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Baghdad to Samarra: “you are entering a hot zone”

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- life not quite as subtle as art, but echoing it nevertheless ]
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Poignant photo of refugees sleeping in Samarra's Askariya mosque -- credit Bryan Denton for the NYT

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Alissa Rubin, writing in yesterday’s NYT under the title On the Road to Samarra, Glimpses of Iraq’s New Fractured Reality, offers a realistic description of the road between the two cities:

About 20 miles beyond the northern gates of Baghdad, on the way to the embattled city of Samarra, site of one of Shiite Islam’s holiest shrines, the road empties out as if some invisible barrier has been passed.

From this point on boundaries are constantly shifting, with the Iraqi government’s control extending only a little beyond the side of the road, and sometimes not even there.

The 75-mile drive from Baghdad to Samarra plunges the traveler into Iraq’s precarious new reality. It is a world of Shiite militias, where many of the men carrying arms on behalf of the government have only the most tenuous ties to the Iraqi security forces. And it is a world where Sunni militants, who advanced to within 50 miles of Baghdad in their initial burst last month before their drive stalled, often are no more than a mile or so away.

Travelers must read signs that would be invisible to a newcomer: Flags and uniforms signal safety or danger.

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I can’t help but remember Somerset Maugham‘s account of that same distance, metaphysically measured, as quoted by John O’Hara:

Death speaks:

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

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United States of Islam banknote art

Monday, July 7th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- art, but can you bank on it? ]
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Sacagawea is for sure my favorite of the women hijabbed to the hilt in artist Stephen Barnwell‘s renderings of Islamic banknotes, US — it’s those two feathers of hers… The other two options are Susan B Anthony and Betsy “Crescent, star and stripes” Ross.

Unless, of course, Lady Liberty should have pride of place…

As for the Prophet Muhammad? Not kosher to show his face…

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There’s a lot going on here — some of the notes bear a distinctly non-Islamic 666, some are signed by Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian revolution and Shia to the core — his counter-signer is Mullah Omar of the Taliban, a Deobandi-type Sunni. Oops. And FWIW, the United States of Islam was a Sunni concept.

Near as I can tell, these are all Fundamentalist Reserve Notes, which presumably means you can’t get silver for them. But look below, it specifies “in oil, payable to the bearer on demand”. Which, considering the US is the world’s #1 source of oil at this point, is probably no bad thing.

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The six dollar bills have a grim obverse featuring, if I’m not mistaken, Saladin:

and a series of precursor images:

And did you get that? Osama bin Laden and Abu al-Zarqawi share a note…

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Oh my, I have a 22 dollar note myself, somewhere, though it’s not about Islam taking over the US — treaure from some minor congressional election in Florida, years ago, with the crazy candidate’s face where portraits of Presidents usually go.

And then there’s also Boggs, who (among other things) drew a highly convincing banknote on a gallery wall and framed it — and when the cops came to take it down, they took the frame and lo! the image remained on the wall…

Artists!

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Daveed Gartenstein-Ross twitterstreaming re Iraq & ISIS…

Friday, June 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- today's source of understanding addresses the tensions within the ISIS alliance -- with a question about the Naqshbandiyya tagged on for our readers ]
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Here, including a “ramp-up” from two days ago, is a series of related tweets from Daveed G-R:

Nota bene:

  • We reject Sharia.
  • IAI may eventually have to fight ISIS.
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    While we’re at it, here are two other DG-R tweets on significant topics:

    Daveed’s Spectator cover-article is (appropriately) spectacular, btw.

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    Of particular interest to me, in case you read this and know where to point me, is anything re the strength or nominality of connection between the Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi or Naqshabandi army and the Sufi Naqshbandiyya order.

    Thanks!

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    Non-dual Islam and Iraq

    Friday, June 20th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a tale of Sunni, Shia and Sushi ]
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    It’s a remarkable image, with viral potential to be sure, but there’s a practical side to it too — I found it at the head of an IQNA (ie Iranian) article from February, titled Karbala’s Shiites Welcome Anbar’s Sunni Families, which informed us:

    After weeks of fighting between armed groups and Iraqi military forces in the Anbar province, civilians caught in the middle of the clashes have been fleeing for safety. The region has a Sunni majority but safe places of refuge are being found in Shiite districts such as Karbala.

    In the previous month, Osama al-Shami, deputy head of Karbala’s Shiite endowments authority, said that families fleeing Iraq’s predominantly Sunni Anbar province would be welcomed in the southeastern Shiite-majority province.

    Dozens of displaced families – including many women and children – have fled to the city of Karbala, where they have been given shelter in the part of the city usually reserved for pilgrims.
    Observers have noted the significance of Karbala’s Shiite endowment authority offering shelter to Sunni refugees amid ongoing sectarian tension in Iraq.

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    Did I say viral? It has been cleverly adapted with exactly that in mind…

    — and there’s even a translation in circulation:

    Not talking about fish indeed!

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    In much the same spirit…

    Hayder al-Khoei, scion of a remarkable Shiite clerical dynasty and an Associate Fellow at Chatham House, shifts the emphasis regarding ISIS away from sectarianism and towards simple terrorism:

    — while Maajid Nawaz, once a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir and now Executive Director of the anti-extremist Quilliam Foundation, re-orients “say no” to the same purpose:

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    Posts from my Coursera classes 3 — on knowing Shia from Sunni

    Thursday, June 19th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- Bush, Reyes and McCain as leading indicators of a difficult learning-curve ]
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    Here’s another in my series of posts taken from MOOCs I’ve been participating in. This one comes from the Changing World Order Coursera MOOC from Leiden University, and deals with the knowledge senior US politicians have shown of the distinction between the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam — as fundamental as the distinction between Protestant and Catholic within Christianity, and similarly basic in that further distinctions of detail also merit our awareness and consideration.

    I am posting it here today not just because it’s part of the series of “bigger picture” mini-essays [1, 2] I’m drawing together as I continue to participate in these MOOC discussions, but also so that I can link to it in my post on Nomenclature, ISIS and beyond.

    Here’s the post in question:

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    As to the knowledge of these distinctions present in American politicians, here are some data points, one from George W Bush shortly before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, one from the incoming Democratic chair of the House intelligence Committee in 2006, and one from John McCain in 2008.

    President GW Bush:

    A year after the Axis of Evil speech, President Bush met with three Iraqi Americans … As the three described what they thought would be the political situation after Saddam’s fall, they talked about Sunnis and Shiites.  It became apparent to them that the president was unfamiliar with these terms. … So two months before he ordered U.S. troops into the country, the president of the United States did not appear to know about the division among Iraqis that has defined the country’s history and politics.  He would not have understood why non-Arab Iran might gain a foothold in post-Saddam Iraq.  He could not have anticipated U.S. troops being caught in the middle of a civil war between two religious sects that he did not know existed.

    — Peter Galbraith, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End

    Rep Silvestre Reyes:

    In 2006, the New York Times reported on Rep Silvestre Reyes’ answers to two questions:

    • Is Al Qaeda Sunni or Shiite?
    • Which sect dominates Hezbollah?

    Silvestre Reyes, the Democratic nominee to head the House Intelligence Committee, failed to answer both questions correctly last week when put to the test by Congressional Quarterly. He mislabeled Al Qaeda as predominantly Shiite, and on Hezbollah, which is mostly Shiite, he drew a blank.

    “Speaking only for myself,” he told reporters, “it’s hard to keep things in perspective and in the categories.”

    — New York Times, Refresher Course for Congress: Telling Sunni From Shiite

    Sen. John McCain:

    Sen. John McCain, traveling in the Middle East to promote his foreign policy expertise, misidentified in remarks Tuesday which broad category of Iraqi extremists are allegedly receiving support from Iran.

    He said several times that Iran, a predominately Shiite country, was supplying the mostly Sunni militant group, al-Qaeda. In fact, officials have said they believe Iran is helping Shiite extremists in Iraq.

    Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be concerned about Iranian operatives “taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.”

    Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it was “common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.” A few moments later, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in the presidential candidate’s ear. McCain then said: “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.”

    A McCain Gaffe in Jordan, Washington Post, 2008

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    Somewhere between intelligence and decision-making, there’s a gap…

    – hipbone

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    Previous posts in this series:

  • Posts from my Coursera classes I — dehumanization, consequences
  • Posts from my Coursera classes 2 — angles on the Taliban
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