An Insider Forecast of the Iraqi Poll’s Winners and Losers
27 January: Wednesday was the single most deadly day for US forces in Iraq ; 36 servicemen died – 31 in a helicopter crash and five in anti-insurgent operations at trouble spots. At least 25 Iraqis were also killed in insurgent attacks on party offices and police centers. In counter-strikes, US troops uncovered a round dozen bomb cars In the northern city of Mosul rigged ready for detonation on election-day in three days time. US troops also raided Hit in Anbar Province, where many followers of al Qaeda’s Iraq commander, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, went to ground in flight from Fallujah.
Despite the Iraqi Sunni boycott, al-Zarqawi’s imprecations against the general election, and the unprecedented level of bloodletting, a certain number of the 40,000 polling stations across the country will almost certainly open on time Sunday, January 30.
Israel to Offer 300 Top-Flight Terrorists Immunity
29 January: An offer of immunity for 300 wanted Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip and West Bank will be put by Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz before Mahmud Abbas’s informal representative Mohammed Dahlan Saturday night, January 29 – according to debkafile‘s exclusive counter-terror sources. The beneficiaries, members of Hamas, al Aqsa Brigades, Tanzim, Jihad Islami and the Palestinian Fronts, include also wanted murderers. The expected immunity is the most sweeping allowed in the 12 years since Israel signed the 1993 Oslo peace framework accords.
According to debkafile‘s Palestinian sources, Abu Mazen will offer the men coming out of hiding good jobs with the Palestinian Authority’s administration.
It follow on the heels of a series of Israeli gestures designed to shore up Mahmoud Abbas’ authority as Palestinian leader: a halt in the targeted killings of terrorists (which decapitated the Hamas leadership), suspension of military action in Gaza Strip areas handed over to Palestinian security forces, curbs on counter-terror activity in the West Bank, resumption of diplomatic contacts with Palestinian leaders that were frozen after six Israelis were killed in bombing attack at Karni border terminal; the transfer of security in West Bank towns to Palestinian controlsoon.
Not a single Palestinian terrorist group has responded with a quid pro quo commitment to call off hostilities and terrorist action. Many Israelis are celebrating the ten-day decline in Qassam and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip while Palestinian security forces take up their new positions. However, no attempt is being made to stop the manufacture of war materials in Gaza workshops or curb the flow of illegal weapons through smuggling tunnels from Sinai.
Abbas explains that he needs Israel’s concessions to “stabilize” the current reduction of hostilities and make it a lasting reality. His people are demanding that his meeting with Sharon, provisionally set for February 8, will be used to proclaim a unilateral Israeli ceasefire. He will then seek a corresponding pledge from the Palestinian groups.
The Israeli government led by prime minister Sharon and Mofaz is taking Abbas unreservedly on trust although it is not clear on whose behalf he and Dahlan speak – the more so since Friday, January 28, when Hamas in a landslide municipal election victory carried seven out of ten Gaza Strip districts, capturing 75 of the 118 council seats. This is not just a grave blow for Abbas and Dahlan and their ruling Fatah but also for Israel and its efforts to ease the lives of the territory’s population which were supposed to benefit Abbas – not the group that is dedicated to the Jewish state’s destruction.
By their vote, the Gazan masses demonstrated their belief that they owe Israel’s relaxations – not to Israeli goodwill, Abbas’ diplomacy or Dahlan’s credibility, but to Hamas and its implacable Qassam blitz and murderous suicide offensive, which they perceive as having brought the Sharon government to its knees.
Initial Breakdown of Iraq‘s First Exercise in Democracy
debkafile Exclusive Analysis
30 January: Iraq’s epic general election for a 275-member national assembly Sunday, January 30, was a success by the very fact of its taking place. Despite the violence leading up to the event and promised bloodbath, a surprising number of Iraqis were not intimidated and turned out in larger or smaller numbers almost everywhere. Iraq’s Baath loyalists and al Qaeda’s three organizations – the Iraqi group led by Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, Ansar al Sunna and Ansar al Islam – managed by a concerted effort to pull off some 16 suicide attacks killing more than 30 Iraqis. Yet they failed to derail the election and therefore reduced their leverage in post-election Iraq.
In addition to the lockdown, tight security and driving restrictions, debkafile‘s sources inside Iraq report American forces carried out proactive operations, foiling eight suicide attacks, and in Mosul, seizing 150 primed explosive belts ready for use.
Four hours after the polls closed, a clearly relieved President George W. Bush spoke at the White House in praise of the bravery of Iraqis who turned out to vote and “firmly rejected the antidemocratic ideology” of terrorists. But the US president seemed to edge away from his usual encomiums on a “victory for democracy.” The truth is that there was not much of either in this remarkable election.
debkafile‘s Iraq experts reveal that, while the turnout is officially estimated at 60%, the real figure will probably turn out to be no more than 40-45% – in itself an exceptional feat. The other surprising manifestation was the high proportion of Iraqi women voters – appraised at more than 55% of the total. This was most marked in the Shiite districts of the south, where local clerics ordered everyone to vote, but the men stayed at home.
American military officials reported that 150 voting centers never opened at all in some Sunni strongholds. Polling booths were not installed in the Sunni, Turkomen and Assyrian neighborhoods of the northern town of Mosul. Assyrian Christians staged large demonstrations to protest their loss of voting right and representation in the national assembly.
A sprinkle of votes was marked in the predominantly Sunni Anbar province of western Iraq and the Saladin district – even in Fallujah and Baqouba. In Diyala, south of Baghdad, voting reached 30 percent under heavy US and Iraqi military security.
In parts of Baghdad, particularly the Sunni districts, many polling stations did not open and citizens lost their chance to vote.
In Kirkuk, some 50,000 Kurds were imported to cast their votes. By artificially inflating Unified Kurdish List numbers, the Kurdish community substantially stepped up its representation in the national assembly.
No one can tell yet how well the lists run by interim president Ghazi Yawar and interim prime minister Iyad Allawi have fared. Yawar is not running for election, but Allawi, to stay in office, will need at least 40-50 national assembly seats.
Oil-Rich Gulf States Placed on Al Qaeda’s Front Burner
debkafile Special Report
1 February: In a belated iron clampdown, Kuwait’s security forces have waged four bloody gun battles with al Qaeda gangs in less than a month. Oman has rounded up several hundred “Islamists” in the same period. Over the weekend, Jordan and Saudi Arabia went on terror alert to hunt down a group calling itself “Returnees from Fallujah” which was lurking in the Jordanian-Saudi border area ready to strike.
Sunday, January 30, Iraq’s election-day, a Kuwaiti police raid of two buildings in the Salimiya neighborhood of the capital met with fierce resistance from an al Qaeda band preparing an attack. The clash ended with at least 5 dead, among them a policemen and a passerby. Monday, January 31, Kuwait forces fought a nine-hour battle in their capital, killing four gunmen and capturing six, including the group’s spiritual leader Amer Khalif al-Enezi, a Saudi. In all four clashes, three security officers and eight suspects, including two Saudis, were killed.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that the 50 terrorists taken captive include 15 Saudis, most of whom infiltrated Kuwait from Iraq, a handful from Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province oil region and 8 Yemeni al Qaeda adherents
The Saudi and Yemeni captives disclosed under questioning that they were primed for action with precise instructions, the names and telephone numbers of contacts in Kuwait, addresses of weapons caches for operations, safe houses and escape routes.
Those interrogations brought to light three changes in al Qaeda’s operational mode and agenda:
One, in recent weeks, Kuwait (1 million population doubled by foreign expatriates) has begun to be perceived by al Qaeda and Iraqi terrorists not merely as a transit point for attacks in other places, but as a central target location in its own right.
Two, jihadist terrorists are pouring into the emirate in large numbers from Iraq and eastern Saudi Arabia.
Three, all the data adds up to the picture of a well-planned, highly professional, large-scale paramilitary organization that was set up in the autumn of 2004 for a protracted campaign – mainly against Arab Gulf oil resources and US bases.
As Kuwait plunges into its most extensive search-and-probe ever to root out the terrorist presence and its tentacles, Oman (2.9 million) too is in the grip of a deep al Qaeda penetration. Omani authorities admitted to a “religious extremist” plot to disrupt the Muscat cultural festival, but insisted “they are not violent extremists” and only 30 were arrested. According to most other sources, the number was at least 300.
Friday, January 28, debkafile‘s counter-terror sources revealed a state of emergency had been declared in Jordan. Jordanian intelligence – JID – was acting on information that a group of al Qaeda fighters from Fallujah had infiltrated the kingdom. The group was believed to be hiding in the south somewhere between Karak east of the Dead Sea and the Saudi frontier.
Rice’s “Viable Palestinian State” Would Shrink Israel out of Jordan Valley and Most of West Bank
2 February: Mahmoud Abbas will be coming to the Sharm al-Sheikh summit with Ariel Sharon, Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah, from fruitful talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin and Tayyep Erdogan in Ankara. He will have an Iranian invitation to Tehran in his pocket as well as Moscow’s offer of military aid at some future date, including helicopters, to “counterbalance” US-British defense support for the Palestinians.
Wednesday, February 2, Egyptian intelligence minister Omar Suleiman turned up in Jerusalem after talks about a ceasefire in Cairo with two Palestinian rejectionist leaders, Jihad Islami’s Ramadan Shalah and Hamas Khaled Mashal. Both are holding out for a power-sharing deal with the PLO without renouncing terrorism.
Amid this flurry of movement, nothing has happened to change the fundamentals at stake between Israel and the Palestinians. Rice made this clear on Monday, January 31: “Without a viable and contiguous Palestinian state that represents the aspirations of the Palestinian people – meaning enough land to function well – there will be no peace for either Palestinian people or Israelis.”
This statement does not address the concerns troubling Jerusalem: the refusal of nine Palestinian organizations, including Abbas’ own Fatah, to halt their terrorist offensive against Israel, their acceptance of a lull at most – not a ceasefire – and his own refusal to dismantle them.
Answering senators’ questions on January 18, she had this to say:
“There are several ways to think about viability. One is that it (the Palestinian state) has to have territory that makes it viable. It cannot be territory that is so broken up that it can’t function as a state… It has to have economic viability, and there it probably needs to have economic viability in relationship to other states around it – to Jordan, Israel and others… Viability, I think, also has a political and democracy dimension…”
She went on to say, “…as the president said when he met with prime minister Sharon back in I think this May, we have to recognize that the parties are going to determine their borders; that it is not for us to prejudge what those borders might be. There has been a lot of negotiation, I think they will need to look at what has been looked at before.”
Israeli leaders failed to react to the new US secretary’s words or ask for much needed clarifications.
DEBKAfile’s sources in Washington, however – after some analysis – find room for Israel to be concerned on the following scores:
1. The Americans have been shouting from the rooftops for some time that any cluster of Israeli West Bank communities, including major towns, that obstruct Palestinian territorial contiguity must be removed.
2. Establishment of a common frontier between Jordan and a Palestinian state to ensure the latter’s economic viability would entail Palestinian control of the Jordan Valley and also of Israeli-Jordanian border crossings. Since Israeli communities in the Jordan Valley are located east of the security fence, they are destined by the Bush administration for removal.
3. In the longer-term, Rice’s comments on contiguity are also pertinent to other countries bordering on the projected Palestinian state – Egypt to the south and Syria to the north. They mean Israel will be required to withdraw from the Philadelphi Corridor on the Gaza-Egypt border. With Israel out of the way and the buffer zone gone frm the border, a Palestinian state will gain territorial contiguity between the Gaza Strip and Egypt’s northern Sinai peninsula.
Further down the road, after Israel returns the Golan Heights, a Palestinian state will have a common border with Syria.
Rice’s core message to Jerusalem is clear: she looks to Israel to grant the Palestinians territorial connectivity and all the land they need, along with all the accoutrements of sovereignty such as control of its borders and air and sea ports. To make it so, Israel is expected to continue pulling out of large tracts of the West Bank. A land link cutting through southern Israel for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which the Palestinians have demanded in the past be under their sovereignty.
All of these statements from the incoming US secretary of state are in glaring contrast with Sharon’s constant claim of an understanding with Bush at the same White House talks to which she refered that Israel would not be asked to return to the pre-1967 Middle East war borders under any permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians.