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Rob over at Arabic Media Shack poses the question, God Save the Queen or La Marseillase? The Marseillaise, hands down. Indeed, its soaring refrain is high on the list of reasons I’m glad my son has dual citizenship. That urge to run through walls Rob mentions upon hearing it is no coincidence, by the way. As an anthem, it’s true to its revolutionary battle-cry roots, complete with alarms about the enemy come to “cut the throats of your sons” and calls to “water our fields” with their “impure blood.” (Intellectually, of course, I prefer La Marcha Real, Spain’s national anthem, […]

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I don’t have a whole lot to say about President Obama’s withdrawal timetable, officially announced today, other than that it strikes me as hitting the sweet spot on all fronts. I’m a bit surprised at the degree to which the Democratic Congressional leadership criticized the 35-50K residual force from August 2010 to the end of 2011. That sounds like wise and logical contingency planning, every bit as dependent on circumstances (which in this case means amenable to acceleration) as the rest of the timetable. It’s interesting to note that Obama called former president Bush before addressing the Marines at Camp […]

As I made my way to Iraq in 2003 to cover the unfolding operation to overthrow Saddam Hussein, I spent many hours speaking to pro-democracy and women’s rights activists in Kuwait. Back then, Kuwaiti activists held high hopes for positive change. Kuwaiti women had spent years fighting for the right to vote and run for office. If democracy came to Iraq, they assured me, it would give a push to their own agenda and bring them closer to success. Pro-democracy pioneer Lullwah al-Mullah told me, “Iraq is the country of Arab culture. It is the country of Islamic culture.” A […]

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It’s probably reductionist, simplistic and uninformed of me, but I’ve long considered that the biggest source of cultural misunderstanding between the West and the Islamic World was their fundamental disagreement over the role of women in society. Not that there is any monolithic, uniform opinion on either side of the debate. But for me, modernism culminates in — if it doesn’t quite boil down to — the liberation of women from biologically determined social roles. But if the Islamic World has embraced almost all other aspects of modernism — after all, what’s more modern than uranium enrichment? — the sticking […]

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Two months ago in a post on Iraq’s prospects for developing into a regional power, I parenthetically mentioned the following: Funny how we’ve heard a lot about the impact of falling crude prices on Russia, Iran and Venezuela, but not on Iraq. Two months later, we begin to hear about it (via today’s WPR Media Roundup), and with oil exports accounting for 90 percent of the Iraqi government’s revenues, the consequences have been immediate and drastic. Future reconstruction projects are being postponed, and the government will have to tap into its $35 billion oil revenue reserves not only to finance […]

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The head of the Special Operations unit of Turkey’s National Police was just found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. I’ll be keeping an eye on this over the next couple days. There’s no indication from the article, but the Ergenekon case immediately comes to mind. In any event, this kind of story generally signals a can of worms.

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There was some suggestion following the IAEA’s Iran report last week that Iran might have made a political decision to not expand its enrichment capacity as quickly as it might have. The argument centered around roughly 1500 new centrifuges that had been installed but not yet put into operation. But in yet another essential ACW post, Jeffrey Lewis presents a compelling case for why the centrifuges might be evidence of an acceleration in, or at least a maturation of, Iran’s enrichment pace. Essentially, Lewis argues that Iran’s halting, small-batch installation process in the past reflected its lack of expertise. Now […]

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Interesting that Dennis Ross has been named special advisor, reporting exclusively to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell were both named special presidential envoys, reporting both to Clinton and President Barack Obama. I would have thought that Obama would like to keep as close an eye on the Iran dossier as on the others. At first glance Ross’ official title, “adviser to the secretary of state for the Gulf and Southwest Asia,” reminded me of Jon Alterman’s WPR Briefing, The Middle East Moves East. Alterman suggested that the Obama administration’s regional approach would redraw the […]

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If you find yourself going, “Whuh?” everytime I or other bloggers mention COIN, or if you know what it refers to but never had the time or inclination to go through the U.S. Army field manual articulating it, the recently released U.S. Government Counterinsurgency Guide (.pdf) is a very informative, readable way to get up to speed. If the manual reads like a “lessons learned” from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, that’s because it is. That explains why, for instance, it stresses the difficulties involved in COIN campaigns in the aftermath of forcible regime change. It also explains why, by […]

On Feb. 12, Iraq became the latest country to join the Chemical Weapons Convention. The country’s entry was especially important in light of the widespread use of chemical weapons by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein against his foreign and domestic enemies. Under Hussein, Iraq developed a major chemical weapons industry. During the 1980s, the regime killed thousands of people by repeatedly employing chemical weapons against both Iranian troops during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran War and its domestic opponents, most infamously in the March 1988 mustard gas attacks on the Kurdish village of Halabja. With Iraq’s entry, the CWC (as the Convention […]

As Western financial sectors reeled during 2007 and 2008, Asian and Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) offered some succor, administering exotic medicine to banks poisoned by subprime toxins. These White Knights cast a dark shadow, however, as questions — and fears — were raised about the political influence that, for instance, a Chinese government presence on the board of Barclays Bank might represent. The focus has shifted recently. Plummeting oil prices and declining demand for imports by contracting U.S, European and Japanese markets undercut the vast revenue base the SWFs were drawing upon. Now SWFs are writing off untold […]

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I’ve been meaning to flag this James Acton post at Arms Control Wonk, a site that is always fascinating but that becomes essential reading in the days after any IAEA Iran report. Acton discusses the discrepancy between the amount of enriched uranium estimated over the course of the year by Iran and what the IAEA actually found in its annual measurement verification. Some have interpreted the estimates, which were about a third lower than what the IAEA measured, as evidence of Iranian deviousness. But Acton makes it clear that it could, in fact, be something worse: The fact that Iran […]

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I went scanning the Pakistani English-language press for fallout over the American covert training presence in the FATA (just one low-key item in Dawn). Instead I stumbled across coverage of a proposed Village Defense Council program in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). That’s the province that contains both the troubled Swat valley and larger Malakand disctrict, where the Pakistani government recently agreed to a controversial ceasefire deal with militants. (See Ahmed Humayun’s Briefing.) Both the News and Daily Times report that the province’s governor plans to distribute 30,000 rifles (you read that right) to carefully screened participants, who will be […]

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I should have seen this coming. Two weeks ago, French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid a visit to Baghdad with his foreign and defense ministers. He promised to return before the end of the summer with a business delegation. Of course, business delegation these days is French for Areva, especially when Sarkozy is traveling in the Arab world. With Iraq now expressing interest, it might not be long before Baghdad and Paris sign a Memo of Understanding for a civilian nuclear reactor, Fabriqué en France. The levels of irony here are pretty deep: Under former dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq sealed a […]

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The IAEA just released its latest report on Iran’s nuclear program(available here for download as a .pdf file via ACW), and if the past is anyindication, expect the accompanying spin and analysis to be a bitmisleading. To unpack the actual report, essentially the IAEAdetermined that Iran had continued running the centrifuges it alreadyhad online and had added some more, and that the efficiency of thecentrifuges already online had improved. The Iranians, meanwhile, onceagain refused to allow the more rigorous and transparent inspectionsmandated by the Additional Protocol, used a loophole to deny inspectorsaccess to a heavy water reactor under construction but […]

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In the post-Iraq War Middle East, everything is regional and all roads lead to Tehran. Here’s Laura Rozen on George Mitchell’s debriefing to American Jewish “community leaders”: Mitchell said that on the plane back from his recent trip to the MiddleEast, he had re-read his eight-year-old report on thePalestinian-Israeli conflict, and was struck by how much the situationhad changed. Among the changes he noted, Mitchell said that eight yearsago, no one talked about Iran. But this time, everyone mentioned it,both Israeli and Arab leaders. What’s interesting is the way the Iran bogeyman, whether real or imagined, is reshaping everyone’s strategic […]

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