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Monday, September 01, 2003

On the Strengths of Blogging

Calpundit is less than convinced that Blogs continue to outperform print and electronic media, but he does suggest that they can serve an excellent role in highlighting issues and rounding up news on a topic. I would add to this 'provide reflective analysis'. An excellent case in point is informed comment where University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole provides interesting background analysis on Iraq. For example:

My reasoning in blaming the Baath Party for the (Najaf) bombing:

I don't believe that Muqtada al-Sadr or his followers would risk damaging the Shrine of Imam `Ali, among the holiest sites in Shiite Islam, with a huge truck bomb. They are if anything overly sensitive to the holiness of Shiite symbols. I know it is easy for secularized Westerners to be cynical about an argument that "he wouldn't do that." But I really do not think someone with his views and context would.............

In contrast, this move makes perfect sense for Saddam loyalists. They have not scrupled to damage the shrine in the past, when they put down the 1991 uprising. Saddam sent out a videotape around August 15 calling on the Shiite clergy to declare jihad against the Americans. All of the major Shiite clerics, including Baqir al-Hakim rejected and derided this call. I believe that this bombing was the Saddam loyalists' response to that rebuttal. It also punishes Baqir al-Hakim for cooperating with the Americans and for his years of guerrilla attacks on the Baath from Iran.

The Najaf bombing looks an awful lot like the bombing of the Jordanian embassy and the bombing of the UN headquarters. I now think all three are the work of Saddam loyalists, not of Sunni radicals with al-Qaeda links. All three targeted key de facto allies of the US, and have resulted in isolating it further. The Red Cross, Oxfam, and other aid agencies have much reduced their operations after the bombing of the UN headquarters, and IMF and World Bank officials have left, postponing important economic measures. Major Shiite clerics other than al-Hakim and his brother Abdul Aziz have refused direct contact with the Americans, and this reluctance is likely to have just been reinforced.

My considered opinion is that Saddam and the Baath loyalists have reverted to their old 1960s cell structure and are carefully planning out a series of high-profile attacks that have great strategic yield. The Baath wasn't much as a military power in the 1990s, but as masters of dirty politics they still have no peer. Ask Abdel Karim Qasim, the Arif brothers, and the thousands of dead among the al-Da`wa Party officers and rank and file.

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