Monthly Archives: April 2015

Obama’s Iran Deal Increases Nukes, Terrorism, and Instability

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on April 28, 2015

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The key thing to understand about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear accord announced on April 2 between the P5+1 and Iran, is that it does not exist. The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said at one point, “We envisage being able to deliver a narrative,” adding that this might not be written and—these being forgiving times—Iran’s narrative need not match the West’s. In other words, nothing was signed or agreed to. This is the reason for the wild discrepancies between the American and Iranian JCPOA “factsheets”: both are drawing from a rolling text that is ostensibly to lead to a “final” or “comprehensive” deal and spinning it to their own respective advantage. The administration has as much as said so with its mantra that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

The purpose of the announcement of the JCPOA therefore was, charitably, to “build political momentum toward a final agreement“. Less charitably it was intended to “demonstrate progress in order to fend off congressional action,” as Obama’s former nuclear adviser Gary Samore put it. In that at least it was successful. Continue reading

Saddam Hussein’s Regime Produced The Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on April 21, 2015

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Having presented the evidence that Saddam Hussein Islamized his foreign policy and then Islamized his regime, above all with the Islamic Faith Campaign, beginning in June 1993 that tried to fuse Ba’athism with Salafism, encouraging (and keeping under surveillance) a religious revival in Iraq that redounded to the benefit of the regime’s legitimacy and support, I wanted to look at what this history means for Iraq and the wider region now.

I pointed out in October that the “military strength” of the Islamic State (ISIS) “comes from the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s military-intelligence apparatus and the Caucasus’ Salafi-jihadists.” Continue reading

Why I Can’t Bring Myself To Vote On May 7

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on April 20, 2015

Cross-posted from Agora

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There are few people in British public life more destructive, especially among the young, than Russell Brand, not least because of his poisonous advice that people should not vote. When I first saw him proffer this advice on Newsnight—where I could not believe he had been invited and then taken seriously—it seemed to me a form of vandalism, using his prominent and comfortable position to urge those less comfortable to throw away one of the few levers they had to make their lot better.

But now I find the only way I could cast a ballot in the upcoming Election is if there was an option for “None of the Above”. I can only differentiate myself by noting both the very considerable gulf in our audiences, and thus responsibilities, and that I do not seek to advise anybody, only explain my own personal decision. Continue reading

Saddam and the Islamists, Part 2

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on April 20, 2015

Umm al-Qura (Mother of All Cities) Mosque, built by Saddam to commemorate his

Umm al-Qura (Mother of All Cities) Mosque, built by Saddam to commemorate his “victory” in the 1991 Gulf War

In December, I wrote a post, “Iraq Is Still Suffering The Effects Of Saddam Hussein’s Islamist Regime,” which was a review/analysis of an academic paper by Samuel Helfont that pointed out that the Saddam Hussein regime had, since the 1980s, used Islamists, including al-Qaeda, as part of its foreign policy. I critiqued the paper a little for having said it would not comment on Saddam’s internal policy with the Islamists, while in fact the paper hinted that Saddam remained hostile to mixing religion and politics. I noted that the evidence does not support this: Saddam’s regime adopted overt theocratic trappings before the end.

There were two kinds of pushback to the idea that Saddam’s regime was Islamist. Predictably, one critique was related to the controversy over the way the Gulf War that Saddam started in 1990 was ended; opponents of the 2003 invasion of Iraq are heavily invested in the Saddam-as-secularist narrative, often coupled with the “Bush lied” hysteria—in this case about a connection between the Saddam regime and al-Qaeda—to say that the invasion empowered a previously, officially-repressed Islamism in Iraq. This simply is not borne out by the evidence. There was also pushback from some Iraqis. But this too was predictable: as I outlined in that post, drawing on Ali Allawi’s book on post-Saddam Iraq, one of the reasons so many people with no agenda get the Islamist aspect of the Saddam regime wrong is that when they turn to what they believe is the best primary source—namely the Iraqis in the West—they encounter a source that for various reasons is actually several decades out-of-date.

Buttressing my initial argument is a 2011 paper, “From Militant Secularism to Islamism: The Iraqi Ba’th Regime 1968-2003,” in which Amatzia Baram provides evidence from Iraqi internal documents and tapes of Cabinet meetings captured after the fall of Baghdad to show that Saddam’s regime had formed an alliance with Islamists in the mid-1980s for use in its foreign policy, and from a bit later in the 1980s had begun steps toward Islamizing Iraq internally. Continue reading

Syria’s Jihad Comes Home To The United States

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on April 16, 2015

Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud

Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud

A United States Federal grand jury has charged Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud (a.k.a. Ayanle), a 23-year-old from Columbus, with one count of attempting to provide and providing material support to terrorists, one count of attempting to provide and providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization (both counts punishable by up to fifteen years in prison each), and one count of making false statements to the FBI in an indictment returned in the Southern District of Ohio (which carries a sentence of eight years).

Some of the press reports have been a little muddled, but the indictment is available to read and provides some intriguing details. Continue reading

An Update On The Anti-Assad Imam Killed In London

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on April 13, 2015

Abdul Hadi Arwani

Abdul Hadi Arwani

In Brent, northwest London, in the evening of April 12, a 46-year-old man was arrested as part of the ongoing investigation into the April 7 murder of the Syrian-born imam, Abdul Hadi Arwani, a long-time opponent of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Writing about the murder of Arwani last week, I noted that the available evidence suggested the motivations of the murderer(s) could be:

  • Financial: related to Arwani’s business dealings as the owner of his construction company
  • Other local or personal
  • Far-Right anti-Muslim
  • Intra-Islamist: Arwani had been the director at the Salafist An-Noor Mosque and was himself clearly an Islamist, but Arwani was against the Islamic State (ISIS), for example, which might have made him enemies among some congregants
  • Agents of the Assad regime, conceivably with the complicity of Iran and Russia

Those options still stand, but some important updates over the weekend have helped alter the relative likelihood of each. Continue reading

Why The West Should Support The Saudi-Led Intervention In Yemen

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on April 11, 2015

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In The Independent of April 10, Daniel Wickham wrote in opposition to the campaign of airstrikes, led by Saudi Arabia, against the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen, which has overthrown the government in that country and is now marching on the port city of Aden where the remnants of the fallen regime reside. Wickham notes that the Houthis have behaved abominably since they took the capital, Sanaa, including the “use of torture and extreme violence to suppress dissent,” still “two wrongs do not make a right” and the Saudi-led Operation DECISIVE STORM is “very clearly wrong.” I think this is mistaken. Continue reading