Ghraib, Nov. 9, 2009.
[20] Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander, Multinational Force-Iraq, "Report to Congress on the Situation in Iraq," Sept. 10-11, 2007.
[21] Farooq Ahmed, "Backgrounder #23: Sons of Iraq and Awakening Forces," Institute for the Study of War, Washington, D.C., Feb. 21, 2008, pp. 2-5.
[22] Wilbanks interview with anonymous Iraqi ministry secretary, International Zone, Baghdad, late 2009.
[23] Wilbanks interview with S. H. al-Sheikh, Oct. 28, 2008.
[24] Wilbanks interview with Emma Sky, political advisor to Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, International Zone, Baghdad, Oct. 28, 2009.
[25] Wilbanks interview with former U.S. platoon leader, Camp Victory, Aug. 14, 2009.
[26] Wilbanks interview with Gen. Tariq Yusuf Muhammad Hussein al-Thiyabi, chief of police, Anbar province, former Sahwa leader, Provincial Government Center, Ramadi, Nov. 12, 2009.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Wilbanks interview with Col. Richard Welch, Forward Operating Base Prosperity, International Zone, Baghdad, Oct. 1, 2009.
[29] Efraim Karsh and Inari Karsh, "Myth in the Desert, or Not the Great Arab Revolt," Middle Eastern Studies, Apr. 1997, p. 296.
[30] Wilbanks interview with S. H. al-Sheikh, Oct. 28, 2008.
[31] Wilbanks interview with Sons of Iraq member from Rusafa district, Baghdad, Forward Operating Base Prosperity, International Zone, Baghdad, Sept. 3, 2009.
[32] Wilbanks interview with Sheikh Wathak Ozet Latif of al-Daqr area, Salah ad-Din province, Camp Dagger, Tikrit, Oct. 6, 2009.
[33] "Information on Government of Iraq Contributions to Reconstruction Costs," SIGIR 09-018, Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Apr. 29, 2009, p. 6.
[34] Associated Press, Apr. 8, 2008.
[35] Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, "Subcontracting in Combat Zones: Who Are Our Subcontractors?" testimony before the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., June 29, 2010, p. 6.
[36] "Quarterly Report to the United States Congress," Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Apr. 30, 2010, p. 11.
[37] Wilbanks interview with Maj. Gen. Muther al-Mawla, International Zone, Baghdad, Oct. 15, 2009.
[38] Wilbanks interview with Abu Azzam al-Tamimi, International Zone, Baghdad, Sept. 5, 2009.
[39] Wilbanks interview with Sa'ad Uraibi Ghafuri, via Skype to Jordan, International Zone, Baghdad, Oct. 2, 2009.
[40] "Quarterly Report to the United States Congress," Apr. 30, 2010, pp. 47-8.
[41] Wilbanks interview with Gen. Abud Kanbar Hashim Khayun al-Maliki, Baghdad Operations Center, Nov. 27, 2009.

Mark Wilbanks is an Air Force lieutenant colonel. He served as a staff officer with the Multinational Forces Iraq headquarters in Baghdad from May through December 2009. Efraim Karsh is editor of the Middle East Quarterly.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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