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Insight into Iraq in Seierstad’s bio of Anders Breivik

Monday, April 27th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — another example of what I call “landmines in the garden” ]

I wouldn’t have picked a bio of Anders Breivik as a likely source for insights into Iraq, but Åsne Seierstad‘s bio, One of Us, provides one all the same… first quoting the Qur’anic sura Al-Anfal (upper panel, below) in her epigraph to a chapter —

SPEC DQ Al-Anfal

— then commenting on that quotation (lower panel, above) a page later.


What interests me here is Seierstad’s last sentence as quoted in the lower panel:

By naming the campaign of extermination after a sura of the Qur’an, the Iraqi government sought to legitimate its executions as a war against believers.

We have seen jihadists quote scripture often enough to suggest they have divine sanction for their acts of violence. Here it was Saddam Hussein in 1988 whose interpretation of the Qur’an provided that sanction. And I emphasize the word “interpretation” since Sura 8, Al-Anfal (The Spoils of War), was received shortly after the Battle of Badr, which it is understood to describe in detail, and its applicability by analogy to completely different circumstances such as Saddam’s campaign against the Kurds (and also, as Wikipedia notes, Assyrians, Shabaks, Iraqi Turkmens, Yazidis, Jews, and Mandeans) is indeed interpretive and subjective rather than “authoritative”.

Saddam Hussein’s “authority” in Quranic exegesis would be questionable at best — so long as one was not overheard questioning it in Iraq at the time.

Specifically, the very next verse of Al-Anfal clarifies the context. It does not say “When you find the unbelievers living in their villages and towns” — it says:

O believers, when you encounter the unbelievers marching to battle, turn not your backs to them.

But it is a little late for anyone to presume to give Saddam Hussein lessons in the book he once ordered written in his own blood, least of all myself.


My overall point here is that the world’s scriptures in general offer paths towards paradise, pardes, pardis – a tranquil garden or orchard. Not infrequently, though, they also contain texts which can blow up in our faces if read not in historical context but with contemporary violent intent.

Landmines in the Garden.

Caveat lector.

Break it Down Show – LTG Daniel P. Bolger

Monday, March 30th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Friend of ZP, Pete Turner and his partner Jon interview LTG Daniel P. Bolger, author of Why We Lost, at The Break it Down Show:

The General’s Account – With Daniel P. Bolger 

This is a great episode, a “must listen” event – insurgency, accountability, the GRU, the Taliban, counterinsurgency theory, ISIS, Boko Haram, strategy, “powerpoint generals”, ” the Fulda Gap Model”, ” we are the most irresponsible superpower in any era that I am aware of” and…..More!

The battle flags of religion

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — vexilla regis prodeunt, comparative version ]

Two recent examples of religious iconography on the battle field.. from the Badr Brigade, outside Amerli, Iraq:

badr brigade

and from Pro-Russia fighters near the eastern Ukrainian city of Starobeshevo:

Christ flag


The Vexilla regis is a hymn written by Venantius Fortunatus to welcome the procession bringing a fragment of the True Cross to St Radegunda‘s convent in Poitiers: the first line translates to “The banners of the king go forth”.

Here it is, illustrated with battle flags flown by Catholic and Royalist troops during the War in the Vendée:



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  • DoubleFlag in Tikrit

    Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — more exectly, flag / stone — but a DoubleLogo either way ]


    I like this because of the twinning of logos in the image, a sort of DoubleQuote in the Wild, and also because of the parallelism of opposites it proposes in the wording of its text portion — Shia militia vs Sunni IS.

    Grurray asked me whether it was the Hezbollah flag, and I made my guess but asked Phillip Smyth, who covers Shia militias in Iraq on Aaron Zelin‘s Jihadology.net at Hizballah Cavalcade. He replied:


    For further details on Shiite militias, see Phillip’s…

    The road to Samarra

    Friday, March 6th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — parroting Somerset Maugham in the context of suicide ops ]


    The story [lower panel] is Somerset Maugham‘s version of the tale..


    No news from Samarra since Feb 28th, when Radio Free Europe reported:

    IS Militants Attack Samarra

    Militants from the radical group Islamic State (IS) have launched an attack on the northern Iraq city of Samarra, where security forces and Shi’ite militia groups have been assembling ahead of an anticipated offensive against IS positions.

    Suicide bombers detonated their explosives-laden vehicles in the northern part of Samarra early February 28 and a man in a Humvee also packed with explosives blew up his vehicle in the southern part of the city.

    Those who actually volunteer for these suicide missions, however, will find their path to Death in Samarra way more direct.

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