Alija Izetbegovic: A Retrospective Look at
His Impact on Balkan Stability
International Strategic Studies Association - December 8, 2003
Analysis. By Vojin Joksimovich. Alija Izetbegovic, President of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) 1990-96, rotating president 1996-2000 and the 1994 winner of King Faisal Award and 2001 the Figure of the Year in the Islamic World, spent most of his life dreaming of a Muslim-led independent B&H. His US supporters and admirers, such as former US President William Clinton, Clinton’s Balkans envoy Richard Holbrooke, former US Ambassador to Belgrade Warren Zimmermann and various handmaidens in the media characterized him as a devout Muslim but committed to a multi-ethnic and democratic Bosnia. They claimed that Serbs and Croats only painted him as an Islamic supremacist, and that this was not the case. But the two prison terms and his writings, as the “Islamic Declaration” discussed below, defeat that argument.
As US-based Bosnian writer Nebojsa Malic has concluded: “Izetbegovic’s vision of Bosnia was not a multi-ethnic democracy, but a multi-caste hierarchy of the kind that existed under the Ottoman Empire, the memories of which were still fresh at his birth in 1925” [Malic, 10/22/03]. Jonathan Eyal, director of London-based Royal United Services Institute, stated that Izetbegovic was not only responsible for atrocities committed by Bosnian Muslims, Iranian and Arab mujahedin, the declaration of independence, which was unnecessary and when it was abundantly clear that it was leading to the war, for gambling with the destiny of his people, but also for the corrupt, single party state he was attempting to establish and for the rule through nepotism [Eyal, 2003].
It is incongruous to claim that the author of the “Islamic Declaration” and he winner of the Islamic Figure of the Year award from King Fahd in Saudi Arabia is somehow not an Islamic supremacist! His writings are as Islamic fundamentalist as it gets. In order to succeed in their public relations construct for deceiving the American people, Clinton, et. al. concealed from the American public Izetbegovic’s writings. It boiled down to nothing short of a Big Lie, propaganda intended to mislead the US and the world public about the root causes for the war in Bosnia.
“ ‘If you read President Izetbegovic’s writings, as I have, there is no doubt that he is an Islamic fundamentalist,’ said a senior Western diplomat with long experience in the region. ‘He is a very nice fundamentalist, but he is still a fundamentalist. This has not changed. His goal is to establish a Muslim state in Bosnia, and the Serbs and Croats understand this better than the rest of us.’’ [The New York Times (NYT), 9/2/96].
During the war and even thereafter he was characterized by many in the Western media as a hero of Muslim resistance who led his country to independence. “As the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo was surrounded by besieging Bosnian Serb forces, battered by enemy artillery and its residents picked off by snipers, Izetbegovic captured the world’s sympathy by running the government from sandbagged buildings pocked and shaken by mortar and gunfire” [Los Angeles Times (LAT), 10/20/03]. The fact is that eight years after the signing of peace accords at Dayton, Bosnia is not independent but a NATO/EU (was UN until 1/1/03) protectorate. Izetbegovic opted for the war while militarily unprepared. As Malic has pointed out: “Izetbegovic’s alleged heroics were a media ploy. In reality, Izetbegovic ordered thousands of Sarajevo residents to work and live under constant threat, allowing only those with special government permits to leave the city, while his family was sent to safety and he himself retreated into a bunker. If the city was the Serb’s hostage, its residents were Izetbegovic’s” [Malic, 10/22/03].
Political and Religious Background
Izetbegovic was born in 1925 in Bosanski Samac, Northern Bosnia, into a family of impoverished Ottoman aristocrats (beys). Allegedly, his family lived in Belgrade until 1868, the year most Muslims fled the Serbian dominated city [LAT, 10/20/03]. His grandfather, who served as mayor of Bosanski Samac, saved the lives of 40 Serbs after Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, leading to World War I. Thirty years later, young Izetbegovic was captured by Gen. Draza Mihailovic’s chetniks who were fighting Hitler’s troops. He was freed due to deeds of his grandfather [ibid]. His father, an accountant, moved the family to Sarajevo in the 1930s.
The German assault on Yugoslavia in 1941 created the Independent State of Croatia with B&H being part of it. At the age of 16, Izetbegovic avoided identifying himself with either the Croat Ustaše Administration or the two Serbian dominated movements of Royalist Gen. Mihailovic or Tito’s communist one. Instead, he founded the “Al Hidayya” or “The Muslim Youth Society”, a subset of the militant Muslim organization “Young Muslims”. “The society was influenced by the ideas of the Bosnian students educated at Cairo’s Al-Azhar’s University. The Society concluded that Islam is an ideology, according to which life should be lived. It is not a religion that is confined only to individuals and religious rituals” [Islam Online, 2003].
From 1943, Izetbegovic was the head organizer of a recruiting drive for the infamous, all Muslim, Waffen SS 20,000-strong Handzar or Hanjar Division. Handzar is derived from the Arabic word which means “dagger.” Religion was an essential motivational tool. Each battalion had an imam. The spiritual leader was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini. Upon expulsion from Palestine by the British, the Grand Mufti organized a brutal anti-Jewish pogrom in Baghdad in 1941. Having failed to install a pro-nazi Iraqi Government, he escaped and spent the rest of the war in Germany and Italy. He recruited Bosnian Muslims and Muslims from the Caucasus for dedicated Nazi SS units. In a March 1, 1944 broadcast from Berlin he stated: “Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion.” He wrote a pamphlet, “Islam and the Jews,” which served to incite the slaughter of Jews and Serbs. [Bostom, 2002].
The number two nazi after Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, formed two Bosnian Muslim Nazi SS divisions: the 13th Waffen SS Gebrigs Division der SS Handzar and the 23rd Waffen SS Division Kama. They committed hideous crimes in Bosnia against the Serbs, killed hundreds of US troops fighting the 5th US Army division in Italy for six months. Upon capitulation of Italy, the Nazi Bosnian Muslims fled to Yugoslavia and maintained the railway link between the Balkans and Auschwitz thus making their contribution to the “Final Solution.” The picture of Heinrich Himmler, inspecting the Handzar division, is reproduced in my Kosovo book [Joksimovich, 1999, p.41]. The original photo is on display at the Imperial War Museum in London. Following the end of World War II, many from the Handzar division joined the Arab armies which fought against the Jews in then Palestine.
Malic notes: “Just as Islam dictated Izetbegovic’s philosophy, so did World War II experience shape his political relations with Bosnia’s Christian majority, the Serbs and Croats. Between 1941 and 1945, Bosnia was part of the Independent State of Croatia, in which Serbs were being persecuted as fiercely as Jews in the nazi Reich, among others by the Muslim Waffen SS and irregulars, whom Izetbegovic supported” [Malic, 10/22/03]. For his World War II and post-World War II activities, such as publishing the journal called Mujahid (“The Warrior”), Izetbegovic was convicted in 1946 and sentenced to five years of imprisonment by the Supreme Yugoslav Military Court (566/46, dated June 15, 1946) for the crimes against the people and the state.
The prosecutor characterized the “Young Muslims” as a terrorist organization. After serving the sentence for three years, Izetbegovic began studying law and graduated from Sarajevo University in 1956. He continued to work for the moral and religious regeneration of the Muslim community. Islam Online (UK) claims that ”Egyptian President Nasser asked his friend Tito about Izetbegovic and Tito replied that Izetbegovic was more dangerous than the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt” [Islam Online, 2003].
The Islamic Declaration
Izetbegovic’s most famous writing was, a political manifesto, “The Islamic Declaration: A Program for the Islamization of Muslims and the Muslim Peoples” [Izetbegovic, 1990]. The text was written in 1970 but was not made available to the public at large. It was illegally duplicated and circulated among Muslims, to serve as a manual and a practical instruction for the Islamic propagandist-political and organizational work of adversaries of the secular, non-islamic order. The Declaration was officially published in Sarajevo in 1990 upon collapse of the communist system. During the war in Bosnia, 1992-1995, the Islamic Declaration was printed in tens of thousands of copies and distributed to military and police units loyal to Izetbegovic [Doc Center, 2002].
Professor of Islamic History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Raphael Israeli, wrote: “The declaration, which in many respects sounds and looks like the platforms of Muslim fundamentalists elsewhere (eg: the Hamas Charter) assumes that its appeal will be heeded by Muslims around the world, not only by its immediate constituency.” It accuses the West of wishing to ‘keep Muslim nations spiritually weak and materially and politically dependent’ [Izetbegovic, pp. 1-2] and calls upon the believers to cast aside inertia and passivity in order to embark on the road of action” [Israeli, 2002].
It is apparent that Izetbegovic was influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian ideologue Sayyid Qutb’s writings. Malise Ruthven wrote: “More than any other recent Muslim writer, he (Qutb) is the inspiration behind 9/11” [Ruthven, 2002]. Izetbegovic shuns local nationalism of any sort and substitutes it with creation of a universal Islamic polity, or umma from Morocco to Indonesia [Izetbegovic, p.3]. It is difficult to imagine a Catholic or an Orthodox, or any other confession representative having similar dreams in 1970s. What would Europe look like? Izetbegovic mentions that “a few thousand true Islamic fighters forced England to withdraw from the Suez Canal, while the nationalist armies of the Arabs were losing battles against Israel,” and where “Turkey, an Islamic country, ruled the world, yet when it tried to emulate Europe it dropped to the level of a third world country. It is not nationalism that makes the force of Muslim nations, but their abidance by Islam in its universal version” [ibid, p.4]. He has obviously shown a disdain for Western values. One can surmise that the Bosnian Muslims ought not to take part in any form of government which is not Islamic. The options are: either subscribe to the Muslim revival and its political requirements, or be doomed to stagnation and oblivion [ibid, p.4].
The manifesto holds that there is no point in legislating laws, as in the West, because they end up corrupting the society. It is infinitely better to educate people and teach them to obey Allah, for this will put an end to corruption and lawlessness, which is the reason for the “incompatibility of Islam with non-Islamic systems,” therefore “there can be no peace nor coexistence between the Islamic faith and non-Islamic social and political institutions” [ibid, p.23]. In the Bosnian society, no provision is made for non-Muslims or for a multi-religious or multi-cultural society. “Islam determines its internal and Pan-Islamism its external relations, because Islam is its ideology and Pan-Islamism its politics” [ibid, pp.27-28]. “There can be no independence and freedom without Islam” [ibid, p.35]. Freedom in Islamicist-speak means freedom to oppress others.
The manifesto provides religious freedom and “protection” to the minorities, “providing they are loyal,” which boils down to the protected people under its aegis [ibid, p. 40]. Since the Bosnian Muslims were in minority, they were counting on the intervention of the World Muslim community, which was corroborated in the Bosnian and Kosovo wars. “We must be preachers first and then soldiers.” Force to take over power will be applied “as soon as Islam is morally and numerically strong enough, not only to overthrow the non-Islamic rule, but to develop the new Islamic rule”, because to act prematurely is equally dangerous as to be late in taking the required action” [ibid, p.46]. The model for the new Islamic order is Pakistan, the Muslim state that, in spite of its many deficiencies, remains the “great hope” of Izetbegovic [ibid, p.48]. The fact that feelings of affinity for oppressed Muslim brothers everywhere is not translated into action is the fault of the Western-educated Muslims who substitute nationalism for Pan-Islam [ibid, p.51].
Commitment to Islamic Dominance
The Islamic Declaration was followed up with the book “Islam Between East And West”. This comprehensive praising of Islam was completed in 1980, but first published in English in 1984 after it was smuggled into the US, Turkish in 1987 and Serbian in 1988. The book revealed Izetbegovic’s deep Islamic culture and knowledge of the western intellect with its points of strength and weakness. Izetbegovic believed that “there are only three integral outlooks on the world and there can be no more than three: religious, materialistic and Islamic”, claiming that “Islam is more than a religion [Izetbegovic, 1988, p.7]. It boils down to that the Muslims’ holy task is first to implement the Islamic attitude to the world at home, and subsequently, by accomplishing this goal, bring happiness to the to the entire world as well. “No East, no West, Islam is the Best.” It is Izetbegovic’s Khomeini-type message.
In 1983, the Yugoslav communist regime arrested Izetbegovic, with 12 others, on charges of conspiring with Iran to create a pure Muslim state. The prosecutor claimed that the Islamic Declaration indicated a desire to create an ethnically pure Islamic Republic out of B&H, Kosovo and other Muslim areas. He argued that the Declaration advocated an Islamic revival starting with a religious revolution to be followed by a political revolution. Izetbegovic rejected Kemal Ataturk’s Turkish secular model as framework for the Muslim state,.the model the US favours for islamic countries. There should be no separation between the state and religion. The state should be governed by sharia, the Islamic religious code. Izetbegovic was sentenced to 12 years in prison but pardoned in 1989 and set free. Five of the defendants were accused of urging Muslims not to marry non-Muslims and of planning a trip to Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic fundamentalist Iran. There were riots organized by clerics who had been trained in Qom (holy city for Shiite Muslim in Iran) and sent back to Yugoslavia by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Only Izetbegovic and Ayatollah Khomeini, out of all presidents who visited Turkey, did not pay respect to the grave of Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, founder of the post-Ottoman Turkish state. “Kemalism” is a form of nationalist modernization, which would prefer to treat Islam as a kind of a folk culture in Turkish society rather than part of the religious fabric of the country. For Khomeini and Izetbegovic he was a traitor of fundamentalist Muslim principles. During a 1993 ceremony in Saudi Arabia bestowing on him an award for service to Islam, Izetbegovic said: “It is true that all my activities, since my youth, have been inspired by the idea of Islam, they will be in the future, too” [LAT, 10/20/03].
“President” of Bosnia
Izetbegovic came to national prominence in March 1990 when he co-founded Bosnia’s first nationalist ethnic based political party, Party for Democratic Action (SDA) after the League of Yugoslav Communists imploded opening the way for multi-party elections. SDA has been the Muslim nationalist party made up of Muslims only to advance their goal of a Muslim state with the Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats to be tolerated as marginal minorities despite the fact that they were de facto in majority. Aleksa Djilas [Djilas, 1992] maintained that “most Muslim leaders believed only a Muslim should be allowed full citizenship.” One of the SDA co-founders, Adil Zulfikarpasic, argued that the SDA should represent the Muslim interests without becoming “Islamist.” He was rebuked by Izetbegovic, who told him that “five hundred imams” would play a key rôle in it [Trifkovic, 10/23].
Many Bosnian Muslim political leaders advocated expulsion of Serbs across the Drina River into Serbia and Croats to Dalmatia. They argued that “the rule of non-Muslims over Muslims was blasphemous” [Savich, 2002]. The Bosnian Muslim government produced even green colored Bosnian passports and a flag which excluded the Serb and Croat symbols. Actually, the passports have been blue from the start. The flag was blue shield with six golden fleurs-de-lis, separated be a diagonal white bar. King Tvrtko was crowned in a Serbian monastery Mileseva. Hence, these symbols could be taken as Serb; the flowers are also a Catholic symbol. The only people they absolutely did not represent were the Muslims-but by claiming these symbols, Izetbegovic made sure no one else could. Should this not suggest that this attitude for Muslim hegemony was a root cause of the conflict? The Serbs and Croats would follow suit, forming their own ethnic based parties. Hence, the SDA existence was incendiary. The politics of ethnic exclusiveness made the war predictable.
In November 1990, the first non-communist elections resulted in the SDA’s victory on the basis of the numerical plurality of Muslims (43% of the population). The three ethnic parties reached a power-sharing agreement. A government coalition, Bosnia and Herzegovina or B&H Presidency was formed. Izetbegovic was elected president of a seven-member, multi-ethnic rotating presidency; a Croat was the prime minister while a Serb was president of the Assembly. Of all the heads of state in the six republics of the former Yugoslavia, Izetbegovic uniquely had been a lifelong anti-communist. All the others were communist party aparatchiks, although Croatian president Franjo Tudjman swapped his communism for nationalism in late 1960s.
In the election campaign, the SDA was led by Fikret Abdic, a secular Muslim, in order to shield the party from criticisms of being led by a Muslim fundamentalist. Izetbegovic came second, after Fikret Abdic, in the race for the two presidency seats reserved for the Muslims. However, Izetbegovic most likely muscled Abdic out of the job or Abdic withdrew to attend to rebuild his Agrokomerc company after its collapse in late 1980s as the Independent claims [Independent, 10/20/03]. Abdic, together with his 20,000 secular Muslims, opposed the war. When it erupted, he made deals with all sides: Serbs, Croats, Izetbegovic’s Muslims and the UN to keep the northwest part of Bosnia, known as the Bihac pocket, free of conflict. Izetbegovic was an autocrat, removing or physically eliminating those who became too ambitious or independent. Hence, Abdic was compelled to fight against Izetbegovic’s 5th Corps, including mujahedin. His rebellion, one of the most unreported stories in the war, came to an end in August 1995. His followers were ill-treated by Izetbegovic’s forces. One of his followers said: I’m a Muslim and I’m not ashamed of it. But I don’t want to fight Serbs. I don’t want to go to war. I don’t want my children to learn the Koran and Arabic” [AP, 1995]. Abdic was arrested in Zagreb and sentenced.
Once elected, Izetbegovic started behaving as a Bosnian Muslim nationalist or Bosnjak (Bosniak-an English translation). A term chosen purposefully for its closeness to “Bosanac” (Bosnian in English), a geographic descriptor, so it would imply the Muslims were the real Bosnians, while Croats and Serbs were interlopers. He claimed that the Muslims were a nation with a separate language despite the fact that the Serbs, Croats and Muslims speak the same language: the Serbo-Croat. By doing so, he denied the Serbs and Croats, who are also indigenous people, the right to the land of their birth. The Serbs, Croats and Muslims are all Bosnians. As a matter of fact, the Muslims are Serbs or Croats Islamized under the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, Izetbegovic asserted that for “almost a thousand years Bosnia has existed as a distinct political entity” [Trifkovic. 10/23]. The claim was baseless.
Furthermore, Izetbegovic made a bold statement to the Bosnian parliament on February, 27 1991, before Croatia and Slovenia declared unilateral independence: “I would sacrifice peace for a sovereign Bosnia and Herzegovina, but for that peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I would not sacrifice sovereignty" [LAT, 10/20/03]. It was a cry for war as far as the Serbs were concerned, a war for which Izetbegovic was militarily ill prepared. Izetbegovic had secret armed militia at his disposal and counted on seizing Federal Army weaponry as the Army was retreating. Lord Carrington, Chairman of EC Peace Conference on Yugoslavia 1991-2, warned Izetbegovic not to gamble with the fate of his people, that the Muslims would be overrun and destroyed, and urged him to make a peace with the Serbs. Izetbegovic replied that he could not do that and that he would fight [Danas, 2001].
Izetbegovic appointed the Muslim National Council (MNC) of Bosnia to achieve long-term aspirations, to create a Muslim state in the Balkans. This state would defend the Muslim interests throughout Yugoslavia, i.e. Sandzak, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia). “Rise brother Muslims, there are enough of us to accomplish our goals, whom the Muslim and those of Muslim blood will not betray. This time will never come again. Now is the opportunity to realize the dream of every Muslim” [qouted in Doc Center, 2002 from the Bosnian Muslim magazine VOX]. Among other objectives the MNC was working for were the creation of a Muslim state within the borders of present day B&H and formation of the Muslim Armed Forces.
In October 1991, the MNC defined its political platform: “The day is nearing when the announced Islamic Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina will be proclaimed. The date, which every Muslim in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sandzak [Raška] is ardently waiting for has been known for a long time to be the 31st December. There are some indications that the Serbs might oppose this historic event...Every individual Serb must be aware of the responsibility of the entire nation, the penalty for crimes will be collective-for one dead Muslim one hundred Sebs will be liquidated-for one wounded Muslim (depending on the wound severity) 10-50 Serbs will be executed [ibid].
The document further elaborates how the Serbs would be treated in the Islamic Republic. “All Serbs will have a 12-hour working day. The wages will be proportionate to the loyalty of all employees and as a rule they will be paid 30 percent less than the wages of Muslims whom occupy the same post ... Serbs will receive rations for food, which they will obtain in special shops. Serbs do not have national parties and if the do not abide by the rules of political life, they will not be entitled to political organization or to vote..Serbs are equal to Muslims if, of their own will, they are received into the Islamic faith of their forefathers...A good Serb is a living and obedient Serb or a dead, disobedient Serb [ibid].
The presidency of the Association of the Islamic Clergy (Ilmia) for B&H offered in 1992 in huge print, run in annual Takvim, the following instruction for jihad: “Jihad in Islam is not only a war in the name of Allah. In reality, Islam is a revolutionary ideology and program that aims at changing the social system of the whole world and order it in harmony with its regulations and ideals. Islam wants to destroy all the states and governments anywhere on earth which stand opposed to the ideology and program of Islam, regardless of the state or the nation that is in power. The purpose of Islam is to establish the state based on its ideology and program, no matter which nation becomes the bearer of Islam or which nation is undermined in the process of establishing the ideological Islamic state” [ibid].
Izetbegovic showed prudence first by arguing for a loose confederation that could preserve the country. He may have made the proposal knowing fully the Serbs would never agree to it-something he’d done again and again later. On June 3, 1991, the Izetbegovic-Gligorov (President of Macedonia) plan was announced, which was referred to as “sovereign republics in a sovereign state” or “commonwealth of sovereign republics.” On June 6, at the sixth and last Summit of Presidents of Yugoslav Republics, Izetbegovic-Gligorov plan was not accepted. On June, 21 the Yugoslav Federal Government adopted proposals along the Izetbegovic-Gligorov platform [Markovic, 1996]. The same day, Secretary of State James Baker, visited Belgrade and met with all Yugoslav Republic presidents. He told them that the US supported democratic and unified Yugoslavia and that the US would not recognize unilateral secessionist moves. Four days later, Slovenia and Croatia announced unilateral declaration of independence. Hostilities erupted first in Slovenia and than in Croatia leading to the Serb-Croat war of July 1991-January 1992. It should be noted, that while the war in Croatia was raging Bosnia remained calm. After a fashion; Izetbegovic urged Muslims not to answer conscription notices, declared Bosnia “neutral”. yet sent some militia organizers to fight with the Croats.
During a visit to Turkey in July 1991, Izetbegovic put in a request for B&H to join the Organization of Islamic Conference with no consultation with his Serb and Croat coalition partners. In mid-July 1991, Zulfikarpasic obtained Izetbegovic’s agreement to contact the Serb leaders and negotiate constitutional arrangements. The result was “The Belgrade Initiative” providing for a Serb-Muslim power sharing arrangement. It was immediately rejected by Izetbegovic. To this day, Zulfikarpasic remains convinced that a unique chance to secure peace had been lost, and he places the responsibility firmly on Izetbegovic [Trifkovic, 10/23].
Secession and War
A key development took place October 14-15, 1991. Izetbegovic’s deputies joined forces with the Croat deputies to push through the Assembly a “memorandum” proclaiming sovereignty of B&H, paving the way for its secession from Yugoslavia. The Serbian deputies, insisting on observance of the Constitution and international of laws, walked out. The Yugoslav Constitution did not allow republics to simply secede. The Constitution of B&H explicitly stated than two ethnic groups could not outvote the third one. Any of the three ethnic groups had veto power. Out of international laws, the most obvious breach was that of the Helsinki Accords. The Serbs wanted to stay in Yugoslavia. If others wanted to secede so be it, but if Muslims and Croats had the right of self-determination, the same privilege applied to the Serbs. The American equivalent was when a part of Virginia wanted to stay in the Union resulting in creation of West Virginia.
When the EC countries bowed to German pressure to recognize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia on January 15, 1992, Izetbegovic faced essentially two options: independence from rump Yugoslavia, an outright gamble with a high likelihood of war; or a life within Yugoslavia which would have denied him a chance of pursuing his Islamist ambitions. Had B&H stayed in Yugoslavia, Serbs would not have fought. The wars in Yugoslavia would have ended on January 2nd, 1992 with Cyrus Vance’s mediation between the Serbs and Croats.
Izetbegovic requested international recognition from the EC despite vehement Serbian objections. The EC, instead of respecting the B&H constitution and the Helsinki Accords, responded by requiring a referendum which boiled down to the rule: “Might is Right”. In the referendum, held February 29-March 1, 1992, the Muslims and Croats (62.68 percent) endorsed independence while the Serbs boycotted the referendum. The Croats played a duplicitous game. They wanted B&H out of Yugoslavia, before demanding secession of their part of B&H and joining Croatia. This declaration of independence was a trigger for war.
Jose Cutileiro, the Portuguese Foreign Minister as Portugal held the rotating EC presidency, chaired the The International Conference on Bosnia and Herzegovina on February 14 in Sarajevo. As a follow-up, he sponsored a meeting in Lisbon on February 23, 1992. Izetbegovic represented the Muslims, while Dr. Radovan Karadzic and Mate Boban represented the Serbs and Croats respectively. Cutileiro, was successful in brokering a preliminary agreement. B&H was to be a confederation divided into three ethnic regions based on a constitution drafted by Lord Carrington and Cutileiro using Swiss-style cantons as the model. All three parties signed the agreement. This agreement was probably the last chance to avert the civil/religious war.
Cutileiro, in a letter to The Economist, confirmed that “principles for future constitutional arrangements of Bosnia and Herzegovina” were AGREED BY ALL THREE PARTIES (Muslim, Serb and Croat) in Sarajevo on March 18, 1992, as the basis for future negotiations. These continued, MAPS AND ALL, until the summer, when the MUSLIMS RENEGED ON THE AGREEMENT ... To be fair, President Izetbegovic and his aides were ENCOURAGED TO SCUPPER THAT DEAL and to fight for a unitary Bosnian state by well-meaning outsiders who thought they knew better” [Economist, 1995].
David Binder [NYT, 8/29/93] wrote: “Mr Izetbegovic’s acceptance of partition, which would have denied him and his Muslim party a dominant role in the republic, shocked the Unites States policy makers ... The embassy was for recognition of B&H from sometime in February on,” Ambassador Zimmermann said of his recommendation from Belgrade. Upon Izetbegovic’s return from Lisbon, on February 25, Mr Zimmermann called on him in Sarajevo, noting: “He said he didn’t like it. I told him, if he didn’t like it, why sign it?”
Ambassador Zimmermann in his book claims that the Bush 41 administration “strongly supported” the EC sponsored talks. “Eagleburger had told Izetbegovic that the US would back a negotiated outcome under EC auspices. The war, once under way, changed American attitudes. In August 1992 Eagleburger began to criticize the EC’s efforts as dividing Bosnia.” Furthermore, he says that Izetbegovic “was astonished by the EC proposal for the creation of ethnically based regions. This could create three states within Bosnia and amounts to partition from within.” Allegedly, Izetbegovic said that “he had been put under pressure by the other parties, including Cutileiro, and felt he had to give in. When he got back to Sarajevo, his Muslim colleagues upbraided him for weakness. Now he did not know what to do....I encouraged Izetbegovic to stick by what he’d agreed to. It wasn’t a final agreement.” In the hindsight of history, Zimmermann concluded that the Cutileiro’s plan would have worked better for the Muslims than any subsequent plan, including the Dayton Accords, since the divisions would have reflected the ethnic percentages of the populations [Zimmermann, 1999, p.188-190].
Louis Sell, retired Foreign Service Officer who spent eight years in the Former Yugoslavia , wrote: “European diplomats claimed that the US decision on recognition undermined negotiations on the Cutiliero agreement, for which they purported to have Milosevic’s backing...while recognition did not, by itself, cause the fighting in Bosnia, it helped push both the Serbs and Muslims along already existing paths toward war. It reduced incentives for the Muslims to agree to the ethnically driven Cutileiro plan, which was in any case repugnant to the integralist vision of Bosnia. It also increased Sarajevo’s hope, perhaps its only consistent strategy throughout the war, that someday the US would come to rescue. Conversely, recognition increased the Serb proclivity to go for a military solution in Bosnia-and option for which they were already well prepared” [Sell, 2002].
“Even before the first shots were fired, Acting Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger made it clear that a goal in Bosnia was to mollify the Muslim world and to counter perception of an anti-Muslim bias regarding American policies in Iraq” [Trifkovic, 10/03]. On April 6, 1992, the anniversary of the 1941 nazi Germany’s attack on Yugoslavia in World War II including bombing of Belgrade killing 17,000 civilians, in Luxembourg, the Ministerial Council of the EC adopted a Declaration on Yugoslavia in which the EC and its members decided to recognize the Republic of B&H within its present borders. Armed clashes broke out in Sarajevo and other parts of Bosnia. Fourteen people were killed and more than 100 wounded. The Yugoslav Federal army intervened on the side of the population loyal to the Federation, ie: the Bosnian Serbs. Would Lincoln have done it differently?
On April 7, 1992, US Pres. George H. W. Bush signed a decree on recognition of independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia within the present (“administrative”) boundaries of these former Yugoslav republics. The EC/US recognition was characterized as “foolhardy in extreme” by Lord David Owen, co-author of the Vance-Owen plan and the principal EC negotiator [Owen, 1995]. The recognition was indeed “foolhardy in extreme.” It could be best illustrated by examining the March 10, 1992 State Department map of B&H [StDet, 1992]. The map shows that the Muslims had population majority only in 15 percent of the territory. What actually was recognized? Was there a historic precedent for this type of recognition? Besides a host of international laws was violated. It clearly was an act of aggression against Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was dismembered via the diplomatic recognition. It instigated the 42 months war with devastating consequences.
The same day, The Assembly of Serbian People in B&H declared in Banja Luka the independence of the Serbian Republic “which may enter into association with other entities in Yugoslavia." The Serbian representatives in the B&H Presidency resigned. On April 8, 1992, the B&H Presidency, without the Serbian members, declared the state of impending war threat. On April 11-12 in Sarajevo, a new round of negotiations chaired by Cutileiro took place. All three warring parties agreed on conditions of ceasefire. General agreement also achieved on determination of future constituent units. In spite of the agreements, armed conflicts escalated. However, having secured recognition, Izetbegovic had no incentive to take EC-brokered talks seriously any longer. Also, he seemed to have believed that the Bush 41 administration would come to his rescue.
On April 14, the US State Department issued a statement condemning the Yugoslav People’s Army military interference in internal matters of B&H, “the independent state with internationally recognized borders,” and named leadership of Serbia as the main culprit for conflicts and warned that measures of economic and political isolation of Serbia would be undertaken. The government of Serbia issued a “sharp demarche to the US administration” because of the “onesided, unobjective and biased policy pursued recently by the US in connection with theYugoslav crisis in B&H and situation in Kosovo and Metohija.” The US administration was requested to “adjust its policy to facts and truth, respect for dignity of the Serbian nation and its legitimate interests in the Yugoslav crisis,” and “in the interest of further good relations and positive solution to the overall Yugoslav crisis stop the current unprincipled campaign against Serbia” [Markovic, pp. 36-37].
Had the [first] Bush Administration taken a balanced, unbiased and neutral approach to the Yugoslav crisis as opposed to “mollifying the Muslim world”, which resulted in advising Izetbegovic to pull out from the Cutileiro mediation, the war in Bosnia would have been most likely terminated and on the order of 100,000 lives saved (not fictitious 250,000 commonly quoted in the Western and the US media in particular).
This is not to suggest that Izetbegovic, Tudjman and Milosevic should not share the blame. Izetbegovic was blinded by his Bosnian Muslim nationalism to create the Islamic Bosnian Republic and opted for the war. Tudjman was blinded by his nationalism, while Milosevic was blinded by his lust for power, political survival and his ideology. His philosophy was best illustrated with his slogan “Peace has no price.” Lord Owen, who had met with Milosevic on numerous occasions, in his ICTY testimony characterized Milosevic as a pragmatist and not an ethnic purist [Reuters, 11/3/03]. A stark contrast with his standard Milosevic portrayal by the Western media. The Clinton administration should most certainly share the blame for prolonging the war to 42 months. The US Clinton Administration, which followed the first Bush Administration, axed 4 EC/EU/UN peace proposals, including the Vance-Owen plan, all supported by Milosevic. When advised that he may not be reelected, Clinton ordered the war to be terminated. Another guilty party must be mentioned: the EC countries. They rejected the Dutch July 1991 memorandum to redraw the republic’s boundaries, characterized as the “biggest mistake” by David Owen [Owen, pp. 31-33].
Through the summer of 1992, the Bosnian Serb forces controlled about 70 percent of the territory with the Croats and Muslims splitting 30 percent. Izetbegovic was pleading for a Western intervention. Neither the US nor the EC were interested in going to war for the state they haphazardly recognized. Many writers, including knowledgable David Binder of The New York Times, wrote that than Izetbegovic turned to the Islamic states, ie: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Libya for assistance [NYT, 10/19/03]. However, Izetbegovic and his followers cultivated close relations with Iran since early 80s. Hasan Cengic; an Islamist theologian, veteran of the 13th Waffen SS division, later general in Izetbegovic’s Army and deputy Defense Minister, has been linked with Iranian-sponsored terrorism since 1983 [Copley, 2003]. Pre-war ties with Turkey existed as well.
The Iranians were the first ones to arrive, followed by Sudan based Armed Islamic Movement (AIM) affiliates, umbrella organization of Islamist terrorist organizations committed to global pan-Islamic causes, and bin Laden’s al-Qaida. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states provided the bulk of the financing. Bin Laden visited Sarajevo in 1993 and obtained the Bosnian passport in Vienna. He appointed Ayman al-Zawahiri to head the al-Qaida operations in Bosnia. The rôle of these Islamists is addressed in detail elsewhere.
Here, briefly, they started arriving in June 1992. They were incorporated into the Army of B&H with Izetbegovic as the supreme commander. Their presence was legalized by Izetbegovic’s presidential decree signed on August 1, 1992. They were given the pamphlet titled: “Instructions to a Muslim Fighter.” Among other things it said: “... the military command has the right to decide whether it is more useful to release, exchange or kill the enemy prisoners of war”. Numerous violations of the 1949 Geneva Convention were documented. Serbs living in areas where mujahedin operated abandoned en masse their homes and property leaving less than 50,000 Serbs in areas where about 500,000 lived before the war.
The mujahedin committed unspeakable atrocities including decapitations preceded by torture, severing of body parts and gouging of eyes [Doc Center, 2002]. The ICTY in the Hague has indicted nobody for these atrocities despite the fact that the UN authorities had detailed knowledge about these atrocities. The UN Commission of Experts, chaired by the American Muslim professor Cherif Bassiouni, in their report to the UN Security Council, stated: “The mujahedin forces came from several Muslim states and many of them were veterans of the Afghan war. The mujahedin forces were reported to be under the command of the B&H Army... Reports also indicate that the mujahedin had the support of President Izetbegovic and his government...Reports submitted to the Commission of Experts alleged that the mujahedin have been responsible for the mutilation and killing of civilians, rape, looting, the destruction of property, and the expulsion of non-Muslims ... Troops from Saudi Arabia allegedly killed three Serbian Territorial Defense members and placed the victims’ severed heads on poles near the Tesanj turret. ..Beheadings of Serbs bu mujahedin forces have also been reported in other areas [UN, 1994]. In a recent brief conversion with Richard Goldstone, the first ICTY chief prosecutor between 1993 and 1996, Goldstone told me that he was unaware of these crimes.
On November 14, 1993, Izetbegovic visited the mujahedin training camp in Zenica. He blessed the mujahedin fight and assistance to the brotherly nation in Bosnia. He also addressed members of his SDA party. Told them that a joint state with the Serbs and Croats was an impossibility. He described also his vision of future B&H. It would be a state comprising 80 percent Muslim population. He compared it to France with (then, as stated) three-million Arabs. In France, the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, and all other ministers are the French. Hence, the remaining 20 percent Serbs and Croats would not be an impediment. He also advocated the German model in which Western Germany absorbed the Eastern Germany without military action but by superiority of the political model [Danas, 2001].
During the war, Izetbegovic further advanced his Islamic credentials, by marrying his third wife, Amira, using the sharia law which allows Muslims to have four wives concurrently. In February 1995, he acquired the fourth wife. Slobodna Bosna published congratulations but did not name the woman [NYT, 10/20/03].
On September 11, 1995, Izetbegovic’s army including infamous “El Mujaheed” unit captured the town of Vozuca in central Bosnia. Mujahedin decapitated tens of captured Serb POWs. The survivor testimonies were corroborated by the photographs taken by the executioners, who posed next to their victims. Besides photographs the executioners also filmed the executions and used them to produce propaganda material that was later distributed to donors abroad. A copy of the tape on which the ritual butchery was recorded was sent as a gift to Izetbegovic.Video-tapes of this massacre were sold for fund-raising purposes. Milan Ivancevic, a Serb member of the Commission for the Search of Missing, was quoted as saying: “General Mahmuljin (military commander) told me that the mujahedin who killed soldiers in Gosovici (village) presented Izetbegovic with 28 heads, while they sent the remaining 28 to Iran” [Sl Bosna, 2001].
Izetbegovic’s pleas for the American intervention materialized on August, 30, 1995, when US-led NATO combat aircraft bombed the Bosnian Serb positions turning the tide of the war and contributing to Serbian defeats in Western Bosnia. Prior to that, the US brokered a truce with the Croats, leading to formation of so called Muslim-Croat federation in March 1994. Croatia had been allowed to attack Bosnian Serbs from Croatia and to have troops in Bosnia, while Serbia was sanctioned for helping Bosnian Serbs. The Dayton Accords of November 1995 signed in Paris in December, divided Bosnia: 51% went to the Muslim-Croat federation and 49 percent went to Republika Srpska. This division was proposed by negotiators more than two years earlier.
Izebegovic was dissatisfied as was the rest of the Muslim world. He was pained to sit next to Milosevic and Tudjman at the signing ceremony and signed it in total science. The best he could say in support of the deal was that “this may not be a just peace, but it is more than a continuation of the war.” On December 13, in Khartoum, Sudan-based Pan-Islamic Movement leader Hassan al-Turabi decreed the Dayton Agreement as ”a plot aimed at at eradicating Islam in Bosnia in a way which resembles eradicating Islam in Europe 500 years ago” [Bodansky, 1996, p.19]. “The unsatisfactory nature of the deal also raised the question of whether a more experienced or pragmatic politician than Izetbegovic might have secured a similar agreement at an earlier stage-and with fewer victims” [IND, 10/19/03].
Bosnia became the safe haven for bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorists. The US was finally persuaded to oppose the presence of mujahedin as a part of the Dayton Accords. The concern was the future threat to the US peacekeepers. After the war, Izetbegovic alienated his Western backers for allowing mujahedin to remain in the country and serve as a springboard for the European and even the US jihad. Izetbegovic argued that they came to Bosnia when nobody else would. He allowed them to marry Bosnian Muslim women and obtain Bosnian citizenship. However, 99 percent of the reporters and politicians, fail to make the point that Izetbegovic was directly responsible for bringing thousands of mujahedin and military equipment from Central Asia and the Middle East to the heart of Europe, to Bosnia, to launch jihad alongside the Bosnian Muslims against the Christian Serbs and Croats. De facto the Bosnian war taught mujahedin how to operate abroad.
Two of the September 11, 2001, hijackers who attacked the US, and who came through San Diego, fought in Bosnia and belonged to al-Qaida for six years. Another Bosnian war veteran recruited the Hamburg al-Qaida cell, including Mohamed Atta, which played a pivotal rôle in 9/11. Two US Muslims who fought in Bosnia were al-Qaida recruiters in the US They recruited the “Lackawanna Six” for the sleeper cell near Buffalo [St. Petersburg, 2003]. In January 2002, the US troops in Sarajevo arrested six Arab terror suspects, five naturalized Bosnian citizens, who were immediately flown to Guantanamo Bay [WSJ, 3/18/2002]
Trifkovic notes “Izetbegovic stepped down in 2000, but he had prepared a cadre of Islamic hard-liners loyal to him. They were deeply embedded in Bosnia’s state structure, and to this date are suspected of operating their own rogue intelligence service that protects Islamic extremists. In addition to being a terrorist haven, Bosnia has become a staging post for illegal Muslim immigrants from the Middle East making their way into Western Europe” [Trifkovic, 10/03]. According to Yossef Bodansky, starting in mid-August 2003, the radical Islamist leaders elevated the role of the terrorist infrastructure in the Balkans as a key facilitator of a proposed conflict into the heart of Europe, Israel and the US Bin Laden’s senior commanders decided to expand the recruitment and activation of Slav cadres because they look European and non-Arabs. The main recruitment pool consists of Bosnian Muslims [Bodansky, 2003].
Izetbegovic died in Sarajevo on October 19, 2003. The last, the day before his death, his high level visitor was the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan, leader of the Turkish Islamist party, said: “Alija Izetbegovic enjoys great respect and has a special place in the hearts of Turkish people.” At his funeral there were large delegations from Turkey and Iran.
Izetbegovic requested to be buried at the main shahid cemetery in Sarajevo, next to the holy warriors who died for his vision. Shahid is an Islamic martyr or witness for the faith. Shahids die in Muslim holy wars or jihads rather than in a “struggle for some fictitious multi-ethnic utopia” [Malic, 10/22/03].
Several weeks before, Izetbegovic was visited by former US President William Clinton and Richard Holbrooke. Upon his death, Holbrooke stated: “Bosnia would not exist today if not for Alija Izetbegovic.
It was his tenacity, his determination and the courage that kept it going under the relentless bombardment of the Serbs. ... Milosevic even said that because Izetbegovic refused to abandon Sarajevo during the siege, he had won the right to a united city” [LAT, 10/20/03]. Paddy Ashdown, the West’s viceroy in Bosnia, said: “Without him I doubt if B&H would exist today.”
A spokesman for the Serbian Democratic party, said Izetbegovic was “a symbol of the politics that destroyed” the Yugosav federation. Milorad Dodik, former Republika Srpska prime minister, said that Izetbegovic was responsible for wartime atrocities against Serbs and Croats. The chief prosecutor’s spokeswoman, Florence Hartman, did not confirm until his death that he was “a suspect and under investigation” [IND, 10/23/03].
The Bosnian Serbs filed charges against him at the ICTY. The first set of documents were filed with the ICTY in 1998. It included charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of rules and customs of war committed in the districts of Srebrenica, Bratunac, Milic and Skelane [Trifunovic, 1998]. A more complete dossier was filed with the ICTY in 2001 [Doc Center, 2002].
It is not unreasonable to assume that the ICTY was awaiting his death rather than having the courage to indict him. A replica of the Tudjman case? Jonathan Eyal, does not believe that Izetbegovic would have been indicted even though he was undoubtedly responsible and should have been indicted [Eyal, 2003].
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Copyright 2003 International Strategic Studies
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