January 28, 2008

Co-opting al-Qaeda in Yemen

Abu Muqawama failed to link to the Guardian's obituary of George Habash yesterday, which he damn well should have done because it just figures that David Hirst -- fluent in Arabic; longtime correspondent for the Guardian; has lived in Lebanon since the 1960s -- would write the best obituary. Hirst ... man, that guy was everything as a reporter that Robert Fisk is said to be but isn't. (Although Fisk is, if nothing else, a brilliant writer. You can't take that away from him.)

That said, U.S. newspapers are getting smarter about the reporters they put in the Middle East. Abu Muqawama, for example, met Robert Worth when he was halfway through a full year of intensive Arabic prior to being placed in the Middle East for the New York Times. (Michael Slackman, who is a great reporter for the NYT in the Middle East, does not speak Arabic that well -- if at all -- if memory serves correct.) Worth had been in Baghdad prior to his language training and being sent to the region. That strikes Abu Muqawama as the way to do it. Would we send a reporter to Mexico who couldn't speak any Spanish?

Today, Worth reports from Yemen, where the Yemeni government's catch, co-opt, and release approach to dealing with terror suspects has not won over that government's U.S. allies.

...American counterterrorism officials and even some Yemenis say the Yemeni government, more than others in the region, is in effect striking a deal that helps stop attacks here while leaving jihadists largely free to plan them elsewhere. They also say the Yemeni government caters too much to radical Islamist figures to improve its political standing, nourishing a culture that could ultimately breed more violence.

“Yemen is like a bus station — we stop some terrorists, and we send others on to fight elsewhere,” said Murad Abdul Wahed Zafir, a political analyst at the National Democratic Institute in Sana. “We appease our partners in the West, but we are not really helping.”

Read this story, because it was only a few years ago that Abu Muqawama kept hearing about how the Yemenis had really cracked the code for dealing with al-Qaeda. Clearly, some people think they have, while others think they're just striking easy deals that will come back to haunt both Yemen and everyone else. It's an interesting debate. (This story quotes Gregory Johnsen, a PhD candidate at Princeton and friend of this blogger who, honestly, knows more about Yemen than any nice American boy should.)

P.S. This blog had almost 18,000 visits last week, including over 15,000 unique visitors. That has to be the most visitors we have ever had in our less-than-a-year-long existence. Thanks to all our readers.