*In the brouhaha over the failure of the US to find much in the way of weapons of mass destruction programs or materials in Iraq, lots of things are being overlooked. The really scary weapon of mass destruction was nuclear weapons. The fact is that Iraq did not reconstitute its nuclear weapons program after 1998 in the way that the hawks so confidently alleged. Indeed, some of their evidence for such a reconstituted program was out and out fraudulent. Those books were cooked, and the only question is by whom. I wrote a long analysis for H-Mideast-Politics on the misuse of the nuclear issue in whipping up war fever last March. The other thing is that the very phrase “weapons of mass destruction” is misleading, and was probably intended to be when Wolfowitz and others began peddling it last summer. Chemical weapons are not weapons of mass destruction. They are battlefield weapons. As Aum Shinrikyo found out in Tokyo, they are difficult to deliver in a way that is massively destructive against civilian populations, though they can be very useful in warfare. It is nukes that were really scary, and they were a figment of the Right’s fevered imagination.
*The religious establishment in Najaf, Iraq, issued a denial today that it had issued any fatwas or legal rulings requiring believers to force women to veil. The denial was faxed to the offices of az-Zaman newspaper, and signed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and Grand Ayatollah Sa`id al-Hakim, as well as by Sheikhs Fayyad and Najafi. It criticized individuals who claimed to convey rulings from the religious establishment (al-Hawzah al-`Ilmiyyah). I take it what is really going on here is that the Sadr Movement is insisting that women veil, and perhaps the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq is, as well (so reports Trudy Rubin from Baghdad). And, individuals from those more radical movements are claiming to represent the views of the Establishment. Sistani and his colleagues, on the other hand, are far more quietist and cautious. Forcing someone to be pious runs counter to the mainstream Shiite legal tradition. So, Sistani is attempting to distance himself from the excesses of the Sadrist and other radicals.
*Saad Eddin Ibrahim was consulted in Washington by Condaleeza Rice and others about democratization in the Middle East. He said it should not be imposed by the US government, but that rather civil society organizations in the US should reach out to their counterparts in the region. Saad Eddin always did give good advice on these matters. He is now starting back up the activities of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Human Rights in Egypt. It was outrageous that he was imprisoned the way he was. But perhaps his struggle was the beginning of a liberalization in Egypt. Surely the elite there does not think the military regime can just limp on this way forever. A recent study came out that nearly 6 percent of Egyptians live on a dollar a day. The country has great potential, but is being run into the ground by its current masters.
*Consultations have begun in Afghanistan toward producing a constitution for that country (- Reuters). A traditional assembly or Loya Jirga is planned for October to ratify the final result. Presidential, prime ministerial and monarchical forms of government are under consideration. It is being pointed out by critics that since the country has fallen into the hands of warlords, it is a little unlikely that processes of democratic consultation will result in a viable constitution. Anything that threatened the interests of the regional warlords would be vetoed. A very weak government will probably result, with ensuing years of chaos. The Loya Jirga as a institution, by the way, was never a “democratic” decision-making body in the way that Donald Rumsfeld portrays it. Kings usually called it to rubberstamp some already-made decision.
*Israeli businessmen have arrived in Baghdad and are opening offices in preparation for normalization, according to al-Hayat. At the same time, pamphlets have been circulating warning Iraqis not to do business with the Israelis. (Earlier, rumors were spread by Shiite clerics that the Israelis intended to buy up Iraqi land for Zionist purposes).