July 13, 2009

We Are Not at War with Nouri al-Maliki

Robert Spencer, founder and lead writer for Jihad Watch, has a bit of trouble telling the difference between friend and foe in Iraq and still thinks, despite everything, that the United States is losing the war.

Instead of referring to me by name, he sarcastically dismisses me as a “learned analyst,” as he does with President Barack Obama and his advisors, while scoffing at a long dispatch I published last week. “No insurgent or terrorist group can declare victory or claim Americans are evacuating Iraq’s cities because they were beaten,” I wrote. Spencer acknowledges that Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki isn’t the leader of an insurgent or terrorist group. But he maintains that my statement is “breathtaking in its disconnect from reality” because Maliki declared the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq’s cities “a great victory.”

We are not, and never have been, at war with Prime Minister Maliki. Everyone with even a pedestrian familiarity with events in Iraq during the last couple of years knows that American soldiers and Marines have fought alongside Maliki’s Iraqi soldiers and police against common enemies – Al Qaeda in Iraq and the various offshoots and branches of Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.

Not even in an alternate universe have Maliki’s men fought Americans and forced them to withdraw. They fought, bled, and died alongside Americans. The United States military recently withdrew from most of Iraq’s urban areas as stipulated by the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration, but they’re still training and working closely with Iraqi security forces.

Maliki’s “great victory” statement was an attempt to suck up to the anti-Americans in his electoral constituency who are unhappy with his close relationship with the United States. Iraq’s most sectarian Sunni Arabs regularly accuse Maliki of being an Iranian puppet prime minister when they aren’t contradicting themselves by joining radical Shias and saying he’s an American puppet prime minister. Maliki is closer to Iran than Americans and Iraq’s Sunnis would like, but he’s much closer to the United States where it counts most. He has never sent his men into battle against Americans. But he did order his soldiers into battle alongside Americans last year against Iranian-backed Shia militias in Sadr City and Basra. He also put the Sons of Iraq – whom he used to decry as an anti-Shia Sunni militia – on his government’s payroll.

I don’t know if throwing a rhetorical bone to Iraq’s most strident anti-Americans to shore up his nationalist bona fides is a good idea or if it isn’t. Either way, it’s not hard to see that’s what he’s doing. And it’s frankly ridiculous for Spencer to write as though I have no idea what’s going on in Iraq when he thinks a political speech for domestic consumption overrides the fact that for years Maliki has been at war not against us but with us against our mutual enemies.

Does Spencer believe that, all of a sudden and for no apparent reason, Maliki sympathizes with the terrorists and insurgents he recently crushed?

“In any case,” Spencer writes, “any ‘victory’ the Americans won in Iraq was sure to be undone as soon as the troops were gone, and we are already seeing that. Sunni will go after Shi’ite and vice versa, the Iranians will press forward to create a Shi’ite client state, the non-Muslims will be victimized more than ever…”

Iraq has made a fool of just about everyone, including me, who has claimed to know in advance what the future would look like. The entire Middle East makes fools of its prophets. Most of us who work there eventually learn this the hard way. Nobody can know what’s going to happen in Iraq now that the U.S. is pulling back.

Spencer’s view might by chance be correct. Around half the Iraqis and half the Americans I’ve spoken to in Iraq think the country is more likely than not to disintegrate. The other half don’t. And the optimists who live and work over there, just like the pessimists, know more about Iraq than Robert Spencer and I do combined.

UPDATE: Maliki was interviewed a few days ago in the Wall Street Journal:

WSJ: What message do you want to convey during your visit to America, especially since it comes after the June 30th withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraqi cities?

Mr. Maliki: The message will be to ensure the basis of our relations and our friendship, which is a long-term strategic relationship. There are many parts to that, like trade and investment. I will convey the wish of Iraq for friendship with the U.S. We have a combined victory against terrorism, and there have been sacrifices from both sides that brought fruitful results and democracy to Iraq. Also, we will emphasize the two agreements, the strategic framework agreement and the withdrawal [security] agreement. Also, I've met a lot of officials from the U.S. but I still need to meet many of them because friendships must be clear. If we increase the number of meetings and we have questions in our minds, we can ask them and answer them in person so that our friendship is clear.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at July 13, 2009 8:26 PM

Spencer's latest post is from FAS. He will take info from any source to support his daily updates in the great and singular clash of the civilizations. Obviously, he hasn't read your diverse ground accounts. Lately, I think Coles has. Frankly, I am surprised they both didn't give you and Chris credit for the "Hitchens effect" in swaying Lebanon against Hizb'Allah. Instead you let Obama's advisors give the President credit.

The great victory statement Spencer recounted was linked to the news of five (and then six) churches bombed in Iraq following our pull back from the cities. He tries to tie one dot to another and sometimes a deeper reflection is lacking. Spencer draws many of his conclusions from playing connect the dots. I call this his Jihadwatch's Occam's razor.

I appreciate his effort to compile news stories concerning radical ideology from around the world and our response to it, but he often frames his message in conservative and absolutist tones while using the endless trail of troubling news to validate a rather simplistic dialectic of Liberal Democracy v Islam. Of course, many threats are very real, but in simplifying them for rhetorical purposes, he often ignores the ground dynamics that could be exploited to our advantage were we to examine them in greater detail. Given the troubles in Iran, why would the majority of Iraqis embrace the Iranian regime?

Of course Spencer may be guessing correctly about the Iraqi government, but it does strike me as guessing based on a counterintuitive read of history. It seems your reports indicate a deeper level of Iraqi uncertainty in motive and intent, than the black and white terms Spencer's generalizations highlight. I fear that the shrill on both sides of the debate from McKinney to Spencer tend to drown out the excluded middle. Spencer should take a queue from you and try harder to leave the conservative and often jingoistic message out of his proclamations.

I was hoping Spencer might use this headline to advocate for gays in the military. What better bunch of American men and women could America send to kick some homophobic Taliban ass? From the sound of Spencer and the DOD, we can use all the help we can get.

Posted by: maxtrue Author Profile Page at July 13, 2009 9:53 PM

You've both got it wrong, actually.

When Maliki declared the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq’s cities "a great victory", he referred to our combined victory over insurgency and more to the point, over our "common enemies – Al Qaeda in Iraq and the various offshoots and branches of Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia".

Neither was he pandering to Anti-Americans nor was he claiming victory over Americans at all.

Posted by: MaYHeM Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 10:17 AM


Do you have a transcript of what Maliki said? The New York Times didn't spin it that way, but the paper also didn't quote him properly. Almost the entire quote was a paraphrase.

"Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has taken to calling the withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq’s cities by next Tuesday a 'great victory,' a repulsion of foreign occupiers he compares to the rebellion against British troops in 1920."

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 10:23 AM

Don’t Know Much About History–or Reality
by Andrew Bostom |

A dogmatist, “quite exceptionally impenetrable by facts.”

Michael Totten. is the classic uninformed roving Middle East reporter who consistently (and tediously) displays his profound historical and doctrinal ignorance of Islam as a badge of honor, or more aptly hubris. But now even his tenuous grasp of daily unfolding events (what he’s supposed to be “good” at understanding, or even just describing accurately), and the contemporary trends they reveal, must be called into serious question.

My colleagues Diana West and Robert Spencer—Bob directly—but each in their own way, attempt to educate the triumphantly denialist Totten whose views on the “success” of democratization—as epitomized by the behavior of Nouri al-Maliki, this part loyal Shiite Iranian ally, part traditional Oriental Despot—remind one of Robert Conquest’s description of the stubborn adherents to failed Communist ideology, as “..dogmatists, quite exceptionally impenetrable by facts.”

Read Diana’s blog from Sunday July 12, 2009, and Bob’s from today, July 14, 2009 and then ponder how Totten’s roseate view comports with a reality essentially no different from what I described three years ago, as seen through the prism of the British experience in the 1930s:

“Despite great expense of British blood and treasure, more than a decade of military occupation, and even after the Assyrian massacres (by Arab and Kurdish Muslims) of 1933-34, shortly after Britain’s withdrawal, Morrison wrote, (in “Religious Liberty in Iraq”, Moslem World, 1935, p. 128):

Iraq is moving steadily forward towards the modern conception of the State, with a single judicial and administrative system, unaffected by considerations of religion or nationality. The Millet system [i.e., dhimmitude—not reflected by this euphemism] still survives, but its scope is definitely limited. Even the Assyrian tragedy of 1933 does not shake our faith in the essential progress that has been made. The Government is endeavoring to carry out faithfully the undertakings it has given, even when these run directly counter to the long-cherished provisions of the Shari’a Law. But it is not easy; it cannot be easy in the very nature of the case, for the common people quickly to adjust their minds to the new legal situation, and to eradicate from their outlook the results covering many centuries of a system which implies the superiority of Islam over the non-Moslem minority groups. The legal guarantees of liberty and equality represent the goal towards which the country is moving, rather than the expression of the present thoughts and wishes of the population. The movement, however, is in the right direction, and it may yet prove possible for Islam to disentangle religious faith from political status and privilege.

Over seven decades later, the goals of true “liberty and equality” for Iraq remain just as elusive after yet another Western power has committed great blood and treasure toward that end. More ominously, Iraq’s newly empowered Shi’ites and their leaders appear to have forged an unholy alliance with Iran which is more likely to promote Sharia despotism, than liberal democracy.”

Posted by: mal123 Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 1:29 PM


Everyone who has been following my reports from Iraq knows that I report both the good and the bad. Hell, the very piece Spencer quoted from (but did not link to) is dedicated almost exclusively to covering the bad.

I'm not the one who hammers facts to fit a preconceived narrative here.

Iraq’s newly empowered Shi’ites and their leaders appear to have forged an unholy alliance with Iran which is more likely to promote Sharia despotism, than liberal democracy.

Iraq has also forged an alliance with the United States against Iranian-sponsored militias.

And what will happen if the hated Khomeinist regime in Iran is overthrown and replaced by something more representative and resumes normal relations with the U.S. and Israel?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 1:42 PM

mal123 Read Diana’s blog from Sunday July 12, 2009, and Bob’s from today, July 14, 2009 and then ponder how Totten’s roseate view

Andrew Bostom obviously did not read the article of mine he thinks he's debunking if he thinks I published a "roseate" view.

You obviously did not read it either. No one, no matter how poor their reading skills, can possibly read this and describe it that way.

I suggest you click the link, read it, and stop being a tool.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 1:49 PM

I saw that comment coming Michael. Perhaps you might want to reconsider not posting my comment from yesterday. Mal 123 was exactly why I posted it. Sanity seems to be caught in the crossfire between absolutists, yes?

Keep up your good work.

Posted by: maxtrue Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 1:53 PM


There seems to be a problem with my comments section. Any comment that includes a link gets deleted, and not by me. I didn't reject a comment from you yesterday. It just disappeared. I'm trying to fix this, but don't know what's causing it. I thought there was a setting somewhere that I could use to limit the number of links, but I can't seem to find it...

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 2:09 PM


I was able to pull your comment out of the spam folder, but only after fishing around for it. It should never have been placed there, but it was.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 2:19 PM

Thanks Michael,

I stand by my first comments and the response
below them is just the self-certainty I expected. The picture of Sir Brave Ahmed over at Jihad Watch shows just how intense the battle of words and the time invested.

You seem to be near the cross fire everywhere you go, but then that is the nature of your quest.

I note Mal 123 has nothing to say in his predictions on Iranian duplicity in Iraq about the startling declaration Ravaji made yesterday. For some it is though events in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere are either worsening or are static and have no discernable effect on the status of both Islamic Reformation or the balance of power. If history alone was our guide we should have already lost Iraq and Afghanistan.

Your reporting shows how much more variable an equation human conflict is and where best to exploit the weaknesses of liberty's enemy to our Liberal Advantage. Your impartiality and positive ness is something sorely lacking in the realm of Middle East pundits and investigative journalists. I regret Spencer wasn't with you walking the streets in Lebanon. Perhaps Hitchens could have baited him into tearing that poster down........

Then we could call it the "Spencer Effect".


Posted by: maxtrue Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 4:00 PM

An added note: Below is the more comlex events Spencer often leaves out of his "complete" picture of the Middle East. This kind of situation is not your historical norm. Such ground realities are often missing from the neat bipolar view of the world.

I see Michael noted the same thing I did regarding Iran's connection to Iraq. If more journalists had the courage and impartiality to report the real dynamics of conflict, both US policies and our "imnformed" debate, which Spencer finds deplorably lacking, would be better served.

Juan Cole once declared that the Kurds and Sunnis would NEVER form an alliance against the Shia, let alone AQ. Now was Coles right? So far, no.

Posted by: maxtrue Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 4:51 PM

I always felt Maliki hated Bush's guts. And, he pretty much understood the USA was a stooge for the saud's.

What needs to be said is that the Saud's didn't win. We were just left holding the bag.

On the other hand, Maliki used his influence, in Iran; especially with Sistani. Where the Iranians provided the terror, and the money, to counteract the sunnis in Irak.

There's been an enormous change on the ground with people who were once in IRak. And, are now gone. About half a million palestinians; stuck for some time at the border with syria, were all displaced. They had been brought in by Saddam.

The Pentagon, in America, got confused. They thought if they provided roads. And, hospitals. And sewage ... in other words turning the marines in a "corp of engineers" ... we'd win hearts and mind. We haven't won hearts and minds since Korea. And, we don't allow our fighters to fight. We just let the diplomats wrap it all in their scheme on things. Sad. There's no room for truth, anymore.

Posted by: Carol_Herman Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 5:12 PM

Michael, as a long time visitor, and an infrequent commenter, let me just say that after reading your informed analysis for the last five years, I think I trust your account more than Spencer's (or Bostom's). I fear that Spencer, and those who share his view seem to operating under an absolutist "war with Islam/there is no such thing as moderate Islam" mindset, and it clouds his thinking.

Hey Max, good seeing you again.

Posted by: Rafique Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 6:18 PM

Apparently, Andrew Bostom used to be a real writer before he took on the job of serving as a pit bull for Robert Spencer and clique. Whenever someone raises the slightest objection to anything Spencer writes, we can count on Bostom to start barking. As a result of his efforts, Bostom's career will probably follow Spencer's as it is unceremoniously flushed away.

Spencer and his anti-jihad Mean Girls clique have a certain M.O. They go on the rampage whenever a writer and/or blogger:

1. Disagrees with Spencer or a member of the anti-jihad clique
2. Says something positive about Bosnian Muslims or Albanians
3. Says something negative about Serbian nationalism
3. Says something negative about Eurofascist groups like Vlaams Belang
4. Does not worship Geert Wilders
5. Says something positive about Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs

Bruce Bawer, author of "While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within" and "Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom", said this about the so-called “anti-jihad” bloggers and writers who are advocating alliances with European fascist parties:

I happen to be aware of this new state of affairs because during the last year or so I’ve been scolded by a number of respected and accomplished writers for refusing to make nice with Vlaams Belang. Some of them have done this gently, pleadingly; others, who once addressed me with civility and respect as a fellow independent writer, have taken a harsh and hectoring, and in two or three cases even a condescending and bullying tone with me, as if they’re the bosses of some political machine and I’m an irksome underling who’s deviating from the party line....What the hell, one is entitled to wonder, is going on here? Why has Vlaams Belang, of all things, become a veritable sacred cow for so many anti-jihadist writers? ..I can’t honestly say that I understand any of it. But I do know this: when writers who represent themselves as champions of liberty start cozying up to distinctly illiberal parties like Vlaams Belang – and when one of those supposed champions of liberty starts to sound uncomfortably like the Islamist enemies of freedom whom he purports to despise – then there’s something terribly wrong, and genuinely evil, afoot.

Spencer and his clique use the same methods as other purveyors of hate and fear. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptists (The God hates F@gs people) have waged a battle against lesbians, gays and a whole host of other perceived enemies. They also intimidate critics by doing what Spencer and his crew do - they:

1. Befriend a recognized authority, who will serve as their pit bull when needed
2. Threaten critics with libel suits and join in harassing them, often with mean-spirited personal attacks

The Westboro church has managed to intimidate the entire town of Topeka, Kansas using these methods, but one Manhattan synagogue managed to turn the tables on the Westboro church hate mongers - When they knew that the group planned to attack them, they asked supporters to pledge a dollar or more for every minute that six protesters stood near their synagogue hurling epithets and holding signs that read “God Hates F@gs” and “Jews Stole the Land.” The final haul after 50 minutes: $10,000.

Maybe we could donate a certain amount of money to writers like Michael Totten, Charles Johnson and Bruce Bawer for every epithet, every nasty personal attack, every harassing email sent and every threat of lawsuits that Spencer and co. issue...?

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 8:58 PM

Now every comment is going into the spam folder and has to be manually authorized. Ugh. I have no idea why this is happening. My settings are correct. Something is wrong with the software.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 10:06 PM


Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 11:43 PM

Ok, comments without links seem to get through now. But comments with links still end up in the spam folder even though I set the system up not to do that. Still investigating...

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at July 14, 2009 11:44 PM

I thought that Bostom's compilation on Jihad (which I reviewed here) was very valuable, simply because it assembled many primary and secondary sources in an effective way.

I find his blog much less valuable, since he has a very absolutist line of thought. It is all very well--indeed, sometimes desperately important--to tease out the logic of belief. It is quite another to assume that the logic of belief is the logic of believers. People are not just defined by their overt belief system.

This blog is far superior, since Michael Totten has such an open and enquiring mind and is willing to talk to people, from a wide range of perspectives. So, keep up the good work Michael.

Posted by: Lorenzo Author Profile Page at July 15, 2009 2:04 AM

"There seems to be a problem with my comments section. Any comment that includes a link gets deleted, and not by me. I didn't reject a comment from you yesterday. It just disappeared. I'm trying to fix this, but don't know what's causing it. I thought there was a setting somewhere that I could use to limit the number of links, but I can't seem to find it..."

I had this experience too one or two times.

Few days ago I posted a comment with a link and got this page in response:

Michael J. Totten
Thank you for commenting.

Your comment has been received and held for approval by the blog owner.

Return to the original entry.

My comment did not appear on the list of replies.

Hope it helps.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at July 15, 2009 5:24 AM

5. Says something positive about Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs

Yeah, and the thing is, Charles Johnson used to count himself amongst their ranks, but rightly broke with his former allies because of their support for Vlaams Belang. He's seen as the enemy now, in their eyes.

Posted by: Rafique Author Profile Page at July 15, 2009 8:43 AM


I do not have an exact transcript of the comment the NYT plays upon, why? Because he didn't say it.

He said simply, The US pulling out of the cities was a great victory for Iraq. He did not add 'against foreign occupiers'.

However, what I do have is an exact transcript of what followed...

“I, and you, are sure that many don’t want us to succeed and celebrate this victory,” he said. “They are getting themselves ready to move in the dark to destabilize the situation, but we will be ready for them, God willing.”

Placed in context, it becomes obvious he is not speaking about the US, rather those such as Al Qaida. Mostly Sauds, Syrians and Persians.

Posted by: MaYHeM Author Profile Page at July 15, 2009 12:44 PM
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