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ICG Risk Blog - [ November 16, 2004 ]

The Arab street reacts predictably to the mosque shooting: the Sunni Arab street is furious

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Mere hours ago, I forecast in Another Abu Ghraib; execution in a mosque on videotape, that:

To the Arab street it will be murder in that special lopsided balance in which Arabs can kill themselves but if an outsider, a westerner, an American does it, the affront transcends the killing itself. Worse, we have not allowed the Red Crescent to enter Fallujah as the military situation is not uniformly calm, and soldiers must still search house to house to insure that no hiding insurgents have been left behind. Insurgents could also blend in with Red Crescent as refugee or wounded and gain exit from the city. The obverse of not letting the Red Crescent in is to fan the flames of rumor that we have produced great numbers of Iraqi civilian dead. This one dead will turn rumor into fact.

The upshot was equal or worse -- to the point that, coming on the back of Abu Ghraib, any chance of a hearts and minds campaign have evaporated. Deliberately taking a neutral position in the earlier note, my aim was to forecast the impact on Arabs and Muslims rather than to try to present any western legal or moral construct that would be rejected out of hand by the Arab Street.

Let me reach back to Oct 2002 private note for a parallel of misunderstanding:

As conflict nears in Iraq, the issue of linkage between sanctions against Israel and Iraq is getting some -- a little but growing -- traction among non-Arabs. Notes to this list have been predicting for it some time. The problem is that save for a few UN mavens, no one is interested in the fine print in the UN resolutions dealing with Israel and Iraq. The UN distinguishes between two kinds of Security Council resolutions, those with teeth and those without:

(1) Security Council Chapter Seven resolutions are binding on all UN members and give the council broad powers to take action, make war, and to deal with all manner of "threats to peace" and acts of aggression. Teeth, and with the resolution Bush desires, sharp pointy teeth.

(2) Security Council Chapter Six resolutions are non-binding on UN members and call upon affected parties to make peaceful resolution of disputes. No teeth.

Iraq is covered by Chapter Seven while Israel is covered by Chapter Six. Palestinian diplomats understand, having perennially failed in their attempt to get Chapter Seven sanctions against Israel. The UN is legally not using a double-standard but who cares? The perception on the street is the reality.

The fine print or Anglo-European Chapter Six and Seven resolutions are lost on the Arab street where 'inaction' is seen as Western bias towards Muslims. So it is with the mosque shooting and any subsequent US judicial review. The view that binds street opinion is that "we do not value Muslim life or that we view Muslims as an inferior species."

The fury of an al Jazeera anchor matched that of the Sunni Arab street, of our ally Jordan, as he "almost had a heart attack" in his assault on the US and inactive Arab states as he demanded, "Where are the Arabs?"

While Allawi and US commanders deny that there is a humanitarian crisis and thus no need for Red Crescent aid:

The generally pro-American Saudi daily, Asharq al-Awsat, has a long piece on the sufferings of civilians in Fallujah, based on telephone interviews and eyewitness accounts by Iraqis. The article is extremely suspicious of American motives in having taken the Fallujah hospitals and in having kept the Red Crescent and other aid agencies away from the city. Do they want to get rid of all the bodies lying in the streets before anyone sees them, the article asks.

As for the apparent murder of a wounded guerrilla by a Marine, it was horrible... Ash-Sharq al-Awsat writes of Fallujah, and I paraphrase: Whatever the number of families that stayed in Fallujah, they are suffering now from lack of food, water, and aid. Although the US and Iraqi military authorities insist they have taken the city with the exception of some pockets of resistance, they refuse to allow Red Crescent aid trucks even into the areas they say they control. It is not known if the reason for this refusal is to prevent the "pockets of resistance" from getting hold of some food, or if it is because they want to get the bodies off the streets before the Red Crescent comes in, so as to avoid shocking the aid workers.

That is the opinion that counts as it will spawn jihadis.

Sunni Arab Regions in Flames
Juan Cole
Informed Comment
November 16, 2004

U.S. Launches Inquiry into Shooting of Wounded Insurgent in Fallujah
NewsHour
November 16, 2004, 7:30pm EST

Gordon Housworth



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