Thursday, 31 January 2008


Palestinian Leader George Habash Dies

January 29, 2008

The Palestinian embassy in Havana expressed its profound sorrow for the
death of the founder and leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine (PFLP), George Habash who was buried on Monday in Jordan.

For more than 60 years Habash was a symbol of Palestinian struggle and
national unity. He will be remembered as a wise leader and a great man, both
by the Arab nation and the international liberation movements, notes the
embassy statement, reported Prensa Latina.

The statement announces that a condolence book is open at the Palestinian
diplomatic mission located on 20th Street in Miramar, where the Cuban
population can pay tribute to the deceased leader.

The PFLP founder died Saturday of a heart attack after a prolonged struggle
against cancer. His burial took place Monday in Amman, the Jordanian
capital, where a multitude of people accompanied his remains to the
Christian cemetery of Sabah to the east of the city.


Palestinians in Cuba Mourn Leader

Havana, Jan 29 (Prensa Latina) The Palestinian embassy in Cuba expressed its
deep sorrow over the death of the founder and leader of the Popular Front
for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), George Habash, who was buried yesterday
in Jordan.

Habash, who for 60 years was a symbol of struggle and of Palestine national
unity, will be remembered as a wise leader and a great man, both of the Arab
nation as of the International Liberation Movement, expressed an official

The text also informs the location of a condolence book in the Palestinian
diplomatic mission in this capital open to the Cuban people to pay tribute
to the deceased leader.

The founder of PFLP died Saturday of a heart attack after a prolonged battle
against cancer.

He was buried in Amman, Jordanian capital, where a large crowd accompanied
his remains to the Christian cemetery of Sabah, to the east of the city.

After a mass in his memory in a Greek Orthodox church, an urn with his
remains, covered with a Palestine flag was taken to the tomb of soldiers of
the Palestine Liberation Army.

Among the political personalities attending the funeral were the President
of the National Palestine Council, Salim Zaanun and representatives of the
Palestine movements of resistance.


From the Los Angeles Times
George Habash; Arab nationalist planned hijackings
By Kim Murphy
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

January 27, 2008

George Habash, the founder of Arab nationalism and architect of the infamous
airline hijackings of the 1960s and '70s that brought the search for a
Palestinian homeland terrifyingly close to home for millions around the
world, died Saturday in Amman, Jordan.

Bedridden for years and partially paralyzed after two strokes, Habash died
of a heart attack in an Amman hospital five days after surgery to implant a
stent, his surgeon, Harran Zreiqat, told the Associated Press. He was
believed to be 82, but the precise date of his birth could not be confirmed.

His death came at a time of bitter divisions in the Palestinian movement
between revolutionaries convinced, as he was, that violence is the only
effective way to achieve a Palestinian state, and moderates who favor the
diplomatic route.

With a wave of airline hijackings and the headline-grabbing seizure of a
French airliner at Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976, Habash's Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) inspired an image of ruthlessness in a
Western psyche unattuned to the violent politics of the Middle East.

But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had supported them, Habash
and his radical contemporaries found themselves increasingly marginalized,
hidden away in secret offices in Syria while the Palestine Liberation
Organization's mainstream moved toward accommodation with Israel and the

Habash nonetheless remained an idol to the movement's leftist intellectuals
and disenfranchised thousands who inhabit Palestinian refugee camps in
Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

A Marxist physician who dreamed that a united Arab nation could force Israel
to give back Palestine, Habash played the revolutionary to PLO Chairman
Yasser Arafat's role of politician, frequently ridiculing Arafat's checkered
headdress and military uniform.

His quarreling with Arafat, who died in 2004, defined the Palestinian
movement's choices for decades, just as the split between Mahmoud Abbas,
Arafat's diplomacy-minded successor, and the militant Islamic group Hamas
does today.

Accusing Arafat of selling out the Palestinian cause to the United States
and Israel, Habash resisted all attempts to arrive at a negotiated
resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that did not involve the return of
Palestinians to their historic homelands in Jerusalem, Haifa and Jaffa.

For millions of young Arabs, Habash represented the voice that said no to
Western intervention in the Middle East and to the Arab regimes, such as
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt, that had allowed U.S. interests to dominate
the region. He saw the Palestinian cause as part of a global struggle, and
defended international terrorism as a way of drawing attention to it.

The son of a Greek Orthodox wheat merchant, Habash reportedly believed that
he was prevented from assuming control of the PLO because he was not a
Muslim. He was born in 1925 in the village of Lydda, now Lod, the site of
Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.

The village fell to Israeli control after a fierce bombardment in 1948, and
Habash fled to Lebanon after being seized and beaten by Israeli soldiers.

He studied medicine at the American University of Beirut, founding a series
of radical student organizations that called for unifying the Arabs'
military might to annihilate Israel.

After Israeli forces crushed an Arab assault and moved into the West Bank,
Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and Syria's Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East
War, Habash formed the PFLP to continue operations against Israelis. It
became the second-largest faction within the PLO, after Arafat's Fatah

In one of its first operations, an Israeli El Al airliner was hijacked to
Algiers in July 1968, forcing the Israelis to free 16 Palestinian prisoners
in exchange for the release of the plane and its passengers.

Two years later, PFLP guerrillas hijacked four airliners in September 1970,
blowing up an American Boeing 747 at Cairo International Airport and holding
about 500 passengers from the other three aircraft hostage in Jordan.

"When we hijack a plane, it has more effect than if we killed a hundred
Israelis in battle," Habash once said. "For decades, world public opinion
has been neither for nor against the Palestinians. It simply ignored us. At
least the world's talking about us now."

The hijackings prompted Jordan's King Hussein to expel the Palestinians.
Habash publicly renounced hijackings in the early 1970s.

But the terror did not stop. In May 1972, the PFLP used Japanese Red Army
guerrillas to conduct a machine-gun attack on the Tel Aviv airport's
terminal building, resulting in the deaths of 27 civilians. Two years later,
PFLP operatives threw hand grenades into a Tel Aviv theater, killing three
and injuring 54.

And in June 1976, Habash's chief lieutenant, Wadia Haddad, directed the
hijacking of a French A-300 Airbus to Entebbe, Uganda, with the aid of a
transnational terrorist force. Four civilians were killed in a dramatic
rescue operation undertaken by Israeli commandos, who killed all seven
gunmen and about 30 Ugandan soldiers.

Some later reports said that Haddad had broken with Habash before Entebbe,
but Habash remained opposed to Arafat's attempts to reach accommodation with
Israel and the West.

Habash was infuriated by Arafat's public renunciation of terrorism in 1988
and his recognition of United Nations Resolution 242, which implied Israel's
right to exist.

And he rejected Arafat's 1993 interim agreement with Israel that created an
autonomous Palestinian government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He
refused to move there, claiming that Arafat was deluding Palestinians by
making them think full independence was around the corner.

Palestinians, he said, must accept the idea that they might have to fight
for the rest of their lives, to simply outlast the Israelis, so that their
children might call Palestine home; and they must continuously remind the
world that their demands are unchanged and unchangeable.

"I believe that 6 million Palestinians, if they say we want only self-
determination, they will get it," he told The Times in a 1991 interview.
"Imagine. Six million saying daily, daily, daily, 'We want
self-determination, we want self-determination.' And expressing this by all
means. I see it very clearly, that we will succeed. Why not?"

Partially paralyzed by a stroke in 1979, Habash could walk only with the aid
of a cane and increasingly was confined to his well-guarded office in Syria,
with its pictures of Palestine and a woven tapestry of Jerusalem's Dome of
the Rock, Islam's holiest shrine.

He suffered a second stroke in 1992 and moved to Jordan later that year. In
2000, he stepped down as PFLP general secretary.

Habash's wife, Hilda, and two daughters were at his bedside when he died.

Palestinians divided over how to deal with Israel joined in praising Habash
on Saturday. Abbas, who took over Arafat's efforts to negotiate Palestinian
statehood, declared a three-day mourning period.

A senior Hamas official in Damascus, Mohammad Nazzal, called Habash's death
a "huge loss."

"We had our ideological differences, but Dr. Habash shared Hamas' opposition
to the peace deals the PLO signed with the Jewish state as a sellout of
Palestinian rights," Nazzal said.

Leila Khaled, a longtime PFLP activist, said Habash was likely to be buried
in Jordan.


Dear Readers,

Due to technical difficulties, OURAIM was unable to update
this site for over two weeks. I am pleased to say that regular
posts will resume on the site as well as the OURAIM Archive,
a link to which can be found on the top of the left-hand column
on this page.

Sukant Chandan - OURAIM


Jihadis Analyze U.S. Plans to Evacuate Forces from Iraq
Abdul Hameed Bakier

Since the beginning of the year, jihadi internet forums have carried many postings concerning the future of U.S. forces in Iraq and American plans to change the current military/political status quo in Iraq. These postings come despite a declaration from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that al-Qaeda has been completely eliminated in Diyala, Salah al-Din and Tamim provinces, with preparations underway to drive al-Qaeda militants from their last safe haven in Iraq’s Ninawa province (al-Ghad [Jordan], January 26).

A posting entitled “Will 2008 be the year of American escape from Iraq?” focuses on the direction U.S. plans will take (, January 18). An active member of this forum—nicknamed “the Muslim”—suggested that Washington’s withdrawal plan from Iraq was devised in 2006 and only began to materialize in 2007. The plan aims to destroy Iraqi resistance movements—particularly al-Qaeda and its Islamic State of Iraq—before commencing any evacuation effort. “The Awakening Councils were therefore set up by Sunni tribesmen to aid al-Maliki’s government in dissolving the insurgency,” the poster wrote. In addition, U.S. diplomacy intensified to isolate Iran on the international front, while plans were made locally to set up a federation that would include Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions with extended autonomy. These plans are designed to make sure no external force can interfere and influence Iraqis to act against U.S. interests in the country after the withdrawal.

In the case of a national civil war, “Plan B” would involve turning Iraq into a confederation of regions to prevent Iraqi unrest from spilling over to the neighboring Gulf States. Since the plan has not worked as well as hoped, U.S. forces have attacked targets like Arab Jabour, south of Baghdad, with strategic bombers; the intent of these attacks was total destruction, similar to certain tactics employed during the Vietnam War. Other forum participants commented on “the Muslim’s” analysis by highlighting American daily losses and the Bush administration’s dilemma in dealing with a Democrat-dominated Congress. Another participant in the same forum even suggested possible Israeli involvement in Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal: “America is trying to plant a Zionist force in Iraq to protect Iraqi oil wealth. We pray for God to drown them in the Tigris and Euphrates” (, January 18).

Further speculation about U.S. plans for Iraq in 2008 also came from the so-called spokesman of the “Department of field moral guidance of the Iraqi national armed resistance” in a posting entitled: “The next page in the American-Zionist plan… Iraq” ( January 12). The posting calls upon the Iraqi resistance not to fall for the plan to continuously occupy Iraq through a puppet government. The United States has spent billions of dollars to set up the “Awakening Councils” to protect the pro-U.S. government and Washington’s oil interests for when they pull out of Iraq and leave only minimal forces behind. These councils failed in fulfilling their objectives, leading the United States to try to seduce ex-Iraqi military leaders and politicians into joining the Iraqi government under U.S.-set conditions. The “spokesman of the resistance” warns that the United States will use those leaders and politicians as policy instruments in Iraq. Another participant warns: “Iraqi sons… this new American-Zionist plan, no doubt, is aimed at saving their own occupation forces and their collaborators from the painful strikes perpetrated by heroes of the Iraqi resistance. On this occasion, the Iraqi resistance calls upon the gallant sons of the Iraqi army to unite against these projects and plans. Not much time is left for victory.”

The amir of the Islamic Army of Iraq, Ali al-Nuaimi, also released a statement analyzing the U.S. situation and objectives for Iraq and the region (, January 16). On the eve of U.S. and French presidential visits to the Middle East, the amir released a statement entitled “Bush and Sarkozy: A political alliance or money and power partners?” Al-Nuaimi said that the state visits—particularly that of President Bush—came amid the failure of U.S. forces to destroy the Iraqi resistance and finish off the jihadi project. Bush came to the region to further political, religious, strategic and economic efforts aimed at guaranteeing Israel’s security while ravishing the rights of Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan. Bush further wanted to bolster al-Maliki’s already perishing government in an attempt to stabilize the security situation in Iraq. The amir added: “It’s obvious to any observer that America and its teenage president are going through a deteriorating situation on all levels. It’s common practice for U.S. presidents to review the Palestinian problem, in the last minutes of their tenure, to add new touches to the problem that would serve the Jews. Little Bush is making his last visit to offer the [same] support his predecessor extended to Israel. On the other hand, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan are playgrounds for America to settle its accounts with its foes” (, January 16).

Despite al-Maliki’s announcement that al-Qaeda will be eliminated after striking at its last stronghold in Ninawa, the organization—and terrorism more generally—can be expected to plague Iraq for years to come, especially given the effectiveness of insurgency propaganda in boosting the morale of Iraq’s insurgents. Furthermore, in intelligence matters, it is unwise to assume that a terror group as fierce and innovative as al-Qaeda can be completely eradicated without a risk of revival in the future.

Abdul Hameed Bakier is an intelligence expert on counter-terrorism, crisis management and terrorist-hostage negotiations. He is based in Jordan.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008


Baitullah Mehsud – The Taliban's New Leader in Pakistan


Baitullah Mehsud, the most feared and dangerous militant
commander in Pakistan's tribal region, has not only become
the public face of militancy in the country, but is now
also openly posing a serious threat to U.S. efforts to
bring stability to neighboring war-torn Afghanistan. Mehsud
leads the recently formed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan
(Taliban Movement of Pakistan), a joint group of various
local Taliban outfits sharing the common objectives of
implementing sharia (Islamic law) and waging jihad against
U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

Mehsud—who is suspected of having close ties with
al-Qaeda—has been in the headlines of local newspapers for
more than three years now because of his prominent role in
spearheading the insurgency against Pakistan's armed
forces, who are currently hunting al-Qaeda and Taliban
militants in the tribal areas. Lately Mehsud has become a
menacing presence in Pakistan due to the widespread belief
of his involvement in the deadly wave of suicide
bombings—mostly targeted against security forces—that has
shaken the whole nation. A UN report released in September
last year blamed Mehsud for almost 80 percent of suicide
bombings in Afghanistan (Daily Times [Lahore], September
30, 2007). According to some reports, Mehsud has compiled
his own hit list of political leaders and high-profile
government officials, and has formed special squads for
carrying out such terrorist acts (Daily Times, May 31,

Already a household name in Pakistan, Mehsud rose to global
notoriety two weeks ago when officials named him as the
prime suspect and alleged mastermind behind the killing of
opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, which was the most
high-profile political assassination in the recent history
of the country. Pakistani authorities have released the
text of a Pashto-language telephone conversation allegedly
intercepted by Pakistan's Interior Ministry, in which
Mehsud congratulates "brave boys" for accomplishing a
"mission," which—according to officials—refers to the
assassination of Benazir Bhutto (English-language version
by Agence France Press, December 29, 2007).

At thirty four years old, Mehsud is a warlord based in the
restive South Waziristan tribal agency and is said to be
much revered by militants on both sides of the
Pakistani-Afghan border. Locals say that he has more than
20,000 fighters, mostly from his Mehsud clan. Officials as
well as his aides claim that he also has hundreds of
trained fidayeen (men of sacrifice) ready to lay down their
lives as suicide bombers upon his instructions.

According to his aides, Mehsud has taken an oath of
allegiance to the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad
Omar. Apart from sharing the same ideologies on sharia and
jihad, Mehsud also shares with his spiritual leader an
aversion to publicity and photographs. As a guerrilla
fighter, Mehsud sharpened his skills under the guidance of
legendary Pashtun commander Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani, who
is widely believed to have helped Osama bin Laden escape
targeted bombing by the United States in the Tora Bora
mountains of Afghanistan in early 2002.

Known as Amir (commander) among his followers, Mehsud was
an unknown figure on the tribal scene until late 2004, when
he filled the vacuum left by the famous tribal militant
leader, Nek Muhammad Wazir, who was killed in a missile
attack in June 2004. In February 2005, the Pakistani
government brokered a deal with Mehsud in a bid to bring
normalcy and peace to violence-stricken South Waziristan.
In return for amnesty, Mehsud promised not to attack
security posts or cross into Afghanistan for jihad, but
backed out of the deal in late August 2007 following the
Red Mosque military operation in Islamabad. Local
journalists from Waziristan say that the so-called peace
deal raised his stature and allowed him to further
strengthen his support base (author's interviews). As a
result, the government's writ is confined to the compounds
of its security forces while gun-brandishing fighters
control the countryside in the South Waziristan agency.
Mehsud had his moment of glory when the government conceded
to his demand to free militant prisoners in return for
releasing more than 250 Pakistani soldiers, seized by his
fighters and held hostage for two and half months. Among
the released militants were presumably a number of would-be
suicide bombers (Dawn [Karachi], December 31, 2007).

The rising popularity of this young and committed jihadi on
both sides of the border has made him a bridge linking the
Pakistani Taliban with the Afghan Taliban on the other side
of the frontier. Many believe that Mehsud has already been
involved in the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan by
dispatching his men to fight against the U.S.-led Coalition
forces. A close aide of Mehsud, Hakimullah Mehsud, was
captured by NATO forces in the border region while trying
to cross into Afghanistan with five foreign fighters (Dawn,
March 8, 2007).

Once described as a "soldier of peace" by a top Pakistani
military general, Mehsud is now not only defying Islamabad,
but has emerged as a major irritant in the global war on
terror. Some of the latest reports from the frontier may be
right in citing him as the new triggerman for al-Qaeda in
the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan—an area
which carries immense strategic importance for the
terrorist network.

Imtiaz Ali is a Pakistan-based journalist working as a
special correspondent for the Washington Post.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008


Bin Laden Identifies Saudi Arabia
as the Enemy of Mujahideen Unity

By Michael Scheuer

Osama bin Laden’s latest message is one of the richest, most comprehensive and starkly realistic he has issued since the start of the Iraq war. The following essay is the first of two that will analyze the message and offer an assessment of its importance. This essay considers al-Qaeda’s dour recognition of its inability to control post-occupation events in Iraq as a small vanguard organization and a non-Iraqi presence in the country. The second part of this article will examine bin Laden’s confidence that al-Qaeda has accomplished its main goal in Iraq: establishing a base from which to project its influence and military power into the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula.

On December 29, 2007, Osama bin Laden issued a 56-minute statement that addressed Muslim insurgents in Iraq [1] and built on his earlier message from October 22 [2]. The new statement was issued via al-Qaeda’s media arm, al-Sahab, and appeared on several internet sites without pre-publication excerpts on al-Jazeera television. Al-Jazeera’s editing of the October 22 audiotape distorted bin Laden’s message, incorrectly giving the implication that he was saying “all is lost” for the mujahideen in Iraq [3]. Al-Jazeera customarily deletes anything critical of the Saudi regime from bin Laden’s messages. This occurred in the case of the October 22 tape and al-Qaeda apparently did not want to take a chance on al-Jazeera’s penchant for politically correct editing with its most recent message [4].

Focus on Iraq

The latest bin Laden tape is—like its October 22 predecessor—preeminently a post-Iraq war tape. In both tapes, bin Laden declares that the United States recognizes that its Coalition has been militarily defeated in Iraq and predicts that U.S. and other foreign forces will leave. Bin Laden does not provide the date U.S.-led forces will withdraw; he focuses his attention on working with Islamist insurgents in Iraq to ensure the Americans and their Arab-government allies cannot build a national unity government that is an “agent to America,” dominated by non-Islamists and ready to permit the United States basing rights and access to Iraqi oil. Because U.S.-led forces have accepted military defeat, bin Laden argues, Washington and its allies must look for other means to prevent the consolidation of an Islamic state in Iraq. “My talk to you,” bin Laden explained, “is about the plots that are being hatched by the Zionist-Crusader alliance, led by America, in cooperation with its agents in the region, to steal the fruit of the blessed jihad in the land of the two rivers, and what we should do to foil these plots.”

History’s Lesson

As always, bin Laden speaks as a product and close observer of the Afghans’ jihad against the Soviet Union. In appealing for unity among the Iraqi mujahideen, he makes no demand that they join al-Qaeda and follow its instructions. He points rather to the failure of the Afghan insurgents to consolidate victory after the Red Army’s 1989 withdrawal: “It would be useful here to recall an effort in the past to unify the leaders of the Afghan mujahideen, which includes important lessons that are related to our topic,” bin Laden tells the Iraqi fighters in an almost avuncular tone.

We had made these efforts with Sheikh Abdullah Azzam [bin Laden’s late Palestinian mentor in Afghanistan], may God have mercy on him. After months of seeking to achieve unity among [the Afghan leaders] and removing the obstacles that some of them used to claim that they obstruct unity, [but then] after removing these obstacles ... they [would] claim that there was another obstacle [preventing unity], and so on and so forth …One of the mujahideen had a strong opinion about these [obstructing] leaders. He was an old wise person who had long experience in life with people. At the time we used to reject his strong-worded statement about them. I will try to convey to you some of what he said. The conclusion is that those leaders are tradesmen who care more about their leadership and give priority to their personal interests over the cause. We used not to believe what he said about them. This has delayed our realization of the sound conception of persons and events [presented by this mujahid]. The harmful consequences of this are no secret … In fact, developments have come to confirm things that we had never expected due to the fact that we were young and lacked experience at the time.

In Iraq, Riyadh is the main enemy

Bin Laden urges the Iraqi fighters to heed the lesson of the Afghans’ historic post-Soviet debacle because “the same thing applies to Iraq today”; leaders are more interested in their own power and status than in making Islam and the ummah (Islamic community) victorious. And while bin Laden warns that Washington is using promises of money, military training and arms to entice the “Islamic Party and some fighting groups [to] support America against Muslims,” he leaves no doubt that the Islamists’ main enemy in Iraq is now Saudi Arabia, not the supposedly militarily defeated United States. After the Soviets’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, bin Laden reminded the Iraqi fighters that “America exerted great efforts … to convince the Afghan leaders through the governments of Riyadh and Islamabad to join a national unity government with communists and secularists from the West.” Bin Laden explained that the Saudi regime was then—and is again today in Iraq—the main enemy of the mujahideen:

[In post-Soviet Afghanistan] the government of Riyadh sought the help of its unofficial scholars to infiltrate the ranks of the mujahideen. These were influential speakers who incited the people to perform jihad and collect huge funds for the leaders of the mujahideen. At the set time, [the Saudi regime] asked the Afghan leaders to unite with the communists and secularists under the so-called national unity state. [The Saudis] obstructed the plan to achieve unity among the leaders of the mujahideen when they tempted one of them with a big amount of money and promised him to be the president of Afghanistan … We do not have much time here for more details. So the current situation [in Iraq] is similar to the past one [in Afghanistan]. The government of Riyadh continues to this day to carry out the same malicious roles with many Islamic action leaders and commanders of the mujahideen in our nation [5].

Bin Laden goes on to claim that the Saudis are trying to co-opt some of the Sunni mujahideen in Iraq by allowing “some groups to confidently move in the Gulf to receive [financial] support.” Riyadh is careful to avoid officially funding its Iraqi insurgent favorites, so its support “is channeled under the banner of raising donations by some unofficial scholars and preachers.” Bin Laden warns that “many of them … are loyal to the state and seek to implement [Riyadh’s] policy by pulling the rug from under the honest mujahideen’s feet” and forcing them to support a national-unity government that is designed to be the agent of the United States and Saudi Arabia. He asks the Iraqi mujahideen how they can trust Saudi King Abdullah, who is the “malignant foe” of Islam, the “main U.S. agent in the region” and a man who took it upon himself “to tempt and tame every free, virtuous, and honest person with the aim of dragging him to the path of temptation and misguidance … [and] the path of betraying the religion and nation and submitting to the will of the Crusader-Zionist alliance.” The Americans are defeated, bin Laden concludes, but to assure God’s victory the Iraqi mujahideen must reject Saudi overtures and direction if they are “not to waste the fruit of this chaste and pure blood that was shed for the sake of consolidating religion and entrenching the state of Muslims.”

A way out?

Bin Laden and his senior lieutenants are reliving what for them is a familiar nightmare. In one of the greatest ironies of the post-1945 era, Islamist fighters have proven that with great, prolonged and bloody effort they can claim the military defeat of superpowers—the USSR and the United States—but cannot consolidate victory when confronted by the wiles, funds and religious establishment of the Saudi leadership. While it is clear in the December 29 tape that bin Laden rates the Saudis as the main obstacle to God’s victory in Iraq, there is little indication of what he intends to do to destroy Riyadh’s ability to stymie the mujahideen there as it did in Afghanistan.

One possibility—though bin Laden did not allude to this—would require a rethinking of al-Qaeda’s grand strategy. Although bin Laden and al-Qaeda have been consistent in their three-fold grand strategy—to drive the United States from the Muslim world, destroy Israel and incumbent Muslim regimes and settle scores with the Shiites—they now face a situation where the Saudi regime has not only so far prevented the unification of Islamist leaders, but is allegedly preparing the Sunni Iraqi insurgents it supports for a civil war with Iraq’s Iranian-backed Shiites. Bin Laden, of course, is correct in arguing that Riyadh wants no genuine national-unity government; the Saudis may be intending to fund and equip a Sunni insurgent force that could join forces with the U.S.-armed and trained Sunni Awakening Councils to battle for control of post-U.S. Iraq against the Shiites and seek the establishment of a Saudi-like Sunni theocracy in Baghdad. If this occurs, the third step of bin Laden’s grand strategy—settling scores with the Shiites—will immediately become the top priority of the Islamic world, as both Sunnis and Shiites focus on assisting their brethren in the Iraqi civil war. This scenario would severely erode bin Laden’s ability to keep Sunni militants focused on the “far” U.S. enemy.

If bin Laden’s assertions are true, and Saudi Arabia’s Afghanistan-like intervention in Iraq continues to prevent the mujahideen unity bin Laden advocates, the al-Qaeda chief and his Shura (consultative) council may soon confront the very unpalatable necessity of having to break with their traditional grand strategy and move to try to destroy the Saudi regime. In such a scenario, al-Qaeda would abandon the pinprick insurgency-and-terrorism campaign it has conducted in the kingdom since 9/11, and employ all the force it commands and can incite there—and bring in from Iraq—to take on the well-infiltrated Saudi military and security services. Such a campaign probably would combine attempts to assassinate the king, the interior minister and senior intelligence and military officials with attacks to disrupt Saudi oil production. The latter operations would be staged in the hope of forcing Washington to a Hobson’s choice between standing back and allowing havoc to reign in the world’s oil market—with the immense damage it would entail for the U.S. economy—and ordering U.S. military forces into action against Muslims in order to restore oil production on the sacred soil of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthplace and what bin Laden refers to as “the land of the two holy mosques.”

The foregoing clearly is not an option that al-Qaeda is eager to undertake; it is an option that amounts to an almost desperate gamble. But that said, if such a campaign successfully triggered a U.S. military response in the kingdom, the focus and militancy of the entire Muslim world—both Sunni and Shiite—would be switched from Iraq to Saudi Arabia, and the enmity and weapons of all Muslims would, at least temporarily, be refocused on the “far enemy” in North America.

Michael Scheuer served in the CIA for 22 years before resigning in 2004. He served as the Chief of the bin Laden Unit at the Counterterrorist Center from 1996 to 1999. He is the once anonymous author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror and Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America. Dr. Scheuer is a Senior Fellow with The Jamestown Foundation.


1. Osama bin Laden, “The Way to Foil Plots,” al-Sahab Media Production Organization, December 29, 2007. All quotes from bin Laden in the text are from this statement unless otherwise noted.

2. Osama bin Laden, “A Message to Our People in Iraq,” Threat and Claim Monitor,, October 22, 2007.

3. Al-Jazeera, October 23, 2007. By censoring bin Laden’s statement, al-Jazeera unwittingly seems to have done al-Qaeda a great service. The “all-is-lost” message yielded by al-Jazeera’s editors has become the common wisdom among Western media and governments, thereby obscuring for those entities the fact that bin Laden was discussing how all Iraqi insurgents should proceed to consolidate Islam’s victory over the United States and its allies in Iraq.

4. Al-Jazeera’s editing earned it some outrage and condemnation from Islamists. See, for example, Bilal al-Khaldi, “And thus Usama’s message has gone to waste. An invitation to a proactive response.” Islamic al-Fallujah Forums (internet), November 16, 2007.

5. Bin Laden says that the Saudi effort to prevent post-Soviet Afghan unity was led and managed by “the Riyadh intelligence chief,” who was at the time Prince Turki al-Faisal. This is the same Prince Turki who—while serving as the Saudi ambassador to the United States—unexpectedly and hurriedly departed Washington in early 2007 when a Sunni-Shiite civil war seemed imminent in Iraq. Not much has been heard from Prince Turki since his departure, but if bin Laden’s claims about the current Saudi campaign to co-opt Iraq’s Sunni mujahideen are true, it is hard to imagine anyone more qualified by past experience to lead the effort than Prince Turki.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008


Heads and the state

By Carla Power

03 January 2008

The Politics of the Veil
Joan Wallach Scott Princeton University Press, 208pp, £14.95

The six years since the 11 September 2001 attacks have changed the way western liberals talk about Islam. In the aftermath of the World Trade Center bombing, the focus was on jihadists, or criminals who cloaked themselves in Islam's mantle to wage a campaign against western global domination. But with Osama Bin Laden still not captured and with fears of terrorism changing western civilisation, from air travel to constitutional freedoms, the discourse on Islam has become increasingly diffuse. As Europe grapples with its evolving status as a region of immigrants, Muslim culture - and not just its perversion in Islamist ideology - has been cast as a threat.

A powerful weapon in Islam's arsenal is women's clothing. A charged symbol of the changing face of Europe, the veil has become as hotly debated a topic as terrorism. At times, the terror threat and the threat from veiled women are neatly braided together, as when a male terrorist suspect fled Britain in a burqa. Veil-bashing is suddenly socially acceptable among not merely tabloid-reading Little Englanders, but also metropolitan sophisticates. Centrist politicians such as Jack Straw voiced disquiet over its effects on the democracy. Salman Rushdie supported him in no uncertain terms: "Veils," he said, "suck."

But British debates about the veil pale next to those in France. Three times since 1989, debate has erupted over allowing girls to wear the hijab in French state schools, culminating in the 2004 ban on "conspicuous signs" of religious affiliation in schools. Though the ban applies as much to yarmulkes and crosses as headscarves, it was designed for Muslim hijabis. The law was passed after a polarising national debate in which the veil was pitted against the "values of the Republic". The then president, Jacques Chirac, described the veil as "a kind of aggression".

Why should a bit of cloth so threaten the French republic? That is the central question posed by a subtle new study, The Politics of the Veil, by the American historian Joan Wallach Scott. Many French commentators cast the debate about the veil as an issue about Muslims, Islam and integration. Scott, a distinguished historian at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, shows that it revealed rather more about the French themselves. It challenged France's notion of laïcité, or secularism, as well as its attitudes to sexuality and individualism. The veil debate was, writes Scott, "a way of insisting on the timeless superiority of French 'civilisation' in the face of a changing world". With its beloved 35-hour week and state benefits system threatened, its schools and its suburbs in crisis, its relevance as a global power a dimming memory, it is not surprising that France freighted the issue with hundreds of years of cultural baggage. As Professor Scott writes: "The preservation of a mythical notion of 'France' in its many aspects was a driving force in the affaire des foulards."

The veil debate drew on a history of racism burnished during the colonial era. The French justified their occupation of Algeria, which began in 1830 and ended in humiliation in 1962, as part of la mission civilisatrice - the project of bringing post-Enlightenment values to the Arabs. Civilising the natives meant separating them from Islam, which was widely cast as a cruel and irrational system, "at once a symptom of innate Arab perversity and the cause of it", writes Scott.

Such Islamophobia blinded even Alexis de Tocqueville, that peerless commentator on power and politics. "There are in the entire world few religions with such morbid consequences as that of Mohammed," he wrote in 1843. "To me it is the primary cause of the now visible decadence of the Islamic world." Such logic, observes Scott, points to the "paradox of the civilising mission", one that continues today: a "commitment to change and uplift could be confirmed only in juxtaposition to the permanent inferiority of those it claimed to be civilising".

For the 21st-century French intent on civilising the Muslims in their midst, civilisation meant sexual freedom, and Muslim women must be "liberated" from the veil to enjoy the same sexual freedoms as their Gallic sisters. The veil, commonly read by westerners and Muslim feminists alike as a way of regulating sexual freedom, not only challenged French notions of sexual liberation, it also showed up the limits of the fundamental equalities guaranteed to French citizens.

By covering their heads, Muslim girls were highlighting gender differences, which, as Scott shows, chipped away at the cornerstone of French egalitarianism. Banning the hijab from schools, French officials argued, would remove any sign of women's inequality from the classroom. And equality between the sexes, they said, was the first principle of the republic and a vital tenet of la laïcité. "According to republican political theory, citizens are abstract individuals, indistinguishable from one another." By marking out their difference from other French citizens with veils, Muslim women stick two fingers up at the cosy notions of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Monday, 7 January 2008


The SWP takes a step backwards

This article centers around a split in the RESPECT coalition on the far-left of British politics. The RESPECT experience however does show the growing politicisation of Muslim people in Britain, especially the youth, against war and Islamophobia. RESPECT is unique in the Western world in as much as it has united Muslim activists with socialists in the same organisation. The split in RESPECT has shown what challenges there still remains amongst the left in understanding the Muslim community. Here RESPECT (now 'RESPECT Renewal') councillor Salma Yaqoob dissects the dynamics and problems of her political work
- Sukant Chandan

By Cllr Salma Yaqoob

Of all the words written about the split in Respect, the least important are those dealing with who did what at some meeting or other. Of much more interest are those articles attempting to provide some political explanation of these events.

Two recent articles from Martin Smith and Chris Harman[1] attempt to provide this political explanation. What I propose to do here is to address three aspects of this debate. Firstly, the SWP’s echoing of attacks once the preserve of those more known for pandering to Islamaphobia than challenging it. Secondly, the SWP’s crass understanding of the dynamic of race and class inside the Muslim community, and the conclusions they draw from it. And thirdly, how best to protect the political integrity of the newly emerging Respect as an entity rooted in opposition to war, neo-liberalism and racism.

A spectre is haunting Respect?

Leading members of the SWP are conjuring up the spectre of reactionary religious forces on the march inside Respect.

In his article in the December 2007 issue of Socialist Review, SWP National Secretary Martin Smith quotes, with apparent approval, an opponent of Respect as saying: ‘The split will strengthen the weight of the Islamists in Respect Renewal, some of whom have links to Jamaat-e-Islami [Pakistan’s largest religious party]. I don’t think that’s going to make the party very hospitable to socialists.’[2]

Chris Harman echoes the theme, but goes for a double whammy, invoking two apparently sinister organized forces at work inside Respect: ‘…some of Galloway’s allies in the Islamic Forum of Europe have connections with the Bangladeshi group Jamaat-i-Islami…It was involved in the military suppression of the Bengali liberation movement in 1969, before developing separate Pakistani and Bangladeshi wings, both of which still use force to drive the left from university campuses’[3]

This argument could not be clearer: conservative Islamic organisations are organizing inside Respect against socialists. It is an argument that we have heard time and time again from those who most viciously opposed Respect from the start, as part of their pro-war agenda. That the SWP now echo these arguments is astonishing.

To ascertain whether there are conservative Islamic religious forces exercising their weight inside Respect, it is first helpful to evaluate whether they are emerging in broader British society. Writing about this nearly two years ago my estimation about Muslim radicalism, - those engaging in political activism from a self consciously religious perspective - was as follows:

‘…the dominant character of Muslim radicalisation in Britain today points not towards terrorism or religious extremism, but in the opposite direction: towards political engagement in new, radical and progressive coalitions that seek to unite Muslim with non-Muslim in parliamentary and extra- parliamentary strategies to effect change…the existence of this new and progressive radicalism is a sharp break from those who would lead British Islam into confrontation with all levels of British society.’[4]

As evidence I pointed to increasing Muslim participation in an array of campaigns and initiatives, from the anti-war movement to the European Social Forum, from political alliances with the Mayor of London’s office to the emergence of Respect.

Two years later that process has deepened. The decision of the MCB to end their boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day[5], the comments from its chair Mohammed Bari that discrimination on the basis of sexual preference was ‘obnoxious’,[6] and the growing relationship between the MCB and the Trades Union Congress represents important progress. Reactionary and conservative religious radicals certainly exist, and their influence has to be continually countered. But the general political trajectory of Muslim radicalism is still towards progressive politics.

That general trend is much more dramatically pronounced inside Respect, which has gathered together a significant grouping of Muslims who combine their Islamic faith with a commitment to the struggle for social justice.

One indication of which way the wind is blowing has been the complete absence of any serious dissent inside Respect over the kind of secular/religious fault lines that run through wider society. This includes issues such as abortion law, homosexuality, gender equality or faith-based schools.

For many people these are matters of personal morality and religious belief. For that reason we would be wise to deal with them with some sensitivity[7]. But these issues, of course, have a wider political and social significance that we cannot ignore. In this context, an argument about the importance of the right to self-determination, freedom and equality is very powerful. I have argued on many occasions that if Muslims demand respect for their beliefs and lifestyle, then the same tolerance and respect for the rights and choices of others is obligatory.

What we have achieved is the creation of an alliance which emphasizes universal themes of justice and equality. Within this there will be all sorts of ideological (and theological) views. But they are united by the defence of the rights and freedoms of all. It is an alliance that has advanced support for progressive social causes.

There is no evidence of any Muslim bloc inside Respect seeking to give our political agenda some Sharia flavour. There is no evidence that members of Jamaat-i-Islami or any other Islamic organization are on some ‘entryist’ mission inside Respect.

There is no evidence of the SWP raising concerns about undue religious influence in all the time I have been Vice Chair. And there is no evidence that such forces are about to emerge in the absence of the SWP. Quite the opposite, in fact. When we were organizing the Respect Renewal conference the Islamic figure our Bengali councillors in Tower Hamlets wanted to speak was Tariq Ramadan, the most progressive exponent of a modern European Islam.

The SWP allegations are groundless. They are driven more by the dynamic of a faction fight in which they are grasping around for ideological cover to mask what is in reality sectarian manoeuvres to entrench their control. The danger for the SWP, in repeating arguments which first emanated from the so-called pro-war ‘left’, is that in so doing they allow the waters of Islamaphobia to lap at their feet.

Are Muslims in retreat from the struggle against war and racism?

The SWP have suggested that there is a retreat from engagement in radical politics by Muslims, and that George Galloway was adapting to this reversion to conservative community politics. They locate this retreat in the impact of the 7/7 bombings. This claim is wrong.

There is no evidence that Muslims, radicalised by the impact of war and Islamaphobia, are falling in behind Home Office attempts to incorporate establishment figures on the basis of softening opposition to British foreign policy or to their campaigns of demonisation against Muslims. The handful of Muslim figures who have taken such a view patently do not have the support of the wider community. Any political benefits the Labour party have gained from the ‘Brown Bounce’ have very much disappeared. While there is fear and concern over new government threats to our civil liberties, there is simply no evidence that the Government’s agenda is substantially weakening the anti-imperialist or anti-racist consciousness among any significant layer of Muslims in Britain today.

The SWP attempts to justify this argument with reference to a decline in the numbers of Muslims attending anti-war marches. This is far too simplistic. The inability of the anti-war movement to prevent the invasion of Iraq inevitably had a certain demoralizing effect, across all communities, undermining a belief in the power of social movements to make a difference. It was not just Muslim participation on anti-war protests that subsequently declined.

But the anger over the war on terror has not gone away. It re-emerged over the Israeli attack on Lebanon, and would undoubtedly emerge again in the advent of any new escalation like an attack on Iran. Furthermore, events organised by coalitions of Islamic institutions such as the Global Peace and Unity conference and Islam Expo have continued to grow after 7/7 and have continued to develop a critical, radical edge. These attract tens of thousands of participants.

It is a mistake therefore to conflate a dip in Muslim involvement in a single set form of activity – a Stop the War demonstration – with a major political regression to community politics.

Does Respect pander to ‘community leaders i.e. small businessmen’[8]?

Related to this mistaken analysis, is a crude understanding of the appeal of Respect inside the Muslim community. The SWP states: ‘This logic of electoralism has led Galloway and his supporters to be drawn into making alliances across the whole Muslim community’, wherein, George Galloway, myself and others will become increasingly dependant upon ‘community leaders’ i.e. small businessmen’.[8]

It is true that Respect does have an appeal across the whole Muslim community. There are two possible explanations for this. One, traditionally favoured by the ultra-left and now by the SWP, is that Respect has consciously courted the support of community leaders/small businessmen, at the price of politically compromising ourselves. Again, no actual evidence is produced to substantiate this, nor is there any explanation as to why sections of the Muslim business community would think their class interests are best served by hitching their wagon to a fringe political party.

Another explanation lies in an understanding of how racism impacts on all Muslims. This racism affects all Muslims, although of course it is mitigated by class background.

Firstly, though, one must be clear about the nature of Muslim communities in Britain today. Muslim communities are dominated by disadvantage and poverty[9].

• Around 69% of Muslims live in poverty.
• 35% of Muslim households have no adult in employment – double the national average. Overall, they are 3 times more likely to be unemployed than the population as a whole.
• 73% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi children live in households below the poverty line – compared to 31% for all households
• 32% of Muslim households were overcrowded, and generally Muslims have poorer housing conditions, and are more reliant on social housing
• 28% of young Muslims are unemployed
• 20% of Muslims are self-employed – frequently in marginal and insecure occupations

These are the communities where we have won our strongest support – in some of the poorest wards in the country. Our support does not come primarily from the small, or not so small businessmen, seeking to advance their interests. It comes overwhelmingly from those who experience poverty and disadvantage.

But, in tandem with this poverty and disadvantage, is racism. Irrespective of their class background, Muslims are constantly aware of the discrimination and prejudice they face. It is no less real for the self-employed taxi driver, or the owner of a small grocers shop. There is anger throughout the community at this racism, compounded by anger at the blatant double standards of Western foreign policy.

A consequence of this system of disadvantage and exclusion is the pitifully poor political representation imposed on these communities. For many years this has been dominated by the Labour Party, happy to rely on the large votes from Muslims, but desperate to retain control over them.

So when politicians come along who articulate the feelings of the community, they will get respect, whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim. One of the biggest reasons why Muslims say they support me is that I make them feel proud of who they are, even to the extent of thinking I am a role model for their children.

This sense of pride and community loyalty applies to Muslims who are unemployed, it applies to Muslims who run corner shops, and it applies to our handful of more wealthy backers.

There are Muslim businesspeople who live in million pound mansions in leafy suburbs, while operating businesses in our communities paying low wages and delivering poor conditions for their workers. But I have not yet found these people to be natural supporters of a fringe left-wing party. There are other businesspeople who both live and work in our communities, and who retain a close connection with the community they come from, and who have the same interest as their brothers and sisters in confronting racism, opposing war, and seeing good representation for the disadvantaged areas they live in.

Respect’s base is among the poorest sections of our communities. And the experience of anti-Muslim racism, and disgust at imperialist war, motivates some small business people in those communities to join us. The roots of our cross community support do not lie in right-wing, anti-working class politics. They can be found in a commitment to oppose racism and war, and the significance of a political party being seen to speak out in defence of that community’s interest.

Running through the SWP’s analysis is a crude reductionist attempt to read off all political actions from some supposed economic interest. If this is too simplistic in trying to explain Respect’s support from some people who own small businesses, it is even more so in relation to people seen as community leaders. The single biggest reason such individuals acquire weight and influence is not wealth, it is reputation.

South Asian communities are built on the basis on migration. New immigrants settle where they have already family or personal links. As a result, most of Birmingham and Tower Hamlets Muslim communities live in areas with others of a similar background. That background invariably lies in common village roots in Pakistan, Kashmir and Bangladesh, with ties reinforced through marriage. These strong community ties bring real benefits. They have provided an indispensable leg-up to newly arrived immigrants from rural areas as they navigate their way around their new country.

The value of such support is incalculable, and is not readily forgotten. And on the basis of their records in doing such work, certain individuals can acquire prestige and influence. It is insulting to our voters and supporters to reduce the prestige which certain individuals in the community have, to some form of patronage or favour they dispense.

Of course this influence can be, and often is, abused. Family and clan loyalties have allowed influential figures in the community to claim control over blocks of votes that can run into the hundreds. This system can stifle genuine political debate, and at its worst can lead to corruption of the electoral process.

But the existence of such loyalties is a reality that cannot be wished away. Family or clan loyalties are not an invention of ‘community leaders’. They originate in the social structures of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and persist because of the experience of migration and the importance of mutual support and interdependence in the daily lives of South Asian communities in Britain today.

This social reality can be both a strength and a weakness. And it leads to real pressures which we have to resist by asserting the primacy of principled politics.

Our campaigns to end the postal vote have to be seen in this context. It is for the reasons that biraderi (extended clan) networks can exert undue influence that we have been campaigning vigorously in Birmingham against postal votes. Women in particular have been disenfranchised. Postal votes are filled out in the “privacy” of one’s own home. But it is not private when family members, candidates or supporters, can influence - subtly or otherwise - the way you complete your vote. Community leaders may claim to be able to yield significant voter blocs, but no one can interfere with the secrecy of the polling station. A secret ballot means that loyalties to family and friends can be maintained in public, but political arguments can still win out in the real privacy of the voting booth.

Ultimately, however, we have to stick to principles and lead by example. Last year in Birmingham Sparkbrook we came under considerable pressure when we selected a candidate whose family were originally from the same village in Pakistan as the sitting Lib Dem councillor. It was alleged we were splitting the biraderi vote. And that we could not win by so doing. We resisted those pressures, just as we resisted pressures when the same people said we could never win by standing a women candidate. And we were proved right on both occasions.

The SWP’s allegations that we are in thrall to ‘community leaders i.e. small businessmen’ are as ignorant of the communities they profess to be knowledgeable about as they are misleading about the actual activities of their critics.

Respect: the politics of ‘Tammnay Hall’ and ‘pocket members’?

The SWP claim that following the outcome of selection meetings in Birmingham and Tower Hamlets the character of Respect changed, and there was a move ‘away from the minimal agreed principles…towards putting electability above every other principle’.[10] They also claim that ‘Tammany Hall’ politics i.e. the buying of ethnic voter blocs in return for political favours, have now corrupted Respect.

These are about as serious a set of allegations as can be made.[11] You would expect therefore that the SWP to produce evidence to substantiate them. You would expect them to be able to point to how the political programme of Respect has been subsequently watered down; or to cite examples of our elected councillors pandering to a pro-war, neo-liberal agenda; or to give a single instance where our councillors have abused their elected positions or brought Respect into disrepute. Yet no evidence is forthcoming.

The SWP’s attempt to evoke an analogy between Respect and the practices of the Democratic Party machine - known as Tammany Hall - is particularly ludicrous. For decades, Tammany Hall politics played a major part in controlling politics and carving out ethnic voter bases in cities like New York City and Chicago through patronage, bribery, kickbacks. It was first and foremost based on the use and abuse of power – a real power which, by any definition, is lacking among Muslim communities in Britain.

There is no parallel between the Tammany Hall system and the attempts by disadvantaged and excluded minority communities in Britain to organize themselves to exert influence over the political system. The former is a colonial-type operation to keep politics in the hands of big business. The latter is a struggle for justice and equality by those kept out of the corridors of power. One would have thought the SWP could tell the difference between the two.

All sorts of groupings organise to maximize their influence in society. I see no reason – other than ignorance and prejudice – why the organization of minority communities should be singled out for particular hostility, particularly when representatives of those communities do not wield significant political power in our society.

Of course, pressures exist and have to be countered. We have seen allegations, over many years, of ‘pocket members’ bought and paid for by individuals with the sole intention of influencing selection meetings.

These undemocratic practices can be dealt with. Membership rules can be tightened, or in extreme cases a national party can intervene if a local organization is bringing it into disrepute. Prior to the split I am not aware of the SWP either proposing new measures to tighten membership requirements or raising at a national level their concerns about selection processes inside Respect.[12]

Instead they overplay the outcome of a few selection meetings where their preferred candidates did not get selected. There is more than a touch of double standards here. The SWP complain about candidates encouraging their supporters to ‘pack’ a meeting.[13] Yet the SWP goes through the same process every time it approaches a contentious meeting or conference. It will have its full-timers ensuring that the membership details of its supporters are up to date - no doubt in some cases using SWP district bank accounts to speed the process. And when their side wins, they congratulate themselves on a ‘good mobilisation’. When the other side wins, they cry foul about meetings being ‘packed’!

The SWP, with a half a century of political existence behind them, came into Respect as a well-organised party, with an apparatus staffed by fulltimers and an extremely top down and centralised decision making culture. With a familiarity of operating in committees and party political structures that the vast majority of Respect’s new supporters and members did not have, the potential for an organised political grouping having an influence wholly disproportionate to its social base among Respect voters, was very real.

As it became clear that Respect’s strongest voter base and elected representatives came from within sections of the Muslim community, where the SWP had virtually no influence, so they increasingly resorted to bureaucratic manoeuvrings and control to exercise influence. By packing a committee with their members, by acting in committee meetings to a prepared plan and in a disciplined manner, they could lockdown the decision making structures in their favour. New Respect activists learnt the only way to challenge this was to outplay the SWP at their own game, and ‘pack’ meetings better than they could, which they duly did.

Whichever side ‘wins’ in these sort of contests, it has to be admitted that the process brings with it an unhealthy dynamic into our internal life. The coalition model that Respect was founded upon had its merits. In the future, however, I am convinced that we need to organise much more along traditional party political lines. We need to be clear that we are building a political party, and not making some form of temporary agreement between rival interests for electoral purposes.


I see nothing that has happened in the last year or so that fundamentally challenges my view that the political foundation upon which Respect rests; opposition to imperialism, neo-liberalism or racism, is anything other than solid.

Those in the leadership of the Renewal wing of Respect are implacable on all these three fundamental issues. Likewise, the bulk of our members and supporters have essentially old Labour values, given backbone with anger at war and racism. Our members feel pride when they hear Respect leaders like George Galloway articulate their concerns with his trademark eloquence and uncompromising anti-imperialism and anti-racism.

Many come from backgrounds in the South Asian sub-continent where they are all too familiar with the reality of political corruption, and certainly in inner city Birmingham, they will have seen similar practices replicate themselves in the behaviour of the Labour party. By contrast they see us as embodying political principle. This is what our reputation rests on. But we can’t take it for granted. We have to work hard to protect it.

We must create a more rounded and extensive political culture so that our members absorb through a variety of means our fundamental principles, and where new leaders and candidates are moulded out of our traditions. That is a process. It will require determination and consistency on our part. To that end the production of a Respect newspaper is one important step in the right direction. More steps will follow. However I am confident of the political direction we are travelling. I am also confident that Respect is emerging reborn and renewed from its recent difficulties.


1 Martin Smith, ‘Where next for Respect?’ Socialist Review December 2007
Chris Harman, ‘The Crisis in Respect’, document sent to IST members, December 2007. (This document is available here)

2 Smith opt cit.

3 Harman opt cit.

4 A point George Galloway repeated in his letter to the SWP concerning their attempt to brow beat Muslim councillors into participating on a Gay Pride float.

5 Salma Yaqoob, ‘British Islamic Radicalism’ in Islamic Political Radicalism: A European Perspective, editors Raymond Tallis &, Tahir Abbas, Edinburgh University Press, 2006



8 John Molyneux, ‘On Respect: a reply to some points’, SWP pre conference discussion bulletin 3, 2007.


10 Harman opt cit.

11 For somebody who allegedly prides himself as a practitioner of a scientific Marxist method, the paucity, anecdotal and one-sided nature of Chris Harman’s evidence is striking. The fact that in order to substantiate his claims about Birmingham Respect he is reduced to reproducing a comment from a friend’s sister, who apparently happens to live in Birmingham, and who allegedly thinks Birmingham Respect is ‘communalist’, has more than a touch of desperation about it. Nobody that I know has ever heard of the source he quotes, for all I know she might not even be a Respect member. And if she is, she is certainly not an active one. It is revealing he can’t find any members from his own organization active in Birmingham Respect to publicly reiterate and substantiate the ‘communalist’ charge. They certainly have never made any such charge at any Respect meeting that I have attended.

The only other piece of evidence Harman produces in relation to Birmingham is a disputed selection meeting held last year. He cites the fact we selected seven Asian male as evidence of succumbing to conservative patriarchal pressures from inside the Muslim community. He conveniently ignores the fact that the most high profile Respect figure in the city is a Muslim woman. He also ignores any reference to my request to the SWP that they come forward with female candidates for the outstanding 33 uncontested wards:

The bigger question SWP members should be asking themselves about the Kings Heath selection meeting is why, in a catchment area that included Birmingham University and a 6,000 plus student population, the SWP could not recruit even half a dozen of so students to support their candidate, Helen Salmon.

12 The SWP proposed changes to membership only after they had elected to go ‘nuclear’ over George Galloway’s letter and Respect was in the process of dividing into two.

Their proposal was that members should be restricted as to how many members any individual member could recruit in any one month, that the National Office should be able to ask prospective members for proof of their right to the concessionary rate and that new members had to attend a minimum number of meetings prior to voting for candidates etc.

The first of these proposals was clearly unenforceable but also bizarre in its demand that members should limit their recruitment aspirations. Respect’s problem has not been too many members but too few. The second proposal promised a potentially racially inflammatory test of the veracity of members. Bangladeshi members in Tower Hamlets have already had plenty of experience of condescending white members demanding ID from them as though they were having to pass an immigration entry test. The third and most significant restriction however was clearly an opportunist device to keep control over selection of candidates and election of officers in the hands of those for whom attendance at political meetings was a way of life, this likely to be, of course, mostly SWP members. So much then for trying to create a new kind of organisation which would help to enfranchise those who had for so long been disenfranchised. Most extraordinary of all, these proposals also promised restrictions which are not to be found in either the Labour Party or the trade union movement.

The SWP proposals threatened to entrench the tendencies marked in many areas of making Respect an extension of the local SWP branch’s campaigning activity rather than giving it a life of its own.

13 Rob Hoveman adds the following background information in relation to Tower Hamlets:
‘In four years in Tower Hamlets, in the area where we have the biggest support for Respect electorally and where we have had an MP for almost three years, an examination of the membership of Respect in the borough revealed that the SWP had recruited virtually
no-one white to Respect outside the SWP itself. This represents an abysmal failure. Moreover, according to their local organizer, a Tower Hamlets SWP branch meeting was told that 60% of the SWP members in the borough had not joined Respect and that they would, in the face of the “witch-hunt” the party was facing, now be trying to get them to join!

Much has been made about the process of candidate selection in Tower Hamlets for the council elections in 2006. What was most apparent in the run-up to the local elections, however, was, on the one hand, the lack of white candidates to put up for election and, on
the other, the fact that the SWP candidates, most of whom were white, had had no real prior connection with or involvement in the Bangladeshi community which was inevitably going to be the major source of votes in the election.

Few, if any, of the SWP candidates in Tower Hamlets had serious roots in the wards in which they stood. Of no-one was this more true than John Rees. Although he had worked in the area for many years, as this was the site of the SWP national office until the last couple
of years, he had not been involved in local campaigns and in fact lived in Hackney.

He wanted to stand in Whitechapel because this is where he though he was most likely to get elected. A number of Bangladeshi activists thought this unlikely as no-one in the Bangladeshi community in Whitechapel had any prior knowledge of him. This was the one source of acute division at the candidate selection meeting in the Kingsley Hall, where the room divided almost but not exclusively on racial lines over his standing in Whitechapel. Although his candidacy was confirmed at that meeting by majority vote, he subsequently concluded that he could not win there and switched to Bethnal Green South as a more promising prospect. Even so he did not really start his local campaign until four weeks before the election and concentrated heavily on getting SWP members in to canvas by knocking on doors.

I was in favour of John Rees standing in the election but the tactics deployed to try to get him elected seem to me to have been fatally flawed. Throwing in wave after wave of canvassers in the last few weeks, when most psephologists will tell you most votes have already been decided, shows an incredible lack of understanding about how confidence, and therefore votes, are won amongst sections of the community. And hoping to ride the coat-tails of Bangladeshi candidates who do have roots and the connections betrays an electoral opportunism (unsuccessful in this as in other cases) entirely counter to the long-standing SWP position that SWP members need to build real roots in the community.

Finally, in relation to SWP claims about there being something underhand about new members being recruited before the candidate selection for Bethnal Green and Bow in November 2007, what they did not point out was that many of the new members who were being registered were being registered by SWP councillor Lutfa Begum in order to vote for her daughter Rania Khan to be the candidate. Rania Khan incidentally was the SWP’s own preferred candidate for the nomination. There may well be nothing improper in Lutfa Begum encouraging new members to join in the run-up to a selection. But what is improper is the SWP’s double standards when it comes to such actions.’

Saturday, 5 January 2008


Interview with American journalist with
Dr.Ali al-Neeme of Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI)

Islamic Army of Iraq website

January 3, 2008

Allah helped your brothers in Al-Boraq Media Organization to coordinate an interview for one of the pressman for one of the Anti Iraq War sites with the struggling Sheikh Dr. Ali al-Neeme the media spokesman of the Islamic Army in Iraq...

In the name of Allah the Most Gracious the Most Merciful

Fight them! Allah will chastise them at your hands, and He will lay them low and give you victory over them, and He will heal the breasts of folk who are believers

Praise be to Allah, prayers and peace be upon his messenger
Allah helped your brothers in Al-Boraq Media Organization to coordinate an interview for one of the pressman for one of the Anti Iraq War sites with the struggling Sheikh Dr. Ali al-Neeme the media spokesman of the Islamic Army in Iraq. And because of the clarity of the answers and its severe attack of the American Administration the Anti war website abstained from publishing the interview, so your brothers in blessed Al-Boraq Media Organization published the interview in English and Arabic, asking Allah -the God of all creatures to make it faithful to him.

Text of the interview:

Answers of Dr. Ali Neeme the media spokesman of the Islamic Army in Iraq.

Questions for the meeting with the American journalist Mark Rothschild

As you know, the American political establishment is becoming more divided over the continued occupation of Iraq . One US Presidential candidate has even pledged to withdraw all US forces from Iraq, leaving behind no US forces and no US military bases.

In the event a complete US military withdrawal actually begins and a US pledge of "no military bases" is given, would the IAI consider facilitating an orderly withdrawal of US troops?

In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful, Whom only we ask for help. First, I would like to say that I appreciate your anti-war efforts against the war launched on Iraq and the Islamic world; this war which our, as well as your sons tested its evils. Here we want to confirm that we are very keen to save blood but we will sacrifice it to defend our nation, our country, and our humanity.
Regarding your question, we called the American administration to make negotiations, in case that happens, this will be one of the issues we can discuss because we are keen to save the blood of both people.

2 Can you describe when the IAI first formed, and what relationship if any its members have to previously existing groups such as the Ba'ath party?

Months before the war, some of our army leaders felt that the chance of war to break out was high. They felt that the Iraqi army wouldn't last as a result of collapsing morale since the Gulf War in 1991, so they started preparing for the stage after invasion within an Islamic project. Some of our brothers were arrested and we lost some others before 9/4/2003. The declaration of the name of the IAI came late because our leaders hoped that all Jihadists would fight as one group, but after the announcement of some other groups we announced ourselves. We don’t have any relation with any organization linked to the Ba'ath party, even they are very little.

3 What are the long range political goals of IAI?

The IAI has a moderate Islamic ideology and its own political program which stresses our political goals. At the top of these goals is eliminating occupation of all kind and putting an end to its effects so that we can establish our fair, equity and rights of all Iraqi society and sects in one state.

4 Does the US media accurately portray the activities of the IAI? If not, how does the US media misrepresent the activities of the IAI?

Based on our observation of some American media channels (carried out by the Observation and Watching segment in IAI Central Media Committee), we realized that the American media is politicized and the main view towards Iraq in most of these channels depends on false conceptions. These false conceptions exist for many reasons, one of these reasons is that they are following the policy put out by the American administration for getting the news. It is called News Pool where about 3000 media men were permitted to work under their eyes in Kuwait and Qatar particularly, 500 reporters were planted on the military bases all over Iraq. Now they replaced News Pool policy with a new policy which works on controlling those media men and securing only those who will follow them. Some of these false conceptions are: dealing with all the Iraqi resistance groups as one organization and focusing on its mistakes -or what they are accused of- against the Iraqi people, describing the resistance operations as violence, linking them to some organizations which have their own agendas, linking us with Al Qaeda and Baathists, providing false numbers of the U.S army casualties, hiding the tragedy and collapsing morale of the American troops and cases of soldiers that escape and don't return to Iraq, cases of suicide and neurological and psychiatric diseases they are suffering from even after their return to the USA; the media depended on the reports of some politicians who told lies and deceived America to wage a war against a people it didn't know anything about, not its religion, the traditions or the customs. This is generally; regarding the IAI particularly, IAI suffered a lot from neglect and distortion of its activities. However in the last year, IAI could break this barrier itself and delivered its message to the American people using their language through two releases, the first one was Baghdad Sniper which shows the real tragedy of America sons lives in Iraq and how they die there. The second one was Lee's Life for Lies which was a message written by one soldier to his family in America, but he couldn’t deliver it so we did that instead of him. These two releases had a big effect in the American and western Media but unfortunately some news media tried to show doubt on them and we call the American people to watch them and understand the message we wanted to send.

5 Do you think that the American people misunderstand the aims of the Resistance? If so, what message would you like to give to the American people about the political goals of the Resistance?

Yes, the American people don't understand and are unaware of the goals of the Iraqi resistance otherwise why did they re-elect Bush to be a president again? We believe that he bears full responsibility for the huge crime against our nation and people. We are a people of an ancient and renewed civilization, we have the basics and the power for civilization. You have a civilization of power, but if we look at the history we will find that civilization of power may win its wars but won't defeat the nations which have power of civilization. People war is the hardest war because the politic systems may be defeated but the people will win even after long years of suffering and pain. Our goals are to throw the occupation forces out of our country, it is our right recognized by all the religions, laws and customs. We call the American people to resist whoever wants to invade their land but we warn them of attacking others. We call for peace not only for our country and our nation but for the whole of humanity. We want our country to be ruled by its honest and sincere sons according to a constitution we have written ourselves according to our rules and society's nature. We seek to build a homeland based on fairness, equality, respect for human rights, relations with neighboring countries, civilized interconnection and human coexistence. We will deal with everybody evenly with these values even with the USA, but without occupation, regency or arrogance.

6 What is your opinion of the US claim that some Resistance groups are seeking to divide Iraq along sectarian lines?

The sectarian division of Iraq was a result of the sectarian sharing of power which was imposed by the occupation since the forming of ruling councils passing by all the governments which were formed under its shadow, so the occupation takes the responsibility of the sectarian actions as well as the political forces that came with it. On the other hand, the Iraqi resistance groups are very keen to protect Iraq's identity and unity; all of them have Iraq in their names and confirmed that they will fight until they free Iraq entirely, from its north to its south. We will work to defeat the sectarian project whatever side calls for it.

7 Is the political goal of IAI a unified Iraq or a federal Iraq?

Our resistance is to liberate the whole of Iraq and to preserve Iraq's identity and unity. Unity of Iraq is a good thing not only for Iraq's sons but for the whole region and the Arabian Nation because there will be neither local nor global peace without a unified Iraq taking into account the privacy of some of its sects and guaranteed respect of this privacy.

8 If the political goal of IAI is to preserve a unified Iraq, can the political program of the IAI facilitate establishment of reconciliation between national groups – especially between Sunni and Shia?

Yes, our political program adopted these principles in practice, not only in words, and it has its own efforts to achieve that unity, so we find the IAI has great respect from all Iraq's sons, the internal relations section in our political bureua witnesses unique activity and support on this side especially from tribesmen, qualified people, the upper classes and students.

9 On what political basis can reconciliation between the Shia and Sunni communities go forward? Can such reconciliation result in a unified Iraq? If reconciliation were possible, then what would be the political preconditions for such reconciliation?

Putting any preconditions on this side will frustrate the project in its first steps because we consider them as insulting. We see that any political reference depends on the occupation or its achievement under occupation won't be able to manage this project because it is a part of the problem itself and not a part of the solution. The presence of external forces and their extensions in Iraq is also a part of the problem so we believe that the withdrawal of occupation forces is the most important factor for this project's success. We believe that Iraqis, in all their sects, are able to overtake the negative effects of the occupation in all its shapes and they will meet together and when they do that a lot of the obstacles will be eliminated one by one and they will achieve together the communal life which they lived before the occupation.

10 Is the Ba'ath party in its present form a unified political party, and does it play a significant part in the Resistance?

One of the most important reasons which gave the Ba'ath party this weight in the Iraqi scene is the wrong politics which the American occupation forces followed and because they put themselves and their decisions under the control of parties which have a lot of hate and a sense of revenge. As a result of that, more than a million Iraqis were killed and eight million displaced inside or outside Iraq, tens of thousands of qualified Iraqi people were killed or displaced, sectarian violence increased, diseases spread, the official circles and foundations broke down, so the people started longing for the previous government before the occupation in spite of its mistakes and crimes because those mistakes and crimes were not comparable with those done by the occupation and the sectarian government working under its eyes. The American administration, especially Bremer, changed the effect of the Ba'ath party on the Iraqi scene and started the concessions about uprooting the Ba'athist law and the pride of the American leaders and the government at their meetings with some Ba'athist leaders or some Ba'athist resistance groups. This is in general but regarding the presence of the Ba'athist resistance in the Iraqi resistance: their ratio is very small with no real effect on the resistance but most of that is only lies and false speech, the American military and administration will fall again in mistakes if they started negotiations with the Ba'athist as if they are the Iraqi resistance and if they don’t correct this they will gain more failures, losses and their political and military goals will flounder.

11 In what ways does the political program of the IAI differ from the political program of the Ba'ath party and other Resistance groups?

The program of the Islamic resistance groups including the IAI is far away from the political program of the Ba'ath party which we confirmed previously its presence and effect on the Iraqi scene is very weak. The project of all the Islamic resistance groups relies on achieving benefits for the nation and protecting the identity of it. We are very keen to achieve this principle which says by what Iraq will be ruled not by whom, the important thing is writing the constitution which Iraq will be ruled with as well as assuring that this will be done by good and honest people.

12 President Bush claims that the US is fighting "Al Qaeda in Iraq". President Bush uses this claim to justify the continued occupation of Iraq, claiming that "Al Qaeda in Iraq" poses a terrorist threat to the United States. In your view, is "Al Qaeda in Iraq" a significant part of the Resistance?

This is one of the fallacies and illusions which Bush planted in mind of the American people. Yes, Al Qaeda is here in Iraq but its ratio is not that much, it took its place because of the kind of big destructive military operations which a lot of Iraqi resistance groups don’t agree with and refuse to do. One of the American military studies mentioned in one statistic of the military operations for some period of time, Al Qaeda made up only 5% of the operations targeting the American forces. Bush's description of Al Qaeda and that it is the only side which launches attacks is to deceive the public in America and the world that the Iraqi people and especially the tribesmen refuse supporting the resistance and fights with them because they fight Al Qaeda. This nothing more than illusion because fighting between tribesmen and Al Qaeda was a result of Al Qaeda's wrong actions and we want here to confirm that most of Iraqi tribesmen still support the Iraqi resistance groups which fight the occupation forces in all its shapes and colors.

13 What are the most important differences between the political program of the IAI and groups like "Al Qaeda in Iraq"?

We didn’t see any political program of Al Qaeda organization except their project to set an Islamic Dawla (country), we clarified our remarks and objections before about that project via the message sent by the leader of the IAI to Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq.

14 In your estimation, Is "Al Qaeda in Iraq" a genuine Iraqi Resistance group, a branch of Osama Bin Laden’s organization, or an Iraqi group generally sympathetic to Osama Bin Laden’s goals, but acting independently of Osama Bin Laden’s organization?

We gave our description about Al Qaeda before, if you want to know more you can ask Al Qaeda men themselves because we won’t talk on behalf of others or ask the American administration about them.

15 After the United States withdraws completely from Iraq a post-occupation government will probably take power in Baghdad. Will the IAI participate in a post-occupation government? If so what role would the IAI play in the post-occupation government?
16 In the view of the IAI, what form should the post-occupation Iraqi government have? Should Iraq have a parliamentary system? If not, what kind of political arrangement does the IAI advocate for the post-occupation government?

We find a strong relation between the two questions so the answer will be one: First of all, we want to clarify that the IAI presented an elementary conception about the nature of the government under the occupation and said in one interview with Al Forsan magazine: " it will be good if a professionals government (technocrat) is set to manage people's needs until the occupations withdrawal, but we think that it is very hard as the sectarian safawists and takfiris are still there in the government and in all of its foundations". About the possibility of establishing a government after the occupations withdrawal the IAI leader said:" It is well known that all the political colors are there in Iraq and this is not a new situation and dealing with it is also not a new thing, we studied this topic very well from all of its religious, political, historical and practical aspects. We deal with people according to Islamic rules of fairness and equality, supporting people rights, giving them their rights back, preserving their dignity, spreading virtue and punishing unjust people etc. The dealing with people will be with high Islamic and practical transparency; this is written in our political program. We see the Shura system which relies on Ahlu Al Hilli Walaqd (wise and qualified people) –containing scholars and politicians-is the most suitable constitutional system for ruling Iraq. My best regards to you and I would like that you deliver to the American people my call for working together to get rid of the evils in their country and ours.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit these questions.

With regards,

Mark Rothschild e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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