*Asharq al-Awsat reports that hundreds of “Afghan Arabs” (volunteers, mainly from the Arab world, who had fought the Soviets or with the Taliban in Afghanistan) have gathered in Iraq to carry out suicide missions against US troops there. Sources close to the fundamentalists maintain that other volunteers have come from Lebanon and that remnants of the al-Qaeda leadership have come to Iraq via Iran. They say that the secular Baath party has a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with them that they can operate against the invading Americans, but not under the banner of the Baath party. I suspect this report is exaggerated, and I would also be very surprised if these groups, assuming they exist, could successfully carry out a terrorist operation against the advancing US forces. Otherwise why not pull it off in Afghanistan itself, where al-Qaeda was well entrenched and knew the terrain? As I mentioned yesterday, similar volunteers who went to fight the Americans in Afghanistan were never heard from again. It is one thing to blow up unsuspecting civilians. It is another to take on fully mobilized Marines. Semper Fie, guys.
*Thousands of Iraqi Kurds have fled cities and villages to the mountains, fearful of a Baath chemical attack like the ones in 1988. Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani issued a statement trying to calm the populace, saying that they faced no real danger from Baghdad.
*The Washington Post reports American intelligence analysis suggesting a very strong possibility that the Iraqi military will collapse after the first big American assaults. Let’s hope they got this one right.
*Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak probably spoke for most Arab leaders when he blamed the Iraq war squarely on Saddam Hussein. But he expressed his hope, implicitly, that the US would be sensitive to the destabilizing potential of this war and its aftermath in the region. On the other hand, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, the more adventurous Arab intellectuals hope this war can break the logjam of Arab political stagnation. Many had expected that the fall of the Soviet Union and the liberalization of Eastern Europe would lead to democratization in the region, but it has not happened. Yet. The Sun Times says, “Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Egypt’s best-known liberal critic, said in an interview the simple fact is “that wars, bad as they are, they break empires, they break dictators, they leave the ground clear for new systems to be created. “They create havoc, they create disorder. But they also create opportunity.” ” The article notes on the other hand that 75% of Jordanians say they are afraid to criticize their government. That is the more common sentiment in the region, which won’t go away, I’m afraid, just because Saddam falls.
*500 Moroccans protested in front of the Moroccan parliament in Rabat against the criminal trial of young goth afficionados of heavy metal in Casablanca on charges of satan worship. They spoke against the interference of the state in Moroccans’ private lives. The whole affair is ridiculous, and my guess is that the government is throwing these 14 young people to the lions to curry favor with the Islamists, who did well in the recent elections and who denounced the Casablanca Goth movement. Not everyone likes Siouxsie, Bauhaus or Marilyn Manson. And very few Goths worship Satan. I mean, the whole thing is so 80s and retro, and one could imagine putting it down; but jail time? As if Morocco doesn’t have more pressing problems.