The bad guys are now celebrating the Democratic Party's sweep of Congress in the belief that the American electorate has pronounced its verdict on the grand visions of the neoconservatives — the fall guys for what is hyperbolically called the "catastrophe in Iraq." The most compelling example of this jubilation has been the audio message released by the current head of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the elusive Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, who read the election results as a victory for his dark cause. At this stage, as the Democrats articulate their plan for Iraq, they need to ponder why evil men are hailing their anti-war talking points.
Middle Eastern autocracies and the American bureaucracies that deal with them share a similar dislike for change in any form. Taking out Saddam Hussein meant bestowing equal rights upon the Shiite and Kurdish underdogs and beginning a democratic experiment — one that would be a model for all the despots in the region and empower other restless minorities, or so the neoconservatives thought. To jihadists such as al-Muhajir, resurgent Shiism and the allure of freedom for Arab and Muslim youth are stumbling blocks to their drive to establish a caliphate, one that is propelled by sectarian hatred and nihilist frustration with the ossified order. The tyrants and terrorists found a convenient echo chamber within American partisan politics in their effort to snuff out the new Iraq and turn it into an embarrassment for President Bush.
Coming in rapid succession, Saddam was sentenced to hang by an Iraqi court in Baghdad, and the neoconservatives are due to be lynched by an angry Washingtonian mob. Draping a noose around Saddam's deserving neck had been the vision of many neoconservatives, but now they must face their own reckoning for tinkering with the status quo in the Middle East. The allegation against them, made by many in Washington, is that the neoconservatives deliberately brought Iraq to ruin by deliberately seeking to liberate it. The role played by the likes of al-Muhajir is conveniently glossed over.
Nevertheless, the Democrats and the antiwar camp must have felt a little queasy when al-Muhajir noisily crashed their post-election partying. His message to the American people was one of commendation for "putting their steps on the right path out of this quagmire" and electing Mr. Bush's opponents and discrediting the "Israel gang"— read, the neoconservatives — around the president.
The Democrats may not as yet have a real plan to fix Iraq, but al-Muhajir is brimming with ideas: Al Qaeda is grooming a caliph to do war against the heretical Persians, turn the Mediterranean into an Islamic lake, kill more American soldiers, and generally win the war on terror for the side of the bad guys.
Beyond the theatrics of denouncing Mr. Bush as "the stupidest president the nation of slaves and drugs [America] had ever known" and threatening to blow up the White House, al-Muhajir's message is important on many practical counts. He positions Al Qaeda as the defender of Sunnis not only in Iraq, but also across the region in facing down the Shiite menace. He warns that Mr. Bush's actions in Afghanistan and Iraq have enabled the Persians, that is to say the Iranians, to expand the writ of the Shiite "heresy" into these traditionally Sunni domains, and beyond, to Syria and Lebanon. Al-Muhajir even takes the rising stardom of Shiite Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to task by referring to him derisively as "Nasr-Al-Lat," literally, the Victory of Lat, with Lat being a pre-Islamic pagan deity, implying that Nasrallah is not a Muslim.
But what is most surprising in al-Muhajir's message is his belief that what he perceives as America's imminent military retreat from Iraq has brought an end to one of the "phases of jihad." This is an occasion for al-Muhajir to herald a new phase: the establishment of the caliphate. Al-Muhajir pledges allegiance to the hitherto unheard of "Abu Omar al-Baghdadi." The glaring hint that he is indeed Al Qaeda's candidate for the job of caliph is al-Muhajir's insistence on highlighting al-Baghdadi's Hashemite pedigree — a traditional must-have for any would-be caliph.
Al-Muhajir also pledges the allegedly 12,000-strong "Army of Al Qaeda" and their 10,000 reservists to fight under al-Baghdadi's banner to the death. Oddly enough, there is no mention of Osama bin Laden, who is not a Hashemite. But probably al-Muhajir sees bin Laden as a relic of the past, just like America's presence in Iraq, and consequently he really doesn't have a role to play in this current phase of the jihad.
And where is the current phase going? To Spain, naturally. For al-Muhajir vows not to rest until he is shaded by the "olive groves of Rumiyyeh," which in this context means the lands of Christendom, or at least the olive growing parts of it.
Al-Muhajir's plans are a timely reminder of what we are up against as the debate over what to do in Iraq gets underway. But it is not only Al Qaeda that sees Iraq as a launching pad for larger designs: The Islamic Army of Iraq, a homegrown insurgent group, issued a communiqué on November 10 claiming to have launched three attacks on the American military in retaliation for Israel's attack on Beit Hanoun in the West Bank. The group states that "the battles in Iraq and Palestine are one" and that the "Cross-worshippers [Christians] had planted [Israel]" in the Middle East, and hence killing Americans is equivalent to killing Israelis. The Islamic Army of Iraq is allegedly negotiating with American officials in Amman, but how far can the talks proceed if the insurgents insist on taking the fight to Israel?
Sadly, what has been lost on the American public is the relationship between cause and effect in Iraq. Graphics in major American newspapers compare electricity output and oil production under Saddam to the current numbers in Iraq to demonstrate a stark degradation in services. What is missing is the "cause" that the likes of al-Muhajir and the Baathists have been "effecting" to achieve those stats. This perception gap is happening because there seems to be a reluctance endemic among American journalists and a comfort-obsessed American public to take a long, hard look at the very nature of the enemy. Most major newspapers chose to keep al-Muhajir away from the main page so as not to crowd the "Iraq is failing" angle.
This evasion of reality has resulted in the bizarre situation, where describing the enemy as evil is somehow not politically correct, even after September 11, the graphic beheadings, and al-Muhajir's words, while tagging the neoconservatives as nefarious is a journalistic standard.
But the enemy is evil nonetheless. There will not be a let-up if you meet the terrorists' demands. Al-Muhajir flaunts his evil for all to hear when he says that "we have not yet quenched our thirst" for American blood. Whether the American public, or the Democrats, choose to hear him or not at this stage is beyond the point: Al-Muhajir plans to make his evil presence felt and soon. And it will be painful — if Al Qaeda's declaration of victory in Iraq is left unchallenged.
Mr. Kazimi can be reached at [email protected]