Ann Marlowe

Ann Marlowe, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, is a writer and businesswoman based in New York City. In 2011, she made four trips to Libya to cover the revolution and war and returned twice in 2012. She is working on a book that will follow Libya's first year post-Gaddafi. Between 2002 and 2011 she traveled regularly to Afghanistan and published often on Afghanistan's politics, economy, culture and the U.S. counterinsurgency there. Her articles have appeared in the op –ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and New York Post, and in the Weekly Standard, Daily Beast, Forbes.com, TNR.com,and many other publications. She tweets regularly (@annmarlowe) and blogs on Libya, the Arab Spring, the links between war and art and the cultural aspects of counterinsurgency for World Affairs at: http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/new/blogs/marlowe

Her monograph on the life and intellectual context of David Galula was published by the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College in summer 2010. Ms. Marlowe has also published two memoirs and is one of the contributers to A New Literary History of America (Harvard University Press, 2009).

Ms. Marlowe is a regular guest on the John Batchelor radio show discussing Libya, Afghanistan and counterinsurgency. She has also appeared on Fox's "Happening Now", PBS’s “Ideas in Action” with Jim Glassman, VOA, RTTV, BloggingHeadsTV.com and other television programs. She has spoken at U.S. Army bases, the Army War College, U.S. State Department, the Institut d'Histoire du Temps Present in Paris, and American colleges. In 2009, she was a Media Fellow at the Hoover Institution and returned there for a research fellowship in 2010.

Ms. Marlowe was born in Suffern, New York in 1958 and educated at public schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She received her B.A. in philosophy magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1979 and studied classical philosophy there in the Ph.D. program in 1979-80. In 1984, she received an MBA in finance from Columbia University's Graduate School of Business.


Why does EU tolerate Libya’s smuggler kingpin as migrants drown?

August 29th, 2016

originally published October 16, 2015 in Asia Times News & Features, Middle East (http://atimes.com/2015/10/eu-turns-blind-eye-to-fuel-for-arms-smuggling-as-migrants-drown/)

Libya’s Smuggler King has an EU company and a ship that visits Malta

Links between human, weapons and diesel fuel smuggling are there to see, if the EU wants to

Zwara, the westernmost town on the Libyan coast, boasts turquoise water, endless sand beaches, and delicious fresh fish. You can even sit at a beach café at night and have an espresso while gazing at the Mediterranean. Over the course of several visits in 2011-12, it seemed the most Europeanized place in Libya. But for the last three months, local sources complain that the fish stores have been empty: every fishing boat is involved in human trafficking instead. And photos of corpses of drowned migrants on those endless beaches have shocked the conscience of the world. On Sept. 19th alone, almost 4,800 migrants were rescued off Libya. An estimated 130,000 have crossed from Libya to Europe this year to date, mainly from Subsaharan Africa.

LibyaOn Sept. 28, the European Union Naval Force for the Mediterranean (EUNav) announced that on October 7 it would begin “Operation Sophia” to intercept smugglers’ ships and capture their crews, escalating from the current policy of merely tracking them. EU authorities have identified 17 Libyan boats involved in the trade. It is likely most if not all belong to citizens of Zwara.

One question is why the EU authorities made an advance announcement that gives the ship owners time to switch to other vessels. Another is why the announcement was made just as the summer smuggling season draws to a close.

The biggest question is why the EU ignores the fact that migrant smuggling is just one part of the activities of a well-funded mafia that includes not only the expected Libyan citizens, but also EU citizens.

The EU has mainly turned a blind eye to the trade that brings weapons and ammunition into Zwara for the jihadi coalition controlling Western Libya, Libya Dawn, and takes subsidized Libyan diesel fuel in exchange. By perpetuating the Libyan civil war, this trade also takes lives.

A liter of diesel fuel costs about .10 Libyan dinar or .065 euro in Libya, but upwards of a euro in Malta or elsewhere in southern Europe. The UN has banned both sides of the trade, but the EU doesn’t pay attention very often. (See this recent case of a boat impounded by Greece with weapons aboard)

On Oct. 12, the Libyan Central Bank decided to lift the subsidy on diesel and other subsidized goods in the interest of slowing the hemorrhage of cash out of the country. Fuel represents 70 – 80% of the $9 billion Libya has been spending annually on discounted goods.
Group of Zwara rebels at Libyan-Tunisian border in August 2011

Group of Zwara rebels at Libyan-Tunisian border in August 2011

Anything that will stop the flow of weapons to Libya Dawn is a good thing. They are an unsavory lot, closely linked to Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi, the listed terror group that took part in the killing of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 12 2012. There is hard evidence that Libya Dawn funds the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, the umbrella group of terrorists that includes Ansar. Libya Dawn regularly sends shipments of weapons and ammunition by sea from Tripoli to Benghazi to re-supply Ansar and other terror groups, including IS, who are fighting the Libyan National Army there. The internationally recognized Libyan government is based in the eastern cities of Bayda and Tobruk and controls the east and some of the south; Libya Dawn controls Tripoli and most of the coast from Misrata to the Tunisian border, including Zwara.

To this day, despite its financing of Ansar and its complicity in the smuggling trades, the UN and EU consider Libya Dawn as a legitimate negotiating partner in peace talks with the internationally recognized government. And it looks to many Libyans as though the EU does not want to act against the diesel smuggling and arms trafficking that allows the human smugglers the space to operate.

“The Italians want to stop this migrant business,” said a Zwara citizen, “Bashir,” who is one of a small group who are discreetly acting against the smugglers. “But they don’t care about the other smuggling. We want to stop all! I have met with people from Italian embassy (to Libya, now situated in Tunis) five or six times. They know the names of all the smugglers.”

As Bashir (real name withheld to protect him) and others explain, a group of interlinked crime families, similar to Italian Mafia families and including ties to them, handles human trafficking, diesel smuggling, drug smuggling, and weapons importation. The kingpins have to be taken down — otherwise, people who specialize in human trafficking will just shift to cocaine or weapons or alcohol smuggling for awhile. (Diesel smuggling is the only business that requires specialized ships.) Tolerating one kind of smuggling is like allowing an American Mafia family to continue to control illegal gambling and drug dealing, but to crack down only on prostitution. But many Zwara people think the Europeans don’t really care about any illicit commerce, except that which deposits unwanted migrants on their shores.

As evidence for this, Bashir points to the fact that Zwara’s smuggling king is a shareholder in and a director of a Malta company, and Malta is an EU country.

The smuggling kingpin is Fahmi Slim Mousa Ben Khalifa, aka Fahmi Slim. Slim, a dark-skinned Zwara native said to be about 45, served a few years of a 15-year sentence for drug smuggling in Gaddafi days before the revolution opened the prisons. Now he is so powerful that part of the harbor in Zwara is known simply as “Fahmi Slim’s harbor.” While he is not directly involved with human smuggling currently, locals say that he works with some of the human smugglers in other illegal ventures.

Editor’s note: an official of an international agency confirms that Fahmi Slim is involved in fuel-smuggling activities in Libya and is known to French, Maltese and Italian authorities as a person of interest.

The EU could put pressure on Slim and anyone he controls easily: Fahmi Slim is a partner in and director of the Maltese corporation ADJ Trading Ltd. ADJ, under its old name of ADJ Swordfish, also owns a tanker called Basbosa Star that has a history of movements that suggest diesel smuggling. As Zwara does not have an oil terminal – the nearest one is in Zawia, 100km east – any tankers that call at its port are ipso facto suspect. Asia Times editors have seen evidence linking the Basbosa Star and its sister ship, the tanker Amazigh F, in suspicious activity.

Now, new documents (1) also show Slim’s name on a ship that is being sold with the permission of the Tripoli-based Libya Dawn anti-government. The ship, carrying the IMO number 7900522, was impounded in Misrata, Libya for diesel smuggling years ago, in 2008 or 2009. It remained in Misrata harbor even after Gaddafi’s fall, slowly decaying, until this spring, when the Libya Dawn coalition that controls Misrata decided it wanted the ship — now derelict — removed.

The vessel is shown on the shipping website Equasis as owned by one “Benkhalifa FSM” since May 22 2015. That is Fahmi Slim’s full legal name. Each ship has a unique IMO number from build to scrap, so it is an important way to identify ships after name changes. On Equasis, the name of the vessel numbered 7900522 is given as Tiuboda 1. Tiuboda is near Zwara, and Fahmi Slim is chairman of a Libyan company named Tiuboda Oil Services, #41992.
Troodos ship photo

Troodos/Tiuboda 1 ship photo

On another shipping website, Fleetmon.com, the IMO number 7900522 is associated with the name Troodos – owned by an obscure Spanish company, AlvarGonzalez SA, using a Georgian flag (5). This appears to be the owner from the time when the ship was impounded.

Currently the ship is being marketed by a Mr Albarasi. He showed a prospective Libyan buyer a three page contract from the Tripoli Ministry of Transportation, stating that he, Emrajaa Embarek Abdul Hamid, bought the ship from the deputy Minister of Transportation, one Abdul Alatef Mahmod Ben Amer. On the first page, the document states that the Acting Minister gave permission for the sale on March 30, 2015.

Reached by Viber and responding to written questions in Arabic, Mr Albarasi said he is the sole owner, that “he owns it according to a contract made with Ports and Marine Transportation” and that “nobody else has anything to do with the ship.” He also wrote, “Troodos is the name of the ship.”

Troodos_Tiuboda 1 photoThen, on Sept. 19, reached through the prospective buyer who asked not to be identified, Mr Albarasi admitted that although he had bought the ship from the Tripoli ministry, his partner, one Abdulkarim Nassraat, later sold it to Fahmi Slim, who is now the owner. (Equasis shows Slim bought the ship on May 22.) Zwara sources identify Mr Nassraat as a Zwara native. Note that the sale occurred while the Troodos/Tiuboda 1 was still a derelict ship, unable to move under its own power. This makes it look very much like a “wash” sale.

One piece of Tripoli Port (Lebanon) paperwork –in English – locates the ship, under its Fahmi Slim-registered name of Tiuboda 1, in Tripoli, Lebanon harbor on July 15, “coming from Malta.” Mr Albarasi explained in Arabic, “The ship was towed from Misrata to Malta and the engines were maintained there.” He says the vessel is currently in Beirut obtaining an inspection.

If the EU wants to put pressure on those who have the power to stop human trafficking in Zwara, Fahmi Slim is an excellent place to begin. Why was his ship allowed in Maltese waters? Why is his Maltese company allowed to conduct business? The sale of the “Troodos/Tiuboda 1” to Mr Albarasi and its sale barely two months later to Fahmi Slim suggests that the Tripoli anti-government works hand in glove with Slim. In this instance as in others, Libya Dawn behaves more like a criminal enterprise than a government. Isn’t it time for the EU to bring its formidable soft power to bear to stop these needless deaths by stopping the money flows to the smugglers?

(1)ADJFahmiBenKhalifaAppointedDirector

(2)Fahmi Slim’s full legal name

(3)AlvarGonzalez SA

Ann Marlowe, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute based in New York City, has written for the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, Tablet Magazine and other publications. She visited Afghanistan 18 times and spent 4 months in Libya in 2011-12. She tweets about Libya at @AnnMarlowe.

Will Donald Trump’s Data-Analytics Company Allow Russia to Access Research on U.S. Citizens?

August 23rd, 2016

Originally published in tabletmag.com on August 22 2016 (http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/211152/trump-data-analytics-russian-access)

Tracing the suspicious-looking, and messy, ties between a Ukrainian oligarch, an elections-information firm, and the GOP candidate’s former campaign manager

The Trump campaign has hired Ted Cruz’s former data-analysis firm, Cambridge Analytica—and in doing so, it has connected itself with a British property tycoon, Vincent Tchenguiz, and through him with the Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, a business associate of Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who resigned last week. It would be hard to find a better example of why the ownership of the companies that collect data on the American electorate matters.

What Cambridge does is what marketers have done for some time now: segment potential customers (in this case, voters) by their buying habits, lifestyle, and psychology. It most famously worked on the “Leave.” campaign during Brexit voting in the United Kingdom.

Cambridge Analytica’s British parent company, SCL, has attracted criticism for some unusual strategies, such as trying to persuade opposition supporters not to vote in a Nigerian election, using the influence of “local religious figures.”

Mainly, though, SCL and CA both seem to have some pretty tired ideas. “The firm groups people according to where they fall on the so-called OCEAN scale, which psychologists use to measure how open, conscientious, extroverted, agreeable, or neurotic they are,” Wired reported in April. There’s nothing evil—or particularly smart—about this “psychological profiling,” which has been around for decades, and it’s questionable if it actually works to predict voting behavior.

CA obviously didn’t sprinkle the right kind of fairy dust for Cruz; a recent news item has it that the campaign felt it was CA to develop its product. Others say the firm doesn’t quite “get” American politics and has reliability issues: As Advertising Age quoted a consultant: “The product comes late or it’s not quite what you envisioned.”

But what’s worrisome is that CA, as The Wall Street Journal reports, is not just relying on public records:

Cambridge Analytica is surveying tens of thousands of Britons across the country on issues including partisanship, personality, and their concerns about EU membership. The company will then fuse those findings with other publicly available data on voters to produce advice for how “Leave. EU” should target their messaging more specifically through multiple channels.

Between “big data,” cyberwarfare, and new levels of detail in election polling, Americans ought to be thinking seriously about who owns the firms that collect this data.

And because CA is linked to U.K. property mogul Vincent Tchenguiz, who himself has connections to Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, a Putin protégé (and Paul Manafort business associate) it’s possible the information CA collects might be shared with people who are not friendly to American democracy—not that Donald Trump thinks there’s anything wrong with Putin, Firtash, and others like them.

For 10 years, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company’s largest shareholder was Vincent Tchenguiz, who, together with his brother Robert, is estimated to be worth £850 million (about $1.1 billion). Even today, a year after Tchenguiz divested his shares, SCL Group Chairman Julian Wheatland, who is also one of the company’s four directors, is a Tchenguiz employee.

Tchenguiz used the same Guernsey holding company, Wheddon Ltd., to invest both in Cambridge Analytica’s parent company in the U.K. and in another privately held U.K. business whose largest shareholder was the Ukrainian gas middleman Dmitry Firtash. (To buy into a privately held business you normally need the approval of the biggest shareholders, who were Firtash and Raymond Asquith, who also works for Firtash.) Firtash, indicted in 2014 by the United States in a complex bribery case, is under a sort of house arrest in Austria, free on $175 million bail, while the U.S. continues to attempt, unsuccessfully, to extradite him. He has already been stripped of some of his Ukrainian assets by prosecutors there.

Many articles have reported that the U.S. billionaire Robert Mercer is the owner of Cambridge, but some basic Googling would have shown that this isn’t true. The Daily Beast got it right; Cambridge Analytica’s press releases refer to it as “the U.S. subsidiary of SCL Group.” But the relationship between Cambridge Analytica and SCL is far from easy to decipher.

The privately-held SCL Group Ltd. (UK co. #05514098) has a half-dozen subsidiaries, with an overlapping group of directors. One subsidiary is SCL Elections. Cambridge Analytica’s website in December 2015 listed its New York address as Suite 2703 in the News Corp. building, 1211 Avenue of the Americas, the same New York address formerly listed on SCL Elections’ website as its New York office. (Both websites have since been updated, with new addresses.) SCL Elections is entirely owned by executive Alexander Nix.

Meanwhile, another related company, SCL USA, incorporated in January 2015 and entirely owned by SCL Elections, changed its name to Cambridge Analytica UK Ltd. on April 14 of this year. Confusingly, its U.K. address, 1 Westferry Circle, is not the same as either the address of SCL Elections or the London address of Cambridge Analytica at 1-6 Yarmouth Place in Mayfair. And it’s unclear if there’s a Cambridge Analytica incorporated anywhere in the United States; one would have to search registers in all 50 states.

Ad Age reported that CA “will not discuss its investors,” but the mothership, SCL Group, has pretty straightforward ownership: From shortly after its incorporation in 2005 until June 2015, according to the company’s obligatory Companies House filings, the largest of the 15 shareholders of SCL Group was Tchenguiz.

Tchenguiz made his money in London’s highly competitive real estate market and is said to be smart as a whip. He and his brother Robert are also known as big Tory donors. But what they’re best known for isn’t something any entrepreneur seeks out.

In March 2011 the brothers were arrested in dramatic predawn raids as part of an investigation into the 2008 collapse of the Icelandic bank Kaupthing. Just before its collapse, Kaupthing’s loans to the Tchenguiz brothers totaled 40 percent of its capital. It has been charged that Kaupthing—which had a far-from-transparent ownership structure—was effectively the Tchenguiz brothers’ bank and that they looted the bank, leading to its collapse. Various Kaupthing executives ended up in jail. Yet Vincent Tchenguiz managed to beat the charges, and even to win restitution from the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office after charges were dropped. Many think the SFO badly mishandled the case.

That’s not all. Kaupthing’s largest shareholder, Meidur, now called Exista, which owned 25 percent of its shares, had ties to Alfa Bank, the largest Russian commercial bank; Alfa chairman was “deep state” figure Mikhail Fridman, chairman and co-founder of Alfa Group, the parent of Alfa Bank. Meanwhile, Trump adviser Richard Burt is on the “senior advisory board” of Alfa Bank. (None of which is illegal or secret.)

Vincent Tchenguiz’s investment in SCL Group Ltd. began soon after the company’s incorporation July 20, 2005. In the fall of 2005, Tchenguiz’s Consensus Business Group acquired 22,533 shares of SCL—the largest single shareholding, representing 24 percent of its then-95,134 shares. On Nov. 11, 2006, a new director was appointed to represent Tchenguiz’s interests—Julian David Wheatland, who was listed as “chairman” in the 2010 and 2011 accounts and on the SCL Group website.

Wheatland was formerly “head of the International Division at U.K. structured-finance house Consensus Business Group.” Consensus is Tchenguiz’s holding company. Wheatland is currently CEO of Consensus Community, a part of Consensus Business Group, which in turn manages investments for Investec Trust (Guernsey) Ltd., a trustee for the Tchenguiz Family Trust.

The 2006 accounts (available online) of SCL Group show a whopping loss of £2.3 million ($3.02 million), but no “going concern” statement was included. In May 2013, SCL Group’s auditor resigned; the 2011 accounts were the last audited accounts filed. Shareholders’ equity plummeted from: £681,000 in 2006 to a modest £273,000 in 2012 to £4,424 in 2013 and £87,420 in 2014—a very poor showing compared to similar companies.

Tchenguiz remained involved in SCL Group for 10 years, despite its lack of financial returns. Vincent Tchenguiz is mainly known as a real estate investor; his reasons for acquiring shares in SCL in the first place are as opaque as his reason for divesting them. From the outside, it seems an odd, unprofitable sideline. But SCL is a private company, so we can only follow the filings: Tchenguiz’s 22,533 shares were initially held by Consensus Business Group and later owned by Wheddon Ltd., another vehicle owned by his family holding company, Investec Trust.

Then, as of June 10, 2015, SCL canceled Wheddon’s 22,533 shares and paid Wheddon £147,746 (about $194,500)—a tiny amount in relation to Tchenguiz’s estimated wealth. It also changed its name from Strategic Communications Laboratories Ltd. to its current name, SCL Group Ltd. Julian Wheatland signed the “special resolution,” which, in U.K. business is a move “to protect minority shareholders against important decisions being taken without proper consideration and, to the extent possible, consensus.”

Did Tchenguiz change the name and remove his shareholding as an attempt to rebrand, in preparation for going to work for Ted Cruz? If that’s so, the Cruz campaign did only an imitation of due diligence, looking only at the company’s current ownership, not even bothering with the previous year, and not noticing that Tchenguiz still has a director on the company. Though Tchenguiz no longer owns shares in SCL, he would likely retain influence on the company operations: His director, Julian Wheatland is still SCL’s chairman and one of SCL’s four directors to this day. Wheatland is also a director of two other companies in the SCL family: SCL Analytics Ltd. and SCL Strategics Ltd.

Tchenguiz has branched out beyond his core ground-rents business before—and this is what connects him to Manafort partner Dmitry Firtash. Around the same time that he bought into SCL, in 2005-2006, Vincent Tchenguiz began giving interviews publicizing a new interest: “green” investing. One of these seemingly anodyne investments was in a privately held U.K. company called Zander Group Ltd. that has a very complex capital structure.

What does Zander do? Zander says on one of its subsidiaries’ websites that it is in the business of soil regeneration. It doesn’t seem to get a lot of work, but on March 2007, according to a posting on its website from January 2012 (since removed), it signed a contract to work on anti-desertification in Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya. An ex-director of Zander Group, Geoffrey Stuart Pearson, was jailed in Britain for his role in the collapse of Langbar Corp., the U.K.’s biggest AIM market fraud. (At the time, the U.K.’s SFO shut Langbar down in fall 2005, Zander shares were its only investment. The SFO apparently never found this interesting.)

As the obligatory Companies House filings show, Tchenguiz invested in Zander Group in 2005-2006 through his Vantania Holdings Ltd.; on Sept. 11, 2015, Vantania transferred its shares to Wheddon Ltd. (This was just after Wheddon had divested its shares in SCL Group Ltd.)

Here’s the Firtash link: From 2006 until 2011, the largest single shareholding in Zander Group, 28 percent of the total shares, was owned by a Cyprus company called Spadi Trading. And Spadi was owned by Group DF, as in Dmitry Firtash, in the British Virgin Islands. This holding company is one of 153 companies worldwide the U.S. is trying to seize pursuant to its indictment of Firtash. (Spadi’s ultimate owner is Robert Shetler-Jones, also a Group DF board member.).

There’s no proof that Tchenguiz knows Firtash, but it’s hard to imagine he’d be able to buy into a closely-held private business like Zander without the approval of the largest shareholder, even though Tchenguiz only bought 74,075 out of 11.5 million Zander Group shares in 2006. Moreover, Zander Group’s chairman, and its biggest shareholder, is Raymond Asquith, an English peer who doubles as an executive of Group DF.

Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had numerous dealings with Dmitry Firtash’s Group DF. Firtash is probably the most savory person with whom Manafort has worked; others include Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch formerly barred from the United States for Russian mob ties, ex-Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich, Mobutu Sese Seko, Ferdinand Marcos, and African warlord Jonas Savimbi. The fact that Vincent Tchenguiz’s man Wheatland is still the chairman and a director of SCL Group and that Tchenguiz is also a co-investor with the Firtash crew might give some candidates pause—but there’s no reason to think Trump is one of them. (As far as the public record indicates, Trump has never worked directly with Tchenguiz and Paul Manafort is not a director of any English companies, though he might be a shareholder; this information is not easily searchable.)

The moral may be, we ought to be paying closer attention to who owns the companies collecting data on American voters.

Saddam Hussein’s New Novel Might End Up Funneling Money to ISIS

July 28th, 2016

Originally published July 21 2016 on Acculturated.com (http://acculturated.com/saddam-husseins-new-novel/)

Saddam Hussein’s New Novel Might End Up Funneling Money to ISIS

By Ann Marlowe

Fancy reading a novel by Saddam Hussein? How about an allegory set 1500 years ago that describes “through biblical metaphor, a Zionist-Christian conspiracy against Arabs and Muslims?” Would you read it if you knew that the royalties from the book go to Saddam’s daughter Raghad, who has declared her support for ISIS?

Hesperus Press, a part-Jordanian-owned UK publishing house, thinks you will; they’re bringing out the 186-page novella, whose title has been rendered in the past as Begone Devils and Damned One, Get out of Here, in December, just in time for the tenth anniversary of Saddam’s hanging.

American readers with an interest in the Middle East might be curious about this window into Saddam’s disturbed mind and his view of the Iraqi people, whom he treated so badly. After all, he might still be ruling Iraq if he’d allowed inspectors to see that he didn’t have the WMDs he was feared to possess. But given Saddam’s reportedly modest literary skills, this tepid interest is probably outweighed by American weariness of all things Iraqi, not to mention the royalties issue—do Americans really want to see Hussein’s ISIS-supporting daughter profit from the book? (“To clarify, we are paying the agent,” a spokesman for Hesperus told me in an email, when asked about the royalties issue. He declined to give his name.)

This isn’t Saddam’s first literary foray. The best-known of Saddam’s four novels, titled Zabiba and the King in English translation, appeared in 2000 and is said to be a turgid allegory of Saddam’s relations with the Iraqi people and the U.S. “Some critics have suggested that Zabiba and the King was ghostwritten,” wrote The Guardian’s reviewer Daniel Kalder in 2011. “I doubt that: it is so poorly structured and dull that it has thewhiff of dictatorial authenticity.” Apparently Saddam was working on a fifth novel while in American captivity prior to his trial and 2006 execution.

The three earlier books, all published in the early 2000s, were published by “he who wrote them,” but the identity of the author was an open secret. Kanan Makiya, the well-known Iraqi intellectual and writer and author of a novel that spirals out from Saddam’s hanging, 2016’s The Rope, agrees that the novels are likely written by Saddam himself.

At first I thought he had not written them, but had them ghostwritten,” he told me via email. “Eventually I met speechwriters and media people who were close to him. They convinced me he had in fact taken himself seriously as a writer in the early 1990s. At any rate they read like extremely amateurish efforts to spin out a story of very recent events. The one I read had characters who were thinly veiled caricatures of real people in the Iraqi opposition (I recognized Ahmed Chalabi!). Saddam valued the arts in general. He fancied himself a sculptor, having designed and built a victory arch in Baghdad celebrating his so-called victory over Iran in the Iraq-Iran war; if a sculptor, why not a novelist?

The books were huge best-sellers in Iraq, where, of course, they would not have received any bad reviews. They may or may not have been added to the school curriculum. An Iraqi translator from Basra told me in an email,

I graduated before the so-called Saddam’s novels were supposed to be introduced to students. Actually, the whole thing was halted and the novels never included into the curriculum because of the Kuwait invasion. Also, there is no proof that Saddam wrote the novels and the writer who used to write Saddam’s speeches has not yet spilled the beans.

Unlike Makiya, this Iraqi states, “No one in Iraq thinks that Saddam did write the novels.”

Begone was smuggled out of Iraq by Saddam’s daughter Raghad, who is now based in Jordan, where she is a guest of the royal family. She tried to publish the novel herself in Jordan in 2005 but it was banned from sale. Bootlegged versions have done well; Saddam is still popular among segments of the Jordanian population, which is Sunni Muslim and includes many Iraqi Ba’ath party officials who fled there from Iraq after 2003.

But Raghad is ethically questionable even apart from her actions during her father’s regime; she has declared her support for ISIS, and in May 2015 Iraq tried unsuccessfully to extradite her from Jordan “for alleged support of terror and involvement in money laundering.” This isn’t a surprise considering that it has been widely reported that ISIS draws support from the former Baathist elite.

Hesperus Press also has Jordanian ties: the sole director, Shadi Jabra Sharbain, a twenty-six-year-old, is Jordanian, as were two former directors who no longer seem to be involved with the company. Two of the four current shareholders, Lana Harkouz and Jebra Sharbain, seemingly the father of Shadi, also claim Jordanian nationality on Hesperus’s obligatory Companies House filings.

Oddly enough, Hesperus, founded in 2001, was previously in the news for not paying royalties to an author. The company made headlines in 2015 for failing to pay Jonas Jonasson, who wrote a best-selling novel; the staff at that time all resigned. According to one publishing industry blog, Jonasson was not the only author cheated by Hesperus.

What value is there in “dictator lit” such as Saddam’s novella? With the right publisher, it could provide some insight into how things unraveled in Iraq. As Kanan Makiya noted in an email, “With an intelligent up front article it would be a reasonable publishing project, providing some insight into an aging dictator’s warped mind.”

The Iraqi translator I spoke to was less sanguine. “Raghad is fiercely fighting to keep Saddam’s name and legacy alive among his followers as a symbol of Sunni hero who fought Iran and the USA altogether (exactly what ISIS is doing now),” he said. “The profits of the novels should be seized by the USA because they are going to be used to finance terrorism.”