Belgium Has Begun Trial Of 23 Suspects

*Belgium has begun the trial of 23 suspects it alleges have links to al-Qaeda. They belong to an obscure group that may have been involved in the bombings in Casablanca a few days ago. They include a former Tunisian football (soccer) star who admits knowing and admiring Bin Laden. Nizar ben Abdelaziz Trabelsi is accused with others of plotting an attack on the Kleine Brogel Air force base, which some allege contains US nuclear weapons. I don’t know what exactly they were planning to do there, but “al-Qaeda” and “nuclear weapons” in the same sentence makes me nervous. Note that a similar trial in Holland last year ended without the state being able to secure a verdict, because the evidence was deemed circumstantial. I hope this prosecutor team has more on the ball.

*A US armored vehicle in the Sunni town of Falluja came under fire from a rocked propelled grenade late on Weds. That prompted US troops to fire back. Local residents, who are extremely hostile to the US, accused the troops of firing indiscriminately toward the center of town. Also, as the US troops tell it, a Nissan slammed into a Bradley fighting vehicle, causing the troops to fire into the Nissan and kill two Iraqis. The Falluja residents maintain that the two young men in the Nissan were just innocent victims of indiscriminate US gunfire. One knowledgeable scholar recently said in my hearing that we are lucky Falluja is Sunni and not Shiite–if this sort of thing happened in Najaf or Karbala, it would have big repercussions. From what I have seen in the press, Falluja residents may be Sunni Islamists. The danger is that the sort of radical anti-American attitudes (no one denies the rpg attack on the US started the whole thing) might spread to the Sunnis of Baghdad if the US doesn’t soon provide security and services there.

*Hamid Karzai has been trying to reign in the provincial warlords who actually rule most of Afghanistan. He has gotten them to pledge, at least, to forward tax monies to the center rather than hoarding them for themselves. And, he has demoted powerful warlord Rashid Dostum from his military position in Mazar-i Sharif, making him a civilian consultant. The problem with such pledges and changes in title is that power in Afghanistan is personalistic and fluid. Basically, on this one I am from Missouri, not Qandahar. Show me. Karzai still lacks much of a military force or financial leverage, and these sorts of announcements strike me as more cosmetic than anything else.

Emergence of a Shiite Bloc? (My comment on Gulf2000 replying to

William Beeman’s op-ed).

*I do not think “Twelver Shiism” is the proper unit of analysis in the

current situation. [DW] is of course correct that the religion has

common themes and sentiments (including martyrdom and a keen sense of

righteous indignation on behalf of the victim), though their relative

weight changes over time, as Nikki Keddie points out. Twelver Shiite

religious institutions do create transnational linkages, and the

emancipation of the Iraqi Shiites may reinvigorate these. But the

prospect of political alliances seems to me rather on a party to party and

state to state basis. It is in this regard that the early twenty-first

century differs so significantly from previous moments of transnational

Shiite networking. Modern party and state institutions controlled by

religious Shiites are now a possible vehicle for alliances. It is not

just a matter of Sistani and of Khamenei, or Muqtada al-Sadr versus

Muhammad Husain Fadlullah.

Thus, in his recent trip to Beirut, President Khatami appears to me to

have been far more supportive of Hizbullah and of a continued rejectionist

stance toward Israel than in the past (I am not really speaking of his

privately held views, but of how much he was willing to get out in front

on these issues). Hizbullah is a Lebanese political party, which

represents only some of the Lebanese Shiites (Amal, which controls the

office of speaker of the House in the Lebanese parliament, is arguably

more important). Khatami is probably closer ideologically to AMAL leader

Nabih Berri than he is to Shaikh Nasrallah of Hizbullah. My

interpretation would be that US pressure on Hizbullah and on Iran after

the Gulf War has caused even a reformist like Khatami to want to draw the

Shiite wagons around for mutual defense from the hyperpower. It strikes

me that the hardliners in Iran are nevertheless likely to remain the prime

sponsors of Hizbullah.

The Iranians are said to have made a similar play for a patron-client

relationship with the Afghan Shiite party, Hizb-i Vahdat, but were turned

down by Hizb leader Karim Khalili, on the grounds that he felt a duty to

be an Afghan first. Whether the Iranians can get the Vahdat to reconsider

(and it is always possible that they will break with the Tajiks with whom

they are currently allied) is up in the air. But I would say that, at

least on a state-to-party basis, that element in the [alleged] . . . Shiite bloc is


Likewise, Shiites in Pakistan and India are mostly oriented to local

zakirs or clerical chanters at mourning ceremonies. They have a complex

view of religious leadership, and while many among the literate may

emulate Sistani, not all approve of his political quietism, admiring

Khamenei on that score.

I agree . . . that Shiite leaders in Iraq may benefit from

being able, as a collectivity, to appeal both to the very poor and to the

more respectable. But ultimately (two years down the road) their

authority in Iraq will depend on the effective deployment of political

parties that can contest elections and make compromises and get things

done within an Iraqi framework. There may be points at which Iraqi party

alliances with political actors in Iran prove advantageous, but I suspect

it will be on an ad hoc basis rather than as a matter of belonging to a

transnational bloc.

The more radical religious leaders in Iraq hope to establish first a

tyranny of the Shiite majority in Iraq, and then to capture that majority

with a theocratic leadership. This plan seems to me unrealistic, but it

could cause a lot of trouble. My guess with regard to Iran is that

Khamenei would support it and the reformists won’t.

Note that reformists in Iran are already openly reminding the hardliners

of what happened to the Taliban and Saddam, and are calling for freedom of

the press and speech. I doubt they have any sympathy for Muqtada al-Sadr.

So, I would suggest that new transnational networks are likely to emerge,

but that these are likely to be multiple and to contest loyalties among

one another, and so would avoid the term ‘bloc.’

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