Morning Report: November 15, 2006

Under the radar. Tehran's hand is seen in a Baghdad kidnapping, in a Somali presence in Lebanon, and as far away as London. But others can play the undercover game too.

Baghdad kidnapping work of Iran? The hostages seized yeterday in Baghdad (some of whom were later released) may have been unwilling participants in a show of strength by Iran, according to Stratfor (subscription). Zeyad at Healing Iraq has a very detailed account of the incident:
Up to 80 gunmen, dressed in camouflaged Interior Ministry uniforms in dozens of unmarked four wheel-drive vehicles and pickup trucks with tinted glass, surrounded and blocked all roads leading to the Directorate of Scholarships and Cultural Relations at Andalus Square at 9:30 a.m., Wednesday.

They stormed the four-story building, claiming they were clearing it to prepare for a visit of U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. But once inside they cocked their weapons and shouted at everyone to stay where they were. In what appeared to be a carefully planned operation, the whole thing took less than 15 minutes. Men were seperated from women, and the women locked up in a room and their cell phones were confiscated. IDs were checked to determine sectarian background and then between 50 to 100 men were hauled off into the pickup trucks. Eyewitnesses said they moved across the Mohammed Al-Qasim highway and passed several checkpoints by Shaab Stadium and the Interior Ministry heading to eastern Baghdad, most likely to Sadr City.

Most of the abducted were employees of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research but many were also academics and students visiting the directorate to apply for scholarships abroad. Even a delivery boy outside the building was not spared. The hostages were of mixed sectarian background, but probably because in a few cases it is hard to determine sect from an ID. Eyewitnesses claim the gunmen spoke in southern Iraqi accent, indicating that they were Shi'ite and probably from Sadr City.

The ministry of Higher Education is controlled by the Sunni Accord front. Abd Dhiyab Al-Ijaili, the minister, is a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which has been highly vocal against the crimes of Shi'ite militias.

Later in the day, Tuesday, one of the released hostages posted on an Iraqi message board and said that he was asked by the gunmen whether he was Sunni or Shia because they were not quite sure about his surname. "I'm a Muslim," he replied. "La tit'aiqal," they told him, meaning 'don't be a smart aleck.' He then told them he is Shia, so they tested him with certain religious questions that supposedly only a Shi'ite can answer. He passed the test and was hurled on the Army Canal highway, just before Sadr City.

Go to the link for Zeyad's full post, and maps of the recent kidnapping and of recent abductions in Baghdad. An unknown number remain captive: 'About 70 of the people abducted in a brazen raid on the offices of the Higher Education Ministry have been released, officials said Wednesday, but it was unclear how many remained captive. Dozens of people were taken Tuesday from the central Baghdad office that handles academic grants and exchanges, with the men handcuffed and loaded aboard about 20 pickup trucks by gunmen dressed in the uniforms of Interior Ministry commandos. "Most of the hostages were freed, but that is not enough for us. We will chase those who did this ugly criminal act," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said, as he met professors and students at Baghdad University to show of support for the country's educational institutions. "We regret what happened yesterday. The government's reaction was strong."' (Stratfor, Healing Iraq, AP)

Rice: Iraq isn't about Palestine. Debka: 'Rice denies a connection between the Israel-Palestinian issue and the Iraq war. There is no connection between the stalemate in the Israel-Palestinian conflict and events in Iraq, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday night. She rejected the viewpoint of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who on Tuesday said progress in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians would stabilize the situation in Iraq. Blair was testifying before the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. Rice also rejected proposals to promote talks with Syria and Iran. Speaking to reporters in Germany on her way to Vietnam, she noted that Syria was associating itself with extremist elements and that there were no signs that Iran was prepared to contribute to the stabilization of Iraq.' See yesterday's Morning Report for remarks on Blair's recent speech in London. (Debka)

Somali jihadis fought Israel. Debka: 'A United Nations 86-page report discloses that in mid-July, more than 720 combat-hardened fighters were personally selected by Aden Hashi Farah of the Somali Islamist front, some of whose leaders belong to al Qaeda, to fight in Lebanon in return for training and arms from Iran and Syria. DEBKAfile adds: This information was unknown to Israeli intelligence in the Lebanon war during which Israel blockaded Lebanon by sea, land and air. At least 100 Somalis returned home by September accompanied by 5 Hizballah members, while others stayed in Lebanon for advanced training. Fighters were paid $2,000 for their services and $30,000 was awarded the families of those killed. Two Iranians are now in Dusa Mareb to discuss the exploration of uranium in exchange for arms for the Islamic Courts which has captured large parts of the country. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Israeli security is now seeking the route taken by the Somali fighters to Lebanon - possibly through Egyptian Sinai and Gaza. Senior officials categorize the marriage of radical Iran, Syria- and Somali jihadis as a dangerous step that keeps pace with its nuclear aspirations. Tehran is using the same conventional warfare tactics against Israel as it employed to undermine US and British forces in Iraq to the detriment of the Bush administration.' Full post at the link. ThreatsWatch:
This report, if accurate, shatters many theories and brings to light a number of truths. The first truth is that with foreign support, the ICU [Islamic Courts Union] could acquire the logistics and supply to completely overtake Somalia. With an influx of weapons, including shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, grenade launchers and machine guns finding their way into the ICU’s hands, the forces in the Puntland region as well as the Ethiopian-backed TFG forces may find it difficult to resist the ICU’s attack. If the ICU is able to overtake Baidoa and secure a stronghold in the south, there will be more than just weapons and munitions flooding into Somalia. With an ICU takeover, it’s entirely possible that Somalia could become the new al-Qaeda base in Africa.

Another important truth is that with this report, it seems pretty clear that Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims are willing to set aside conflicting ideologies and cooperate with each other.

TW adds that 'our enemy has assimilated into an elusive worldwide network backed by state sponsors and supporters.' The BBC report says:
Ten countries have been violating a United Nations arms embargo to send weapons to Somalia, according to a UN-commissioned report.
Seven countries - among them Iran and Syria - have supplied military personnel and weapons to the Union of Islamic Courts militia.

While three countries are helping arm Somalia's weak interim government.

The report is due to be discussed by a UN Security Council committee on Friday.

The countries arming the Islamists are Syria, Iran, Eritrea, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia, according to the report.

Ethiopia, Uganda and Yemen are named as the countries supplying Somalia's interim government.

Full details at the links. (Debka, TW, BBC)

Iran/Britain: Infiltrators and counter-infiltrators. Azarmehr:
A group called Vigil, have infiltrated one of the most extremist groups in Britain, the radical al-Muhajiroun group, headed by Omar Bakri Mohammed, yet they claim the British police are just not interested in their evidence.

One academic, who is a member of Vigil, contacted the Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist hotline saying he had more than 100 hours of material from the chatroom only to be told to contact his local police station.

"The anti-terrorist office showed no sense of urgency to get this information," he said.

It has also been emerged today that a senior executive officer, Abid Javid, in Immigration and Nationality Directorate which processes tens of thousands of asylum and visa applications every year, is a member of the fundamentalist Islamic group Hizb-ul Tahrir which believes in a worldwide Islamic state under Shariah law.

Read the rest at the link. Dreams Into Lightning previously reported on Abid Javid. (Azarmehr)

Winds of Change on the Gates appointment. Joe Katzman says "Huh?" much better than I can: 'So, I've been thinking about W's choice for Secretary of Defense to succeed Rumsfeld. And I'm looking at the sequence of events, and the choice, and again and again I'm left to wonder... is this guy as dumb as his enemies think he is? I know you can't get to the majors without hitting a curveball, and you don't get to the White House without some smarts, and standardized military tests place W slightly higher than John Kerry... but then ...' Go read the rest. (WoC)

Two worthwhile programs on CNN tonight. Tonight at 7pm Eastern (that's 4pm Pacific) Glenn Beck on CNN Headline News will have a one-hour special on terrorism called "The Extremist Agenda". Then at 10pm Eastern (7pm Pacific), Anderson Cooper, who's always worth watching, will do a special on Iraq; Iranian freedom activist Cyrus Kar is going to be on, according to this activist site. (CNN)

Commentary. Who is this woman running the State Department? She's starting to sound like Condoleezza Rice ... I mean the OLD Condi we used to know and love. Let's hope she sticks around.

With the Iranian issue coming to the forefront, I think the Atlantic Ocean is going to start looking a lot wider. I wrote yesterday that I didn't have any comments on Tony Blair's speech, but there is one thing that kind of jumps out at me: it's where Blair says of the Iranian regime
To be fair, they have a genuine, if entirely misplaced fear, that the US seeks a military solution in Iran. They don't.

Blair's assessment of Washington's goals may or may not be accurate; but since when does the British Prime Minister speak on behalf of Washington? If I were the Bush Administration, I'd be irked. Heck, I'm irked just as an American citizen.

I hope the IRI's influence doesn't spread to Washington the way it appears to have done in London. Gateway Pundit suspects two IRI sympathizers, Houshang Amir Ahmadi and Hamid Dabashi, of infiltrating the Baker Iraq Study Group. Gee, what do you suppose they'll recommend?