Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bill Roggio

Re: Is Reconciliation “Soft”?

Max, the decision to release a large batch of Iranian backed terrorists, especially now, is, quite frankly, bizarre, when viewed from the perspective of our Iran policy, assuming we have one. Your recent observation on Afghanistan is apt in this context as well: “Unfortunately, I’m not sure Obama himself knows which is the strategy and which is the head fake. He seems fundamentally ambivalent about the war in Afghanistan — as he is about the war on terror and most other military endeavors — and that ambivalence is reflected in the form of policy incoherence.” As ambivalent and incoherent as Obama is on Afghanistan, the administration’s herky-jerky moves on Iran (e.g., hints one day of a John Kerry visit, tough talk from Obama on human rights the next day, and not very crippling sanctions suggested on another) are downright schizophrenic. Given all that, the release of Iranian-backed terrorists hardly helps the matter. It comes at the very same time that Obama is trying to convince domestic critics, allies, and, most importantly, Iran itself that he is going to get tougher with the mullahs. So how does the release of over 100 Iranian-backed terrorists look in that context?

Perhaps there are reasons why battlefield commanders in Iraq would like to proceed in this fashion. (Nevertheless, as Bill Roggio points out: “Qais Qazli wasn’t just some run of the mill Shia thug; his group is backed by Iran. Qazali’s men were trained by Iranian Qods Force to infiltrate and assault the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala in January 2007. Five US soldiers were killed during the kidnapping attempt. The US soldiers were executed after US and Iraqi security forces closed in on the assault team.”) Time will tell whether this is about “reconciliation” or whether it mounts up to just a distasteful and exceptionally lopsided ”prisoner swap,” as one military intelligence source put it.

However, there is a larger, looming problem: how to deal with the increasingly belligerent Iranian regime, which has ample reason already to doubt the resolve of the Obama administration. The symbolism of the release of a key terrorist (along with his many comrades) directly responsible for the deaths of Americans is awful. It was so bad, in fact, that it was done on New Year’s Eve in an effort, no doubt, to clamp down on domestic criticism. After the New Year’s revelry dies down, however, I expect that the release will be touted by Qazali’s Iranian backers, who will interpret this as not a cagey deal by U.S. commanders in Iraq but rather as another sign of squishiness by Obama. The mullahs and their henchmen will, doubtless, remain entirely unimpressed with the Obama administration’s promise to get “tough” with the worst of the worst within the Iranian regime.

Max, the decision to release a large batch of Iranian backed terrorists, especially now, is, quite frankly, bizarre, when viewed from the perspective of our Iran policy, assuming we have one. Your recent observation on Afghanistan is apt in this context as well: “Unfortunately, I’m not sure Obama himself knows which is the strategy and which is the head fake. He seems fundamentally ambivalent about the war in Afghanistan — as he is about the war on terror and most other military endeavors — and that ambivalence is reflected in the form of policy incoherence.” As ambivalent and incoherent as Obama is on Afghanistan, the administration’s herky-jerky moves on Iran (e.g., hints one day of a John Kerry visit, tough talk from Obama on human rights the next day, and not very crippling sanctions suggested on another) are downright schizophrenic. Given all that, the release of Iranian-backed terrorists hardly helps the matter. It comes at the very same time that Obama is trying to convince domestic critics, allies, and, most importantly, Iran itself that he is going to get tougher with the mullahs. So how does the release of over 100 Iranian-backed terrorists look in that context?

Perhaps there are reasons why battlefield commanders in Iraq would like to proceed in this fashion. (Nevertheless, as Bill Roggio points out: “Qais Qazli wasn’t just some run of the mill Shia thug; his group is backed by Iran. Qazali’s men were trained by Iranian Qods Force to infiltrate and assault the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala in January 2007. Five US soldiers were killed during the kidnapping attempt. The US soldiers were executed after US and Iraqi security forces closed in on the assault team.”) Time will tell whether this is about “reconciliation” or whether it mounts up to just a distasteful and exceptionally lopsided ”prisoner swap,” as one military intelligence source put it.

However, there is a larger, looming problem: how to deal with the increasingly belligerent Iranian regime, which has ample reason already to doubt the resolve of the Obama administration. The symbolism of the release of a key terrorist (along with his many comrades) directly responsible for the deaths of Americans is awful. It was so bad, in fact, that it was done on New Year’s Eve in an effort, no doubt, to clamp down on domestic criticism. After the New Year’s revelry dies down, however, I expect that the release will be touted by Qazali’s Iranian backers, who will interpret this as not a cagey deal by U.S. commanders in Iraq but rather as another sign of squishiness by Obama. The mullahs and their henchmen will, doubtless, remain entirely unimpressed with the Obama administration’s promise to get “tough” with the worst of the worst within the Iranian regime.

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Is Reconciliation “Soft”?

Conservative bloggers such as Bill Roggio, Andrew McCarthy, and our own Jennifer Rubin, are understandably irate over news that U.S. forces have released imprisoned terrorist leader Qais Qazali (also spelled Khazali) at the same time that his group, the Asaib al-Haq (AAH), has released British hostage Peter Moore. They see this as another sign of the Obama administration’s weakness in the face of terrorism. “No conceivable justification for this one” reads the headline over Jen’s blog item.

Whether this deal is justified or not remains to be seen, but I do think there is a reasonable justification for it and I don’t see this as evidence of Obama’s supineness in dealing with Iran. (There’s plenty of other evidence to make that case.) The fact is that under the U.S.-Iraq security accord brokered by the Bush administration, our forces’ legal right to hold detainees in Iraq has essentially expired. We have released most of our detainees. We are still holding a few hard-core terrorists at the sufferance of the Iraqi government but even that arrangement will not last long, with U.S. forces drawing down to 50,000 in September and to zero (or close to it) by the end of 2011. While U.S. forces have been moving into an “over-watch” role, Iraqis have stepped forward with a fair extent of success, notwithstanding some high-profile bombings in Baghdad. As General David Petraeus noted at a ceremony in Baghdad marking the inauguration of a new U.S. command, U.S. Forces-Iraq, “insurgent attacks have dropped from more than 200 a day two years ago to approximately 15 a day,” and no U.S. troops were killed in combat in December.

Part of this improvement is attributable to better security operations. But part is also due to a process of reconciliation that has been happening behind the scenes. We all know about the former Sunni insurgents who, as part of the Sons of Iraq, have joined the governmental side in fighting against al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have received amnesty for attacks carried out when they were on the other side. (Some have subsequently been arrested on charges of breaking the law after joining the Sons of Iraq.)

Less well known is the fact that most Shiite insurgents have also laid down their arms, including most of the former Mahdist movement. Moqtada al-Sadr’s decline has led to the establishment of various breakaway factions, including the AAH, which is led by the Qazali brothers, supported by Iran’s Quds Force, and responsible for some gruesome attacks on U.S. forces in the past. The most notorious of them was a well-organized raid on the government center in Karbala in January 2007, which killed five American service members. In the spring of 2009, Laith Qazali was released from custody as part of a provisional arrangement whereby AAH agreed to stop mounting violent attacks. When I was in Iraq in October, I was told by American intelligence analysts that they believed AAH has largely stuck by its word. Hence the turnover of Qais to the Iraqis and his probable release.

All of these deals have been brokered by Prime Minister Maliki with the close oversight of General Ray Odierno, now the U.S. Forces-Iraq commander, and his boss, General Petraeus. They can hardly be accused of being “soft” on terrorism, yet they know that in the end warfare alone will not suffice to end an insurgency. There must be a process of political reconciliation, which involves accommodating even vile figures such as the Qazali brothers, who have American blood on their hands. It is the same realization reached by Lincoln, Churchill, and other great wartime commanders who understood that after the guns fell silent they would have to learn to live with former enemies.

Conservative bloggers such as Bill Roggio, Andrew McCarthy, and our own Jennifer Rubin, are understandably irate over news that U.S. forces have released imprisoned terrorist leader Qais Qazali (also spelled Khazali) at the same time that his group, the Asaib al-Haq (AAH), has released British hostage Peter Moore. They see this as another sign of the Obama administration’s weakness in the face of terrorism. “No conceivable justification for this one” reads the headline over Jen’s blog item.

Whether this deal is justified or not remains to be seen, but I do think there is a reasonable justification for it and I don’t see this as evidence of Obama’s supineness in dealing with Iran. (There’s plenty of other evidence to make that case.) The fact is that under the U.S.-Iraq security accord brokered by the Bush administration, our forces’ legal right to hold detainees in Iraq has essentially expired. We have released most of our detainees. We are still holding a few hard-core terrorists at the sufferance of the Iraqi government but even that arrangement will not last long, with U.S. forces drawing down to 50,000 in September and to zero (or close to it) by the end of 2011. While U.S. forces have been moving into an “over-watch” role, Iraqis have stepped forward with a fair extent of success, notwithstanding some high-profile bombings in Baghdad. As General David Petraeus noted at a ceremony in Baghdad marking the inauguration of a new U.S. command, U.S. Forces-Iraq, “insurgent attacks have dropped from more than 200 a day two years ago to approximately 15 a day,” and no U.S. troops were killed in combat in December.

Part of this improvement is attributable to better security operations. But part is also due to a process of reconciliation that has been happening behind the scenes. We all know about the former Sunni insurgents who, as part of the Sons of Iraq, have joined the governmental side in fighting against al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have received amnesty for attacks carried out when they were on the other side. (Some have subsequently been arrested on charges of breaking the law after joining the Sons of Iraq.)

Less well known is the fact that most Shiite insurgents have also laid down their arms, including most of the former Mahdist movement. Moqtada al-Sadr’s decline has led to the establishment of various breakaway factions, including the AAH, which is led by the Qazali brothers, supported by Iran’s Quds Force, and responsible for some gruesome attacks on U.S. forces in the past. The most notorious of them was a well-organized raid on the government center in Karbala in January 2007, which killed five American service members. In the spring of 2009, Laith Qazali was released from custody as part of a provisional arrangement whereby AAH agreed to stop mounting violent attacks. When I was in Iraq in October, I was told by American intelligence analysts that they believed AAH has largely stuck by its word. Hence the turnover of Qais to the Iraqis and his probable release.

All of these deals have been brokered by Prime Minister Maliki with the close oversight of General Ray Odierno, now the U.S. Forces-Iraq commander, and his boss, General Petraeus. They can hardly be accused of being “soft” on terrorism, yet they know that in the end warfare alone will not suffice to end an insurgency. There must be a process of political reconciliation, which involves accommodating even vile figures such as the Qazali brothers, who have American blood on their hands. It is the same realization reached by Lincoln, Churchill, and other great wartime commanders who understood that after the guns fell silent they would have to learn to live with former enemies.

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No Conceivable Justification for This One

Bill Roggio reports on the release of members of a  key Iranian-backed terror group:

The US military has freed Qais Qazali, the leader of the Asaib al Haq, or League of the Righteous, as well as his brother Laith, several Qods Force officers, and more than 100 members of the terror group, in exchange for [British hostage Peter] Moore. And that isn’t all. The British also received the corpses of three security contractors who were working to protect Moore when he was kidnapped at the Finance Ministry in Baghdad in May 2007. The three contractors were executed by the Asaib al Haq; another is also thought to have been killed. Qais Qazli wasn’t just some run of the mill Shia thug; his group is backed by Iran. Qazali’s men were trained by Iranian Qods Force to infiltrate and assault the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala in January 2007. Five US soldiers were killed during the kidnapping attempt. The US soldiers were executed after US and Iraqi security forces closed in on the assault team.

It is jaw-dropping, really. The mullahs are slaughtering people in the streets. They are pressing ahead with their nuclear program. The Obami, it is reported, are eschewing “crippling” sanctions in exchange for pinpricks targeted at discrete groups within Iran like the Revolutionary Guard. But instead, we release the very individuals who have conspired to slaughter American troops. What possible explanation is there for this? We are merely restocking the supply of terrorists, just as we have done by releasing Guantanamo detainees back to Yemen. Andy McCarthy observes:

In violation of the long-standing, commonsense policy against capitulating to kidnappers and terrorists because it just encourages more hostage-taking and murder, the terrorists were released in exchange for a British hostage and the remains of his three contract guards (whom the terrorists had murdered).  So, as the mullahs, America’s incorrigible enemies, struggle to hang on, we’re giving them accommodations and legitimacy. And the messages we send? Terrorize us and we’ll negotiate with you. Kill American troops or kidnap civilians and win valuable concessions — including the release of an army of jihadists, and its leaders, who can now go back to targeting American troops.

One struggles to understand this mindset. While the Obami prepare to rearrange the checkers on the TSA board and perhaps toss a player or two overboard, we get the sinking sensation that there is some bizarre set of priorities and some very cock-eyed worldview in operation here. Who are we assisting, and how does any of this make us safer?

When Congress returns next week, we will see if anyone on the Democratic side of the aisle in the House or Senate has the moxie and determination to call foul on the entire Obama approach to terror. It is long past the time for some serious Congressional oversight. Perhaps a post-11/5 (Fort Hood) or a post-12/25 (Flight 253) independent commission is in order.

Bill Roggio reports on the release of members of a  key Iranian-backed terror group:

The US military has freed Qais Qazali, the leader of the Asaib al Haq, or League of the Righteous, as well as his brother Laith, several Qods Force officers, and more than 100 members of the terror group, in exchange for [British hostage Peter] Moore. And that isn’t all. The British also received the corpses of three security contractors who were working to protect Moore when he was kidnapped at the Finance Ministry in Baghdad in May 2007. The three contractors were executed by the Asaib al Haq; another is also thought to have been killed. Qais Qazli wasn’t just some run of the mill Shia thug; his group is backed by Iran. Qazali’s men were trained by Iranian Qods Force to infiltrate and assault the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala in January 2007. Five US soldiers were killed during the kidnapping attempt. The US soldiers were executed after US and Iraqi security forces closed in on the assault team.

It is jaw-dropping, really. The mullahs are slaughtering people in the streets. They are pressing ahead with their nuclear program. The Obami, it is reported, are eschewing “crippling” sanctions in exchange for pinpricks targeted at discrete groups within Iran like the Revolutionary Guard. But instead, we release the very individuals who have conspired to slaughter American troops. What possible explanation is there for this? We are merely restocking the supply of terrorists, just as we have done by releasing Guantanamo detainees back to Yemen. Andy McCarthy observes:

In violation of the long-standing, commonsense policy against capitulating to kidnappers and terrorists because it just encourages more hostage-taking and murder, the terrorists were released in exchange for a British hostage and the remains of his three contract guards (whom the terrorists had murdered).  So, as the mullahs, America’s incorrigible enemies, struggle to hang on, we’re giving them accommodations and legitimacy. And the messages we send? Terrorize us and we’ll negotiate with you. Kill American troops or kidnap civilians and win valuable concessions — including the release of an army of jihadists, and its leaders, who can now go back to targeting American troops.

One struggles to understand this mindset. While the Obami prepare to rearrange the checkers on the TSA board and perhaps toss a player or two overboard, we get the sinking sensation that there is some bizarre set of priorities and some very cock-eyed worldview in operation here. Who are we assisting, and how does any of this make us safer?

When Congress returns next week, we will see if anyone on the Democratic side of the aisle in the House or Senate has the moxie and determination to call foul on the entire Obama approach to terror. It is long past the time for some serious Congressional oversight. Perhaps a post-11/5 (Fort Hood) or a post-12/25 (Flight 253) independent commission is in order.

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Not Done With The Mahdi Army

There is a strange quality to the repeated “ceasefires” between the Iraqi government and Moqtada al-Sadr. Bill Roggio reports that Iraqi and Coalition forces are currently engaged in anti-Sadrist operations in the eastern town of Abu Al Khasib, along the Iranian border. And they’re doing very well. The following is particularly interesting:

Abu Al Khasib is on Highway 6 at the border crossing with Iran at Shalamcheh. The Iranian city of Shalamcheh is the main forward operating base for the Ramazan Corps’s southernmost command. The Ramazan Corps is the Qods Force command assigned to direct operations inside Iraq. Weapons, fighters, and cash smuggled across the border into Basrah would pass through Abu Al Khasib.

The Iraqi Army has been expanding its operations along the Iranian supply routes in the South during the month of May. After clearing the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed militias from Basrah, operations have expanded into Az Zubayr and Al Qurnah.

Iraqi troops from the 1st Iraqi Army Division entered Az Zubayr on May 25. Az Zubayr, which is just southeast of Basrah, sits at the crossroads to Nasariyah, a tactical distribution hub for Iranian weapons. Mahdi Army Special groups would pass through Az Zubayr as they moved weapons from Iran to Basrah to Nasariyah. Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a Special Groups financier and weapons smuggler in Az Zubayr on May 21.

Prime Minister Maliki is going after the Iranian support system, which puts a crimp in theories about the Iraqi government’s affection for Ahmadinejad.

Roggio also reports that Iraqi forces are continuing to clamp down on Sadrists in Baghdad, where eleven Mahdi Army members have been rounded up in the last 24 hours. It has become clear that the Iraqi Army, once laughed off as perpetually weak and green, is now involved in decisions and operations too fast-paced and complex for the mainstream media to follow. The New York Times coverage of Basra and Sadr City was so misleading, I find it barely pays to turn to any but experts such as Roggio on these matters.

There is a strange quality to the repeated “ceasefires” between the Iraqi government and Moqtada al-Sadr. Bill Roggio reports that Iraqi and Coalition forces are currently engaged in anti-Sadrist operations in the eastern town of Abu Al Khasib, along the Iranian border. And they’re doing very well. The following is particularly interesting:

Abu Al Khasib is on Highway 6 at the border crossing with Iran at Shalamcheh. The Iranian city of Shalamcheh is the main forward operating base for the Ramazan Corps’s southernmost command. The Ramazan Corps is the Qods Force command assigned to direct operations inside Iraq. Weapons, fighters, and cash smuggled across the border into Basrah would pass through Abu Al Khasib.

The Iraqi Army has been expanding its operations along the Iranian supply routes in the South during the month of May. After clearing the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed militias from Basrah, operations have expanded into Az Zubayr and Al Qurnah.

Iraqi troops from the 1st Iraqi Army Division entered Az Zubayr on May 25. Az Zubayr, which is just southeast of Basrah, sits at the crossroads to Nasariyah, a tactical distribution hub for Iranian weapons. Mahdi Army Special groups would pass through Az Zubayr as they moved weapons from Iran to Basrah to Nasariyah. Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a Special Groups financier and weapons smuggler in Az Zubayr on May 21.

Prime Minister Maliki is going after the Iranian support system, which puts a crimp in theories about the Iraqi government’s affection for Ahmadinejad.

Roggio also reports that Iraqi forces are continuing to clamp down on Sadrists in Baghdad, where eleven Mahdi Army members have been rounded up in the last 24 hours. It has become clear that the Iraqi Army, once laughed off as perpetually weak and green, is now involved in decisions and operations too fast-paced and complex for the mainstream media to follow. The New York Times coverage of Basra and Sadr City was so misleading, I find it barely pays to turn to any but experts such as Roggio on these matters.

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Losing Ground

In today’s New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin has composed a classic head-scratcher in writing about the new truce between the Iraqi government and Sadrists in Sadr City:

The decision to negotiate a cease-fire came as both parties appeared to realize that they were losing ground.

Not every interaction contains a zero-sum dynamic, but I’m pretty sure warfare does. If both parties are losing ground, then this is truly a new kind of combat. Rubin writes: “It is not clear who won . . .” and then strains to make it so. Note the novel use of “as well” in the second paragraph:

The Iraqi government has done little to ease the crisis and allow medical and other aid to reach people. There has been almost no effort to repair the shattered neighborhood, where burned-out cars and piles of bricks from bomb-damaged houses are common sights..

For the Shiite militias, losses have been rising as well. They are suffering more casualties and are also being blamed for the deaths of some civilians, who frequently bear the brunt of the gun battles. More than 30 people have been killed there since Thursday.

Furthermore, the political establishment appears to have turned against them, at least for now.

While it’s obvious that the Sadrist militias are taking heavy losses, the truth is that the fight is still raging, despite the cease-fire. Check out Bill Roggio for genuinely insightful coverage of ongoing operations.

In today’s New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin has composed a classic head-scratcher in writing about the new truce between the Iraqi government and Sadrists in Sadr City:

The decision to negotiate a cease-fire came as both parties appeared to realize that they were losing ground.

Not every interaction contains a zero-sum dynamic, but I’m pretty sure warfare does. If both parties are losing ground, then this is truly a new kind of combat. Rubin writes: “It is not clear who won . . .” and then strains to make it so. Note the novel use of “as well” in the second paragraph:

The Iraqi government has done little to ease the crisis and allow medical and other aid to reach people. There has been almost no effort to repair the shattered neighborhood, where burned-out cars and piles of bricks from bomb-damaged houses are common sights..

For the Shiite militias, losses have been rising as well. They are suffering more casualties and are also being blamed for the deaths of some civilians, who frequently bear the brunt of the gun battles. More than 30 people have been killed there since Thursday.

Furthermore, the political establishment appears to have turned against them, at least for now.

While it’s obvious that the Sadrist militias are taking heavy losses, the truth is that the fight is still raging, despite the cease-fire. Check out Bill Roggio for genuinely insightful coverage of ongoing operations.

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Actually, the Extremists Won’t Win

Those who oppose promoting democracy in the Muslim world often argue that in a free vote the extremists will win. That may be true in some cases but not in Pakistan. There, the extremist Islamic parties have never won more than 12 percent of the vote and in Monday’s election they saw their vote collapse. As noted by blogger Bill Roggio, the pro-Taliban Muttahida Majlis-e-Amil, or MMA, “has won only three seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly and has lost control over the Northwest Frontier Province. Maualana Fazlur Rahman, the party’s president, lost his seat in the national election.” The big winner, of course, was the Pakistan People’s Party, which has its own problems but which is a moderate party whose last leader was assassinated by the extremists.

This tends to confirm what we’ve seen elsewhere in the Muslim world: While extremist parties may do well initially, their failure to provide effective governance soon costs them popular support. That has been true in Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors and in Afghanistan under the Taliban. The problem is that in those countries the Islamist parties would not allow themselves to be voted out of office. In Pakistan, by contrast, democratic institutions still survive, albeit imperfectly, allowing the Islamists to be ousted.

In many ways, the failure of Islamists to govern effectively—the latest example being Hamas in the Gaza Strip—provides the strongest argument against these parties. If tomorrow they were somehow to take over every country in the Muslim world, it would not be long before almost all Muslims had turned against them. Of course the world would pay a high price for such an experiment. Let us hope Muslims elsewhere can learn from the experience of those places where Islamists have taken power without having to go through the process again and again.

Those who oppose promoting democracy in the Muslim world often argue that in a free vote the extremists will win. That may be true in some cases but not in Pakistan. There, the extremist Islamic parties have never won more than 12 percent of the vote and in Monday’s election they saw their vote collapse. As noted by blogger Bill Roggio, the pro-Taliban Muttahida Majlis-e-Amil, or MMA, “has won only three seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly and has lost control over the Northwest Frontier Province. Maualana Fazlur Rahman, the party’s president, lost his seat in the national election.” The big winner, of course, was the Pakistan People’s Party, which has its own problems but which is a moderate party whose last leader was assassinated by the extremists.

This tends to confirm what we’ve seen elsewhere in the Muslim world: While extremist parties may do well initially, their failure to provide effective governance soon costs them popular support. That has been true in Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors and in Afghanistan under the Taliban. The problem is that in those countries the Islamist parties would not allow themselves to be voted out of office. In Pakistan, by contrast, democratic institutions still survive, albeit imperfectly, allowing the Islamists to be ousted.

In many ways, the failure of Islamists to govern effectively—the latest example being Hamas in the Gaza Strip—provides the strongest argument against these parties. If tomorrow they were somehow to take over every country in the Muslim world, it would not be long before almost all Muslims had turned against them. Of course the world would pay a high price for such an experiment. Let us hope Muslims elsewhere can learn from the experience of those places where Islamists have taken power without having to go through the process again and again.

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