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Kuwait arrests Iraqi spy 8, September 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iraq, Kuwait.
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The fun and games between Kuwait and Iraq continue apace.

Latest developments include the arrest of a man ‘of Iraqi origin’ for some kind of intelligence links with Iraq. The chap apparently liven in Hawalli, my old area of Kuwait (aaah…Abou Khodor…you are missed…) and worked for a communications company.

It’ll not before long such a spy is found in Iraq, I am sure, secreting secret stuff back to Kuwait. The tit for tat nature of this saga continues.

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The worsening Kuwait Iraq relationship 26, July 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iraq, Kuwait.
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I recently wrote an article for Foreign Affairs discussing the ever-worsening Kuwaiti-Iraqi relationship. You should give it a read.

I note today with neither joy nor vindication a further worsening of their relationship. Specifically, an Iraqi MP has accused Kuwait of stealing Iraq’s oil with ‘slant drilling’. This comment, as infuriating as it is by itself, is all the worse given the historical resonance with which it is loaded loaded: Saddam Hussein said the same thing as one of his pretexts for invading Kuwait.

At the moment the relationship is entering a spiral. Comments from deliberately provocative MPs on both sides purely designed to please a domestic audience are making things worse. This patch of deliberate provocation will pass.

Then, cool-headed MPs must prevail upon their counterparts to reset this relationship for everyone’s sake, using the real benefits which are possible should the two neighboring countries come together as a carrot. Needless to say, these MPs will have a hard time, for it is infinitely easier to prey on the public’s prickly fears and prejudices than it is to ask for a mature and long-term thinking approach.

100,000,000 Iraqi dinars reward for information 29, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iraq.
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An Iraqi man has just been given 100m Iraqi dinars ($85,000) for a tip-off of the place and timing of a suicide car bombing. This is part of a campaign by the Iraqi government to up reward money for such tip offs as well as for information more generally.

A few thoughts:

1) This seems like a good idea to me. I am sure that it may well save many lives.

2) It is – I fear – only a matter of time before the first snitch dies a really rather awful death once s/he is found out. I imagine that such a such influx of cash to the average Iraqi household would be extraordinarily difficult to keep ‘under wraps’.

Arabian Gulf…Persian Gulf…Gulf of Basra? 14, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Gulf.
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As you no doubt know there’s a remarkable amount of kerfuffle over whether the name for the body of water separating Iran from their Arab neighbors is called the Persian Gulf or the Arabian Gulf. Yet, as if this weren’t one too many choices already, the Iraqi Foreign Minister has decided to stick his oar into the subject and has “discovered” that it “in fact” used to be called the Gulf of Basra. This is really such a curious debate when international law and historical precedent are really rather unequivocal on the matter.

Uday Hussein: worse than a psychopath 3, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iraq.
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This link leads to an excerpt of an interview with a former army body double of Uday Hussein, one of Saddam Hussein’s sons. Latif Yahia, the solider in question, describes Uday as far worse than a psychopath, for example, turning a beautiful woman into little more than a ‘barely breathing hunk of meat’.

I am sure and believe 100% that Uday Hussein was a vicious and sadistic killer. However, I am not overly sure how much I believe  this man’s testimony. Firstly, it is obviously in his best  financial interest to make the stories as gory and over the top as possible. The worse the stories, the more sensationalist media (and the BBC…) will be interested in interviewing him and, perhaps, the better his book sales. Secondly, he claims that he escaped Iraq with the help from the CIA. This is either a part of the first reason, the CIA being quite a buzz-word for editors, or it could be suggested that he must make his stories interesting and gruesome for them too: he needs to prove worthy after they expended so much energy and money getting him out. Thirdly, Yahia just comes across, to me at least, as not totally believable. This isn’t based on too much, just a gut reaction when watching the clip. Feel free to comment if you feel I’m being unfair…

Iranian soft power in southern Iraq 3, October 2009

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Visser over at the preeminent Gulf Analysis blog has an excellent example of Iran expanding its soft power in southern Iraq.

Earlier this week, the head of the Daawa-led Basra provincial council announced that a solution for Basra’s freshwater crisis was in the making. Specifically, he had signed a deal with Iran’s consul in Basra, Muhammad Rida Baghban, according to which Iran will supply Fao with 1,000 tons of drinking water on a daily basis to compensate for changes the Iranians made to the river flow of the Karun (which empties fresh water into the Shatt al-Arab near the head of the Gulf and thereby affects the saline content of the water.) The water supplies will be shipped to Basra by Iranian vessels.

Iraq-Qatar flights resume 15, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iraq, Qatar.
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Iraqi_Airways

Baghdad-Doha flights resume after a mere 18 year lull. Soon a service to Najaf, one of the holiest towns/cities in Iraq, will resume too.

‘The Man with the Golden Guns’ 29, May 2009

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Golden Guns

Saddam Hussein’s personal weapons. Frugal guy.

Hat tip: the Arabist.

Gause on the Middle East 20, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Middle East.
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Gregory Gause has another excellent article, this time in Foreign Affairs discussing the rule of the Middle East. Here’s the key paragraph:

…the new administration needs to remind itself of the rules of the local game — the traditional contest for influence among regional states. It is played out more in political terms than in military ones, although the possibility of violence is never far. The players are the stronger regional powers (Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey) and the playing fields are the weaker powers (Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories) whose governments cannot prevent outsiders from interfering in domestic politics. The tools of influence are money, guns, and ideology — and the scorecard is judged by the political orientations of the weaker states.

By this metric, Iran is doing rather well. In Iraq, its influence is greater than that of any other regional power. Iran’s closest Iraqi ally, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, did not do well in recent provincial elections, but Tehran’s ties to the political party of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and to the Sadrist movement, a Shia party built around Muqtada al-Sadr — both of which fared better in provincial elections — remain strong. Meanwhile, Hamas, Iran’s longtime client, emerged from this winter’s war against Israeli forces in Gaza bloodied but unbowed, much as Iran’s ally Hezbollah did from its own war with Israel in 2006. Hamas and Hezbollah now dictate the course of politics in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, respectively — far more so than the central governments controlled by “moderate” Arabs with pro-Western inclinations.

To anyone with a fair knowledge of the Middle East, nothing that Gause says is particularly new. Rarely, however, is swathes of Middle Eastern history, politics, intrigue and modern-day machinations so well summarized.

Iran and Shiism: A misunderstood relationship 28, April 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Middle East.
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As usual there’s an excellent article over at the Middle East Institute’s blog, this time discussing the false association of Shiism with Iran. The article concisely explains that its roots are “as Arab as Sunnism” and that it is only since the 16th century or so when the ruling Safavids adopted Shiism that a closer association began. This Shia-Iran nexus was, of course, further entrenched with the 1979 revolution which began to pyrolyze across the region, worrying Sunni powers.

One of the most interesting aspects of this is the belief from the Sunni minority in Iraq (and who knows how many other people) that because the majority of Iraq’s population is Shia that they will somehow ‘side’ or be overly sympathetic towards Iran. This, as I have written about before, is just not the case. The MEI article adds another dimension to what I previously wrote and lends strength to the overall argument.

Backgrounder: Some Thoughts on Iraqi and Iranian Shi‘ism and Misperceptions

The attacks on the shrine of Al-Qazimiyya in Baghdad on Friday and on other Shi‘ite targets on Thursday and Friday threaten a renewal of sectarian conflict, as I noted at the time, but also spur me to talk a little about the role of Shi‘ism in Iraq, which is often misunderstood.

One fundamental misunderstanding is the idea that Shi‘ism is somehow intrinsically “Persian,” because of its contemporary association with Iran. Misunderstood by whom? I can think of at least three major groups:

  1. Westerners who know enough about Islam to understand the differences between Sunni and Shi‘a, but who have a fairly superficial knowledge;
  2. Most Sunni Arabs, at least those from countries without a large Shi‘ite population;
  3. Most Iranian Shi‘a.

The last one may be a bit unfair, and the second needs to be qualified, as it is above, to note that Sunnis from countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain or Kuwait usually have a more sophisticated understanding of Shi‘ism. But this is not just a rhetorical point: Shi‘ites in largely Sunni countries are sometimes portrayed as a pro-Iranian fifth column because of this misperception.

Shi‘ism was, in its origins, as Arab as Sunnism. It was born in Medina, nurtured in Kufa and had its great martyrdom on the field of Karbala’.

Of the 12 Imams of Twelver Shi‘ism, only one, ‘Ali al-Rida (‘Ali Reza), the eighth Imam, is buried in Iran (at Mashhad). The twelfth Imam disappeared in Iraq, and the other ten Imams are buried in Saudi Arabia or Iraq: ‘Ali, the central figure of Shi‘ism, is buried in Najaf, Iraq; Hasan, the second Imam, is buried in Medina; Husayn, the third, is buried where he fell at Karbala’ in Iraq; the fourth, ‘Ali Zayn al-‘Abidin, is buried in Medina, while the fifth and sixth are also buried in Medina; the seventh and ninth are buried at the Qazimiyya shrine attacked last Friday in Baghdad; the tenth and eleventh are buried in the al-‘Askari shrine in Samarra’ (blown up in 2006, starting a wave of sectarian killing); the twelfth disappeared in Samarra’ as well.

The reason there were so many Iranian pilgrims killed in the attacks in Iraq (leading Iran to blame them on the US and Israel, though clearly Sunni radicals were responsible) is that most of the major shrine mosques of Shi‘ism are in Iraq, final resting place for six of the twelve Imams.

The close identification of Iran with Shi‘ism really only dates from the 16th century, when Safavid Iran officially adopted Twelver Shi‘ism as its faith. While there had been earlier Shi‘ite dynasties there, Shi‘ite dynasties of one kind or another flourished in many Arab countries. Cairo’s ancient Fatimid gate, the Bab al-Nasr, even has an inscription reading “There is no God gut God; Muhammad is the Prophet of God and ‘Ali is the wali of God,” the Shi‘ite formulation of the Muslim shahada. (The Fatimids, though, were Isma‘ili Shi‘ites, not the Twelver variety found in Iran, Iraq, etc.)

Until Saddam Hussein began really cracking down on the Shi‘ite clerical establishment during the Iran-Iraq war (again, the suspicion of Shi‘ites as a fifth column), Najaf was the most important scholarly center for Shi‘ite theology; it was where the Ayatollah Khomeni himself taught in exile from Iran. With the Iranian Revolution and Saddam’s crackdowns, the importance of Najaf declined and Qom, Mashhad, and other Iranian clerical schools became suppliers of clerics to Shi&lsquites in other countries; with that came some genuine Iranian influence (such as with Hizbullah in Lebanon), but most Arab Shi‘ites are Arabic-speakers, not Persian-speakers.

As I said though, many Sunnis assume Arab Shi‘ites are somehow more Persian than they are, and many Iranians are surprised when Arab Shi‘ites do not avidly follow the Iranian model of clerical rule. Iraqi Shi‘ites rightly and proudly consider their country the seedbed of Shi‘ite Islam.