Friday, December 29, 2006

Tah Hadhek Abu Uday!

I downloaded all these photos on December 14, 2003, after the capture of Saddam Hussein.
































Your Luck Has Fallen, Saddam Hussein

I wasn't going to write about the imminent execution of Saddam Hussein, but then I looked through some photos I downloaded during the invasion in 2003, and the photos reveal how happy the Iraqis were after it was clear that Saddam's government had collapsed. Of course many innocent people were killed in the process, and I have many photos of dead and wounded Iraqis, but here I want to display a small collection of photos that I found interesting, to remind the world that yes, the Iraqis for the most part were happy when Saddam's regime was ended, they were happy when Saddam was captured, and they will be happy now to see him executed. My mother told me last night that they should have done this as soon as they captured him. Indeed, if he had been captured by Iraqis, Saddam could not have lasted more than a few hours. I was glad to see him given a trial, as imperfect as it was, but Iraqis like my mother believe that fewer Iraqis would have been murdered if he was killed immediately after capture.

As some Iraqis like to say, tah hadhek Abu Uday (your luck has fallen, Abu Uday)!


Downloaded April 7, 2003


Downloaded April 13, 2003


Downloaded April 9, 2003.


Downloaded April 13, 2003


Downloaded April 09, 2003


Downloaded April 11, 2003


Next I will post some pictures of Iraqis celebrating after the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Iraq Before the Baath and Saddam

This is a nice British documentary (each part is ten minutes long) that shows how Iraq was making great progress in the 1950s, without the aid of a tyrant. People like to talk about how much better life was before Saddam's fall. This documentary shows how great life was before the rise of Saddam and his Baath party.

Part 1:


Part 2:

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Vertigo

Another good one by Hitchens.

IN IRAQ, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN HOPE AND DESPAIR CAN BE MEASURED IN MINUTES

By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2006, at 11:11 AM ET

BAGHDAD, Iraq—The first car bomb of the day went off just as I was pulling my curtains open at about 7:30 a.m. The guards I could see standing below didn't even turn around to look for the source of the noise. On the previous day, at least 11 people had been murdered at Baghdad University and a crowd of would-be pilgrims, or hajis, torn apart by a suicide-murderer.

I never got to find out what this latest explosion had destroyed or who it had slaughtered. But up close, a pattern emerges that isn't evident at a distance: The violence in the capital isn't always as random and nihilistic as it looks. The Shiite militias are "cleansing" a whole southern belt of the city so as to have unfettered connection to their strongholds in the south of the country, and the crude demographic numbers are on their side in this horrible exercise. Some Sunnis now regret having set a precedent and given an "insurgent" excuse for this. I was told of a leader of the (Sunni) Iraqi Islamic Party who has even called for more U.S. troops to be sent here to guarantee law and order. But, as with Beirut, it is unlikely that anything will stop the confessional violence as long as either side thinks there is anything to be gained from it.

The distance between hope and despair, meanwhile, is measurable in vertiginous minutes. I flew to Baghdad from the northern city of Erbil, by the ordinary means of buying a local Iraqi Airlines ticket, boarding a plane that made a stop in Sulaymaniyah, and landing at the former Saddam Hussein International Airport. The whole exercise was almost weirdly normal. The plane was full of ordinary citizens carrying plastic hold-alls, with cheerful, unveiled hostesses handing out snacks and drinks. The terminal was quiet, and the airport road (which used to be known as "Route Irish" and was the scene of incessant mayhem) is these days considered fairly safe and has been stabilized by the Iraqi army. I stopped to be photographed with a unit of this force, a group of cheerful and professional young men. But as I waved goodbye to them, my Kurdish driver said, "Army pretty good. Police no good at all." And, indeed, the sight of a police uniform is one of the least reassuring in the whole of Iraq. It is often no more than the disguise for religious fascism or organized crime or (as was revealed yet again in Basra last week) for both.

Up and down the switchback one goes. At a party in the Green Zone featuring various politicians and intellectuals, I was told of the heartening success of the negotiations on oil revenues, with all parties agreeing in principle to share this national resource among the regions and provinces. On more or less the same day, a move in parliament to create a cross-party bloc of national unity was undone by Shiite hard-liners. In the morning, I was shown a proposal for the opening of an American University of Sulaymaniyah, offering degree courses in a wide range of subjects to students regardless of ethnic or religious origin. By the evening, I was being told of an exodus of qualified Iraqis to Jordan that now almost exceeds the number of educated people fleeing the country under Saddam Hussein.

A young Marine officer stationed in one of the toughest parts of a very tough province, a man known to me for his hostility to bullshit, insists that American forces are "kicking the shit out of al-Qaida" in his district. But soon after hearing this cheering news, I was told by a veteran journalist who sympathizes with the coalition that there is now insurgent infiltration nibbling at the edges of the very Green Zone itself, the Emerald City within which the illusion of normality can be maintained for days at a time.

It isn't so much a matter of deciding who or what to believe, because both may be simultaneously correct. Security has been "handed back" to Iraqis in Najaf. Good. In other provinces where this has happened, the reign of Khomeini-type gangs has been the consequence. The electoral discomfiture of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was considered encouraging by everyone I spoke with. Good. The arrest of Iranian diplomats, guests of the Iraqi government, on charges of aiding the violence, was the next piece of news to come my way. So it goes. Newsweek International carries a report of a boom in the wider Iraqi economy. Journeying back north to relatively flourishing Erbil, where there hasn't been a terrorist attack for almost three years, I found that electric power still wasn't on for more than two hours at a time.

If there is a flickering pulse that holds any of this together, it is kept going by two sources. The first is the astonishing actual and potential wealth of the country. The budget negotiations, which were occupying all parties during my visit, were to discuss the allocation of more than $41 billion. This is not a paper figure: New oil fields are being prospected in parts of the country that haven't been explored yet, and there is no reason in principle why Iraq could not be one of the most prosperous countries on earth. For the moment, feuding sects use their control over ministries to enrich their own supporters, but even the most blinkered tribalist can glimpse the idea that a shared country would be more beneficial to each than a shattered one. The second source of life is the presence of the coalition, where yet again even the most hard-line factionalist will admit that as bad as things are, they would be instantly worse (and instantly worse for his own group) in the case of a withdrawal. These facts are stubborn: The idea that we could even consider abandoning such a keystone state, and so many decent people, to the forces of the faith-based is as inhumane as it is unrealistic.'

Kidnap and Murder of Iraqi Professionals

My aunt told me about an Iraqi doctor whose son was kidnapped recently. They demanded a ransom, which the doctor delivered himself. The kidnappers took the money and murdered both the father and his son. I do not understand why the Iraqi police are not involved in catching these murderers and arresting or killing them. My aunt said that she did not see any coverage of this particular kidnap/murder case, and I have not been able to find coverage of it on any website. It seems that many murders in Iraq go unreported, and that's why there is such a huge difference between Iraq Body Count's figures and the statistics reported in the Lancet study.

This article discusses kidnap and murder in Iraq, and also mentions the fleeing of Iraqi professionals to Kurdistan, where it is relatively safe. I know an Iraqi couple who is spending a month long vacation in Erbil. I have heard that Kurdistan's economy is booming.

Iraqi Professionals Targeted for Abduction, Murder
by Mohammed Salih
December 7, 2006

ARBIL - The call from his mother changed Dr. Harb Zakko's life. "Someone has been calling me to open the door, saying he has something for you," his mother said.

Soon after, apparently the same person called him at his clinic, asking personal questions. The doctor got the message. He returned home and asked his family to pack. Two days later they drove out of their ethnically mixed Karrada neighborhood in Baghdad and headed for Arbil in Kurdistan to the north.

The calls had sounded like the beginning of an abduction threat. They came only 10 days after a colleague's son was abducted. The family paid $10,000 ransom, but got back only the body of their son.

Such stories are common in Karrada neighborhood, home to many academics and professionals.

"It's a mess in Baghdad, there is no law there – it's militias who are ruling the streets," Zakko told IPS. The doctor now works at a beauty center in the predominantly Christian district Ainkawa north of Arbil.

Zakko is among hundreds of Iraqi professionals who have been leaving the "blind violence" behind them to move to Kurdistan, the northern region of Iraq, or to other countries.

This migration has created fears of a brain drain from a country already paralysed by years of isolation and wars. Iraq was placed under sanctions after the first Gulf War in 1991, and faced the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Professionals seem to have become a particular target. "Experts and academics are killed almost daily," Fuad Massoum, head of the Kurdistan Alliance Slate in the Iraqi parliament, told IPS in a phone interview from Baghdad. "This will do tremendous harm to Iraq and its infrastructure, a significant part of which is these professional people."

He said that the issue of targeting of the professional elites has been discussed frequently in parliament. "But it is the government that must take action on that since parliament has no executive authority."

There are varying, but alarming figures about the number of professionals being affected by violence in Iraq. According to the Washington-based Brookings Institute, an independent think tank, 40 percent of Iraq's professionals have left the country since 2003.

The Britain-based charity Medact says that 120 doctors and 80 pharmacists have been killed over the past three years, and more than 18,000 medical professionals have fled Iraq.

The Brussels Tribunal, an anti-occupation group, has produced a list of 281 university professors killed in Iraq from April 2003 to late November 2006. More than 70 other names are on a list of academics who have been threatened or kidnapped, according to the group.

Many professionals who move to Kurdistan are being employed in local government institutions, and have filled gaps in areas of their specialty.

Rezan Sayda, a senior official in the Kurdistan Regional Government's health ministry, told IPS that her ministry has employed 600 doctors who fled insecure parts of the country, and that another 320 doctors are on a waiting list for employment. Ten to 12 physicians move to the Kurdish region daily, among them some big names in their field, she added.

"The Iraqi government does not give permission to the doctors who want to be employed in Kurdistan, because they fear that will encourage other to come here," Sayda said. But the doctors come anyhow.

The motives of those who target professionals vary from political and sectarian to plain crime by highly organized gangs who kidnap for money.

"They target academics randomly, and the famous have been threatened a lot," said Dr. Qasim Hussein Salih, 57, a professor of psychology who left Baghdad in late 2004. Salih, who was educated in Britain, was head of Iraq's Psychology Association.

"What is going on in Iraq now is an attempt to stop life in this country," said Salih, who now teaches psychology at Arbil's College of Education. "If this continues, then the final disaster is only a matter of time."

The professor is struggling to survive. The salary he gets is not enough even for bare needs, he said.

Salih lost two of his colleagues during the mass kidnapping of staff at Iraq's Higher Education Ministry last month. He says he can hardly bear the pain.

"When I am alone at night, I cry for my friends who were killed, and for my country," he said. "Iraq is a rich country and it is very sad to see Iraq like this, and I blame America for that."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Real Sunni Triangle


Saudi Judge encourages Saudis to fight in Iraq in April, 2005

Al Iraqiya reported yesterday that about 2,000 Saudi citizens have been killed in Iraq since 2003. After hearing this news, my uncle and his wife both said 'bil jeer w bil jehenneb!'

This is an interesting article by Christopher Hitchens. Christopher Hitchens is an interesting character, one of the many liberals who became more conservative after 9/11.

THERE ARE ONLY THREE OPTIONS IN IRAQ
By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, Dec. 18, 2006, at 4:01 PM ET

The ructions on the periphery of the Saudi lobby in Washington—over whether Saudi Arabia would or should become the protector of its Sunni brethren in Iraq — obscures the extent to which what might or could happen has actually been happening already. The Sunni insurgents currently enjoy quite a lot of informal and unofficial support from Saudi circles (and are known by the nickname "the Wahabbis" by many Shiites). Saudi Arabia has long thought of Iraq as its buffer against Iran and for this reason opposed the removal of Saddam Hussein and would not allow its soil to be used for the operation. Saudi princes and officials have long been worried by the state of opinion among the Shiite underclass in Saudi Arabia itself, because this underclass—its religion barely recognized by the ultra-orthodox Wahabbi authorities — happens to live and work in and around the oil fields. Since 2003, there have been increasing signs of discontent from them, including demands for more religious and political freedom.

In 1991, which is also the year when the present crisis in Iraq actually began, it was Saudi influence that helped convince President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker to leave Saddam Hussein in power and to permit him to crush the Shiite intifada that broke out as his regime reeled from defeat in Kuwait. If, when reading an article about the debate over Iraq, you come across the expression "the realist school" and mentally substitute the phrase "the American friends of the Saudi royal family," your understanding of the situation will invariably be enhanced.

Many people write as if the sectarian warfare in Iraq was caused by coalition intervention. But it is surely obvious that the struggle for mastery has been going on for some time and was only masked by the apparently iron unity imposed under Baathist rule. That rule was itself the dictatorship of a tribal Tikriti minority of the Sunni minority and constituted a veneer over the divisions beneath, as well as an incitement to their perpetuation. The Kurds had already withdrawn themselves from this divide-and-rule system by the time the coalition forces arrived, while Shiite grievances against the state were decades old and had been hugely intensified by Saddam's cruelty. Nothing was going to stop their explosion, and if Saddam Hussein's regime had been permitted to run its course and to devolve (if one can use such a mild expression) into the successorship of Udai and Qusai, the resulting detonation would have been even more vicious."


When I started to read this article, I thought it was great until I read this:

"And into the power vacuum would have stepped not only Saudi Arabia and Iran, each with its preferred confessional faction, but also Turkey, in pursuit of hegemony in Kurdistan. In other words, the alternative was never between a tranquil if despotic Iraq and a destabilizing foreign intervention, but it was, rather, a race to see which kind of intervention there would be. The international community in its wisdom decided to delay the issue until the alternatives were even fewer, but it is idle to pretend that Iraq was going to remain either unified or uninvaded after the destruction of its fabric as a state by three decades of fascism and war, including 12 years of demoralizing sanctions."

I do not believe it was wise of the international community to delay the issue until alternatives were even fewer, as if the war in 1991 was not an intervention, and as if there were no good alternatives other than to bomb Iraq in 2003 and kill many innocent people in order to topple Saddam's government.

And then Hitchens writes: "The disadvantage of an American-led intervention, it might be argued, was that it meant the arbitration of foreigners." No, Mr. Hitchens, the biggest disadvantage of an American-led intervention has been the killing of innocent civilians by US troops and the huge misunderstandings between Americans and Iraqis. US and British arbitration (true arbitration) is the best thing the coalition can do.

Hitchens goes on to talk about the three options before Iraq, and I agree. However, he did not explain the 'Real Sunni Triangle' that was eluded to - I was expecting Hitchens to write about the Sunni triangle between Riyadh, Damascus, and Baghdad, but he only mentions Riyadh and Tehran (Hitchens must know that Iran is mostly Shia):

"But the advantage was, and is, that these foreigners at least have a stake in the preservation of a power-sharing system. Iraq has only three alternatives before it. The first is dictatorship by one faction or sect over all the others: a solution that has been exhausted by horrific failure. The second is partition, which would certainly involve direct intervention by all its neighbors to secure privileges for their own proxies and would therefore run the permanent risk of civil war. And the third is federalism, where each group would admit that it was not strong enough to dictate terms to the others and would agree to settle differences by democratic means. Quixotic though the third solution may seem, it is the only alternative to the most gruesome mayhem—more gruesome than anything we have seen so far. It is to the credit of the United States that it has at least continued to hold up this outcome as a possibility—a possibility that would not be thinkable if the field were left to the rival influences of Tehran and Riyadh.

I once heard U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad say that he was surprised by how often the different factions in the Iraqi parliament (the very existence of which, by the way, is itself a miracle) would come to him and ask his help as a broker. It was often possible to perform this role to some extent, he went on to say, as long as each group understood that it could not get what it wanted by force. The necessary corollary of this, though, was that nobody believed they could drive the U.S. presence out of the country.

The unspoken corollary of that, however, was that nobody believed that the Americans were going to withdraw suddenly or of their own accord. In that event, each group would immediately start making contingency plans—such as soliciting foreign support—to grab what it could from the impending scramble. The danger now is that all parties in the region are setting their watches and presuming that all they need to do is wait out the moment. This almost automatically dooms any negotiations that are currently being conducted. So the effect of the "realist" doctrine is to heighten the chances of destabilization and extremism. This is surely not what such vaunted elder statesmen as James Baker and Henry Kissinger can possibly have intended?"

Muslims Should Celebrate Christmas

I spent Christmas with my uncle, his wife and their two kids. On Christmas Eve we went to a Sacramento Presbyterian Church that invited the Muslim community to attend celebrations with them, and it turned out to be quite a delightful experience. The senior pastor at the Church, Dr. David Thompson, said that he was surprised when he was invited by the Sheikh of a local Mosque at the end of Ramadhan this year to participate in Eid el Futr at the Mosque. So Dr. Thompson thought it would be nice to invite the local Muslim community to Christmas Mass at their beautiful Church. Dr. Thompson spoke highly of the Quran and the Prophet Muhammed, and he invited Dr. Metwalli Amer (the Egyptian Sheikh at the SALAM Mosque) to speak during the service. Dr. Amer recited the account of the birth of Jesus in the Qur'an, in both Arabic and English. I was pleasantly amazed to be hearing a Sheikh reciting the Quran in Arabic to hundreds of Christians at a huge Church in America on Christmas Eve. Below is a handout given at the Church entrance. Dr. Metwalli read the first paragraph in Arabic first and then in English.



We also spent a lot of time at the house watching Al Iraqiya (that's pretty much all they watch these days), and we saw a lot of coverage of a service at a Baghdad Church. I enjoyed this year's Christmas celebrations very much, and I wish more Muslims would celebrate Christmas, even though the birth of Jesus took place in the spring, according to the Bible. Muslims should at least not frown upon other Muslims who celebrate Christmas. After all, Jesus is a revered Prophet in the Quran. Earlier this year I met an Indian Muslim who asked me why he should celebrate the 'birth of the son of God' and I was surprised to hear him say that, because my parents never equated Christmas with endorsing the Christian belief that Jesus is the son of God.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sectarian Fault Lines Explained Through Maps

I like maps. Sectarian maps of Baghdad and Iraq can be very descriptive, like the ones Zeyad used to describe how the Shia militia(s) kidnapped a large group of people from the Ministry of Education and drove them back to Sadr city. Many of the victims were later found dead.

This is a sectarian map of Baghdad that Zeyad posted on his blog in late November:




Today I found this 'new' sectarian map of Baghdad in this New York Times article and it shows how Baghdad is becoming more dominated by Shia as the Sunna flee the Shia and mixed neighborhoods:



The map is interesting enough, but if you look closely, in the bottom left corner you will read this: Source: Zeyad, Healingiraq.blogspot.com. Zeyad's sectarian map of Baghdad is being used by the New York Times, and that is impressive. Good work Zeyad.

Clearly many Sadrists are responsible for much of the violence in Baghdad these days, and something must be done to stop their murderous rampages. The Mehdi army, and especially the criminals among them (I hope they are a small minority) must be confronted somehow, without killing innocent civilians I hope. The Shia who believe in attacking innocent Sunna must be taught to change or they will end up in jail, or worse. The biggest challenge for the Iraqi government will be to attack the Mehdi army without the full support of the Iraqi people. It might be impossible. Even though there are criminal elements among the Mehdi army, Sadr's militia is seen by many Iraqi Shia as strong protectors of Shia. From the NYT article: ' “They told us it’s safe here, it’s a Shiite neighborhood,” said Mustafa, one of the sons. “The Mahdi Army is protecting the area,” he said, referring to Mr. Sadr’s militia.'

I also found this descriptive sectarian map of Iraq in this Washington Post article:

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Iraqi Fugitive Donated to Bush Campaigns

Bush-Alsammarae meeting Sept. 2003
White House Photo

Contributed Before, After Appointed Iraqi Govt. Minister

12/21/2006 00:33 AM ET

Bush-Alsammarae meeting Sept. 2003
raqSlogger has learned that the ex-Iraqi government minister who is the subject of a nationwide manhunt in Iraq contributed to George W. Bush's presidential campaigns before and after being appointed by U.S. authorities as Iraq's minister of electricity.

Aiham Alsammarae, an Iraqi-American who considered the Chicago area home for 27 years until 2003, escaped his Baghdad Green Zone jail Sunday in an effort to avoid facing prosecution on corruption charges.

After escaping, Alsammarae, in telephone interviews with U.S. newspaper correspondents, taunted Iraqi authorities, said he was fleeing death threats in Iraq, and claimed he had already left the country.

Campaign contribution records show Alsammarae donated $1,000 to the Bush campaign in 1999 and, after being appointed by U.S. Iraq administrator Paul Bremer as Iraq's electricity minister in August 2003, donated $250 to the Bush campaign in April 2004.

Also while serving as Iraq's minister of electricity, he donated $1,500 to the U.S. Republican National Committee and $250 to the Illinois Republican Party.

Prior to his appointment as an Iraqi government minister, and separate from his Bush presidential campaign and RNC contributions, Alsammarae donated nearly $5,000 to the Illinois Republican party and to Republican U.S. senate candidates.

After being appointed by Bremer in 2003, Alsammarae stayed on as the electricity minister in the government of Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi until May 2005.

Alsammarae and the Iraqi minister of public works met President Bush at the White House September 22, 2003.

Alsammarae was arrested on corruption charges this August and in October was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. That verdict was overturned last week, but he faced further corruption charges when he fled jail.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Iran

I don't like the Iranian regime. Recently I saw 1991 footage of an Iranian crowd stoning a woman to death. Mullahs can be quite the barbaric animals, and it disturbs me that SCIRI members are so influenced by the Iranian regime. After we fled Iraq in 1982, my father became obsessed with Khomeini and the "Islamic Revolution". Later he was dismayed to discover that Khomeini's regime murdered more Muslim clerics than did the Shah.

Having said this, I am concerned that the mainstream media in America and Europe are deliberately misquoting Ahmadinejad, who allegedly said that "Israel will be wiped off the map" in a speech to the "World Without Zionism" conference in October 2005. For several months I assumed that the media has been translating his words correctly. It was Christian Sunni who pointed out to me recently that Ahmadinejad did not actually say that Israel will be wiped off the map. In an analysis of Ahmadinejad's speech, the authors of this article conclude that Ahmadinejad was referring to the regime that occupies Palestine and not the country of Israel. Wikipedia also has a good analysis of the speech, with commentary by Juan Cole. The Iranian Foreign Minister tried to explain what Ahmadinejad said, but it did not help, and the mainstream media has been repeating the 'wiping off the map' allegation since then.

Disinformation is a tool used to manufacture consent (to war with Iran in this case), and I am surprised that the mainstream media participates in it, especially when it is obvious that Ahmadinejad was misquoted and did not actually say that Israel should be wiped off the map. He did not even use the word 'map'. The Iranian regime will fall naturally through attrition and Iranian society's thirst for freedom. To bomb Iran (and undoubtedly kill innocent Iranians) because their current President allegedly said that Israel should be wiped off the map is silly. Even if he did say that Israel must be wiped off the map, it would not be a good reason to attack Iran.

Furthermore, attacking Iran would strain US relations with Iraq. Remember Alaa’s first Law: "The relations between the Shiaa’s of Iraq and Iran are reciprocally proportional to those between them and the United States. In other words; the worst the latter gets the closer becomes the first and vise versa. Therefore this question must be dealt with, with the utmost caution to avoid quite undesirable results."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Police Should Be Neutral

I read this the other day and I kinda forgot about it. It really shows how the Iraqi police are pressured to be loyal to one party or another, and of course the police should always be neutral politically. Their only job should be to enforce the law.


One cop's story

With Iraq's massive problems, so much boils down to a political solution. While training and reforming Iraq's security forces is billed by many as the way out, how well trained these forces are won't matter if they are beholden to political parties. Below is the story of one police officer who says he lost his job because he didn't join a party. The interview was conducted by Martin Fletcher and Ned Parker.


Colonel Salam Zajay, 45, Police Officer. Shia. Married with four children.

Being a police officer during Saddam's day was dangerous enough: Col. Zajay was twice imprisoned for arresting criminals who had connections high places. But it has become far worse since Saddam was overthrown.

At first the police were given new vehicles and weapons and the future looked bright. But soon militias began infiltrating the new force and Col. Zajay, commander of a police station in Dura, a Sunni stronghold in south Baghdad, found himself under pressure to join one political faction or another. He refused.

He also found himself fighting a rising Sunni insurgency in Dura, and in October 2004 the mujahideen tried to kill him. At 9.30 one evening he was driving his sick wife to the pharmacy near their home in Baghdad's middle-class Mansour district when two gunmen opened fire from a passing car. He was shot in the shoulder and neck, and still bears the scars.

He returned to work four months later, but moved his wife and four teenage children to Syria for the summer of 2005. When he visited them in Damascus, he says, he was spotted and approached by two former members of Saddam's intelligence service who ordered him to return confiscated cars and weapons the Sunni mujahideen. He refused, and immediately flew his family back to Baghdad.

He says his station was mortared 64 times during 2005, and at 8.00am that December 19 he survived another assassination attempt. As he left home for work a car bomb exploded next to his police pick-up. He suffered shrapnel wounds, but five civilians including a woman doctor, were killed.

Col. Zajay has not worked since. Lacking political patrons, he failed to persuade the Ministry of Interior to move him to a safer station. The ministry asked him to work at an even more dangerous place in southern Baghdad. Wishing to survive, Col. Zajay, who is himself a Shia, declined the offer. He felt they were sending him to die. The mujahidin had almost killed him twice and at some point, his luck was bound to run out.

In September his own brother was shot dead as he left his home. The ministry laid him off in October as part of the forcible retirement of 3,000 policemen. The dismissals were called a major effort to get rid of bad cops who didn't show up for work or were linked to criminal gangs or militias. He is sure he was swept out because he was beholden to no one.

This month, Col. Zajay will officially leave the force. Instead of his $600 monthly salary he will receive a pension of less than half that amount.

Col.Zajay wants to leave Iraq. He believes he is still a target, and no longer trusts the force for which he worked for 27 years. The best officers are being removed either by political factions or terrorists, he says. Asked how many of his fellow officers had been killed, he replies: "The better question is how many are still alive. There is no law any more."

Posted by The Times Baghdad bureau on December 09, 2006 at 06:01 AM

Reconciliation: Mission Impossible?

Maliki Presses Reconciliation

'BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's army has "opened its doors" to all former members of Saddam Hussein's army, the prime minister said Saturday at a national reconciliation conference boycotted by one of his main Shiite allies, a major Sunni group and Iraq's exiled opposition.

Despite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's effort to reach out to Iraq's Sunni Arabs and some former members of Saddam's outlawed Baath Party, the gathering was overshadowed by rising sectarian tensions and political divisions.

The radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, one of al-Maliki's key political backers _ refused to attend the meeting, as did a major Sunni group and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite.'


This effort towards reconciliation is good of Maliki, and it shows how hard he his trying to pull Sunni Arabs into the Iraqi government and military, especially since the conference was boycotted by some of his key allies. The boycott of the conference by Sadr's bloc, a major Sunni group and Iraq's exiled opposition highlights the difficulties in uniting Iraq. I do not believe that this conference will have any significant effect in reducing violence, unfortunately, because the leaders of the insurgency are not only interested in allowing former member of Saddam's army to be reinstated - the Sunni Arab insurgency will not stop fighting until they are in full control of Iraq. One of the primary aims of the insurgency is to free Saddam and reinstate him as President of Iraq.

From the same article:

'The government had previously invited former officers up to the rank of major to join the new army. The outreach and pension offer were apparent concessions to a long-standing demand by Sunni Arab politicians who argue that the neglect of former army soldiers was pushing them into the arms of the insurgency.'

I doubt that Maliki's government would allow such Saddamists as Izzat al Douri to join Iraq's military, and that will be problematic for Maliki's reconciliation efforts. Those who join Iraq's army would be branded as traitors and will become targets of the insurgency, as has been the case since 2003. The Iraqi military must hunt down the leaders of the insurgency - whether they hide in Anbar, Amman, or Damascus - and arrest them or kill them.

Disarming the Shia militias that attack Sunni Arab civilians and arresting or killing the leaders of those militias is also a key ingredient of reconciliation. This might be even more difficult than fighting the Sunni Arab insurgency, because the Mehdi army has infiltrated the ranks of the Iraqi police and army.

Maliki's government has some seemingly impossible tasks ahead of them, but they are on the right track.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

To Work or Not to Work for Americans

BAGHDAD, 13 December (IRIN) - Escalating sectarian violence in Iraq since the February 2006 bombing of a revered Shi'ite mosque in Samarra has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of ordinary Iraqis.

This vicious cycle of revenge killings between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims has left few families untouched. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 425,000 Iraqis had been internally displaced since February and more than 3,500 Iraqi civilians are killed every month, according to the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

While shootings and bombings occur on a daily basis in the capital, a particularly devastating attack took place on 12 December in the centre of the capital, in Taiyanan Square. A man driving a pick-up truck pulled up alongside a large group of Shi'ite day workers, calling them to him. He then detonated his explosives-packed truck.

The Iraqi police say 70 people were killed in the blast and more than 230 injured.

Kawkab Barakat, 62, lost her two sons in the explosion. Needing sedatives to stay calm, she spoke to IRIN about her tragic loss.

"I lost my only two sons in the explosion. I cannot control the pain. Now I understand what every Iraqi mother who lost their sons feels. They were trying to work to bring food and pay our rent, which is three months late.

My sons were very good people. They were responsible and worked hard to support us. They had many proposals to work with US engineers but refused many times [for fear of being seen as traitors]. But it wasn't enough and those bastards killed them anyway.

I saw the body of one of my dead sons, but for the other they brought me his shoes saying that they could only find pieces of him. What did I do to deserve this? I am a mother and even a decent burial is not possible because my son was blown apart. Allahu akbar! [God is great]"

We are a poor family and the only income for me and my three daughters was that which my sons were bringing to us each day. Their wives and children live with me too. Now we are afraid because we don't know how we are going to feed the children tomorrow. We [the women] have never worked outside. Maybe the only solution is to go in the streets and beg for help."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Speaking Frankly About Israel and Palestine

Members of the US government have always been reluctant to speak frankly about Israel and Palestine for a good reason: it is dangerous to the health of their careers. Americans who suggest that Israel has done wrong may be branded as anti-semitic, or unpatriotic, as if Israel is part of America. I believe that the fear of US officials to criticize Israel has much to do with the lobbying efforts of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). But it seems that American perceptions have been changing over the twenty years. Former Congressman Paul Findley was the first (to my knowledge) prominent American to examine America's lopsided attitude towards Israel and speak frankly about AIPAC's influence in his book They Dare To Speak Out, published by Independent Publishers Group in 1985 - apparently a large publishing company did not want to take the risk of publishing such a book back then.

The fear to speak frankly about Israel and Palestine still exists in Washington today, but the political atmosphere is not quite the same as it was in 1985. Former US President Jimmy Carter has written a book entitled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, published by big Simon & Schuster, and the mainstream media in America is allowing open discussion of the subject. Below is an Op-Ed piece written by Jimmy Carter and recently published by the L.A. Times. I have always respected Americans who are unafraid to speak the truth and understand the immediate need for a just solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Like Paul Findley, Jimmy Carter has earned my full respect.

Speaking frankly about Israel and Palestine

"I signed a contract with Simon & Schuster two years ago to write a book about the Middle East, based on my personal observations as the Carter Center monitored three elections in Palestine and on my consultations with Israeli political leaders and peace activists.

We covered every Palestinian community in 1996, 2005 and 2006, when Yasser Arafat and later Mahmoud Abbas were elected president and members of parliament were chosen. The elections were almost flawless, and turnout was very high — except in East Jerusalem, where, under severe Israeli restraints, only about 2% of registered voters managed to cast ballots.

The many controversial issues concerning Palestine and the path to peace for Israel are intensely debated among Israelis and throughout other nations — but not in the United States. For the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticize any policies of the Israeli government is because of the extraordinary lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Political Action Committee and the absence of any significant contrary voices.

It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians. Very few would ever deign to visit the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Gaza City or even Bethlehem and talk to the beleaguered residents. What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the United States exercise similar self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed quite forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land.

With some degree of reluctance and some uncertainty about the reception my book would receive, I used maps, text and documents to describe the situation accurately and to analyze the only possible path to peace: Israelis and Palestinians living side by side within their own internationally recognized boundaries. These options are consistent with key U.N. resolutions supported by the U.S. and Israel, official American policy since 1967, agreements consummated by Israeli leaders and their governments in 1978 and 1993 (for which they earned Nobel Peace Prizes), the Arab League's offer to recognize Israel in 2002 and the International Quartet's "Roadmap for Peace," which has been accepted by the PLO and largely rejected by Israel.

The book is devoted to circumstances and events in Palestine and not in Israel, where democracy prevails and citizens live together and are legally guaranteed equal status.

Although I have spent only a week or so on a book tour so far, it is already possible to judge public and media reaction. Sales are brisk, and I have had interesting interviews on TV, including "Larry King Live," "Hardball," "Meet the Press," "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," the "Charlie Rose" show, C-SPAN and others. But I have seen few news stories in major newspapers about what I have written.

Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations who would be unlikely to visit the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for instance, issued a statement (before the book was published) saying that "he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel." Some reviews posted on Amazon.com call me "anti-Semitic," and others accuse the book of "lies" and "distortions." A former Carter Center fellow has taken issue with it, and Alan Dershowitz called the book's title "indecent."

Out in the real world, however, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I've signed books in five stores, with more than 1,000 buyers at each site. I've had one negative remark — that I should be tried for treason — and one caller on C-SPAN said that I was an anti-Semite. My most troubling experience has been the rejection of my offers to speak, for free, about the book on university campuses with high Jewish enrollment and to answer questions from students and professors. I have been most encouraged by prominent Jewish citizens and members of Congress who have thanked me privately for presenting the facts and some new ideas.

The book describes the abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories, with a rigid system of required passes and strict segregation between Palestine's citizens and Jewish settlers in the West Bank. An enormous imprisonment wall is now under construction, snaking through what is left of Palestine to encompass more and more land for Israeli settlers. In many ways, this is more oppressive than what blacks lived under in South Africa during apartheid. I have made it clear that the motivation is not racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonize choice sites in Palestine, and then to forcefully suppress any objections from the displaced citizens. Obviously, I condemn any acts of terrorism or violence against innocent civilians, and I present information about the terrible casualties on both sides.

The ultimate purpose of my book is to present facts about the Middle East that are largely unknown in America, to precipitate discussion and to help restart peace talks (now absent for six years) that can lead to permanent peace for Israel and its neighbors. Another hope is that Jews and other Americans who share this same goal might be motivated to express their views, even publicly, and perhaps in concert. I would be glad to help with that effort.'

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Kerbala and the Shia Rebellion of 1991

This rare footage shows what happened to Kerbala during the Shia rebellion of 1991. I encourage everybody to watch this short (less than 8 minutes) video, but I would especially like all Arabs and Muslims who believe that no Muslim could ever damage a mosque to watch it. It's also for people who believe that there were no problems between Sunna and Shia before 2003.

The Ugly Arab

The vast majority of Arabs I have known in my lifetime have been wonderful people. I spent a total of eight years in Iraq, and during those years I met all kinds of Arabs - poor, rich, educated, illiterate, Shia, Sunna, and Christians. On our street in east Baghdad there lived families of various ethnic and religious backgrounds. Across the street from us lived an Armenian Christian family, and next to them lived a large Sunni Arab family - they were always kind and most gracious to our family. Here in the US I have also met many Arabs, mostly educated and well off - about half of them are Sunni Arabs. I have met only one Arab I did not like, and the reason I disliked him was because he believed that Saddam Hussein was good for Iraq, and that Iraq needs a 'strong' leader like Saddam. He is half Saudi, half Palestinian, and he shared his theory with me in 2000, more than ten years after I first met him - I considered him to be a friend until then. I have heard this theory from different people, especially in the last three years. Even western reporters like Kevin Toolis argue that Saddam's terror in Iraq was needed to 'suppress greater horrors'. Perhaps Mr. Toolis should ask himself why a dictator's terror was not needed to suppress 'greater horrors' in Iraq before 1980, or how Iraq survived on its own without sectarian tensions, without the aid of a tyrant, before Saddam Hussein and his Tikriti mafiosi came onto the scene.

The US has been culpable to an extent in creating Saddam Hussein and the murderous mafiosi who have become so powerful in Iraq, but I think it is very clear who is responsible for the mayhem we see in Iraq today: it is the UGLY Arab. The Ugly Arab has been murdering innocent Iraqis for decades. In the 1980s Ugly Arabs murdered only Allah-knows how many innocent (and often educated) Iraqis - it didn't matter whether an Iraqi was Sunni or Shii - he would be alive as long as he was loyal to the filthy dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Saddam and his Baathi mafiosi were equal opportunity murderers, and that is why so many Arabs love him - he even had a Christian as his foreign minister! How benevolent of the Ugly Arab. During the 1990s, the Ugly Arab killed tens of thousands more innocent Iraqis by various ingenious methods that have not been discussed on Al Jazeera or Al Arabiya. In 2000, Ugly Arabs apprehended the wife of an Islamist who was opposed to Saddam's regime, took her away from her kids and beheaded her on the street in front of her neighbors - this was not covered by all those progressive Arab news media outlets - only Amnesty International had the courage to report on that sad story. Today the Ugly Arab has sharply escalated murderous attacks on Iraqis and uses such clever methods as luring Iraqi job seekers and detonating explosives among them to prove to the world that life was indeed better for Iraqis before 2003.

The Ugly Arab does not exist only in Iraq. Yesterday, at least 30 Ugly Arabs in Saudi Arabia announced that Sunnis must band together against the Shia in Iraq and urged clerics to "educate the public about the Shiite threat." At least they are being honest - I have never seen such a level of honesty from Saudi clerics before! The Ugly Arab travels from Egypt, passes close to occupied Jerusalem (occupied for almost 40 years now) and the West Bank where Palestinians work for Israelis, and ends up in Iraq to murder innocent Iraqis who work for the American occupiers and Iraqi Shia shopping for fruits and vegetables. To date, far more Arabs have been murdered by the Ugly Arab than by the Ugly American and the Ugly Israeli combined.

Arabs who believe that Americans (Bush's CIA perhaps) are responsible for the car bombs that have murdered so many innocent Iraqis should consider that the Republicans (Ugly Arabs must be told that Bush is a Republican) lost control of the House and Senate primarily because of the violence in Iraq, so it would not make sense for Bush's CIA or any American agency to cause this kind of violence in Iraq. But it makes perfect sense to the Ugly Arab - logic is not a strong suit of the Ugly Arab. After the Americans leave Iraq, it is unfortunate for ordinary Iraqis that thousands of Ugly Arabs will continue to infest Iraq like the cockroaches they are. But perhaps then, the mafiosi from Anbar will once again be in control of Iraq, security in Iraq will return to 'normal' and the Ugly Arab will be happy.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Meanwhile in Iraq

At least 26 killed in Iraq as pregnant mother murdered: The US military also reported that two powerful roadside bombs had killed four of its soldiers on Sunday, keeping December on track to be one of the deadliest months for American soldiers so far this year.

Iraqi leader criticises US report: Mr Talabani rejected the Iraq Study Group's proposal to withdraw US troops if Iraq failed to strengthen security. He also objected to including former regime members in reconciliation talks.

Police: Saddam’s nephew escaped from prison: A nephew of Saddam Hussein serving a life sentence for financing insurgents and possessing bombs escaped from prison Saturday in northern Iraq with the help of a police officer, authorities said.

The Americans don't see how unwelcome they are, or that Iraq is now beyond repair: Manipulation of facts was often very crude. As an example of the systematic distortion, the Iraq Study Group revealed last week that on one day last July US officials reported 93 attacks or significant acts of violence. In reality, it added, "a careful review of the reports ... brought to light 1,100 acts of violence".

At least 22 killed in another bloody day in Iraq: Gunmen stormed a house, killing six members of the same family and wounding the father in a village near Tuz Khurmato, 70 km (40 miles) south of Kirkuk, police said.

60 Bodies Found as Iraq bomb attacks kill 4 US occupation soldiers: Roadside bombs have killed four more American occupation soldiers in Iraq, three of them in a single attack in north Baghdad, the US military said Monday.

650,000 Iraqi dead given voice in Congress: The briefing was to discuss the October 2006 study Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey, which appeared in the British medical journal The Lancet. This study estimated that 655,000 more Iraqis had died (”excess deaths”) since the invasion than would have died if the prewar rate of death (mortality) had continued. It further estimated that about 600,000 of these had died from violence.

Prominent Saudi Muslim clerics urge Muslims to support Iraqi Sunnis against Shiites: Over 30 prominent Islamic clerics from Saudi Arabia on Monday called on Sunni Muslims around the Middle East to support their brethren in Iraq against Shiites and praised the insurgency.

Car Bomb Survivors, No Longer Statistics: Video: The victims in this story survived a car bombing this summer in the Adhamiya neighborhood. These images are graphic, but they depict an aspect of daily life in Baghdad.

Sunni and Shiite Insurgents Remain Mystery to U.S., Iraq Report Charges : Nearly four years after the invasion of Iraq, the United States still does not understand the enemy that American troops are fighting, according to last week’s report by the Iraq Study Group.

Lawmakers seek to oust Iraqi prime minister: The talks are aimed at forming a new parliamentary bloc that would seek to replace the current government and that would possibly exclude supporters of the radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a vehement opponent of the US military presence.

White House denies move to oust al-Maliki: The White House is flatly denying a report that key Shiite leaders are maneuvering to oust Iraq's prime minister.

Iraqi President Calls U.S. Security Training a Failure : President Jalal Talabani said Sunday that the American program to train Iraq’s security forces had been a repeated failure and he denounced a plan to increase the number of American advisers working with the Iraqi Army, saying it would subvert the country’s sovereignty.

'Iraq insurgent attacks to rise: A British military commander has warned that insurgent attacks on multi-national troops in Iraq would rise ahead of the planned security handover to local forces in the Basra area next year.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Iraqi Mojo's 7 Point Plan for Mid East Peace

I believe that several changes must happen in the Middle East before there is hope for peace there:

1) The US military must cease operations that might result in civilian casualties. I know that unlike many insurgents, the US military tries to minimize civilian casualties. I also know that many US soldiers are tired of Iraq and want very badly to go home. But as long as the US military is in Iraq, they should try harder to avoid civilian casualties and concentrate more on defending and training the Iraqi security forces. The US should also provide the Iraqi military with the best equipment. The Iraq Study Group found that Iraqi "Units lack equipment. They cannot carry out their missions without adequate equipment. Congress has been generous in funding requests for U.S. troops, but it has resisted fully funding Iraqi forces. The entire appropriation for Iraqi defense forces for FY 2006 ($3 billion) is less than the United States currently spends in Iraq every two weeks."

2) The Kurds will eventually have their country, and the Arabs must accept this. So must the Turks. The Kurds already have a de facto Kurdish state within Iraq, and it is much more functional and peaceful than Baghdad. The Iraqi Kurds have autonomy, they have security, and their economy is growing. We never hear about bombings in Sulaymaniya, and even Kirkuk, where many Arabs live, is relatively safe. We don't see the division between Sunna and Shia among the Kurds.

3) There must be democracy in Iraq, and the people of Anbar must participate in the Iraqi government without fear of being murdered. All Arabs must support democracy in Iraq. The Saudis and other Sunni Arab states must stop supporting the Sunni insurgency. The good people of Anbar must rise up and support the Iraqi army and police. The Anbar Salvation Council must be involved in defending Anbar against terrorists and mafiosi. Insurgents who continue to murder the relatives of government employees must be found and arrested or killed. From the Iraq Study Group report: "Insurgents wage a campaign of intimidation against Sunni leaders — assassinating the family members of those who do participate in the government. Too often, insurgents tolerate and cooperate with al Qaeda, as they share a mutual interest in attacking U.S. and Shia forces. However, Sunni Arab tribal leaders in Anbar province recently took the positive step of agreeing to pursue al Qaeda and foreign fighters in their midst, and have started to take action on those commitments."

The Sunni Arabs in Iraq will not have complete control of Iraq, but they must be a part of the government if Iraq is to remain united. This does not mean that there will never be another Sunni Arab President or Prime Minister in Iraq. The big cheese in Iraq can be a Sunni Arab, as long he is good to the people. King Faisal was a Sunni from Saudi Arabia (before there was a Saudia Arabia), yet he is to this day one of the most popular leaders in Iraqi history. It seems that no tyrant was needed to 'suppress greater horrors' until 1963, after Qasim nationalized Iraq's oil.

4) Splitting Iraq between Sunna and Shia will not happen in Iraq because Iraqis do not want it to happen, but if Anbar becomes unmanageable; if insurgents in Anbar continue to attack Iraqi army and police, the Iraqi military and government will eventually abandon Anbar. Shia groups only started discussing the forming of a Shii state in 2005. Even if Anbar secedes from Iraq (or if the Shia secede), a split between Sunna and Shia in Baghdad and in the rest of Iraq is not feasible, because there are Shia towns in Sunni areas (like Dujail) and there are Sunni enclaves all over the south. Zeyad has some good maps that show the sectarian demographics in Iraq and Baghdad.

5) The Shia of Iraq will share the oil wealth with the people of Anbar, as long as Anbar remains part of Iraq. Of course oil is what the insurgents fight for. Oil brings money, and money brings power. So let us make sure that the people of Anbar understand that they will share the oil and the power in Iraq if they join the government.

6) Iran must stop its support for Shia militias, and the sectarian militias must stop murdering innocent Iraqis. All Shia must realize that Iraq can never be like Iran, and the Iranian regime and Iraqis who spent years in Iran must realize that a theocracy will not work in Iraq. It barely works in Iran, and the Iranian people are nowhere near being free. The Iranian regime is the Shii version of the Taliban, and I don't want to see it in Iraq. Baghdad Treasure has told me stories of fundamentalist Shia (presumably Mehdi army) killing people for the silliest reasons, like having a spare tire in your trunk - you are not relying solely on God if you carry a spare tire in your trunk. It seems that in 2006 elements of the Mehdi army have been emulating the Iranian regime, or maybe they are competing with al Qaeda in terms of religious zealotry. This kind of mentality will result in educated Iraqis fleeing Iraq, and the brain drain has already begun (although educated Iraqis have been fleeing Iraq since the 70s). It will take at least a generation for the fundamentalists in Iraq to change, and it will change only if the Shia masses become educated and truly free, without Iranian influence. Investments in education, free access to media, and a free economy in Iraq will hasten this important change that must take place in order for Iraq to succeed.

7) There must be a peaceful and just solution to the conflict between Palestine and Israel. The US must pressure Israel to support an independent, contiguous and viable Palestinian state. Many people have argued that the Palestinians could have had a state in 2000, but if I were Yasser Arafat, I would not have signed such an agreement. Barak's 'generous offers' were a slap in the face of Palestinians, who have already given up 78% of their historic homeland so that Jews can 'live in peace' in their own country where they are a majority of the population. Next time the US tries to mediate between Israel and Palestine, they should not send a closet zionist like Dennis Ross to referee. The formula should be simple: towns and villages with Arab majorities belong to Palestine, and towns with Jewish majorities belong to Israel. The Israeli settlers who think they can get away with attacking Palestinian farmers and human rights workers must move back to Tel Aviv, Brooklyn or wherever they came from. I would also argue that Gaza should be connected to the West Bank somehow - it is the only way for Palestine to be truly contiguous.

A one state solution is a dream that may be impossible to achieve. So we should be pragmatic in the short term and strive to achieve what is achievable. The other important and major issue is the Palestinian refugees scattered throughout the world. Palestinian refugees who have lost their homes in the last 60 years must be compensated. One would think that a portion of the billions of dollars in cash Israel receives every year can be used to fairly compensate the Palestinians who were not allowed to return to their homes in 1948, 1967, and during other wars. One would also think that Arab countries like Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq would allow Palestinian refugees who live there to buy property and become ordinary citizens of those countries. It would be a stimulus to the economies of those countries, after all. We must not allow this wound to fester any further. I believe that justice for the Palestinians coupled with democracy in Iraq will result in a Middle East peace that has never been seen before.

Displacement

I just read this piece that Christian Sunni linked to (thanks CS!) and it reminded me of my uncle and his story. More than a year ago my uncles, who lived in Amriya (a Sunni neighborhood in west Baghdad) for many years, received letters from 'mujahideen' threatening to kill them and all other Shia if they did not leave the neighborhood. All my uncles left, mostly for Nejef. One of my uncles is married to a woman whose sister was married to a man who worked as a translator for the Americans - they decided to stay in Baghdad. Earlier this year he (the translator) took his family to the market one Friday morning, and as he got out of his car, a man approached him and shot him in the head, killing him in front of his family.

Meanwhile in Iraq

Iraqi leader criticises US report: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has criticised some of the main findings of a high-level US report calling for a change of strategy in Iraq.

U.S., Iraqi troops seal off Haditha - residents: The U.S. military said troops were manning checkpoints and building a sand berm to crack down on insurgents in Haditha and in neighboring Barwana. It said U.S. troops were protecting "the population and good citizens of Haditha."

26 killed in Iraq attacks, including suicide bomb at shrine: Overnight, Baghdad police found the bodies of 10 people who had been trussed up and shot dead at close range, then dumped in the street.

Photos confirm US raid child deaths : Al Jazeera has obtained exclusive footage that confirms children were among the victims of a US air raid northwest of Baghdad. Local officials said that the bodies of 17 civilians, including six children and eight women, had been pulled from the debris of two houses in al-Ishaqi.

U.S., Iraqi troops seal off Haditha - residents: Residents in Haditha, said electricity has been cut off and that no food is being allowed into the city.

'You must leave in 24 hours or your heads will be cut, your houses burnt': Two gunmen had walked down the street like postmen and dropped the letter off at every Shia home. Once they had covered the block, a car picked them up.

Cabinet minister says Britain advised U.S. not to disband Iraqi army : British officials tried in vain to persuade the United States not to disband the Iraqi army after the fall of Saddam Hussein, a senior Cabinet minister said in comments published Saturday

GOP senator says war may be 'criminal': Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican who voted in favor of the Iraq war in 2002 and has supported it ever since, now says the current U.S. war effort is "absurd" and "may even be criminal."

U.S. Ranger alleges war crimes: "We are looking to be able to prosecute 30 to 40 members of Task Force 626 for war crimes, including rape, murder, et cetera," Sommer said in a telephone interview this week.

No evidence found of war crimes Ranger alleged, Pentagon says: Sommer said that he was ordered to guard prisoners at a pre-interrogation facility used by the Army's elite Delta Force. While on guard, Sommer said he saw members of Delta Force badly beat an Iraqi man and woman and then rape the woman in the back of a truck trailer.

New Pentagon Plan at Odds with Iraq Study Group's: Top Military Advisers -- in Iraq and at the Pentagon -- Present Their Own Plan to President Bush

Bush: Iraq Study Group Agrees With Me: In his weekly radio address, President Bush said the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's report released this week "explicitly endorses the strategic goal we've set in Iraq," though he ignored sections of the panel's report that criticize his administration's handling of the war.

Iran Offers To Help U.S. Withdraw From Iraq: Iran's foreign minister says his country wants to help the U.S. get out of Iraq.

Poll: Plurality of Americans say they back Iraq Study Group report; Over a quarter said 'what report?': Newsweek's poll, consisting of interviews with 1,000 adults conducted between Dec. 6 and Dec. 7, "Americans back the ISG’s recommendations by a two-to-one margin," as "39 percent of Americans said they generally agree with the group’s 79 recommendations, while 20 percent said they disagree."

Secret American talks with insurgents break down: SECRET talks in which senior American officials came face-to-face with some of their most bitter enemies in the Iraqi insurgency broke down after two months of meetings, rebel commanders have disclosed.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Can US Prevent Civil War in Iraq?

"If the Iraqi government can't stop sectarian killing today when it is able to call on the world's most powerful military, it can hardly be expected to do so once the Americans have left. The more likely outcome is an escalation of the civil war, with elements of the security forces taking sides. The Shi'ite militias will enjoy numerical superiority and the continued surreptitious backing of Shi'ite Iran. But what the Sunni insurgents lack in numbers, they make up for in greater killing experience. Their suicide bombers, fighters and improvised explosive devices are responsible for the overwhelming majority of the 2,800-plus U.S. deaths in Iraq. And the Sunnis have friends. The U.S. has long accused Syria of harboring both Iraqi Baathists and jihadists of various nationalities who infiltrate Iraq to make mischief. And Iraqi officials routinely claim that the insurgency receives money and men from extremist organizations in neighboring Sunni-majority countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan."

-Aparisim Ghosh, "What We Would Leave Behind" in the December 11, 2006 edition of Time

Iraq Needs the USA

When the US invaded Iraq in 1991, I was saddened to see the US military and its allies bombing the country I was born in, and I thought that the only good thing that could come out of that war was the end of Saddam Hussein's regime. That didn't happen, and Saddam's regime continued to jail and murder Iraqi political opponents and their relatives after that war. Sanctions continued to make life very difficult for ordinary Iraqis. And the US continued to bomb Iraq, sometimes inexplicably bombing Basra, where the vast majority of residents hated the regime of Saddam Hussein. Every American should watch this short (15 min) documentary. Isra Abdul Amir lost her arm in a US cruise missile attack on Basra on January 25th, 1999. In case you do not know, Bill Clinton was President of the US in 1999. Why the US bombed Basra in 1999 is beyond my comprehension.

In 2003 the US again went to war with Iraq, and this time the aim was clear: Operation Iraqi Freedom. Bush & Co. also thought that Saddam's military had WMD, and that somehow Saddam was connected to 9/11. But for me and my family it was all about one thing: the end of Saddam's regime and the hopeful beginning of democracy in Iraq. I must admit that I felt joy when I saw President Bush tell Saddam, Uday and Qusay that they had 48 hours to leave Iraq. I wish I could have done that. George Bush must have fancied himself to be some kind of John Wayne who thought he could go into Iraq, catch the bad guys and turn the country into a prosperous democracy, a beacon of hope for the rest of the middle east. Well it didn't quite turn out that way. Saddam did not have WMD (thankfully, because he would have used them), there was no Iraqi connection to 9/11, the US military killed more innocent Iraqis (and many guilty ones), and all along I suspected that Bush and his crew might have ulterior motives. It is no coincidence that Halliburton, the company that Dick Cheney still owns stock options in, has profited enormously as a result of this war. Of course Halliburton could not have won those contracts without the aid of the Bush administration, the Congress and the Senate. The exploitation of Iraq and the war by Halliburton is an example of the corruption that can take place when the Congress, the Senate, and the White House are all controlled by one party. Voting Republican is just too damn scary these days. I think that as Americans we should be more careful with this abuse of power. We need to also take a serious look at US foreign policy, especially in the middle east. The Democrats have not exactly been benevolent to Iraq or Palestine either. The documentary by No More Victims is testimony to that fact. The 12 years of sanctions enforced by Clinton's administration actually made Saddam Hussein's regime stronger, and by 2003 there were fedayeen Saddam, there were Al Qaeda and Ansar al Sunna.

Still the Americans could do so much good in Iraq. To me the biggest irony in this conflict is that Iraq needs the US right now. The US has already trained Iraqi soldiers, but the Iraqi army does not have enough soldiers to defend the entire country. After watching this revealing video I was reminded that Iraq badly needs the assistance of the US military right now. Most of the insurgents who live in Anbar are harcore Baathists - the fedayeen type who are not new to murdering. Murder (often mass murder) and the threat of murder was the method used in governing Iraq for 25 years. The Iraqi mafia could not be changed overnight. Let us stop pretending that Iraqis will stop killing each other after the US leaves. And the US will leave, despite the cries from many Arabs who insist that the US wants troops there for the long term (the bases! the bases! the bases will belong to Iraq's military very soon!) At the end of the video the reporter explains that the US troops stationed in Anbar want to go home as soon as possible, and so do the Shia soldiers who are sent to Anbar to defend the Iraqi police. I understand why Iraqi Shia soldiers must go to Anbar to defend police stations there - the Iraqi army should be able to go anywhere in Iraq to defend Iraqi police. But in the end, Anbar should be defended by the people of Anbar. The US should support and train the Anbar Salvation Council and other groups in Anbar who are willing to protect the Iraqi police and army. This becomes more urgent for the people of Anbar when the Iraqi police and army are comprised of people from Anbar. One thing remains painfully clear after watching that video: without US troops in Anbar, the insurgents would easily overrun Iraqi police stations there. Also in the video I enjoyed CJ Chivers' narrating style and the way he referred to the Eye-racky Rambo.

In a viewpoint published in Time Magazine (December 11, 2006 edition), Time's correspondent in Baghdad, Aparisim Ghosh writes: "Can America save Iraq from itself? Yes, but it would require giving up the illusion that the Iraqis can fix their own problems. They can't. The Americans created this mess; it's their responsibility to fix it. They'd need 30,000 more coalition soldiers and a real willingness to thrash the Shi'ite militias, something they've avoided so far. Having foolishly dismantled the existing Iraqi army, the U.S. has the duty to create a genuinely proficient new one, instead of rushing recruits through Boy Scout lessons just to satisfy predetermined quotas. It may take five more years. But if the U.S. leaves sooner, Iraq will devolve into an even bigger mess. If the Americans insist on pulling out, they ought to park their hardware nearby, because like it or not, they'll be back."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Saudi Citizens Funding Sunni Insurgency

As if this is news...

CAIRO, Egypt - Private Saudi citizens are giving millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents in Iraq and much of the money is used to buy weapons, including shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, according to key Iraqi officials and others familiar with the flow of cash.

Saudi government officials deny that any money from their country is being sent to Iraqis fighting the government and the U.S.-led coalition.

But the U.S. Iraq Study Group report said Saudis are a source of funding for Sunni Arab insurgents. Several truck drivers interviewed by The Associated Press described carrying boxes of cash from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, money they said was headed for insurgents.

Two high-ranking Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, told the AP most of the Saudi money comes from private donations, called zaqat, collected for Islamic causes and charities.'

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"Baghdad don't hurt"

As in Baghdad, please stop hurting. I just saw this video by Kadhum al Saher, and I found it to be moving, especially the images. I must admit that I heard al Saher for the first time in my life earlier this year. I barely remember the Iraqi music I listened to when I was a kid. I remember my parents always liked Fuad Salim. In March 2003, I was searching for something about Iraq and I found a web site dedicated to Iraq - on that site I found a couple of clips from very old songs, including Fairuz's 'Baghdad and the Poets'. Such beautiful songs those are, and this is a good one too.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Eyam Zeman

I remember the days when we visited my cousins in Qadsiya, a neighborhood in Baghdad. It was such a great experience, waking up every morning, eating samoon or khubuz wiya gaimar w 'assel w dibbis.

We would beg our parents for money to buy treats and then skip to the dukkan singing, "mOttta dhrOttta."

Those were good old days in the 70s.

These are some of the things we saw on the way to the dukkan.







*My dad took these pictures in the 70s.