Thursday, September 30, 2004

Police Action

The Strategy Page describes an alien culture familiar to aliens. What may be war to Americans in Anbar may be normal from another point of view.

Kidnapping has been a major problem in Iraq for decades. Saddam Hussein and his thugs used it as a way to control the population. ... In addition, there were dozens of criminal gangs that were allowed, within limits, to operate as long as they did Saddam’s dirty work. ... These criminal organizations are found all over Iraq. ... In most of Iraq, the gangs are restrained by tribal militias or local police forces that can match them in firepower and violence. But in some Sunni Arab areas, the gangs rule. The Sunni Arab city of Fallujah is the most extreme example of this, a place without police or strong local tribal authority, which allows al Qaeda (a terrorist gang) to operate freely.

In a way, the Iraqi situation should have been anticipated by any diplomat who spent time dealing with the Palestinian Authority. Daniel Pipes quotes a now-dead Reuters link to a story which describes the normal processes of  "Palestinian government" in Nablus.

Some of the dead fell in feuds over flourishing rackets in stolen cars, drugs and extortion. Some were "collaborators" said to have steered Israeli forces toward wanted militants in the city of 150,000, the historical hub of Palestinian nationalism.  … Distinctions between nationalist militant and criminal gang activities have blurred as Fatah has splintered into armed groups, many spun off from Palestinian security services disabled by Israeli offensives in the West Bank. A regional Fatah official who asked not to be named said 90 percent of gang lawlessness could be traced to people still on a Palestinian Authority payroll.

But the working National Public Radio link on the Pipes site showed that if the West Bank was bad, the Gaza Strip was no better.

National security does not really exist in [Gaza], because the authority is not really in charge of the order of the law here. There is a big increase in the level of the crimes like killing and stealing and raping and kidnapping. I would say that the Palestinian Authority is also in trouble with the Palestinian people because of such incidents, because many people are being killed or kidnapped or robbed, you know, and we all are asking for security.

The Washington Post delivers this judgment on the state of the Palestinian Authority everywhere.

Three years and five months after Palestinians began their second uprising against Israel, the Palestinian Authority is broke, politically fractured, riddled with corruption, unable to provide security for its own people and seemingly unwilling to crack down on terrorist attacks against Israel, according to Palestinian, Israeli and international officials. The turmoil within the Palestinian Authority is fueling concern that the agency -- created almost 10 years ago to govern the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- is disintegrating and could collapse, leaving a political and security vacuum in one of the Middle East's most volatile regions, many of those officials said.

The relationship of Islamic terrorism to criminal activity goes beyond Iraq and the Palestinian areas. Recently the Washington Times featured a story entitled Al Qaeda seeks ties to local gangs which described its efforts to team up with Central American people-smuggling syndicates. No form of illegal activity, however heinous is haram to those with a mission. Take drugs. The Front Page Magazine alleges that Al Qaeda principally funded its terrorist activity from the Afghan opium trade, something which its fraternal groups in Europe have emulated with great success.

Al-Qaeda works closely with these Afghan drug smugglers to secure safe routes for their shipments through neighboring Pakistan and Iran. But Al-Qaeda’s assistance comes with a price: the group places heavy taxes on the shipments, and often takes some of the drugs as payment, using them later to buy weapons. Tactics similar to these were employed by the Madrid bombers, who, Spanish authorities believe, used 30 kilos of hashish to buy explosives that were used in that attack (which killed 200 people and wounded over a thousand more).  The men were also suspected of having links to Morocco’s thriving hashish trade, which serves as a source of revenue for Islamic terrorists in North Africa and Europe.

The Asia Times has an extensive piece on the hostage taking business in Iraq, with emphasis on the business. Sudha Ramachandran exhaustively argues that kidnappings are less about making political statements than making money.

It appears that local criminal gangs do the actual kidnapping. The hostages are then sold up the chain to larger militant outfits, which use the hostages as pawns and bargaining chips. Foreign hostages apparently carry a higher price tag. Many of the abductions in Iraq have been attributed to al-Zarqawi or to "groups with links to al-Zarqawi". This could be because a large number of gangs might be supplying his group with hostages - hence the many groups with "links to al-Zarqawi".

But a more plausible explanation lies in the way Islamist militant groups are evolving post-September 11, 2001. Just as al-Qaeda has groups with links to it, so also al-Zarqawi's al-Tawhid wal-Jihad with outfits in Iraq. Terrorist cells and outfits with links to al-Qaeda have proliferated across the world. What links these groups is a similar outlook and ideology. The al-Qaeda-linked groups act under different names and carry out attacks on their own. Dia'a Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on militant groups, likens this phenomenon to "McDonald's giving out franchises ... All they have to do is follow the company's manual. They don't consult with headquarters every time they want to produce a meal."

Even the hostage's final agonies are merchandised through tie-ins. Pravda reports a land office business in decapitation videos.

A new video product is currently available on Iraqi markets - DVDs of hostages' executions. They are sold next to porn movies. It was reported on Thursday that terrorists had executed two Italian hostages. The video of the execution is not available yet, although one may expect the video of the American civil engineer, Eugene Armstrong, the killing of whom was uploaded on one of Islamic websites, the Hindustan Times wrote.

There is a very big demand on such video recordings on the Bab-i-Sharji market in Iraq. Salesmen play them everywhere, even in their own DVD shops, to attract people's attention. They turn the volume on so that everyone could listen to a hostage screaming before masked men cut his head off. The footage of the execution then changes to an adult movie. The covers of such hideous DVDs depict local popular singers, although the disks contain an absolutely different kind of "songs," performed by the leader of the Tawhid and Jihad group, Abu Mussaba Al-Zarkawi. DVDs are hologrammed with Al-Assifa label.

The possibility that terrorists are just another form of criminal is not a very encouraging, given that America singularly failed to the win the War against Drugs. But a focus on its criminal characteristics goes far toward explaining many of Islamic terrorism's characteristics, like its penchant for recruitment in jails. Robert Kaplan was very near the mark when he drew the connection between Islamic terrorism and the coming of chaos. In his view, America is keeping back a dark tide while a slumbering civilization bestirs itself.

The American military now has the most thankless task of any military in the history of warfare: to provide the security armature for an emerging global civilization that, the more it matures -- with its own mass media and governing structures -- the less credit and sympathy it will grant to the very troops who have risked and, indeed, given their lives for it.

One of the sneering mass media agencies which US security protects is the Reuters wire service. It's editorial policy towards describing terrorism is a study in languid aloofness:

As part of a long-standing policy to avoid the use of emotive words, we do not use terms like 'terrorist' and 'freedom fighter' unless they are in a direct quote or are otherwise attributable to a third party. We do not characterize the subjects of news stories but instead report their actions, identity and background so that readers can make their own decisions based on the facts.

But then, Reuters were always too classy to be crime reporters.