November 03, 2006

Fish bubbles?

Instapundit cites approvingly:

Facts pop up once in a while like fish bubbles on a quiet lake—hundreds of cars burned on a relatively calm night, at least a hundred every night all year long, 2500 policemen injured since January 2006—and disappear without consequences...

What does this sentence even mean? What are injured cops and burnt cars if they're not consequences? Did no one own the cars? Did the cops not know they were injured?

There's all kinds of consequences to large-scale rioting in any country. Only a deluded observer separated by an ocean could conclude otherwise, simply because they haven't appeared in her local newspaper yet. The only "quiet lake" here is the writer's empty mind.

For a tonic to this kind of idiocy, look here.

Posted by BruceR at 02:13 PM

Captured Iraq documents: always fun, fun, fun

It's always fun, fun, fun to watch bloggers with no intelligence training pull a Cheney and sort through documents they find on the Internet, trying still one more time to tie Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks. The Captain's Quarters has been very good for this sort of thing lately.

This is a classic example. The short story: an Iraqi intelligence source of Afghan descent told his handler that an Afghan diplomat named Dastani said that he (Dastani) had been told while in Iran that there was or had been a liaison connection between the Iraqi government and Osama Bin Laden (to whit, they had "expressed cooperation between themselves"), and Dastani thought the Americans shared this belief.

Captain's Quarters duly reports the truth obvious to the fevered mind: that because an unidentified Iranian had told the Afghan diplomat his belief that Bin Laden and Iraq were working together, therefore that must be true. That basically breaks just about every rule in any logic textbook you can find, but never mind.

The memo is garden variety intel chatter. By itself, it's completely meaningless. At best it gives a real intel operator some more evidence to base his or her assessment of the source's reliability and access, and tells us the diplomat Dastani was in Iran recently. This would then lead, in a responsible intelligence environment, to further queries... was Dastani really in Iran? Why was he in Iran? Who had he been talking to? And so on.

It's not enough information by itself to hang anything on, but it could conceivably, with further substantiation, support at least four intelligence assessments I could see the Iraqis considering making:

1. Unidentified Iranian elements (government? opposition? who knows?) were pushing the story (true? not true? no idea), to anyone who would listen, that the Iraqis and Bin Laden are in bed together, possibly in an effort to get some more U.S. bombing love headed Saddam Hussein's way;

2. The unidentified Iranian elements were pushing the same story sotto voce via the diplomat to the Taliban government, possibly to convince them that bin Laden was too hot to handle or doing deals without their knowledge with another obvious bad guy, perhaps because those Iranian elements wanted to see the Taliban disavow bin Laden;

3. The beleaguered Afghan government (or bin Laden himself) was aware that source "11002" had a conduit to Iraqi intelligence and was using the backchannel after Sept. 11 to try to communicate to the Iraqi leader the argument that they were all in this together now, possibly to encourage the Iraqis to support Afghanistan or Al Qaeda in whatever came next, or at least not to oppose them.

4. The American government was attempting to isolate the Taliban diplomatically by pushing information of an Iraq-al Qaeda connection via diplomatic or intelligence means to the unidentified Iranians, who had then related it to Dahstani.

None of these theses would be particularly surprising, if true, of course. It would certainly have been interesting to see what, if any, evidence had been shown to Mr. Dastani by his unidentified sources to see if there was any substantiation at all for his stated belief. But this one intrep by itself is open to such wide interpretation that it is useless by itself.

This is another classic. The short story: the Palestinian PFLP-GC made an offer of a 500-man military unit to the Iraqi government on March 25, 2003, five days after the bombing started. This, to the Captain, shows evidence "Saddam regime actively coordinated with Palestinian terrorists in the PFLP-GC as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad."

What it shows, of course, besides the inerrant Palestinian tendency to back the wrong side in just about anything, is the wonder of bureaucracy in wartime. The Iraqi government official's minute approving the offer is dated March 31, six days after it was received.*

Just as a reminder, here was the Flit battle map from April 1, the day after the Iraqis agreed to let the Palestinians lend them a hand.

Now, it's probably fair to say Taha Yassin Ramadan (or as we'll always fondly remember him now, the Ten of Diamonds) can be excused for getting behind in his mail that week, having things on his mind like his imminent escape, that and the likely prospect of a smart bomb coming through the window, and all. I'm sure when he gets sentenced along with Saddam this Sunday, he'll be thinking, if only he'd seen that note about those 500 crazy Palestinians a little earlier, it might have changed everything.

What does Captain's Quarters take from it? It's wondrous, really. Because the PFLP-GC proposed to travel through Syria to get to Iraq, and because Syria has "run" Islamic Jihad and Hamas (not really true, but not entirely wrong, so let's let that one go), therefore Iraq must have been allied with Islamic Jihad and Hamas for years previously!

Wow. Okay, where to start?

The PFLP-GC (not the PFLP, that's different, even if the Captain doesn't know why) is a Syrian-backed militant group, that much is true. Led by Ahmed Jibril, they're based in Syria, and they do act at the Syrian government's behest, pretty much. Iin the days when Yasir Arafat sometimes would go against Syrian interests, the Syrians touted Jibril as their more pliable alternative Palestinian hero-figure. They draw their personnel from the Palestinian refugee populations in Syria and Lebanon. They haven't engaged in active terrorist ops on Israeli soil in well over a decade, though. They retain operational ties with Hezbollah, and the two groups have engaged in joint military operations in south Lebanon, recently -- they're probably best thought of these days as a sort of Sunni Palestinian auxiliary to the Shiite Hezbollah. So it's fair to say that the Syrians made or supported an offer of deniable military support to an Iraq government in its last days by one of their more reliable paramilitaries -- or at least recognized they'd be unable to stop this particular group from offering to help and so assented to their crossing the border.

Of course, Jibril, possibly the old-guard Palestinian resistance leader with the most military training, is no idiot, either. There's no evidence the promised soldiers would ever leave their camps in Lebanon: all we know for sure is Jibril made an effort, two weeks before Baghdad fell, to walk into the Iraqi consulate in Damascus with a pitch. His PFLP-GC, because it has had no real role in the Palestinian struggle since before Oslo, was in decline even in 2003. The loss of the organization's military leader, Jibril's son Jihad Ahmed Jibril, to a car bomb in 2002 had pretty much sucked any remaining life out of Jibril Sr's organization. The most likely scenario is he or his Syrian superiors could see the end was near for Saddam anyway, and Jibril was making the offer in part out of a self-promotional instinct, possibly to trumpet to his Palestinian support base later ("hey, we were on the road when Baghdad fell... donate generously to the PFLP-GC").

But in any case, we already knew Hussein was financially supporting the families of Palestinian "martyrs" prior to the Iraq War. Iraqi support of terrorist acts against Israel, a support shared by numerous Middle Eastern regimes through the years, was long-standing and undisputed. What has never been confirmed is that he was partial to any of the aims or ambitions of Al Qaeda, and hence posed any kind of immediate danger to the United States in 2003.

Jibril, it should be noted, is a fairly secular terrorist, quasi-Marxist in his ideology, not particularly extremist in his religion, one who has been around the Middle East since 1968... exactly the kind of "terrorist" that Hussein would have been ideologically comfortable with. (Jibril has no confirmed operational ties with Al Qaeda.) Without question, we know Hussein was a danger to Israelis and their interests: but that was never suggested as a reason for the war, making this translated "intelligence find" completely off-point... whatever the Captain's point might actually have been. The collective self-delusion involved among far-right jingobloggers, at this point, seems almost unfathomable.

*The probable reason for the long wait time has to in part be due to the unreliability of the Iraq government's secure communications with its embassies by this point in the war. Practically the only reliable secure means they had left would have been courier, given the likelihood of being bombed on the road and other uncertainties this would not have been a pleasant or easy task to fulfill. The Iraqi response was likely sent back the same way... one wonders if Jibril even received his reply before Baghdad fell.

Posted by BruceR at 11:58 AM