Night Flashes - March 7

ITM goes back to politics:
A new political bloc has emerged. It’s not a fourth bloc as Mohammed anticipated some time ago; it’s a union of, so far, two existing blocs. The core of the new movement is pretty much the same as what Mohammed expected, though. The Accord Front has announced it has joined the bloc led by former PM Ayad Allawi, forming what they refer to now as the “Iraqi National Front”. This new alliance has 69 seats in parliament and is likely to gain an additional 11 seats if the Dialogue Front of the nationalist Salih al-Mutlaq decides to join in, which is not unlikely.

It’s still not decided who is going to be the leader in the new bloc, and none of the leading figures involved has talked about this yet. However I suspect that this position will be filled by Allawi who, although his group has only 25 out of the 69 seats, was the one who came up with the idea in the first place, and his charisma, history in leadership and his nonsectarian attitude qualify him over the others.

The second development, which is far more significant than the first, just took place in the corridors of the United Iraqi Alliance, the main Shia bloc. This morning, in a frank challenge to ayatollah Sistani’s earlier call for preserving the UIA’s unity, the head of al-Fadheela party -which controls 15 of its 130 seats- declared independence from the Shia bloc and said his team now would act as an independent bloc within parliament.

Here's ThreatsWatch: 'In regard to Fadhila’s withdrawal from the governing coalition, this is not as significant as it may seem on the surface. Fadhila has withdrawn from the coalition before, and since the formation of the current government under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has never actually participated in the government, having been denied the Oil Ministry due to allegations of corruption. Like the Sadr faction, Fadhila has opposed Maliki’s government on many major votes. Although both voted for Maliki’s nomination and confirmation as prime minister, his core support has always depended on four elements - his own Dawa Party, SCIRI (the largest Shia faction), the Shia independents of the UIA (who make up a fifth of the coalition), and the Kurdish parties.'

A US Navy sailor has been arrested on terrorism charges: 'A former US Navy sailor was arrested on terrorism charges Wednesday for allegedly mishandling classified information that ended up in the hands of a suspected terror financier. Hassan Abujihaad, 31, also known by the name Paul R. Hall, is charged in the same case as Babar Ahmad, a British computer specialist accused of running Web sites to raise money to finance terror.' JPost adds: 'Hassan Abujihaad, 31, from the Western state of Arizona, was arrested in a case that began in Connecticut, on the Atlantic seaboard, and has stretched across the country and into Europe and the Middle East. Abujihaad, who is also known by the name Paul R. Hall, is charged in the same case as Babar Ahmad, a British computer specialist accused of running Web sites to raise money to finance terror. ... During the Ahmad investigation, investigators discovered computer files containing classified information about the positions of US Navy ships and discussing their susceptibility to attack.'

The Defense Department approves more troops for Iraq. 'The US Defense Department has approved a request by the new US commander in Iraq for an extra 2,200 military police to help deal with an anticipated increase in detainees during the Baghdad security crackdown, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday. Gates told reporters at the Pentagon that the extra MPs are in addition to the 21,500 combat troops that President Bush is sending for the Baghdad security plan and 2,400 other troops designated to support them.'

Iranian women arrested at protest for arrested Iranian women. 'Iranian security forces on Sunday arrested around 30 women's rights activists rallying outside a Tehran court where a group of their fellow campaigners were on trial over a demonstration last year. "My clients and other women who had gathered in front of the court were arrested," Nasrin Sotoodeh, the lawyer for the accused, was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency. ... The protestors had gathered in front of the revolutionary court in solidarity with five women on trial over their roles in a demonstration which was broken up by police in June last year. Nushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Parvin Ardalan, Shahla Entesari, Susan Tahmasebi and Fariba Davudi Mohajer were standing trial for organising an "unauthorised" rally to ask for equal rights for women. It was not clear which of the accused were among those arrested.'

Talisman Gate on Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
This is what the Iraqi government told us: ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ is the pseudonym for Khalid al-Mashhadani, who also goes by the name ‘Abu Zaid’.

This is what we know from following the bitter recriminations among jihadists on internet discussion forums: ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ was arrested under the Ba’athist regime as a Salafist (radical Islamist) activist who had broken into a school and defaced Saddam Hussein’s pictures and the Ba’athist slogans at the school.

This is what Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq claims about his pedigree: ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ is descended from the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Al-Hussein bin Ali, which would make him a Husseinite from the Hashemite clan that is part of the tribe of Quraysh.

This is the best I could do to tie all this up together, according to my sources: al-Baghdadi’s full name is Khalid Khalil Ibrahim al-Mashhadani. He is in his early 40s, and is known as ‘Abu Zaid’. He had been a Salafist under Saddam, and was briefly detained then over some unknown infraction. He has five brothers (that I know of), the eldest being Aggab (born 1954, served in the Iraqi Army’s 56th Battalion during Iraq-Iran War, last job was as principal of a secondary school in the Tarmiyah area north of Baghdad), and the second eldest is Hatim (a former NCO in the Iraqi Army). Khalid’s father, Khalil al-Mashhadani, used to own three lorry trucks that he would rent out for transporting gravel and the such, and after his death (about seven years ago) Khalid took over the business and converted their small office (at the entrance to the Dabbash neighborhood in Hurriyah, opposite to the Chalabi grove) into a service facilitating car registrations. However, Khalid seemed to have shuttered down his business during 2003. Khalid’s father was considered a respected person among the Mashhadani tribe and among the residents of Hurriya. ...