Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Morale and controversy

This actually caught my eye in a local rag on the train today, it's splashed all over the place now (if you can call filler headings and bottom of page eyecatchers "splash").

Bad morale at the office? Letter shows terrorists have it, too

The military says U.S.-led forces have recovered a letter they believe is addressed to wanted militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The letter was found during a raid in Baghdad a few days ago.

The military says the letter complains of low morale among Zarqawi's followers and about the incompetence of leaders in his terror network.

It says the letter is addressed to "the sheik" and praises him for being "a thorn in the mouth of the Americans."

I was all ready to write a post about how authentic the letter might be, and how struck I was by the literate and democratic approach these disgruntled insurgents have taken.

I was going to write a post that went something like;

It kind of sheds light on a few things really, and calls a few preconceptions into question. Far from the popularpolarised "terrorists driven by merciless and irreproachable leaders" hype, these guys have equitably just gotten together and written a letter to their commandant, a bit like you might do if you were a union member. I mean, how many other armies in the world cultivate foot soldiers with the gumption to question command center operations? It sounds almost democratic, which is more then can be said for certain pro-combatant armchair bloggers who ban guest-posters the moment "friends" question "the party line" (remember the days when blogging was supposed to all be about independence and saying what you couldn't say anywhere else?).

So what does "the letter" say? A few things really, whoever wrote the letter isn't afraid to discuss difference or air grievance (openly expresses leadership incompetence complaint) has enough political savvy to soften dissent by appealing to it's recipients ego (letter addressed to "The sheik ~ Thorn in the mouth of the Americans") is literate, vocal, and rather then tossing arms in the air and walking off the letter-writer has outlined, in print, some areas that could do with a makeover. The letter-writer is committed to making improvements. And understands bargain power, implying a politically and economically astute letter-writer.

Well yes, I was going to write a post all about that. Then I started reading various versions of the story and returned to my gut response, which leaves me wondering if the whole thing wasn't just a fraud afterall.

And I seem to have company there. Today the Boston Globe headlines "Possible letter to Zarqawi eyed" the San Diego Union Tribune publishes "US-led forces recover letter believed for al-Zarqawi" while the Long Beach Press-Telegram writes "Letter may have been to al-Zarqawi" (and with four short paragraphs has managed to A not waste space and B pad out the two paragraph press release everyone else published). The LBPress;

"The US military released (?!) a letter it believes was addressed to terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi... The letter's authenticity could not be independently confirmed."
The Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar) is going with US military authentication, helpfully pointing out that "An English translation of the letter was posted on a US military website." Apparently the letter urges Zarqawi "do not hear from just one side, even if that person was close to you. But hear from all sides so the facts will become clear to you." Which just seems a bit weird if you ask me. A bit weird, Gulf Times, noting;

"the letter was captured in a US raid in Baghdad on April 28"
Plus The Washington Times says the letter is "dated April 27".

Letter dated April 27? Letter captured April 28?

As to what has happened to the letter writer or where he/she might be now, nobody is saying.

The letter was apparently written in Arabic by Abu Asim al Qusayami al Yemeni, but all the press releases seem to be in english and include such statements (translated) as "We have leaders that are not capable of being good leaders," and "We are not accusing them without reason, but we have tested them and found them incapable." Assuming Yemeni is talking about cell leaders. Go figure.


#5/08/2005 05:09:00 pm Assalam Aleikom Anonymous Eddy

One other thing.. Doesn't Arabic have it's own calendar? Wouldn't dating it using the Julian calendar indicate that the writer has some english speaking background?

Hark back to the anthrax letter days just afer 9/11. They determined that the letters must have been written by a US citizen because the date was month/day/year when all other english speaking nations use day/month/year. The "April 28" style seems to have US origins too.

Of course, this could have been lost in translation, but you covered that pretty well. :-)


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