Monday, July 03, 2006

Zarqawi's cell phone contains numbers of government officials

"You're either with us or you're with the terrorists."

Those were the words of George W. Bush when describing the war on terror. And it is in a larger degree, a reflection of the conservative view of the world, the one you see on all those old westerns, war movies and cop shows, where there is no shade of grey, only larger than life heroes who stand for everything that is good, decent and right, and villainous villains that stand for nothing but evil. There is no room in this view for moral relativism, or the idea that the good guys might be fighting for anything other than a righteous cause.

And there is certainly a case that you can make and I would agree with, that whatever the root causes may be behind, say, an Osama bin Laden or an Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, they have committed crimes that are so heinous that they don't deserve to be considered anything other than the vilest of villains and treated accordingly. As such, I was happy to write on my post on Zarqawi's death

And it is a good thing that he is dead. Zarqawi was a murdering monster who won't be mourned by anyone except for a handful of fanatics.

Where the conservative view falls apart however, is that the idea of 'with us or against us' rarely if ever applies in the Byzantine world of Middle Eastern politics. We should have learned that the hard way at Tora Bora, where bin Laden apparently bribed or otherwise 'convinced' the Afghan warlords we sent in to finish him off, to let him escape the noose. The fact that their allegiance to the United States was pretty much limited to a combination of how much we paid them at the time plus the fact that right at that time we had the baddest army in the area didn't prevent our leadership from sending them-- instead of Americans, to actually finish the job. And at least on a small scale, whether it was bin Laden's past relations and influence with them, his stash of cash, or his known network of supporters who could avenge his death, he was able to get them to do something that American marines would never have done, and conveniently be looking the other way when he made his move.

What we now learn is that the government we worked so hard to install in Iraq, is probably just as fickle. Zarqawi's cellphone tells the tale. Apparently, it was recovered in the air strike where we took him out, and on it are the personal numbers of some very highly placed senior Iraqi officials, including ministry employees and members of parliament.

The obvious implication that Iraq's top terrorist was working hand in glove with important government officials is disturbing, but it is also predictable. No one there feels loyalty to the United States. In fact, they probably don't even feel much loyalty to Iraq, a country which never existed in its present form historically and is the result of British and French colonialists who drew arbitrary lines on a map when dividing up the spoils of the Ottoman empire after World War I. Their loyalties are likely to their families, clans, and ethnic/religious group (Sunni, Shiite, Kurd) pretty much in that order. Beyond that, their loyalty to the muslim religion is certainly a bigger factor than any loyalty they might feel towards the state or the government which leads it (even when they are the government which leads it.)

It is in fact that way across the middle east. The United States is just one of many players in an arena full of shifting allegiances, where the enemy of my enemy is my friend, until I make friends with my enemy, when his enemy becomes my enemy. People who live there understand that. The Jordanians (who helped us finger Zarqawi, after he put out contracts on their royal family and blew up some bombs in Amman) understand that. Even the Israelis understand that. But we don't understand that.

And as proof that we don't understand that, consider your reaction to the following line in the story:

Meanwhile, al-Zarqawi's wife told an Italian newspaper that al Qaeda leaders sold him out to the United States in exchange for a promise to let up in the search for Osama bin Laden.

What? The United States making a deal with bin Laden to help nail Zarqawi? I don't believe it, and probably neither do you. And I'm certain that isn't the case.

But she isn't nuts. It may seem that way to us, but in the contorted politics of the Middle East, where she is from, these kinds of things can and do happen, more often than you might suppose. She doesn't understand our way of thinking, but neither do George Bush and those making decisions at the top understand the way people there think.


Ron Franscell said...

So abu Musab al Zarqawi's cell phone contained the telephone numbers of high-ranking Iraq government officials. What was he calling them about ... bad trash pickup and late delivery of his newspaper?

So, our own government is monitoring OUR phone calls, but the top terrorist scumbag in Iraq apparently can call bureaucrats and politicians -- and maybe order pizza and beer -- without ever being noticed. Did anybody think to monitor phone calls in Iraq ... or might that have been too invasive?

Lily said...

Wouldn't want to invade their privacy or violate their "constitution" in its working document stages!!!!

Ah yes. these pieces of paper...

Eli Blake said...


People in America are more of a threat to them than people in Iraq. We might actually vote against them, for heavens sake.

Karen said...

happy 4th of july...

...geta *bang* outa it!!

Chuck said...

"...What? The United States making a deal with bin Laden to help nail Zarqawi? I don't believe it, and probably neither do you..."

Well, ummm, Eli, uhhh.

Eli Blake said...

Oh, come on Chuck. Even I'm not that conspiratorial.

My point was that Zarqawi's wife, familiar with the way people do things there, might reasonably suppose that. Frankly if Bush did that, then it would almost be good news, because it would mean that he was finally catching on to the way they did things over there.

Zarqawi's undoing was very simple. He pissed off the Jordanian government. Not by anything he was doing to us, but because he put out a contract on them, and then the Amman hotel bombings. The royal family in Jordan are Hashemites (from which derives the modern word, 'assassin' -- 'nuff said about the family history) and they have probably the best intel service of any arab country.

Because he pissed off the Jordanian government, they were willing to give us the intel that in effect put the dagger in our hand. Because it was in their interest for us to kill him. And as long as it remains in their interest for us to be successful, they will continue to help us. That's the way the game is played there.

But in the long run, our bumbling entry into the world of middle eastern intrigue is going about the same as some cocky young man with a full wallet walking with a swagger into the 'poker room' at a Vegas casino. They will play him through. He will probably win a few hands, which will keep him engaged. But at the end of the day, his wallet will be empty and the professional card sharks will be back there the next day, without him.

That doesn't mean that we couldn't learn the intel game over there. The old CIA and the KGB were C level players, but still got fleeced most of the time. The British during the colonial days were a bit better at it, though they in the end lost. The Israelis are about as good at it as any outsider can get, but even they have their limitations (as their continued frustration in Gaza right now can attest). But right now, our intel isn't even in the game, as proven by the fact that so,e policy makers in Washington still trust Ahmed Chalabi, for heaven's sake.

Chuck said...

I know Eli. It was intended as a joke.

Really. :)