Morning Report: February 20, 2008

More threats from the regime in Tehran, a terrorist leader turns up dead in the Philippines, and a voice of courage from the European Left. Finally, Portland's man in the Middle East has some thoughts on bad places ... and worse ones.

Debka: Ahmadinejad's belligerent speeches may mean imminent threat. Debka:
DEBKAfile’s military sources reports that the increasingly belligerent statements issuing from top Iranian leaders since the death of Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus earlier this month are seen as betokening serious intent.

President Ahmadinejad said Wed. Feb. 20: “World powers have created a black and dirty microbe named the Zionist regime and unleashed it like a savage animal on the nations of the region.” He was addressing a rally in the southern city of Bandar Abbas, site of the Revolutionary Guards’ command center and main bases. His speech was broadcast in full by state television.

Also Wednesday, an exiled Iranian opposition leader Mohammad Mohaddessin claimed Tehran had accelerated its nuclear weapons program, including the production of nuclear warheads.

CTB: Trifecta for the good guys. The Counterterrorism Blog reports: 'First, we nailed Al Qaeda commander Abu al-Laith al-Liby (or al-Libi, depending on your dictionary). Then someone (the Israelis? the Syrians?) stuck Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, "the Bin Laden of the 80s," in his well-deserved coffin. Now comes word that the Filippino Army has probably found the remains of Dulmatin, a top Jemaah Islamiah member suspected of planning the 2002 Bali bombings which killed over 200, in a grave in the southernmost tip of the Philippines. Dulmatin was apparently killed in a battle there on January 31 between government troops and a group of Abu Sayyaf, the terrorists who gave him refuge after he fled Indonesia.' Full post at the link.

Danish Socialist leader to islamists: Get lost. Via Muslims Against Sharia: 'Hizb-ut-Tahrir is not only off the grid - they are completely off the chart. If they are so stupid that they really want Caliphs and Sharia intregrated then they pure and simple have come to the wrong country. They have nothing to do in the Danish society and they will not reach the goals they seek so heartedly. I have over the years learned that one should pick ones battles carefully. So an advise to Hizb-ut-Tahrir is - not friendly but with much consideration - that they with benefit can seek other pastures to roam. ...'

Long War Journal on Pakistan elections. The Long War Journal has a sober assessment of the election results in Pakistan:
Western watchers who have closely followed the election in Pakistan see the transition to democracy as being key to fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency that threatens to destabilize nuclear Pakistan and the wider region. Numerous attacks against the West and India have been hatched in al Qaeda training camps in the tribal areas. The US government hoped a coalition between Bhutto and Musharraf would provide the unity needed between the secular political class and the military to fight the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in northwestern Pakistan.

It is now unclear what action, if any, will be taken by the new Pakistani government. The PPP will need to align with one or more parties to form a government. A coalition with the PML-N makes action against the Taliban less likely as Sharif is opposed to military action. The PPP indicated is ready to form a coalition with the PML-N, which may push for the impeachment of Musharraf. The MQM and ANP will also oppose military action against the Taliban. A coalition with the PML-Q may be possible, but the PPP would face serious political backlash for aligning with the party blamed for the assassination of Bhutto and the usurping of the constitution.

And while the defeat of the MMA in the Northwest Frontier Province is a welcome development as the party has facilitated the rise of the Taliban by sponsoring peace deals, there is little reason to believe the ANP will fare better against the rise of extremism. ...

Nevertheless, President Bush sees the elections as a victory for the people of Pakistan, and Morning Report agrees. As the Chief says, "The question then is `Will they be friends of the United States?' I certainly hope so."

AQI officer killed in Diyala, Iraq. Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal: 'Multinational Forces Iraq has confirmed it killed a senior intelligence officer of al Qaeda in Iraq’s network in Diyala. Arkan Khalaf Khudayyir, also known as Karrar, was killed during a raid by “Coalition forces” in Khan Bani Sa’ad on February 17. Multinational Forces Iraq uses the generic term Coalition forces to describe Task Force 88, the special operations hunter-killer teams tasked with dismantling al Qaeda in Iraq’s senior leaders and wider network.'

Commentary. It's not Norway and it's not Denmark. It is an Arab country, a Muslim country, transisitioning to liberal democracy; and as Michael Totten reports on the dungeon of Fallujah, this is what a jail in Iraq looks like:
Next to the Joint Communications Center in downtown Fallujah is a squalid and war-shattered warehouse for human beings. Most detainees are common criminals. Others are captured insurgents – terrorists, car-bombers, IED makers, and throat-slashers. A few are even innocent family members of Al Qaeda leaders at large. The Iraqi Police call it a jail, but it's nothing like a jail you've ever seen, at least not in any civilized country. It was built to house 120 prisoners. Recently it held 900.

“Have you seen that place yet?” one Marine said. “It is absolutely disgraceful.” ...

How many are there now?
“How many prisoners are here right now?” I said.

“320,” Major Ibrahim said.

So the jail is “only” at triple capacity now.

“It's a jail,” Rich Crawford said. “Not a prison. None of them have been tried yet. Later they'll move to a prison if they're found guilty.”

First stop is the cell for minors:
The cell was the size of my living room. Two dozen children lived in this place. They slept on the floor on blankets and had no personal space whatsoever. The kids were grubby, but they didn't appear beaten down or even in bad spirits necessarily.

“Some of them are related to wanted men,” he said.

Then they go to the biggest adult cell.
150 men were smashed together in a single windowless room the size of my house.

“This is the biggest cell,” Sergeant Dehaan said.

No kidding.

There was no furniture. Most men sat on blankets and carpets. A few near the door cautiously stood up to greet us, but they did not shake our hands. They seemed slightly wary, and had a weird look of innocence on their faces, almost like the kids in the previous room who really were mostly innocent. ...

I stepped through the doorway and found a single Arabic-style toilet – basically a hole in the floor. It was, of course, filthy. The room smelled of strong sour urine. There was no wall or curtain for privacy. Dirty cooking pans and dinner plates were stacked in the toilet itself.

I'll let you go read the post for Michael's description of the cell where they hold suspected insurgents. ("Not all Middle Eastern terrorists are alike," Michael says. "These guys are like Arabic Hannibal Lectors.")

There are no women in the jail because, in Arab culture, arresting women simply isn't done.

I'm going to go back up to an earlier point in the post now, because this is the paragraph I want to focus on:
Iraqi Arab culture is slowly reverting back to itself now that the totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein has been replaced. His government arrested women every day. They were often raped and viciously tortured by his mukhabarat agents.

Now I know Michael and he doesn't shock easily. If he was shocked by the conditions in the Iraqi jail, it must have been pretty bad. But Michael's been all over the Middle East and he knows how much worse things could be. And in Iraq, they used to be a lot worse.

The Western defenders of Arab and Muslim dictatorships are fond of saying that "those people live that way because it's their culture" and "you can't make the Middle East democratic, it's foreign to them." These folks worry about the intrusion of "Western-style democracy" in non-Western countries. (Funny though, China is Communist, and Communism is a European invention. You never hear these people complain about "Western-style Communism.")

The pro-fascist apologetics are disgusting and false. But as Michael's post shows, they are built on a grain of truth. As Michael knows from first-hand experience, there is an authoritarian, even repressive strain in Arab culture, as there is a rigorous gender hierarchy that often oppresses, but occasionally protects, women. This is why, working for freedom and democracy in the Middle East, it's important to be - and as a neocon I use this word advisedly - "realistic" in our expectations.

There is a difference of many orders of magnitude between the jail Michael saw - which is not Western-style democracy but perhaps Arab-style democracy - and the atrocities that came before it. If you don't believe me, go read the post on the Red Building at Sulemaniya. (And the pictures. Oh God, the pictures.)

If, like me, you've had the luxury of growing up in a place and time where torture and arbitrary execution are unknown, it's probably difficult to contemplate the vast range of suffering and depravity that separates the Dungeon of Fallujah from the Red Building at Sulemania. Try. Then you begin to understand why Michael says at the end,
It seems somehow inadequate, tone-deaf, and perhaps even wrong to say Fallujah’s disgraceful warehouse for humans is progress. But it is.