Dirty bomb attack on Israel???

One of the various blogs I read is Blackfive, which I particularly respect because of the on-the-ground work they do in reporting what happens for the soldiers in Iraq. There was a really interesting report in my RSS feed about one of the ships hijacked by Somali pirates in recent weeks. Essentially the gist of the story is that an Iranian vessel on its way to the north end of the Suez near Israel was hijacked – the pirates who did this have subsequently been experiencing signs of massive radiation exposure. The cargo seems to have consisted of radioactive sand that could have been deployed in an airborne manner causing a real mess. There are some interesting reports on this – even something on wikipedia already. The ship, MV Iran Deyanat, seems to still be in pirate control with a number of friendly warships watching it – this will be a really interesting story to follow…

Some great stuff on Youtube

Following an article on one of the blogs I read, I can across some absolutely hillarious posts on YouTube. On one level they are somewhat concerning in terms of the subject matter, but the semantic gymnastics are absolutely funny. They relate to US congressional hearings over the use of torture and the star actors are David Addingtion and John Yoo. I think my favourites are:

Marginalising Sadr

The name Sadr is not just the name of a rebellious ‘upstart’, nor should it be construed as such; it is in fact a highly regarded name within Iraq’s Shia community. With a lineage dating back to the daughter of the final Prophet of Islam, the Sadr name has been intimately linked with some of the key leaders within the Shia community. In more recent times, the last Grand Ayatollah Sadr and two of his sons were assassinated by friends of Saddam Hussein in 1999. From a western perspective, this would almost equate to the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope being assassinated.

From this august family comes Muqtada al-Sadr, the chief protagonist in leading Shia violence in Iraq. Leaning upon his family’s name, rather than intellectual or moral (or religious) authority, it was not surprising that he received significant followings within his community. And throughout his supporters was a significant core of violent criminal gangs, although it would be incorrect to assume that he fully controlled them.

Dealing with Sadr has been a difficult task for the Coalition (I particularly recall this from my time there in 2004) and sadly many people have died as a result of his destabilising activities. The challenge since late 2003 has been the issue of negating or marginalising his influence and power base without making him a significant rallying call for Iraq’s Shia populace. On one level it is a shame that the Coalition failed to achieve this; however in the context of Iraq’s political landscape, that is a good thing.

The best solution for dealing with Muqtada was always going to be an Iraqi-led solution. It has taken a few years for the opportunity to properly arise for this to occur and it is fantastic to see Nouri al Maliki step up to the challenge along with Iraq’s security forces. While not an overnight process, Sadr is becoming marginalised within Iraq without becoming a martyr. The writing is on the wall for him – it is becoming clearer that he no longer has the power that people felt, and in a place where power is everything, his prestige and ability to influence will wain.

It has been quite remarkable to see some of the recent MSM (mainstream media) reports suggesting that Maliki’s actions are a failure. That is quite a ridiculous assertion. Iraq’s public institutions are not perfect, nor are the branches of government. But here we see a new democratically elected legislature (that is majority Shia) dictating a decision to the executive (military and police) which is being enacted; sure, it isn’t perfect, but then it is pretty good for a government that has been around for barely a few years. The recent operation had a number of tactical failures (as do many military operations), but strategically it was a great success.

Getting rid of Sadr is not going to happen overnight, but slowly and in a very Iraq way, it will happen. 

Some great stuff from Blackfive

Via Blackfive, I read a remarkable article called AntiWar wounds written by the wife of a US National Guard soldier serving in Afghanistan. And in a recent post, I found out about a great USMC video called America’s Marines. It includes some great drill from the USMC Silent Drill Platoon – very impressive stuff.

Al-Qaida’s Fading Victory: The Madrid Precedent

I think I might give up using Microsoft Vista for a while and revert back to my old computer with XP on it – so much more reliable! Anyway, I thought I would post another great article from my friend, Austin Bay’s blog

Strategy Page
March 12, 2008
Al-Qaida’s terror attacks on March 11, 2004 (just prior to Spain’s national elections), sought to establish the “Madrid Precedent,” a strategic extension of what al-Qaida’s planners in their “Letters to the Africa Corps” had called the examples of Mogadishu, Somalia, and Beirut, Lebanon. Stated crudely, Beirut (U.S. Marine barracks, 1983) and Mogadishu (“Blackhawk Down,” 1993) told al-Qaida that if “we kill enough, they will withdraw.”

Islamists murdered 191 Spaniards and wounded 1,800 on 3-11. Unlike Beirut, the “Madrid Precedent” targeted civilians in Spanish territory — but on al-Qaida’s map of the global caliphate, Spain is “al Andalus,” a Muslim domain stolen by the Reconquista.

In the post-attack wave of hysteria, “Socialist peace candidate” Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was elected Spain’s prime minister. He immediately withdrew Spanish troops serving in Iraq.

Hence the “Madrid Precedent” — attack a democracy just before an election with the aim of electing a “peace candidate” who thinks al-Qaida’s killers can be appeased.

Al-Qaida needed a Madrid Precedent. The “9-11 Precedent” hadn’t worked as planned. Rather than perishing like a fire-struck Sodom or becoming “quagmired” in Afghanistan like the lurching Soviet military, the United States responded aggressively and creatively, and with an unexpected agility.

Moreover, America had chosen not merely to topple al-Qaida’s Taliban allies, but had made the bold decision to go to “the heart of the matter” and wage a war for the terms of modernity in the center of the politically dysfunctional Arab Muslim Middle East.

Don’t think that al-Qaida’s leaders didn’t know that stroke — establishing a democracy in Iraq — represented a fatal threat to the terrorist organization.

Al-Qaida’s dark genius had been to connect the Muslim world’s angry, humiliated and isolated young men with a utopian fantasy preaching the virtue of violence. That utopian fantasy sought to explain and then redress roughly 800 years of Muslim decline. The rage energizing al-Qaida’s ideological cadres certainly predated the post-Desert Storm presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia.

In February 2004, al-Qaida’s “emir in Iraq,” Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, bluntly noted he faced defeat. Islamist radicals were “failing to enlist support” and had “been unable to scare the Americans into leaving.” Once the Iraqis established their own democracy, Zarqawi opined, al-Qaida was lost. Moreover, a predominantly Arab Muslim democracy offered the Muslim world an alternative to al-Qaida’s liturgy of embedded grievance. Zarqawi’s solution to looming failure was to murder Iraqi Shias and ignite a “sectarian war.”

Politically inducing the withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq was another route to thwarting Iraqi democracy.

Zapatero, a man steeped in the European left’s liturgical anti-Americanism, came through for the bin Ladenites.

But it didn’t work. Oh, Spanish troops left. Ironically, I arrived in Iraq for military duty as the Spaniards were departing. An operations sergeants told me the Spanish soldiers were crack professionals who had a high opinion of themselves — a cocky esprit. “What about their opinion of Zapatero?” I asked. The sergeant scowled. Well, I thought, what kind of soldier likes it when his own politicians deal him a defeat?

In spring 2008, the “Iraq Precedent” — forged by the Iraqi people with American help — looks increasingly persuasive. Will the Iraq Precedent sway the Muslim world’s disenchanted? It has had some success, and al-Qaida knows this: An increasing number of Muslims consider al-Qaida to be a criminal gang. However, cultural and political change is slow. We will have a better idea in a couple of decades.

Meanwhile, back in the United States: Democratic candidate Barack Obama promises a rapid withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. I can’t call his plan the Obama Precedent because Hillary Clinton has toyed with the idea — of course, she toys with many ideas, depending on the crowd.

But, golly gee, Obama may be spinning us — you know, old-time campaign talk from the man promising change? Yes, his key foreign policy adviser Samantha Power has resigned (she called Hillary “a monster”), but before Power quit she suggested to the BBC’s Stephen Sackur on March 6 that Obama’s retreat pledge was iffy. “You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009,” Power said. “He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. senator.”

It appears Obama is pandering to left-wing voters steeped in defeatism, and if elected president, come January 2009, he may suddenly discover the Iraq Precedent is a damn sight better than any other option.

The Great Intelligence Scapegoat

I spent a number of years in military and defence intelligence working on issues related to the great array of operations that occur around the world with Iraq being the most notable one. Jokes aside about military intelligence, it was always fascinating to see “intelligence” used as an almost default answer when tough questions came up, often cited side by side with “national security” and “that’s classified”. While at some later point I may write an article about the somewhat inprecise nature of intelligence collection and analysis, I thought I may write about the misunderstood and misrepresented nature of the role of intelligence in decision making (particularly at the political/ strategic level). It was tough learning this lesson as intelligence professionals would perhaps prefer that their imput becomes the key factor in decision making but that is wrong.

Fundamentally, intelligence is only one of a range of factors that goes into decision making and nothing more. Political and policy factors are just as important, and possibly carry more weight. While decision makers should weigh up all the factors, some of the non-intelligence factors can take prominence AND can be hidden by using “intelligence” as a very useful and convenient scapegoat. The case for invading Iraq is a case in point. There was desire for regime change however the political reality dictated that an alternate justification be given, hence the WMD issue. While circumstantial evidence existed to suggest the existence of WMD, WMD concerns were elevated and assessments not based on fact or evidence were then used to justify the 2003 war (the link between Iraq and Al Qaeda was far more spurious).  Intelligence assessments would also have pointed to the importance of not winding down operations in Afghanistan in 2002, but again the political and policy considerations of the then up-coming invasion of Iraq took precedence.

Some get offended by saying that they are misled by their governments but this is perhaps a nieve view. Politics and deception are interwoven to quite a degree. Governments and opposition parties use and misuse information they have at hand to enhance their own position (and neither side is blameless). Intelligence is a great target for misuse as national security considerations will often prevent real information or assessment from being brought into public view – and therefore scrutiny is absent.