Saturday, March 10, 2012

Gulf States Consider Political And Military Union To Counter Iranian Security Threat

By Elie Issa

The GCC Secretary General Abdul Latif Al Zayani (L) sits next to Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Prince Saud Al Faisal (R) during a ministerial meeting of the six Gulf nations in Riyadh (AFP/Getty Images)
With growing talk of a political confederation of the Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Saudi Arabia’s Defense Minister, Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, has raised the possibility of transforming the existing Peninsula Shield Force [PSF] into a “unified Gulf army” able to respond to external and domestic security threats. The Saudi prince made it clear that inspiration for this suggestion was the perceived threat from Iran:  "Iran is our neighbor, but we draw a line when it comes to intervention in our internal affairs as 'Gulf Cooperation Council' countries. Whenever we feel that anybody is interfering in our internal affairs through internal mercenaries or people from outside, we will resist it appropriately" (Al-Seyassah [Kuwait], March 3; Arab Times, March 3). The PSF, with a permanent base in Saudi Arabia, was successfully deployed in March, 2011 to end violent street protests by Bahrain’s Shiite minority (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, March 24, 2011).
The long-strained relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia resemble an updated replica of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War, including the involvement of both nations in geopolitical and economic conflicts, proxy military conflicts and covert intelligence operations. Saudi Arabia and Iran currently leads two ideologically, politically and religiously opposed regional blocs that could at any moment slip into lethal Sunni-Shiite confrontation, one whose impact would be magnified by the membership of both nations in larger competing world camps.
Sunni Saudi Arabia has close and long-standing political and economic ties with the United States and most other Western nations. Shiite Iran has ties with Russia and China despite certain ideological differences. Perhaps the most recent illustration of the on-going regional geopolitical row is Saudi king Abdullah's statement that "unnamed hands" targeting Islam and the Arabs are behind the political turmoil in Sunni-dominated states in the region (Saudi Press Agency [SPA], February 25). Saudi officials have long accused Iran of meddling in the internal affairs of the GCC and other Arab states without actually naming the Islamic Republic. Saudi Arabia has already lost one of its long-standing and staunchest allies in the Middle East, meaning former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Saudi rulers are now facing two key challenges that might impact the kingdom's near-to-medium term outlook: the so-called “Arab Spring” and Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions.
But Iran is also following with concern the Syrian turmoil and the potential weakness of its key regional ally, President Bashar Al-Assad. The Saudi government, however, fears that if the Syrian turmoil escalates further it might develop into a civil war pitting the majority Sunni population against the ruling Alawite minority. In this scenario both the Syrian regime and Iran may try to destabilize the Saudi regime by empowering the two million strong Saudi Shiite minority. The latter is concentrated mainly in the Eastern Province (al-Sharqiyah), which holds the world's largest oil fields. Claiming institutionalized discrimination by the kingdom’s Sunni rulers, the Shiite minority continues to wage sporadic street protests that are gradually turning into deadly clashes with the Saudi security forces. Last month, Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry vowed to use "an iron fist" to end what it called Shiite violence in the Eastern Province (SPA, February 21; Reuters, February 21). The ministry reiterated claims that "foreign-backed troublemakers [read Iran]" were attacking its security forces and instigating violence.  "Some of those few [who attacked security forces] are manipulated by foreign hands because of the kingdom’s honourable foreign policy positions towards Arab and Islamic countries" (Kuwait Times, February 21).
The sensitive Eastern Province is of great importance to the Saudi government due to the strategic oil reserves and related infrastructure. On March 1, a report by Iran's state-run Press TV of an explosion on a pipeline in the Eastern Province sent crude oil prices to a four-year high of $126 a barrel. The next day, however, the Saudi Interior Ministry denied the report, saying "there were no acts of sabotage in the kingdom" (Reuters, March 2). The Saudi government suspects that Iran is using the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain as part of a regional proxy war to improve its negotiation position once the time for a deal involving Iran's nuclear program and the region's geopolitical power balance arrives.
The official U.S. position advocating a peaceful and negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue may limit the force of Saudi rhetoric targeting its Iranian rival, but this does not mean that Saudi Arabia won't develop its own "peaceful" nuclear program (see Terrorism Monitor, February 23). Saudi Arabia plans to build 16 nuclear power plants by 2030 worth $100 billion in a bid to generate at least 20% of its electricity needs from nuclear energy. By 2021, Saudi Arabia is scheduled to have two nuclear reactors up and running. Two plants will then come on stream annually through 2030, each costing $7 billion. In December, 2011 Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States, said that his country might seek to acquire nuclear weapons to help counterbalance regional rivals Israel and Iran (AFP, December 5, 2011). Saudi Arabia has failed to convince Israel to abandon its nuclear weapons and now that Iran may be seeking to possess a nuclear bomb, the kingdom has to protect its people through all possible options, noted Faisal.
Developing its own nuclear power program is not Saudi Arabia's sole move to counter Iran's growing power in the region. In December, 2011 Saudi King Abdullah called on leaders of the GCC states to consolidate their alliance into a united "single entity" in order to confront what he called threats to national security. "No doubt, you all know we are targeted in our security and stability," said Abdullah at the opening session of a GCC meeting in Riyadh (SPA, December 20; Arab News, December 20).  More recently, the GCC called on Iran to cease its “hostile” policies and interference in the affairs of the Gulf States (Bahrain News Agency, March 4; Gulf Daily News, March 5). Jordan and Morocco have also asked to join Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates in the six-nation GCC. Such a potentially large alliance of Sunni Monarchies falls within Saudi Arabia's medium-term aim of creating a unified regional front against Iran.
Iranian rhetoric promising “not a single drop of oil will pass through the Hormuz Strait” is part of the regional geopolitical row and related bickering about Iran's nuclear power program (Iran State News Agency, December 27, 2011).  The question is whether Iran can close the strategic maritime route through which nearly 17 million barrels of oil per day transited in 2011. The answer is not that simple; Iran has likely drafted various case scenarios to deal with a potential Israeli attack on its nuclear sites. From using conventional war methods to small but highly effective suicide speed-boats, Iran could certainly succeed in blocking all kinds of navigation through the Hormuz Strait for at least several days. In the meantime, Iranian missiles would likely hit strategic oil infrastructure in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Such an apocalyptic scenario would most likely prompt the U.S. Fifth Fleet to intervene to re-open the Hormuz Strait. The mere thought of this scenario would send crude oil prices soaring, based on the spike in prices that resulted from fear of even a temporary closure during Iranian war games in January. Mounting threats to the regional political and religious status quo from “Arab Spring” resistance movements and Iran’s aggressive nuclear program will continue to fuel moves towards greater political and military unity in the GCC states.
-This article was published in Terrorism Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 5, on 08/03/2012
-Elie Issa is a Lebanese analyst focusing on the Middle East and North Africa regions for the past eight years. His interests include geopolitical, security and macroeconomic topics

President Karzai And The 'Secondary' Sex

By Rachel Reid
The Afghan government was "too busy" for International Women's Day on March 8, so it postponed official acknowledgement until the 11th. It was not a great moment to celebrate, anyway. A week earlier a council of religious scholars -- the Ulema Council -- published guidance that declared "men are fundamental and women are secondary."  It called for women to travel with mahrams (male escorts), and to avoid mixing with men in offices, markets and educational facilities. The statement also said that beating a woman is only permissible with a "Shariah-compliant reason."
The Council's edicts have no legal standing, and were not unprecedented from this conservative body. What was more troubling was that the Office of the President published the statement, and President Hamid Karzai appeared to endorse it, by telling reporters that it was "in accordance with a Sharia view of our country, which all Muslims and Afghans are committed to."  With women activists already anxious about the potential impact of deals with the Taliban, Karzai's words served as a sobering reminder of his poor track record on women's rights.
Concerns about the impact of a deal with the Taliban on women's rights are often dismissed with assertions that Taliban views on women are not so different from many in the government. This statement by the Ulema Council supports that viewpoint, and you'd certainly find a few former warlords nodding in agreement with it in the Cabinet and parliament.
But the conservatives in government have, for the most part, grudgingly accepted the presence of women in political life. The current environment may be hostile to women, but activists have been able to negotiate significant victories. Last year, when conservatives in government tried to take over women's shelters, women activists fought back and won. In 2010 parliamentarians and activists successfully stymied some egregious articles in a bill to regulate family law for Shia Muslims.  The year before that they succeeded in pushing through a law on violence against women which made the crime of rape explicit for the first time. Progress may be slow, but it is steady, and often heroic.
Some who speak regularly to Talibs say they have become more progressive when it comes to things like women's access to education. One source admits, though, that many Talibs would still oppose the presence of women in the workplace and in politics.
Taliban hostility to women's presence in public life often came up in work I carried out in 2010, interviewing women living in de facto Taliban controlled areas, and gathering "night letters" - threat letters delivered under cover of darkness. Fatima K., (a pseudonym), lives in a southern province, where she received this letter from the Taliban in February 2010:
"We Taliban warn you to stop working otherwise we will take your life away. We will kill you in such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed in that manner. This will be a good lesson for those women like you who are working."
Fatima K. left her job. Others choose to ignore the threats. When Hossai, a 22- year-old Afghan aid worker in the southern city of Kandahar, received threatening phone calls from a man who said he was with the Taliban, she didn't believe it. The man had told her to stop working with foreigners. But Hossai didn't want to give up a good job with an American development company, Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI). Within weeks Hossai was dead. On April 13, 2010, a gunman lay in wait for her when she left the office. She was shot multiple times and died the next day.
Days after Hossai's killing, another young woman working in Kandahar, Nadia N. (a pseudonym), received a letter signed by the Taliban, which threatened her with death:
"We would warn you today on behalf of the Servants of Islam to stop working with infidels. We always know when you are working. If you continue, you will be considered an enemy of Islam and will be killed. In the same way that yesterday we have killed Hossai, whose name was on our list, your name and other women's names are also our list." 
These letters are reminders that it may not be right to treat the Taliban as just another set of conservatives. Their views on women may overlap with a significant segment of opinion in Afghanistan, but the Taliban are also a force which has become used to imposing their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam with violence and fear.
To express concern about the possible impact of deals with the Taliban sometimes opens you up to glib accusations that you are ‘pro-war' or ‘anti-peace.' In fact, there is no contradiction in wanting to see an end to the devastating loss of life in the conflict, welcoming a search for a political solution, while simultaneously expressing concerns about potential pitfalls and costs.
Sadly, there are many reasons to be wary at present.  The Afghan government seems to lack the credibility or vision to forge a just and inclusive peace deal. And as the president's response to the Ulema Council statement illustrated, he seems unlikely to take a stand against religious conservatives in defense of women's rights. Meanwhile, it is far from clear that the Taliban have the will or the ability to forge a lasting deal, or that they would be prepared to meet the government's precondition of recognizing a (man-made) constitution with all that it enshrines, including women's equality, democracy and freedom of expression.  
After the Ulema Council published their statement, I spoke with several women's rights activists in Kabul. They were dismayed, but immediately turned to strategizing about the most pragmatic means of responding. Afghanistan now has a generation of women activists who have earned a quiet confidence born of successive achievements.  But if a deal with the Taliban is to avoid dramatically shrinking their space, it will require leadership from a president with the courage to recognize them as his equals. 
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 09/03/2012
-Rachel Reid is Senior Policy Advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Open Society Foundations. More of the "night letters" referred to here are also featured in an essay by Reid in a book published this week: "The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women's Rights" (Seven Stories Press)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Islamism And The Syrian Uprising

By Nir Rosen
James Clapper, the United States Director of National Intelligence, warned last month of al Qaeda taking advantage of the growing conflict in Syria. The Syrian regime and its supporters frequently claim that the opposition is dominated by al Qaeda-linked extremists. Opposition supporters often counter that the uprising is completely secular. But months of reporting on the ground in Syria revealed that the truth is more complex.
Syria's uprising is not a secular one. Most participants are devout Muslims inspired by Islam. By virtue of Syria's demography most of the opposition is Sunni Muslim and often come from conservative areas. The death of the Arab left means religion has assumed a greater role in daily life throughout the Middle East. A minority is secular and another minority is comprised of ideological Islamists. The majority is made of religious-minded people with little ideology, like most Syrians. They are not fighting to defend secularism (nor is the regime) but they are also not fighting to establish a theocracy. But as the conflict grinds on, Islam is playing an increasing role in the uprising.
Mosques became central to Syria's demonstrations as early as March 2011 and influenced the uprising's trajectory, with religion becoming increasingly more important. Often activists described how they had "corrected themselves" after the uprising started. Martyrs became important to a generation that had only seen martyrs on television from Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon. "People got more religious," one activist in Damascus's Barzeh neighborhood explained, "they got closer to death, you could be a martyr so people who drank or went out at night corrected themselves." Some Arab satellite news stations have also contributed to the dominance of Islamists by interviewing more of them and focusing on them as opposed to more secular opposition figures or intellectuals. In Daraa activists complained that satellite networks were marginalizing prominent leftists.
Clerics were influential from the beginning in much of the country, but their authority is not absolute. Sheikhs have often played a positive role in the uprising, enforcing discipline and exhorting armed and unarmed activists to act responsibly. One reason why Homs has not descended into Bosnia-like sectarian massacres is because of the strong influence of opposition sheikhs.
"Sheikhs have a role," said a cleric active in the opposition in the cities of Hama and Latakia, "in an area where people are scared a sheikh in his sermon can encourage them to go out." As a result many sheikhs have been arrested while others have fled the country. Opposition supporters are also vocal when they disapprove of a sheikh's positions. In November, in the Tadamun area of Damascus, a sheikh at the Ali ibn Abi Talib mosque condemned demonstrations and spoke about conspiracies in language resembling that of the government. A friend stood up in disgust in the middle of the sermon and walked out. Others followed him spontaneously and began demonstrating. After five minutes security forces arrived and they all ran away. "It's forbidden to pray in front of him," my friend told me later that day, "either speak the truth or be quiet."
In the Damascus suburb of Arbeen, opposition leaders spoke sardonically of their local clerics. "The sheikhs here all belong to security and the Baath party," one leader there told me. "The sheikhs told us not to go out and not to watch the biased channels. We went out against the sheikhs, shouting down with this sheikh or that sheikh. There were no good sheikhs with the people here, either he was afraid or he was with the regime. The sheikhs described the youth as thugs." Revolutionaries threatened Sheikh Hassan Seyid Hassan, Arbeen's top cleric, saying they would break his car and burn his house and office. In a sermon he apologized for condemning the uprising.
One of the main causes for the first demonstrations in Arbeen was the demand for the release of 21 local young men arrested in 2006. The young men, and some were boys, had come under the influence of Salafi jihadist clerics and were blamed by the regime for an attempted attack on the state television headquarters. "Here the main reason we came out was to demand the release of our prisoners" one local leader said. "We are religious and that's why we are oppressed."
Near Harasta, in Duma, I met with Abu Musab, an insurgent commander. He claimed he had been fired from his job as an imam for "speaking the truth" and talking about dignity. The strict Hanbali school of Islam dominates Duma and not a single woman can be seen on its streets without her face fully concealed by a burqa. Piety was one of the reasons why Duma was so revolutionary, he told me. "A sheikh does not have to say fight Bashar," he said, "he can just refer to a chapter from the Quran and everybody will understand. Because they are religious they have more motivation and ethics." But he stressed that most people in Duma did not seek an Islamic state. According to Abu Musab, he supported an armed struggle against the regime from the first day and most others only did after Ramadan. He took me to a funeral for two martyrs of the revolution, one of them an armed fighter. As the crowd of hundreds left they chanted, "The people want a declaration of jihad!"
Many of the names chosen for Friday demonstrations are religious in connotation and many of the insurgent groups who misleadingly call themselves the Free Syrian Army have names that are particularly Sunni Muslim in nature. The insurgent groups' names are increasingly Islamic and even Salafi in their tone, such as the "Abu Dujana Battalion," the "Abu Ubeida Battalion," the "Muhajireen wal Ansar Battalion" and even a group named after Yazid, a divisive figure in Islamic history who is hated by Shiites but respected by hardline Sunnis (who do not like Shiites).
What about the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)? Syria saw MB inspired uprisings in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. In the 1980s a radical group that found the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (SMB) too moderate split off and called itself the Fighting Vanguard. They were responsible for much of the violence that was blamed on the Brotherhood that traumatizes Syrian society to this day, much as the regime's attack on Hama where the armed Muslim Brothers concentrated also left permanent scars that have been reopened in the last year. SMB members fled into exile and remained active in the opposition, which also led them to dominate the Syrian National Council (SNC). During the administration of President George W. Bush the United States reached out to the SMB in order to undermine the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Within the SNC, the SMB is behaving in a very authoritarian fashion and is facing growing criticism from both secular and Islamist opposition. The divides in the SNC are not Islamist versus secular. The secularist SNC President Burhan Ghalioun walks with the SMB. Other Islamists like the Imad al Din al Rashid's Syrian National Movement are hostile to the SMB.
The regime has sought to conflate the opposition with the SMB of the 1980s, knowing that if it succeeds it can legitimize dealing with them with violence but if it fights them on the political front it will lose. "The ideology of the Muslim Brothers has remained quite influential in Syria, but as an organization, they completely ceased to exist inside the country in the early 1980s," Thomas Pierret, a lecturer in contemporary Islam at the University of Edinburgh, said. "A proof of that is that the Islamist cells dismantled by the authorities over the last decades were linked to the Islamic Liberation Party or to Jihadi networks, but never to the Muslim Brothers." In reality popular mobilization does not require the orders of the SMB, but for some in the opposition the uprising is revenge for the 1980s and the SMB is indeed playing a role. Most Syrian supporters of the opposition associate the 1980s with a time of draconian regime repression and collective punishment while regime supporters and minorities associate it with sectarian violence and terrorism.
In January, I spoke with a knowledgeable official from a different national branch of the MB who was based in Beirut. "The revolution in Syria today has nothing to do with the MB of the 1980s," he said, but he told me that the SMB was involved in the current uprising. Individual members of the SMB played a role organizing the uprising in Homs, Hama, and in the coastal areas, he said. The SMB and its Lebanese branch, the Jamaa Islamiya, were sending money and aid via Tripoli in Lebanon. They were also hosting families fleeing from Syria, providing them with food, clothing and shelter while sending aid to their relatives left behind in Syria. "The Jamaa Islamiya has a very clear loud position on Syria," he said, "they are against the regime and supporting revolution. And the Brotherhood does not just support with words. It might be money and it might be some tools and facilitation. And if the Lebanese Brotherhood is doing it, it is with the cooperation of the Brotherhood of Syria." The Jamaa Islamiya was playing a role via the SMB, he explained. "The Brotherhood shares the same school of thinking of Hassan al Banna," he said, "so I hold the same ideas that a Lebanese, Jordanian, Yemeni, Libyan, Tunisian Brotherhood or even in Jakarta. Every group has the same thoughts. We share ideas and thoughts. We are an organization looking for a new era so we are organized and ready to deal with a new situation in the region. The Brotherhood has a huge responsibility on their shoulders. If they succeed they will have legitimacy to be leaders of Muslims and Arabs and if they fail they might lose their opportunity. We are preparing ourselves for 80 years. We are not dreaming we are dealing with reality."
"The Brotherhood is not like they were in the past," said one leader of the Homs Revolutionary Council (HRC) who receives money from them among many others. "There are Muslims Brothers in groups of two or three and they are giving support to people inside Syria. They are not organized like they were before." Leaders of the SMB in Saudi Arabia do not have good communication with the SMB in other places. Abu Mohammed al Rifai, an SMB leader in Lebanon gives support to some groups in Homs and elsewhere. The SMB does not have cadres on the ground, nor does it have much ideological influence. Most people I spoke to admitted that their role was limited to sending money but they were not sending it as the SMB, only as individuals who happened to belong to the SMB. In Homs some leaders view their role as positive but they did not see it as the SMB acting as an organization, which it did not have the capacity to do anymore. Homs receives help only from members of the Syrian wing of the MB who are based in the Gulf, Lebanon, or Jordan. Most of the money has gone to aid and medical support. In late 2011, the SMB had a meeting in Saudi Arabia during which they decided against supporting the armed groups. As the SMB they did not want to be involved in this, perhaps as a result of their experience in the 1980s, but individual members of the SMB send money that is channeled to insurgent activities as well.
I met Syrian activists who met senior SMB leader Melhem al Drubi in Turkey, where he was giving money to activists. Members of the Drubi family who live in Saudi Arabia are also important financiers of the uprising. "We told him we want money for weapons when we met him in Turkey in May," one activist told me. "He said no money for weapons this is peaceful revolution. We asked for money for hardship funds, he said we have people on the ground but we have not organized ourselves yet. He gave nobody that he met in Istanbul any money. He just wanted to know the situation on the ground. He wanted to know level of support for the Brotherhood. Now the Brotherhood controls a lot of access to money in Homs and the Damascus suburbs. But just because people take money from the Brotherhood does not mean they support it. The Brotherhood wants to improve and increase its name. They are not scary but they are trying to control. Some people are not happy about how the Brotherhood is financing on the ground. Some people who buy weapons are not ready to deal with the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood only gives certain people money for hardship or weapons."
Abu Abdu, a field commander who deals with military and civilian elements of the opposition in the Damascus suburbs told me that he had received calls from people in Jordan, Turkey, London, and the United States who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood. "People offer us money but there is a hidden agenda to it and we refuse it," he said. "This is a popular revolution, I work for God and the nation. I come out against oppression." He picked up his cigarette pack. "I'm not going to replace Marlboro with Gaullois."
"The Brotherhood doesn't scare me," said one leading activist from the Ismaili sect. "They don't have representation on the ground that can endanger democracy." A Christian activist he worked with on delivering weapons and aid throughout the country agreed with the assessment, adding that, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." One prominent Druze activist in Damascus said, "I am not afraid of the Brotherhood. They have been outside, they became more secular. Syrian Islam is moderate and Sufi." Sufi brotherhoods are mystical groups organized around a sheikh who is believed to have a personal connection to God. Sufism is very mainstream in Syria, since most of the country's Muslim scholars have received some Sufi training and often specialize as Sufi sheikhs.
Many other members of the opposition are less sanguine about the role of the SMB. One young activist in Barzeh told me he did not want the Brotherhood. "I don't want women to be completely covered up," he said. "This is not nice." But like many people in the Arab world, he associated the word ‘ilmani, or secular, with anti-religious, and as a result was also against Ghalioun. "I want something in the middle," he said. An older opposition supporter in the same neighborhood told me he wanted a civilian Islamic government "like in Turkey," he said, "but not Islam by force." The Brotherhood made a mistake in the 1980s, he continued. While the SMB in Damascus was engaged in peaceful proselytization, the Brotherhood in Aleppo and Hama took up arms. "It's a mistake to take up arms against a brutal regime. In reaction the regime thought anybody who prayed was in the MB. This is a revolution of the youth and it was good for the Brotherhood to deny that they are behind the revolution. The Brotherhood have no presence on the ground."
Another Damascus activist worried that many demonstrations in the Damascus suburbs had Islamic slogans. Indeed in Harasta I heard songs about Muslims and infidels. In Duma and Sanamein I heard demonstrators calling for jihad while in Zamalka in evening demonstrations people prayed in the middle of a busy commercial street. The activist told me that in Homs's Dir Baalbeh neighborhood, the Brotherhood's slogan of "Islam is the solution" was raised. "In the last months the Brotherhood became strong on the ground," he said. "Communists told me they won't go out in demonstrations that say ‘God is great' and religious things. A lot of demonstrations in Daraa, Homs, Idlib are led by clerics and it scares secular people." He complained that the SMB chose the names for the Friday demonstrations. "'So National Unity' Friday became ‘Khalid bin al Walid' [the early Muslim leader who conquered Syria in the 7th century] Friday and ‘We won't Kneel' Friday became ‘We Won't Kneel Except before God."
Many Syrians with ties to the Brotherhood fled in the 1980s. Now, like the Attasis of Homs and the Abazeeds of Daraa, they send money back home. Throughout Syria I heard concerns from the opposition that money from SMB members was ending up in the hands of the wrong people. In Homs some funds were going to former criminals or to armed groups who acted without consulting with the local civilian political leadership of the uprising. In Hama and Idlib I heard similar complaints.
"We don't work with anybody," said Khaled Nasrallah, a leader of an armed group operating in Hama and Idlib, "not with the Brotherhood. We are a popular revolution. They want to control you and we are nationalists. We won't finish this oppression so somebody else will come and tell us what to do. We are worried about the future, after the revolution, worried about the Brotherhood or Salafis or other parties. We don't want somebody to tell us what to do in the future." A senior leader of the Homs Revolutionary Council told me "there is no organization called the Muslim Brotherhood inside Syria. This is the difference between Syria and other Arab countries. The sheikhs in Homs who have a revolutionary role are Sufis. None of them belong to movements."
In the Jabal Azawiya town of Fleifil people still recall the three times the Syrian army raided the area by helicopter and arrested locals. "They raided every village," according to one local leader. "From 1980 to 1988 they would constantly raid the villages." They also point to a massacre committed by the regime in the main square of Jisr al Shughur in 1980. In Idlib's Jabal Azawiya I met Yusuf al Hassan, a powerful former cigarette smuggler who leads an armed group and has been fighting the regime since June. Hassan, who is said by other insurgent commanders to receive some help from Turkish military intelligence, crossed the border into Turkey and met with SMB Secretary General Riad al Shaqfa. But he didn't trust the SMB, he told me, and as a result the SMB now opposed him as well. "I asked for five representatives from the whole area to distribute aid through them," Hassan said. "The Brotherhood was against this. This was cause of my problems with the Brotherhood in Jabal Azawiya. The Brotherhood are not accepted among us, they are racist, thieves, corrupt. We are the middle Islam. They divided the revolution, sent money to a few people. People came to me and I gave weapons and bullets to everybody without discrimination. When our revolution got weaker in the summer four or five months ago, the Brotherhood intervention appeared." A fighter from Jisr al Shughur agreed with him. "We are Muslims, not Muslim Brothers," he said, provoking the laughter of other insurgents with us.
In rural Hama leaders of various armed groups resented a man called Abu Rayan who received help from the Brotherhood in Turkey and Jordan to fund his armed group. I met with him and other leaders of armed groups in a mountain safe-house bordering Hama and Idlib. Abu Rayan had a gray beard. He wore a pistol under his armpit. As we talked Abu Rayan sent a group of his men from his Abu Fida brigade to help men from Hama's Salahedin brigade who were besieged in the city's Hamidiya area. Other commanders resented him for not cooperating with them. Bassim, a commander from Hama told me that he had asked Abu Rayan for help in the past but had not received a single bullet. He only helped Hama city, the other leaders told me, while others cooperated as needed, including across the line into Idlib. Abu Rayan said he had met with Turkish intelligence. He was a vulgar man, whose cursing made the other men uncomfortable. "We kiss one thousand asses just so they can send us money for a satellite phone," he complained. The other men told me he was a former drug dealer in Hama city. "It made me hate the Brotherhood even more that they support a man like this," said a Sufi sheikh from rural Hama called Sheikh Omar Rahmun who also had an armed group which operated in rural Hama and Idlib.
The city of Hama was still a reservoir for the SMB, he told me, but the resistance was taking place in the rural areas surrounding it and Abu Rayan was not helping out the rural insurgency. "Abu Rayan doesn't fight," said the sheikh. "He is a leader. Abu Rayan gets help from the SMB but the people in his group don't know this. Ninety percent of Abu Rayan's men would leave if they knew he works with the SMB. We want the revolution to win. We want the people who get help not to put it in their pocket but to give it to the people in need. People have empty ammunition clips. Abu Rayan has money, we don't."
"The U.S. won with an alliance with the Brotherhood in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt" he said. "America cooperates with the Brotherhood. But the alliance has to be studied. This alliance is failed. There was a long information war against the Brotherhood and it is now an expired product. It is being treated as bigger than its size on the ground. The Brotherhood does not have a presence on the ground but it gave some money and communication devices to some groups. They give you money now so they can ride on your shoulders in the future. After June or July groups and parties started to appear. ‘I am from this party or that party.' Our disaster is the Brotherhood in particular. The Brotherhood don't have future in Syria without coercion. In Syria one party cannot win over other parties. We refuse to work under any party. We don't want a party that society doesn't accept. We don't want people to be coerced. Syria is a Sufi society. With two beats of the of miz-har (a Sufi drum) you can get all of Syria behind you, but they won't follow Salafis after fifty years."
The word "Salafi" haunts the Syrian uprising. The regime has turned this conservative practice of Islam into a smear of the opposition, hoping to associate them with jihadist Salafis like those of al Qaeda in Iraq. In nearly every demonstration I attended opposition songs dismissed the notion that they were Salafis. But in Syria, as elsewhere in the Middle East, some practices associated with Salafis have become popularized even if people do not identify themselves as such. In part this is thanks to the influence of Saudi Arabia. And it is Syrians in Saudi Arabia who play a major role in financing the uprising, giving them additional influence. In four months traveling through Syria, I found Salafis to be a minority within the uprising, but nevertheless they play a growing role.
Last November, I first met one of the most powerful men in Damascus's urban suburb of Harasta. Tough looking activists in tracksuits who arranged our meeting were contemptuous of the local opposition coordination committee. "The Sheikh," or Abu Omar, was not from the committee, said one, "he is from the group that fears God." The men explained to me that it was not the coordination committee that was in charge of Harasta, it was the "shabab," the guys like them. Abu Omar was a thick man wearing a dish dasha and leather jacket. As we spoke over dinner, he asked me if I knew what a Salafi was. I said it was somebody who followed the righteous companions of the Prophet Mohammed. "It's somebody devoted in his religion who doesn't stray to one side or another," he said. "Now they use Salafi to mean al Qaeda or terrorist. The Syrian regime is trying to persuade the West that it is fighting terror like the West," adding that "they failed." We sat in a room full of religious books and talked about the very active armed opposition in Harasta. "Violence has bred violence," he said. Abu Omar explained that their struggle against the regime was a jihad, but without foreign military intervention (and he did not care from where), the regime would not fall.
Abu Abdu, a military leader in Harasta confided that many people hoped there would be a declaration of jihad against the regime. "But they don't want to be accused of being Salafis." He did not expect such a declaration because the regime was not led by infidels and there were many Muslims in it, while the opposition also feared being accused of sectarianism.
In the Ghab area of rural Hama I spent many hours sitting with insurgents and local sheikhs. "We don't meet in mosques because the revolution is Islamic but because mosques are the center of gathering for people," said sheikh Amer, an imam in the town of Qalat Mudhiq. Men in the room dismissed the government's accusations that they were Salafis. "Some of these guys drink," one of them told me. "Our religion Islam is tolerant," one said, "we won't be like them," meaning Alawites. "There will be no mercy for the Alawites who carried weapons or were shabiha," the sheikh told me.
In March, Sheikh Amer gave a sermon about speaking right in front of an oppressive sultan. A demonstration followed the prayer. Syrian security called him in and asked why he was inciting people. Sheikh Amer is now a spiritual and moral advisor to the armed men. I was told, "he teaches the guys what is permitted and forbidden, values, don't harm Christians and Alawites, don't steal."
I drove through many "liberated" villages where insurgents had their own checkpoints and patrols. I met Abu Ghazi, a self-proclaimed "moderate Salafi" and the representative of the Ghab coordination committee on the Hama Revolutionary Council. Abu Ghazi was respected by other militia commanders in the Ghab. He was in his 30s and had a short beard with no mustache. His house had just been attacked by regime security forces for the third time and destroyed. He complained that the committee was neglected. "The Brotherhood support their group, Salafis support their group, secularists support their group. I am buying a satellite phone with my own money. I have a farm, so I make money from that. People are selling fish so I can buy bullets for the guys. We have a national agenda. I don't want the agenda of the Brotherhood or Salafis. I want a national agenda, even if I am a Salafi. I know the situation here better than somebody in Europe, Saudi, or UAE. I don't want a sectarian war here. We would get a lot of help if we gave our area to one current. The Salafi jihadi current offered help. Salafi jihadis have a lot of money but need an oath of loyalty. The man who gives weapons doesn't give them for free." He feared chaos in the future if such parties gained influence. "I want law and order," he said.
I was in the Ghab when Syrian security forces raided nearby villages. Hundreds of fighters from village militias in the area gathered on the mountains above in case they were needed. Among them were insurgents from the Saad bin Muadh brigade, led by a Salafi called Abu Talha, who had links with groups outside Syria. "Abu Talha's group only works for themselves," a local militia commander complained. "They don't share and don't cooperate much." Abu Talha was originally from the village of Tweina in al Ghab. Like many Syrian Salafis he had spent time in the Sednaya prison. "They are all graduates of Sednaya," he said.
A Salafi commander of an armed group called Abu Sleiman united the area against him. "When people heard he wanted to make his own emirate all the mountain turned against him," said a local village militia leader. "We are all brothers from here to Daraa. We are revolutionaries and that's it. No parties."
"Salafis like Abu Suleyman in Jabal Azawiya offer to loan you weapons for specific operations," other insurgents told me. But they had refused. Abu Suleiman was a former drug dealer, they said, who became a Salafi after spending time in the Sednaya prison. "Abu Sleiman had conditions for helping others," said a fighter from Kafr Ruma village in Jabal Azawiya.  "He said ‘be under my emirate and give me back the weapons when the operation is over.' But we won't remove Bashar to be under somebody else. So Abu Sleiman is rejected by the mountain. We expelled him, he was extreme." He was now in Turkey, they told me.
In quiet evenings the fighters of Jabal Azawiya gathered for large meals in different houses. One night I was with them for an immense tray of knafeh as they watched the nightly talk show with the sectarian exiled opposition cleric Adnan al Arur. He was very popular in the region, they said. Al Arur, whose anti-Shiite rants were divisive long before the uprising in Syria and whose name is often chanted in demonstrations, famously warned Alawites who participate in the repression that they would be chopped and that their flesh would be fed to dogs. Arur has not often spoken about Alawites and his popularity does not stem from his sectarianism but because he has religious credentials and speaks in an angry colloquial voice when praising the demonstrators every day. But his popularity has encouraged secular Sunni and minorities to prefer the regime.
"We are grateful to the Salafi fighters," said the Sufi Sheikh Omar Rahmun who led an armed group in Hama. "But I am against canceling people, I am against canceling you and you canceling me. Of the fighters, Salafis are less than one percent." One night Sheikh Omar led a group of fighters in a Sufi style of singing called a Mulid. "Its good that Sufis raise their head a little bit so people won't think the revolution is Salafi," one of the local fighters told me. The role of Sufi clerics in the opposition should not come as a surprise. I have seen Sufi insurgent groups in Falluja and other parts of Iraq and as well as armed Sufis in Somalia and Afghanistan.
Further north, rural Aleppo has hundreds of fighters in the insurgency. In the town of Anadan, slogans for "the Faruq revolution" are written on walls. Faruq is another name for Omar, a figure revered by Sunnis. On other walls people sent their greetings to Omar as well as Abu Bakr and Uthman, who are also revered by Sunnis. Many men from the area volunteered to fight in Iraq. While most of the activist leaders in Anadan have university degrees in subjects like chemistry, mathematics and Arabic, all of them are Islamists and some are Salafis.
A 48-year-old man called Abu Jumaa leads the uprising there. His son spent one year in an Air Force intelligence prison, accused of belonging to the jihadist group Jund Asham and enduring severe torture. Before the revolution many of Anadan's youths were accused of Islamic extremism and arrested. One Friday in February demonstrators shouted, "the people want a declaration of jihad!"
Abu Jumaa arranged for the armed and unarmed needs of the revolution in Anadan. In his house he has Kalashnikovs, shotguns, and improvised explosive devices. One of the spiritual leaders of the revolution in Anadan is a sheikh called Yusuf who is not a Salafi. The Muslim Brotherhood still has influence in Anadan, which suffered in the 1980s during the Brotherhood's uprising and many residents were banned from state employment.
Armed locals in Anadan claim that security forces have not raided the town "because if they come security will be massacred." Non-Sunnis were removed from the military security headquarters in Anadan so that they would be less likely to be killed by insurgents. One Friday morning in December opposition activists tore down a large picture of Assad in the main square. One of the guards in the nearby security headquarters cheered them on. By February, the security forces had been expelled by the insurgents from Anadan and its men were working on helping their brethren in Aleppo city.
Another pan-Islamist movement, Hizbultahrir, or the Party of Liberation, is also reappearing. In Sanamein, the second largest town in Daraa province, I met with Abu Khalid, one of the political leaders of the uprising there who also often led demonstrations. Sanamein was a conservative town. Most people prayed. All its sheikhs were Shafii, there were no Sufis, and it seemed as though everybody loved sheikh Adnan al Arur. Abu Khalid belonged to Hizbultahrir, a utopian pan-Islamic organization committed to reestablishing the caliphate through peaceful means. Despite his affiliation with this movement Abu Khalid was against the involvement of any political party. "I am against giving a religious tone to the revolution." He added, "It's a popular revolution."
In January, leaders of armed groups in Homs including those from the opposition's Faruq Brigade sent messages to the Muslim Brotherhood complaining that the Brotherhood was smuggling weapons into Homs but hiding them or burying there. "They avoid to use their weapons now to fight and we are afraid that they want us to defeat the regime and then they will use their arms when we are tired." The Brotherhood had no people on the ground, all leaders in Homs agreed, but there were signs they were trying to recruit from other groups. The discovery that they were hiding weapons had created a crisis of trust. The utopian group Hizbultahrir has long had a presence in Homs. Many of its members were arrested over the years, but it was not a violent group and hence they spent less time in prison than others. They have recently made their presence felt in Homs once again, building a network and financing some armed groups.
In late December, some men belonging to Hizbultahrir tried to raise the black and white flag of Islam in the Inshaat neighborhood of Homs. They also distributed leaflets in Inshaat saying it is religiously prohibited to deal with the Americans or ask for support from NATO, people should only depend on God. The local political opposition committee in Inshaat told them they did not want these things in their neighborhood. Likewise HRC activists stopped the Hizbultahrir men from raising the flags, explaining that only flags approved by the HRC could be raised. The HRC leadership warned their people in Inshaat to be careful because Islamists could use this incident to say the HRC is against Islam. But others complained to the HRC about their refusal to raise the flag of Islam.

"Islamists are going so fast," a leader of the HRC told me. "They are not waiting. A few days ago Hizbultahrir put up flag of Islam, but everybody knows that this slogan is for Hizbultahrir. Hizbultahrir started recruiting, they were arrested in previous years, and now they started again building their networks. They started working with armed groups. Financing them. Other Islamists also started working, they believe the regime is about to fall and they started building their relationships."
"This generation is enlightened and was not raised in Salafi education, unlike Egypt," said one leading activist from Homs. Salafi satellite television stations like Safa and Wesal are popular in Syria because Syrians were deprived of being religious for years, he told me. "Syria was the kingdom of silence for a long time," he said. "Arur was the first to speak with this courage. People don't like Arur because he is Salafi or Sufi. I watched him in the beginning. He was a sheikh and the words that came from him were trusted and he spoke with courage."
He spoke of Syria's most senior cleric Said Ramadan al Buti. "If Butti spoke in one hundred degrees less than Arur he would be more popular than Arur," he said. "Buti's thoughts are good, if he was with the revolution and spoke then Bashar would have left a long time ago. We want a man who is enlightened and a thinker. People liked Burhan Ghalioun at first. They stopped liking him not because he was secular but because they feel like he didn't deliver. I respect him because he is enlightened and stood with the people. The people are more simple than the parties, the want a program, to eat to live freely, not to live under oppression and a security member will mess up the neighborhood, and they want something tangible and something to be proud of. This generation is not Muslim Brothers, Hizbultahrir, or Salafi. They want somebody who will serve them. But we can't deny that this is an Islamic society so somebody could take advantage of Islam for electoral purposes."
"Some people are disappointed," said another leader of the HRC. "And don't expect anything from the Arab League which is a League of Arab dictators and the security council did nothing for us so some Islamists think we have to depend only on god and call on jihad. Those depressed people now blame the sheikhs because sheikhs do not call for jihad and people try to pressure sheikhs to make call for jihad." But he disagreed with this. "Why should we announce jihad? Just to give regime excuse to kill us?"
The Syrian uprising's reliance on outside help will only increase radicalization. In January officials from the HRC complained to me that the live broadcasts of Homs demonstrations shown on networks like al Jazeera Mubashar were controlled by a Salafi, Abu Yasir, who falsely claimed he was in Homs and was causing problems for them. During a January sit-in in the Homs neighborhood of Khaldiyeh the HRC tried to arrange for a senior member and founder of their council to speak to protesters live from his exile in Jordan. This member was a Sufi sheikh from the Bab Assiba neighborhood who had played a key role from the first days of the uprising encouraging people to demonstrate and maintaining discipline over the armed groups. "We wanted him to talk to the crowd because the people of Homs love him and they will obey him," an HRC official told me. "But the guy on the laptop said first I want to ask the coordinator (Abu Yasir) and the coordinator said no we don't want him, we want Arur, so Arur spoke to the crowd." He complained that in Homs too many of the media coordinators were in Saudi Arabia.
Unlike places I visited in Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, in opposition strongholds the residents do not live in fear of Salafis and there are no armed Salafis imposing themselves on the population. But the alleged suicide bombings of December and January in Damascus and February in Aleppo do raise the possibility that the regime's propaganda will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. "The more time the revolution extends the Salafis will be stronger," one activist told me. "Each month that goes by the movement turns more Islamic and more radical Islamic. If it had succeeded in April or May of 2011 there would be more civil society."
The Americans and Europeans assess that the regime was not behind the attacks. A western official based in Damascus said the bombings were both against "known staging grounds for mukhabarat and shabiha. Where they gather and get their assignments. Our defense attache used to see hundreds of mukhabarat in front of the branch buildings every Friday morning." A senior western diplomat told me, "The car bombs are a murky matter. If my time in Algiers and Baghdad is any guide, we may never know the full story." Before the December 23 attacks a senior western diplomat told me that al Qaeda was in Syria and he was very worried they might conduct attacks. Syria was a major source of jihadists and suicide bombers in Iraq, as even Syrian security officials often admit. It was a transit point for other foreign fighters going to Iraq. One senior western diplomat worried that veterans of the Anbar campaign would use their expertise in Syria.
Residents of Daraa, the suburbs of Damascus, or other opposition strongholds feel like they live under occupation. Opposition supporters talk about "occupied" or "liberated" areas. Opposition strongholds that are "occupied" are surrounded and divided by checkpoints. Security and soldiers demand identity cards from passers by, ask men to get out of their vehicles, enter bus and check the identity cards of all men on the bus, conduct armed patrols through neighborhoods, kick down doors, and arrest military age men. I was reminded of the feeling I had in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and southeast Turkey. While security and soldiers in Syria are not foreign, they are not local either and often have an Alawite accent. It is enough to create a sense of occupation. Occupation is a major cause of suicide attacks. On Fridays, which is when the suicide attacks occurred, security men gather in large groups at the same places every week so they can chase demonstrators, beat them, and shoot at them. They are a tempting target, easy and unprotected. While Syria is indeed a security state, its security apparatus has been overwhelmed lately and it is very easy to smuggle anything or anybody into and around the country.
One colonel from the political security branch complained that before their primary job was to prevent al Qaeda activity but now they allocated all their resources to repressing activists and responding to the armed opposition. Between 2005 and 2008, while I was researching my book "Aftermath" jihadi Salafis in Jordan and Lebanon from the Zarqawi network told me the final battle would be in Sham, the classical name for Syria. They hated Alawites. They are an experienced bunch who would support suicide bombings against security forces working for a regime they could describe as infidel who attacked people coming out of mosques. As the crackdown increases, as the local opposition's sense of abandonment by the outside world increases, and the voices calling for jihad get louder, there will likely be more radicalization.
-This article was published in Foreign Policy on 08/03/2012
-Nir Rosen, author of "Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World," spent four months in Syria reporting on the uprising for al Jazeera

Bin Laden’s Wives’ Stories Of Post-9/11 Life Casts More Suspicion On Pakistan

Pakistani officials have released the testimony of the three wives living with Osama bin Laden when he was killed. Apparently, Pakistani intelligence hoped this testimony would direct suspicion away from its door, but it does quite the opposite.
By Bruce Riedel
Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden’s wives have now told their story of the last decade of the al Qaeda’s leader’s life on the run. , AP Photo
Osama bin Laden’s wives have now told their story of the last decade of the al Qaeda’s leader’s life on the run. They were arrested by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) after the U.S. Navy SEALs left his hideout last May with his dead body. The wives’ tales have been released by the ISI through a trusted former Pakistani army general’s account for obvious reasons. The ISI wants to draw attention away from its own possible complicity in hiding bin Laden and toward other issues. But the details in the wives’ story actually only increase the question marks about possible ISI complicity.
High-value target No. 1, bin Laden was surrounded by his family in the villa in which he hid for six years inside the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Three of his wives, eight of his children, and five of his grandchildren were with him. The ISI has debriefed them all, and now it has allowed a retired Army officer access to the interrogation reports and to the hideout itself. It wants to portray bin Laden’s decade on the run after the fall of Afghanistan in the best possible light, suggesting he was ill and inactive, surrounded by family quarrels. Since the current director general of ISI, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, is about to be replaced, this may also be Pasha’s attempt to clear his own name from the charge that he was either totally incompetent for not finding bin Laden for years or complicit in hiding him.
The key character in the story is bin Laden’s last and youngest wife, a Yemeni girl named Amal that he married in 1999  just before the al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbor in Yemen. Amal was with bin Laden almost all of the rest of his life and was probably his favorite. In the ISI’s interrogations, she says he fled from Tora Bora in Afghanistan in late 2001 and moved to the Pakistani city of Kohat, near Peshawar, where he met with Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the tactical mastermind of the 9/11 plot, at least once. KSM was captured in Pakistan’s military capital, Rawalpindi, on March 1, 2003. Bin Laden moved around Waziristan, Pakistan’s lawless frontier district in 2003, then to the Swat valley north of the capital of Islamabad for a few months. In 2004 he settled into a house in Haripur only 20 miles from the capital before moving to the Abbottabad hideout in 2005. There he was about 30 miles from the capital, an hour’s drive. So he was in Pakistan for almost 10 years, mostly in settled urban centers, not caves in the remote tribal boondocks.
Amal also claims he had a kidney transplant in 2002. The story is vague as to where the operation took place, some accounts say Karachi, others suggest outside of Pakistan. So he was in a hospital somewhere in Pakistan or traveling abroad right when the ISI was supposed to be hot on the chase. Amal suggests that life in the house became more difficult in early 2011, when bin Laden’s eldest wife, a Saudi named Khairiah Saber, arrived in the compound after living in Iran since 2001. Khairiah, along with one of bin Laden’s sons and several of his closest lieutenants, had gone west into Iran after the fall of Kandahar instead of east into Pakistan like most of al Qaeda. After a decade of house arrest, the Iranians let the al Qaeda exiles go in late 2010 under mysterious circumstances. Their release may have been an exchange for an Iranian diplomat al Qaeda had kidnapped or it may have been part of a gradual rapprochement between Tehran and al Qaeda (or both). Apparently, the two ladies did not get along.
The picture that emerges is of a busy household and of a hideout that was well known to the al Qaeda core leadership, enough that the boss’s lost wife could find her way to it.  Other information that has come out in the last month also shows that bin Laden communicated from the hideout with the leadership of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the so-called Army of the Pure that terrorized Mumbai in November 2008, killing six Americans, and with Mullah Omar, the head of the Afghan Taliban, NATO’s main enemy in Afghanistan. Both are very close to the ISI. The head of Lashkar-e-Taiba openly mourned bin Laden after his death and has been traveling around Pakistan since late last year holding massive rallies calling for jihad against America and India. The ISI is sponsoring his campaign. The Taliban also mourned bin Laden’s death last May.
Abbottabad is not your normal Pakistani city. It was founded by Sir James Abbott in January 1853 to be a garrison city for the British East India Co.’s army. It is still a military town. Three regiments call it home, as does Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, the Kakul Military Academy, which is less than a kilometer from bin Laden’s hideout. It is so well guarded that in 2009 Pakistan held its first ever counterterrorism training exercise with China in Abbottabad because it was super secure. The head of Afghan intelligence has said he told then–Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf in 2006 that his sources believed bin Laden was somewhere near Abbottabad. Musharraf brushed him off.
In 2007, a former Pakistani ambassador and I were attending a conference in Doha. I asked where the ambassador thought bin Laden was hiding. The ambassador said probably in a safe house built by the ISI inside a military compound. After the SEALs found bin Laden, the country’s biggest English-language newspaper published an op-ed that said that the Army knew he was there for years. So many Pakistanis have suspected ISI complicity for years.
But we really still don’t know whether the ISI was clueless or complicit. Pasha says clueless. The wives’ accounts make that harder than ever to believe. One thing is certain: the commission that the Pakistani government formed to investigate the issue will not tell us the truth. Pakistan is charging the wives with illegal entry into the country and has destroyed the hideout. Many in the civilian government are scared to ask the Army for the truth. They know one journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad, was murdered by the ISI last summer for getting too close to the answer. 
-This commentary was published in The Daily Beast on 08/03/2012
Bruce Riedel, a former longtime CIA officer, is a senior fellow in the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. At President Obama’s request, he chaired the strategic review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009. He is author of the book Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of the Global Jihad and The Search for Al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology and Future

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How Not To Intervene In Syria

After everything that's happened over the last decade, shouldn’t we know a quagmire when we see one?
In 20-plus years of government service, I saw more than a few reruns of the same movie, particularly when we faced a really tough challenge. "Give me some options!", "Yes, Mr./Madam Secretary. We'll get a memo to you shortly."
Most of the time, the movie ended more or less the same way. The options that might work involved serious political and strategic risks, the others cost much less but wouldn't work quickly -- or more likely, at all. And so followed the much-caricatured but very real three-option memo: (1) do everything (2) do nothing (3) muddle through as best you can.
And so we muddle. The Syrian uprising is a blood-soaked tragedy playing out on a big stage, in full view of the international community. A brutal, repressive regime willfully and indiscriminately kills its own people in a desperate -- and so far successful -- effort to stay in power. It encourages and looses upon the land sectarian hatreds and resentments that play out in a fury of murder, kidnappings, and torture.
The fecklessness and powerlessness of the United States, and the international community writ large, only becomes more evident as the horrors mount. We have seen an Arab League observer mission that actually legitimizes the regime, a "Friends of Syria" group that highlights the division rather than the consensus in the international community, a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the Syrian regime that only showcases the absence of tougher Security Council action because the Russians and Chinese won't play along, repeated (and empty calls) for President Bashar al-Assad's removal, and sanctions that hurt but can't topple the regime. We have also seen the so-far unsubstantiated hope that in some way, all of these pressures will combine to create circumstances for the proverbial inside job, in which some Alawi military commander -- worried about his own skin and a war crimes prosecution, or perhaps even in an enlightened moment about the future of his country -- somehow challenges the regime with armor in the streets of Damascus and takes out the Assads.
But muddle through we must. The takeaway from any honest and unforgiving analysis of Syria produces a series of options that range from bad to worse. So we continue to play at the margins. We can't significantly ease the humanitarian crisis, unify the opposition, and stop the killing -- let alone get rid of the Assads.
Syria has always been different. The minority character of the regime, with its mix of profound insecurity and grandiosity as the vanguard of Arab nationalism, separates it from all the other Arabs. In the late 1990s, during debates about whether to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian or Israeli-Syrian negotiations, I recall telling Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that Assad the elder was the Frank Sinatra of the peace process: He wouldn't make his peace with Israel and the West like Egypt's Anwar Sadat, King Hussein of Jordan, or even Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat had done before him -- he'd do it his own way. And as a consequence, the process and substance of an Israeli-Syrian peace deal on the Golan Heights would be different than the others, and much harder. Albright got it; I'm not sure anyone else did.
The rise of the Assads, and their view of Israel and America, was unique -- and the arc of their demise is likely to be as well. A year in, the uprisings in the Arab world have offered up three pathways for regime change, none of them appropriate to Syria.
First, the Egyptian model: Let's call it the do-it-yourself (DIY) approach. Here, the military eases Hosni Mubarak out because it refuses to use massive repression and violence against the people and undermine its own power, perks, and influence in a post-Mubarak Egypt.
Second, the Yemeni model: Outside forces with influence and access -- the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with American help -- ease a wily but weakened President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power, with promises of immunity and perhaps some future role.
Third, the Libyan model: The international community, empowered by a Security Council resolution and the military muscle of NATO, wage limited war in support of a Libyan opposition that manages (eight months later) to defeat Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Syria really is different than these three. Unlike with the Egyptian military, the Alawis who dominate Syria's military and security services are borrowing a page from our own revolutionary founders: "We're either going to hang together, or hang separately." And the regime will continue to use whatever force is required to protect itself and its corporate interests.
Unlike Yemen, there's no GCC fix for Syria and no immunity for Assad's bloody hands. And Syria, unlike Libya, has real defenses -- chemical weapons, a credible air-defense system, and a real military determined, as its bloody takeover of Homs suggests, to do anything to stay in power -- that will make NATO think twice before launching a war. A Security Council resolution, with NATO as its enforcement arm, seems unlikely as long as the Russians and Chinese won't cooperate. The United States has the power to crush the Syrian military, but there's no will or stomach to deal with the risks and consequences of a sustained intervention -- not yet, anyway.
These challenges haven't stopped a fair number of experts, former practitioners, and leading U.S. senators from urging that old college try. As was the case before the Libyan intervention, calls for stronger measures have come from both liberal interventionists and neoconservatives. Whoever doubted that foreign-policy crises -- like politics -- make strange bedfellows?
Those suggestions include, among other things, arming the Syrian opposition and setting up "no-kill zones," an idea I still have not been able to understand either in terms of its design or purpose. I do see the implications of such an approach, though: an open-ended, ill-advised slide to deeper military involvement without any rigorous calculations of the costs. Others have urged a comprehensive strategy of indirect intervention, which includes training the opposition and the supply of arms, such as mortars, anti-tank weapons, and improvised explosive devices. Inaction, these interventionists point out, also has its costs.
Indeed it does. Syria isn't Libya: It's a more important place, the consequences of sustained sectarian conflict are more severe, and the advantages -- weakening Iran -- much greater. (Bring down the Assads, and you can undermine the mullahcracy in Tehran too.)
But then, actions that aren't properly thought through also have consequences, for precisely the same reason. Syria isn't Libya: The circumstances and conditions that made intervention succeed in one case aren't now present in the other, and may never be. Great powers behave inconsistently, sometimes hypocritically. Their power and size have given them that luxury and latitude -- it's part of their job description.
I think we get it -- President Barack Obama's administration certainly does -- that there really are no good options on this one. Taking out the headquarters of the Fourth Armored Division or the Republican Guard barracks with missile strikes would certainly feel good, and it's clear that Syria's killers deserves that and much more.
But without sticking our heads in the sand, we ought not to lose them either with reckless ideas of how to make the Syrian tragedy ours as well through direct military intervention or indirectly supplying weapons. That the Arabs -- notably the Saudis -- see the region through the frightening filter of a Sunni-Shia war doesn't mean we should too. In fact, without infantilizing the Arabs and imposing on them the prejudice of low expectations, one can only wonder why key Arab states -- equipped with the most advanced American fighter aircraft and so concerned about their fellow Arabs in Syria -- can't or won't act more boldly, beyond providing weapons to their favored side. I think I know the answer.
As the George W. Bush administration has instructed us, getting into these regional messes is always a lot harder than getting out. And as painful as it is to watch, the wrenching reality of a brutal dictator killing his own people isn't a compelling enough reason to justify a unilateral, open-ended American military intervention to topple him.
We should stop beating ourselves up for once. Given the complexity of the problem, other pressing priorities, our interests, and the potential costs of an intervention, the administration is doing what it can. Chances are the longer the killing goes on, the more likely we be will dragged into doing more. But the notion that we should intercede quickly with some dramatic,  ill-advised, poorly thought through idea of kill zones or safe havens without thinking through the consequences of what protecting those areas would entail is a prescription for disaster.
Intervening militarily now isn't about left or right, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, or even about right or wrong -- it's really about choosing between being dumb or smart. I know where I come down.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 08/03/2012
-Aaron David Miller is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His new book, Can America Have Another Great President