Tag Archives: Sudan

Al-Qaeda’s Deputy Killed in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 27, 2017

abu-al-khayr-car-killed-in

Last night it was reported that al-Qaeda’s overall deputy, Abu Khayr al-Masri, had been killed by the U.S.-led Coalition in Syria with a drone strike. This was soon seeminglyconfirmed by pro-Qaeda channels, and Abu al-Khayr was said to have been buried this morning. Though the emphasis on targeting jihadist leaders can be overdone, the demise of Abu al-Khayr is an important development, and one with significance beyond itself.

Abu al-Khayr’s career is demonstrative of a few interesting trends within the Jihadi-Salafist movement, primary among them the willingness of the Iranian revolution to work with the Sunni jihadists, al-Qaeda very much included, when it suits its purposes, particularly in undermining Western interests. Abu al-Khayr also elucidates the changed nature of al-Qaeda, where the “centre” (AQC) could now be said to be more in Syria than the Afghanistan-Pakistan, and where al-Qaeda operates both an overt and covert presence to try to secure a durable foothold in the Levant, which might in time be a base for attacks against the West, currently suspended only for tactical reasons. Continue reading

Response to Response: Yes, Saddam Laid the Groundwork for the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on January 12, 2016

Iraqi army MIA1 Abrams tanks march under the victory Arch landmark during a parade to mark the 91st Army Day in Baghdad on January 6, 2012, weeks after US troops completed their pullout. The Armed Forces Day display by the fledgling 280,000-strong security force completely reformed after the US-led invasion of 2003. AFP PHOTO/ALI AL-SAADI (Photo credit should read ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)

The “Victory Arch,” which Saddam built after the war with Iran. (January 2012)

About three weeks ago I wrote a piece for The New York Times explaining the evolution of Saddam Hussein’s regime away from the hard-secularism of its Ba’athist origins, and how this had prepared the ground for the Islamic State (IS). I received much positive feedback, but the social media reaction was inevitable: little thought and much anger, particularly from people who view Iraqi history through a political prism and felt I was trying to exculpate George W. Bush. With rare exceptions, the critique could hardly be called thoughtful. So it is nice to finally have such a critique to deal with, from Samuel Helfont and Michael Brill in today’s Foreign Affairs. Continue reading

A Myth Revisited: “Saddam Hussein Had No Connection To Al-Qaeda”

1Book Review: The Connection: How al-Qaeda’s Collaboration With Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America (2004) by Stephen Hayes

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

More than twelve years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the conventional wisdom is that Saddam’s regime had no connection with al-Qaeda, and such “evidence” as was adduced was tortured out of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi in the Bush administration’s desperation to cobble together a casus belli. But if one puts ideology on hold, and considers the evidence of Stephen Hayes’ The Connection, a rather different picture emerges. 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

A Red Line For Iran’s Imperialism In Yemen

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 27, 2015

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Late in the day on March 25, a Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen with airstrikes against the Houthis.

The Iranian-backed Houthis (a.k.a. Ansar Allah) took over Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September, and forced the resignation of the Saudi-backed Yemeni ruler, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in January. Hadi escaped house arrested in Sanaa and retreated to Aden with the remnants of his regime. On March 21, the Houthis had called for a “general mobilisation” and by the next day had pushed south toward Aden. The Houthis said they were combatting “terrorist forces”. As in Syria, Iran’s allied forces cast a narrative where there were no Sunni moderates, nobody with whom a deal might be struck.

Hadi’s predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose resignation was compelled in early 2012 after the “Arab Spring,” stands accused not only by Hadi but by the United States of supporting the Houthis. Continue reading

Why Climate Change Had No Impact on the Syrian Uprising

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on May 1, 2014

It is inevitable that when a complex situation erupts everybody will try to map their own specialities onto it. At the present time, where environmentalism is such a primary Western concern, it was perhaps always likely that the Syrian war would attract those determined to see this menace in every corner. It has happened before, with Darfur Continue reading