Saturday, August 30, 2003

The Bomb at Najaf

Dan Darling at Regnum Crucis evaluates who might be responsible for the car bombing which killed the Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution and more than 80 others in at the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, Iraq. His two top choices:

  • Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda, which has mass-murdered Shi'ites in Pakistan or
  • Ba'athists loyal to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein

Darling felt the Ba'athists would be the likeliest culprits by exclusion, principally on the grounds that Al-Qaeda would not bite the Iranian Shi'ite hand that currently feeds them.

Another thing to mention is that a sizeable number of al-Qaeda's leadership is currently residing in Iran and if the Iranians learn that they were behind this attack, all of the doubts and discussion about whether to extradict members of the group to the United States or Europe will vanish and Saif al-Adel and Co will be shown the door (assuming they aren't immediately killed) by the IRGC if it is them.

The Iraqi police have now arrested four Al-Qaeda suspects in connection with the Najaf bombing. Assuming that the Iraqi cops are playing it straight, the identities of the men in custody are tantalizing. Two are Iraqis and two are Saudis. The Al-Qaeda connection, but going west to Saudi Arabia rather than east to Iran. A police official who refused to be named "said the bomb at the Imam Ali shrine was made from the same type of materials used in the August 19 bombing at the UN headquarters in Baghdad, in which at least 23 people died." If chemical analysis determines that  the Canal Hotel and Najaf bombs have the same provenance, there's a further complication. The principal suspects in the UN Headquarters bombing are someone else: Ba'athists, including UN security personnel shown to be members of Saddam Hussein's intelligence. This development means that either one of the two sets of perps is innocent or the two are working together. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, the Al-Qaeda, far from making themselves scarce after the Najaf bombing, are pouring more forces into eastern Iraq and Kurdistan, where Iranian involvement is more likely. (Hat tip: Regnum Crucis). Inasmuch as the fulcrum of postwar Iraqi power is centered on the Shi'ite majority, any Iranian hopes for turning Iraq into a new Lebanon rest on controlling the dominant factions within that sect. The largely Sunni Ba'athists, must for their part stake survival on plunging the Iraqi Shi'ites into chaos before the majority can overwhelm them. Thus the detonation outside the Imam Ali shrine suited the book of several parties for whom human suffering is no object. Whoever was responsible created mayhem and enmity but to what end?

Perhaps to no other end than the exercise of habitual malice. It would be a mistake to see deep policy in every enemy act. Sometimes carnage is nothing more than business-as-usual, an average day in the hellish world of Islamic terrorism. It was widely assumed that Islamic terrorists were converging on post-war Iraq simply to kill Americans; that this was the honey that attracted the Jihadis to the 'flypaper'. Under this scenario, the US troops would exploit this irrationality and mow down the hate-crazed Islamic terrorists as they struggled through the razor wire. The problem with this model is that it requires a totally irrational and brain-dead Jihadi leadership, for there was never any realistic prospect that Islamic terrorists would  inflict heavy casualties on US forces at all. It assumed that the stupid would attempt the unlikely in order to achieve the impossible.

The problem with the purely 'enemy as bait' or 'flypaper' motivation is that  Islamic terrorists have shown a curious indifference to inflicting militarily significant casualties on Israelis, never mind Americans. Despite their brutality, Islamic attacks in Lebanon, the West Bank and Israel proper have not even come close to attriting Israeli military manpower, in the manner analogous to the population-destroying wars of the 20th century. There is no conceivable timeline in which Jihadi tactics, carried on indefinitely, would result in the defeat of the Israel. And it would be unwise to ascribe this degree of imbecility to the enemy in order to describe their motives in Iraq. If killing the enemy were the ultimate inducement, then Israel, surrounded on all sides by Arab states, with a huge Arab population in its midst, with only a fraction of American military potential, would have been the ultimate flypaper. That it is not suggests that something else is attracting Islamists into Iraq.

The logical modification to the 'flypaper' scenario is the 'maggot' model. It relies on the observation that terrorism requires the corpse of a decaying society in order to survive. And while they may have others besides, existence may be their only goal. In fact it need be their only goal. Hamas requires an ecosystem like Lebanon to raise funds, replenish recruits and build a dysfunctional empire that could exist nowhere else but in such a place. Islamic Jihad, Lashkar Jihad, Jemaah Islamiyah, the Palestinian Authority and Al-Qaeda must keep up the mayhem because they need a job. Frankly, they are unqualified for anything else. Terrorists are flooding into Iraq because it is the only place where professionals in their line of work can get a job. Killing Americans is an optional extra but no one is counting on it.

The 'maggot' analogy should not be invested with more meaning than the slight insight it contains. But insofar as it is valid, the model implies that the emergence of a functional Iraq would be far more devastating to the Islamists than is currently assumed. Creating a civilized and prosperous Iraq would be tantamount to draining the swamp and starving out the alligators, setting a bad precedent for alligators everywhere. The Iraqi role in that task cannot be subordinated to the United Nations. Mark Steyn correctly observes that the while United Nations would take little harm from an Iraqi descent into chaos the world organization would be absolutely discredited by an independent Iraqi success. Decaying countries provide employment for the better sorts of people too.