June 1, 2006  

A busy week in The Long War

It has been, to put it very mildly, a busy week in The Long War; there have been important developments on many fronts. Consider just some of the highlights:

Last Saturday, Canadian intelligence and police officials arrested 17 people in Toronto, snagging a huge cache of explosives apparently intended for attacks on Canadian government buildings, including the parliament building in Ottawa. Most of the suspects were young students or workers who fed on the political debates swirling around Canada’s mosques and immigrant Muslim neighborhoods – Canada has become, like Western Europe, a breeding ground for Muslim extremists. "An attack on Canadian soil is now probable," the leading intelligence service reported to parliament last month.

On Sunday, warlords backed by radical Islamic factions and thought to be funded by Saudi and other extreme Sunni religious organizations drove secular warlords backed and funded by the CIA out of the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, after several weeks of intense fighting. Since Somalia completed its collapse in the wake of U.S. withdrawal following the 1993 "Black Hawk Down" operation, it has returned to being a refuge and battleground for al Qaeda fugitives, including the group linked to the bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998. The setback for the "seculars" in Mogadishu isn’t likely to be a decisive event in the fighting there, but the Bush Administration appears uncertain whether to continue to back its clients, who have retreated down the coast to the town of Baidoa, or to make a deal with the clerics now "ruling" in Mogadishu.

On Tuesday, Iran restarted important nuclear activity, inserting uranium into 164 centrifuges to begin the enrichment process. This also happened to be the day that the United States and five other major powers offered Tehran a package of incentives, presented by European Union foreign minister Javier Solana as an measure of "respect," but intended as carrots to get Iran to halt its enrichment program. Although Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed the Western concessions, he reiterated that he would never sacrifice any of Iran’s "rights" – in Tehran-speak, those include not only the right to make nuclear weapons but sponsor terrorist groups and eventually to become the dominant power in the Persian Gulf.

On Wednesday, Abu Musab al Zarqawi was killed in Iraq. The man who threw gasoline on the simmering ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iraq and whose sensationalized violence ? most notably the beheadings broadcast by Internet ? made him a larger-than-life symbol, was physically "eliminated," to use the phrase of Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki, even though the Zarqawi Effect will be with us for some time.

Altogether, a reminder of how the Long War extends over a vast theater, encompassing cultures and countries as diverse as can be, countries both linked and divided by divergent forms of Islam, and armed with AK-47s, RPGs and, increasingly, nuclear weapons. Fortunately, the biggest headline of the week, the death of Zarqawi, is also very good news, more important for its political and propaganda value than tactically or operationally. But the war continues, not only in Iraq but in many, many elsewheres.