Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot

While the disappearance of French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot and their Syrian driver Mohammed Al-Yundi on August 24, 2004, in the US occupation zone in Iraq caused a silence of dismay, the message of their kidnappers, aired four days later, provoked a worldwide protest.

It’s a video in which the two French journalists speak one after the other while the kidnappers can not be seen. An attached communiqué indicated that the two men had been kidnapped by the Islamic Army of Iraq who demanded that France repeal the “law of the veil” and gave 48 hours for a response. Nothing was said about Mohammed Al-Yundi anymore.

The Blackmail

It is important, above all, to analyze the form of this document.

The tape was anonymously received by Al-Jazeera where other tapes with the same signature had been received. The television network can also confirm that the different tapes signed by the “Islamic Army of Iraq” came from the same source.
The production was different to that of usual videos of other clandestine groups of the Near East. The production was very meticulous and the editing, very precise: two brief fixed shots. The kidnappers are not seen.

The messages were recorded in French and also in Arab so that the tape could be broadcast by French and Arab networks. However, the French television networks, except for the LCI which has decided not to relapse into the same error, refused to air it to prevent the kidnappers from imposing their game.
Two days later, a second video was broadcast. The realization was similar but, on this occasion, both journalists spoke in English. The kidnappers, who realized that the French networks did not air the first video tape, then addressed the English-speaking public.

Let us now analyze the content of the video.

As Hasan Gharib - author of the work of reference on the Iraqi public and clandestine political groups - indicated, the name “Islamic Army of Iraq” does not refer to any organization known in the field of the opposition forces. It did not leave any trail in media outlets after it provoked the withdrawal of the Philippine government.
In a video-communiqué broadcast on July 10th by Al Jazeera, Angelo de la Cruz said he was a hostage of the “Islamic Army of Iraq” and asked President Gloria Arroyo to withdraw her troops in 72 hours or he would be executed by his kidnappers. The Philippines yielded to the blackmail on July 12th. They withdrew their troops on July 20th and the hostage was freed. Many members of the coalition criticized Manila’s weakness while the “Islamic Army of Iraq” appeared like the only resistance group who had defeated a foreign contingent.
But it was a theatrical production. The so-called “Islamic Army of Iraq”, aiming at freeing its country from the occupation by more than 200,000 foreign military men and mercenaries, had chosen the Philippine contingent - comprised of only 80 men - as their target. They demanded their withdrawal for any moment before July 20th when, actually, their withdrawal was already taking place and would conclude on August 20th. In fact, all what they achieved was that a group of some 30 Philippine policemen were moved to Kuwait a month in advance. The Philippines, a former US colony, has no major experience in matters of foreign policy and its army is completely trained, provided and equipped by the Pentagon. President Gloria Arroyo had been chosen by Bill Clinton, a close friend from college. In other words, the early withdrawal was not significant at all and the decision could have not been made without Washington’s approval, no matter what the public statements may have been.

The same signature appeared again with the kidnapping and murder of Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni. On this occasion, they tried to force Rome to withdraw its 3,000 men in Iraq in less than 48 hours. However, according to the Italian press, it seemed that Baldoni was not executed but that he died in prison. So, the operation may have failed although we don’t know the how the script was originally conceived. [1].

Enzo Baldoni

The claim regarding the abolition of the «law of the veil», made by the organization in exchange for the lives of the French hostages, has nothing to do with the Iraqi reality. While the country remains occupied by foreign powers, the “Islamic Army of Iraq” tries to modify a law in a sympathizing country. Thus, it would be a surprise that their silent partners are Iraqis. The kidnappers know that the legislation goes into effect on September 6 and that any decision should be made before the weekend. However, they ignore - or pretend to ignore - that only the Parliament can repeal a law and the Parliament is in recess.

The reason of the kidnapping and the blackmail is not faith but vandalism. All Muslim religious authorities have condemned it and they have done it since it became a usual practice in Iraq. Thus, it is not likely that the “Islamic Army of Iraq” be inspired by the Muslim faith.

We can draw our first conclusions from these elements.

As ayatollah Alí Jameini already said, the «Islamic Army of Iraq»is evidently not comprised of Iraqi Muslims. It does not have any contacts with other opposition groups, public or clandestine, and only officially talks with the government of Allawi, the one that, ironically, it pretends to fight. The issue in this matter is not freeing Iraq but interfering in the French political life.

The Reactions

Let us now analyze the reaction of French authorities.

Once the news was known, the Prime Minister called a crisis cabinet meeting. The Interior Minister called the French Council of the Muslim Cult (FCMC). The Prime Minister called a second crisis cabinet meeting and then contacted the presidents of the two Assemblies. The president of the republic addressed the nation. The following day, the Foreign Minister met in Cairo with the Secretary General of the Arab League and also with his Egyptian counterpart and, in Alexandria, with the head of the Egyptian information services. A French military and diplomatic delegation then traveled to Baghdad. The president of the republic talked to his Russian counterpart and with the German Chancellor in Sotchi. The Foreign Minister visited Amman to meet with the head of the Jordanian information services. In less than three days, the French diplomatic networks asked and obtained the support of all renowned religious Muslim leaders and of all Arab institutions and political organizations.

This reaction, compared with those that followed the kidnappings in Lebanon or Yugoslavia, may seem out of proportion. At the same time, the claim of the kidnappers is almost grotesque. As it happens with the reaction of the Arab states, it can not be understood unless one is aware of the hidden interests of those involved.

A careful reading of the address of the president of the republic to the nation shows us an interest in not naming the kidnappers, thus leaving a door open for a future identification. The head of state announced the mission given to the Foreign Minister putting above all the principle of laicism, not as a reference to the controversial law of the veil but as an antidote to the US project of a war of civilizations.

Let us now focus on the reaction of the Collaboration Iraqi authorities.

Iyad Allaoui

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who does not hide the fact that he worked for the British Intelligence Service (MI6), the US’s CIA, and also for the Egyptian and Jordanian services, made statements to some western journalists during an informal debate. Le Monde reconstructed the events offering an interview-like artificial version. The statements were not confirmed in the same terms by the Anglo-Saxon journalists who were present in the discussion. But neither these journalists nor Allawi rejected them. The Prime Minister, who - let’s bear this in mind - is the only person who has had direct contact with the «Islamic Army of Iraq», explained that the French refusal to support the Coalition does not protect Paris from terrorism. On the contrary, according to his opinion, terrorist attacks will take place within the states that do not back the Coalition, even in US cities where they favor the withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq [2].

In short, Allawi frequents the “Islamic Army of Iraq” enough to know what their next targets will be. And he threatens the states and groups that oppose the Coalition with attacks, not only against their interests in Iraq but also in their own national territories.

Let us see the reactions of the US and Israeli authorities.

In Washington, the State Department did not mention the incident. The White House spokesperson answered a question from a journalist during a meeting of presidential candidate Bush saying that the terrorists want to undermine the stability of the international community. And that was all as to official statements. George Bush Sr. declared to the NBC that, seeing what was happening to them, the French had to step forwards as President Bush was right about the terrorists - a clairvoyant analysis similar to that of US leaders after the attacks in Madrid, although it was not shared by the Spanish voters. The US media broadcast the second video, recorded in English for them. The two hostages call the French to demonstrate against the law of the veil, which the US State Department had condemned. The voice in the video said that the French government was harvesting what they sowed for keeping an intolerant behavior with the Muslims and a relaxed one with the terrorists.

Tel Aviv, usually so prolix in commenting anything that happens in the region remained completely silent.

The diplomatic change

To conclude, let us see the French strategy.

Since the very beginning, Jacques Chirac realized that the crisis went far beyond the matter of the lives of the two hostages or the law of the veil, and that the main issue was France’s diplomatic position in the face of the US project of a war of civilizations. As we have constantly repeated over the last three years to governments and media of the Muslim world, the long-term French diplomacy is not led by ephemeral interests but by the republican social contract. No matter what the vicissitudes of its leaders may be, France always keeps a lay conception in its international relations. France intrinsically opposes the project of a war of civilizations as its very existence is based on the reverse principle: living together without any discrimination based on private properties or convictions. According to the French viewpoint, the war of civilizations is not a war between the East and the West, but a civil war, not because of matters of internal demographic balance among communities but because it is about the very definition of the republican project.

While this operation of psychological war was conceived to cause a division among the French and to have them face diplomatic contradictions, the Elysium has turned the situation and has transformed the drama into a unanimous accord of support from the Muslim world. And, in the face of everything that we have achieved over the last three years in the referred countries and whatever the lack of understanding in France, we can proudly claim our part in the success of this mobilization.
In the United States, the press leaks the declarations of Arab leaders, broadcasting the moral and religious condemnations of the kidnappings and hiding the political support received by the French diplomacy.
In a few days, France has seen how all the main actors of the Near East, except for the Iraqi collaborators and Israel, have recognized its consolidated diplomatic position and its leadership in opposing the warmongering of the Coalition. No Arab leader has any doubt about what is hiding behind the «Islamic Army of Iraq» even when an open and public explanation by France has not been necessary.

[1“The claim of the kidnapping of Enzo Baldoni”,AFP, August 29,2004

[2«Iyad Allawi, Iraqi Prime Minister: France will not be safe. There will be attacks in Paris, in Niza, in Cannes, ...», Le Monde, August 30, 2004