Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Snipers in a Trunk

This sounds remarkably similar to what two men did in Washington D.C. a few years ago: 'Two snipers were apprehended in Bab al-Sharqi. One of them is a Sudanese man, who would hit American soldiers from a slot he had opened in his garbage truck. The other apprehended sniper worked in a family partnership. He would hide in the trunk of his brother’s car using a handgun with a silencer to snipe at Iraqi police while his brother drove through crowded areas.

National Guard 1, Mahdi Army 0

In Sadr City, an altercation involving a member of the Mahdi Army and an Iraqi National Guard officer didn’t turn out well for the militia. The Mahdi Army member confronted the officers at a National Guard checkpoint, telling them that the neighborhood didn't want any protection from the Guard. A National Guard officer told the Mahdi Army man that they would remove the checkpoint if the people of the area didn’t want them there. The people who had gathered around the checkpoint grew angry with that idea, telling the Mahdi Army man in harsh language to keep quiet, and apologizing to the officer. The checkpoint stayed in place.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

This is worth watching. This is what happens to people with traumatic brain injuries. Bob Woodruff is lucky. Many soldiers and civilians lose their speech and cannot move after a traumatic brain injury.

Must-See: Bob Woodruff's "To Iraq and Back"
Phenomenal, Moving TV Documentary Now Can Be Seen in Full Online
Posted 6 hr. 11 min. ago

From ABC News
Bob Woodruff with two of his four children shortly after he awakened from a 36-day coma

ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff was nearly killed a year ago in an IED attack in Iraq. He's made a near-miraculous recovery. Bob Woodruff's hour-long documentary was broadcast last night on ABC. For those who missed it and for those in Iraq and elsewhere who couldn't see the ABC telecast, you can watch the entire program in six segments here.

Reporting Blunders

I'm not sure how Al Iraqiya could report a bombing that did not take place.

Two Big Iraq Reporting Blunders Yesterday?

Officials Say Two Stories That Grabbed Headlines Yesterday Are False
Posted 1 hr. 2 min. ago

Alleged blunder number one: U.S. and Iraqi officials today dismissed as false reports yesterday that a car bombing killed 18 children and women in Ramadi. The initial report came from the state-run al-Iraqiya TV network.

Alleged blunder number two: Yesterday, Iraqi press reports claimed Iraqi VP Adil Abdul-Mahdi was accusing an unnamed "official" of involvement in the Monday assassination attempt against him -- a bombing that left the VP slightly wounded and killed and badly wounded others. Today, Abdul-Mahdi's office released a statement on his behalf saying Abdul-Mahdi never suggested there was an "official" involved in the assassination attempt.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Rogue Elements

The Mahdi Army should not have attacked innocent civilians.

Death squad leaders seized in Baghdad

By BRIAN MURPHY Associated Press Writer
© 2007 The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq — U.S.-led strike forces seized suspected Shiite death squad bosses Tuesday in raids that tested the fragile bonds between the government and a powerful militia faction allowing the Baghdad security crackdown to move ahead.

The sweeps through the Sadr City slum were part of highly sensitive forays into areas loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has ridiculed the 2-week-old campaign for failing to halt bombings by suspected Sunni insurgents against Shiite civilians.

Al-Sadr withdrew his powerful Mahdi Army militia from checkpoints and bases under intense government pressure to let the security push go forward. But the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also worries that al-Sadr could pull his support if he feels his militiamen are being squeezed in Baghdad.

The pre-dawn raids appeared to highlight a strategy of pinpoint strikes in Sadr City rather than the flood of soldiers sent into some Sunni districts.

Bombings have not slackened off, with at least 10 people killed in blasts around Baghdad on Tuesday. However, an apparent success of the clampdown can be measured in the morgues: a sharp drop in the number of bullet-riddled bodies found in the streets of the capital, victims of sectarian death squads.

The number of bodies found this month in Baghdad — most shot and showing signs of torture — has dropped by nearly 50 percent to 494 as of Monday, compared with 954 in January. The figure stood at 1,222 in December, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.

"We have seen a decrease in the past three weeks — a pretty radical decrease," said Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq.

Many Sunnis have long alleged that most of killings were by Shiite militias, such as the Mahdi Army or rogue elements within the Shiite-led police.

Mehdi vs Mehdi

'The Iraqi Rabita speculates that the Mahdi Army was implicated in the assassination attempt, with the possible knowledge of PM Maliki, especially since Abdul Mahdi had announced his willingness to take Maliki’s position if he were to be deposed by the U.S. for his incompetence. Abdul Mahdi’s bodyguards were cursing Sadrists after the bombing, according to an uncorroborated eyewitness account from the scene. The Rabita also quotes “informed sources from Najaf” that both SCIRI and the Da’wa Party are competing for U.S. blessings and acceptance by giving the names of their opponents to the U.S. military.'

If this is true, the Parliament should call for early elections. Maliki's gotta go. This is insane. The Iraqi government should have further investigated Sadr's involvement in the assassination of Abdul Majid al Khoei, and should arrest him still if he is guilty in any way.

Why do non-Iraqi Arabs mass murder Iraqis?

I am still amazed when I read about non-Iraqi Arabs who mass murder innocent Iraqis. I just don't understand why.

'A Saudi suicide bomber blew up his car in a nearby shopping center. The next day, a blast shook an outdoor market. Methboub son-in-law Ali, a security guard between jobs, and her son Mohamed, were out helping to collect the dead and ferry the wounded to a nearby hospital.

But less than half an hour after the market bombing, a minibus stopped on the street a couple blocks away. The driver asked passersby to help push it. The vigilant volunteers spied oxygen tanks and fuel bottles inside. The driver, a Syrian, tried to run away, but was caught by Ali and Mohamed – who have been involved in their neighborhood Shiite militia. They shoved him into a nearby car trunk. Later, they handed him over to a local guard and the Syrian reportedly confessed to carrying out four previous bombings. After that, he was handed over to Iraqi security forces.

Ali says the police were afraid to get close to the minibus, and warned the entire neighborhood to flee. The streets emptied, and 10 minutes later, police exploded the minibus and its contents. No one was injured, but the blast damaged several buildings and every window in the Methboub's apartment was shattered. The TV and satellite dish were wrecked, the door was blown in, and the stove collapsed.'

Car Bomb Kills 18 Kids in Ramadi

Of course Al Qaeda has never cared about Iraqi children, but it's interesting and sad to see the escalation in deadly attacks against Sunni Arab civilians in Anbar.

Iraqi TV: Soccer field car bomb kills 18 children

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A car bomb exploded Tuesday at a soccer field on the outskirts of Ramadi, killing 18 children, Iraqi TV reported.

The soccer field is in western Ramadi -- capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province. The children were playing on the field when the blast occurred, Iraqi TV reported. No other details on the attack were immediately available.

The soccer field attack followed terrorist bombings in Baghdad at a popular ice cream shop, a parking lot and a restaurant that killed eight people and wounded 24 on Tuesday.

Iraqi police say they believe new coalition security tactics are forcing insurgents to shift bombing attacks away from parked cars in the streets to alternative locations.

The new U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown forbids parking cars on Baghdad's main streets.

Tuesday's deadliest reported bombing took place in a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad's mostly Shiite Karrada district. A suicide car bomber slammed into the shop, killing five people and wounding 10 others, according to an Interior Ministry official.

In the city's Tayaran Square, another bomber hid explosives inside a restaurant, where the blast killed two people and wounded eleven, the official said.

In a separate attack, Iraqi police said a car bomb blast Tuesday in a parking lot in the Karrada district killed one person and wounded three others.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Iraqi Oil Law

It appears that Maliki's government is being pressured by the US to pass an oil law as soon as possible, and many Iraqis are concerned that such a law should not be passed until the constitution is amended, which is due to happen this May. I hope the Parliament sends the proposed oil law back to Maliki and tells him to tell Bush to hold his horses (or his oil interests)!

Iraqi Oil Revenue Sharing Bill Approved by Cabinet
Will the Iraqi Parliament Approve the Controversial Legislation?
Posted 5 hr. 51 min. ago

'The Iraqi cabinet has approved the draft oil law, Reuters reports.

The important legislation would regulate the central sector of the Iraqi economy, including the sharing of revenues between Iraq's regions and ethnic groups, the right to sign and enforce contracts with foreign companies, and the status of the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC).

The law now goes before the Iraqi Parliament for approval. Iraqi officials have committed to a May 2007 deadline for enacting the bill, Iraqi VP Barham Salih told Reuters.

The law, if passed, would allow contracts brokered in the Kurdish areas with international firms to remain in force, subject to their review and compliance with the new law.

INOC would also be restructured as an independent holding company, with "affiliated regional operating companies," under a newly establised "Federal Council" to coordinate the regional oil companies.

Iraq has experienced intense US pressure to pass the controversial law.'

Iraqi Oil Law

It appears that Maliki's government is being pressured by the US to pass an oil law as soon as possible, and many Iraqis are concerned that such a law should not be passed until the constitution is amended.  

Iraqi Oil Revenue Sharing Bill Approved by Cabinet
Will the Iraqi Parliament Approve the Controversial Legislation?
Posted 2 hr. 52 min. ago
An Iraqi woman climbs over an oil pipe in Basra Province in 2005. The draft oil law cleared a major hurdle today.
Photo by Toby Melville/AFP.
An Iraqi woman climbs over an oil pipe in Basra Province in 2005. The draft oil law cleared a major hurdle today.
The Iraqi cabinet has approved the draft oil law, Reuters reports.

The important legislation would regulate the central sector of the Iraqi economy, including the sharing of revenues between Iraq's regions and ethnic groups, the right to sign and enforce contracts with foreign companies, and the status of the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC).

The law now goes before the Iraqi Parliament for approval. Iraqi officials have committed to a May 2007 deadline for enacting the bill, Iraqi VP Barham Salih told Reuters.

The law, if passed, would allow contracts brokered in the Kurdish areas with international firms to remain in force, subject to their review and compliance with the new law.

INOC would also be restructured as an independent holding company, with "affiliated regional operating companies," under a newly establised "Federal Council" to coordinate the regional oil companies.

Iraq has experienced intense US pressure to pass the controversial law.

Is Bush Funding Al Qaeda?

"A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al-Qaeda," Hersh concludes.

"The 'redirection,' as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims."

Some US aid distributed to Sunni groups in Lebanon falls into the hands of radical groups, US, European and Arab officials told the weekly magazine.

"We're spreading the money around as much as we can," a former senior intelligence official said, and that has "serious potential unintended consequences."

Such money "always gets in more pockets than you think it will," the source said. "It's a very high-risk venture."

A member of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government in Lebanon said: "We have a liberal attitude that allows Al-Qaeda types to have a presence here."

In some cases, the clandestine operations rely on Saudi Arabia and its national security advisor, Prince Bandar, to provide the funding, so that operations remain secret, according to portions of the article, which The New Yorker distributed to news organizations on Sunday.

There is an apparent debate between some in the US government over which is more dangerous to US interests: Iran or Sunni radicals. Some in the Administration have argued that Iran is the bigger threat, which is a victory for the Saudi line, writes Hersh.

In the Saudi view, Saudi Arabia is "taking a political risk by joining the U.S. in challenging Iran: Bandar is already seen in the Arab world as being too close to the Bush Administration. 'We have two nightmares,' [a] former diplomat told [Hersh]. 'For Iran to acquire the bomb and for the United States to attack Iran. I’d rather the Israelis bomb the Iranians, so we can blame them. If America does it, we will be blamed.'"

Although US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has defined a new Iran policy in broad terms, much of the change is secret.

The secrecy does not please Democrats who have recently taken the reins of power in Congress from the Republicans.

Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said, "The Bush administration has frequently failed to meet its legal obligation to keep the intelligence committee fully and currently informed. Time and again, the answer has been 'Trust us.' ... It is hard for me to trust the administration," he told the weekly magazine.

Hersh also said the pace of US covert operations inside Iran has increased.

"That's been happening for months," Hersh told CNN television Sunday.

"There's been a lot of very aggressive cross-border activity," he said. "It's more than just casual," he said. "That's been going on quite a bit."

"We have been pumping money, a great deal of money, without congressional authority, without any congressional oversight ... for covert operations in many areas of the Middle East where we ... want to stop the Shiite spread or the Shiite influence," he told CNN.

"These are people connected to Al-Qaeda who want to take on Hezbollah," he said.

"We may not directly be funneling money to them, but we certainly know that these groups exist," Hersh told CNN.

Anti-Terror Ads

This ad is part of the anti-terrorism campaign aired on Iraqi and other Arab media. My uncle told me yesterday that Al Jazeera has stopped airing these ads. I have added a link in the side bar to a site (Terrorism Has No Religion) where you can view more ads like this.

Iraq's Sunni-Shii War

This is another good article (thanks AS) that discusses the history of the conflict between the Shia and Sunni Arabs of Iraq and how it has escalated in the last few years, especially since the Samarra bombing a year ago.

"It has come to this: the hatred between Iraq's warring sects is now so toxic, it contaminates even the memory of a shining moment of goodwill. On Aug. 31, 2005, a stampede among Shi'ite pilgrims on a bridge over the Tigris River in Baghdad led to hundreds jumping into the water in panic. Several young men in Adhamiya, the Sunni neighborhood on the eastern bank, dived in to help. One of them, Othman al-Obeidi, 25, rescued six people before his limbs gave out from exhaustion and he himself drowned. Nearly 1,000 pilgrims died that afternoon, but community leaders in the Shi'ite district of Khadamiya, on the western bank, lauded the "martyrdom" of al-Obeidi and the bravery of his friends. Adhamiya residents, for their part, held up al-Obeidi's sacrifice as proof that Sunnis bore no ill will toward their Shi'ite neighbors across the river.

Eighteen months on, one of the men who jumped into the river to help the Shi'ites says al-Obeidi "wasted his life for those animals." Hamza Muslawi refuses to talk about how many he himself saved, saying it fills him with shame. "If I see a Shi'ite child about to drown in the Tigris now," says the carpenter, "I will not reach my hand out to save him." In Khadamiya, too, the narrative about Aug. 31 has changed. Karrar Hussein, 28, was crossing the bridge when the stampede began. Ask him about al-Obeidi, and his cheerful demeanor quickly turns sour. "That is a myth," hisses the cell-phone salesman. "That person never existed at all. He was invented by the Sunnis to make them look good." Rather than jumping in to help, he claims, the people of Adhamiya laughed and cheered as Shi'ites drowned.

The bridge connecting the two neighborhoods is now closed for security reasons--just as well, since the chasm between them is too wide for any man-made span. Mortars fired from the cemetery behind Abu Hanifa, a Sunni shrine in Adhamiya, have caused carnage in the bustling markets of the western bank. There are more mortars going in the opposite direction; on a recent afternoon, the sound of an explosion on the Sunni side of the river is greeted with cheers by worshippers at a Shi'ite shrine in Khadamiya.

Those cheers are just one sign of how much venom has seeped into Sunni-Shi'ite relations in the year since their simmering conflict was brought to a boil by the bombing of Samarra's golden-domed shrine. The bloodlust is no longer limited to extremists on both sides. Hatred has gone mainstream, spreading first to victims of the violence and their families--the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have lost loved ones, jobs, homes, occasionally entire neighborhoods--and then into the wider society. Now it permeates not only the rancorous political discourse of Baghdad's Green Zone but also ordinary conversations in homes and marketplaces, arousing a fury even in those who have no obvious, pressing grievance. Neither Muslawi nor Hussein has suffered personal loss, but they are relatively able to tap into the same loathing that motivates the Shi'ite militias and Sunni jihadis. "The air has become poisoned [by sectarianism], and we have all been breathing it," says Abbas Fadhil, a Baghdad physician. "And so now everybody is talking the same language, whether they are educated or illiterate, secular or religious, violent or not."

Worse, there are clear signs that Iraq's malice has an echo in other parts of the Middle East, exacerbating existing tensions between Sunnis and Shi'ites and reanimating long-dormant ones. In Lebanon, some Hizballah supporters seeking to topple the government in Beirut chant the name of radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia is blamed for thousands of Sunni deaths. In Sunni Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt, sympathy for Sunnis in Iraq is spiked with the fear, notably in official circles, of a Shi'ite tide rising across the Middle East, instigated and underwritten by an ancient enemy of the Arabs: Iran.'

Read the entire article. It's not that long.

Say No To Terrorism

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Targeting Iraqi College Students

Why do these people blow themselves up among college students, Iraq's only hope for a brighter future? I understand why the former Baathi elite would want to destroy the new Iraq, but why does Al Qaeda do it? They must realize by now that Sunni Arabs also attend Mustansariya. But the bombing in Habaniya yesterday and their war with the Anbar tribes who are sick and tired of these abominable 'Muslims' shows that they do not necessarily care so much about their Sunni Arab brethren who are killed in their efforts to control Iraq or whatever their twisted illogical goal is. And I'm sure you know that Mustansariya has been bombed before. I just do not understand what these crimes achieve for the criminals.

Update: Al Iraqiya is reporting that the suicide bomber in the attack on Mustansariya was a woman.

Firefighters try to extinguish flames after a car bomb blast in Baghdad. A car bomb exploded in the mainly Shiite district of Karradah in central Baghdad, killing at least one person and injuring four, police said. By Khalid Mohammed, AP

At least 41 die in Iraq blast
Updated 2/25/2007 9:38 AM ET

BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide bomber struck Sunday outside a college campus in Baghdad, killing at least 41 people and injuring dozens as a string of other blasts and rocket attacks left bloodshed around the city.

Most of the victims were students at the college, a business studies annex of Mustansiriyah University that was hit by a series of deadly explosions last month. At least 46 people were injured in Sunday's blast.

The wave of attacks around Baghdad came a day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki lauded the progress of an ongoing U.S.-Iraqi security operation seeking to cripple militant factions and sectarian killings in the capital.

The suicide attacker detonated a bomb-rigged belt near the main entrance to the college, where students were resuming midterm exams after the two-day weekend in Iraq. Police said that guards confronted the bomber as he tried to enter the college grounds.

A 22-year-old student, Muhanad Nasir, said he saw a commotion at the gate. "Then there was an explosion. I did not feel anything for 15 minutes and when I returned to consciousness, I found myself in the hospital," said Nasir, who was wounded in his head and chest.

The blast left cement walls pockmarked by shrapnel and twisted parts of the metal gate and turnstile. Parents rushed to the site and some collapsed in tears after learning their children were killed or injured. Students used rags and towels to try to mop up the blood.

The school is in a mostly Shiite district of northeast Baghdad, but does not limit its enrollment to that group. The main campus of Mustansiriyah University, located about 1 1/2 miles away, was the target of twin car bombs and a suicide blast last month that killed 70 people.

Earlier, two Katyusha rockets hit a Shiite enclave in southern Baghdad, killing at least 10, and a bomb near the fortified Green Zone claimed two lives, police said.

The Green Zone houses the U.S. and British embassies and key Iraqi government offices. The blast was about 100 yards from the Iranian Embassy, but authorities did not believe it was targeting the compound.

A separate car bombing in a Shiite district in central Baghdad killed at least one person and injured four, police said.

In the northern city of Mosul, U.S. troops killed two gunmen in a raid and captured a suspected local leader of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, the military said. Additional details were no immediately available.

Iraq's interior ministry, meanwhile, raised the toll from a suicide truck bombing in the violence-wracked Anbar province on Saturday to 52 dead and 74 injured.

The attack on worshippers leaving a mosque in Habbaniyah, about 50 miles west of Baghdad, was believed linked to escalating internal Sunni battles between insurgents and those who oppose them.

U.S. military envoys and pro-government leaders have worked hard to sway clan chiefs and other influential Anbar figures to turn against the militants, who include foreigners fighting under the banner of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The extremists have fought back with targeted killings and bombings against fellow Sunnis.

The imam of the mosque attacked Saturday had spoken out against extremists — most recently in Friday's sermon, residents said. Many people in the neighborhood work for the Iraqi military and police forces, who frequently come under militant attack.

Targeting Iraqi College Students

Why do these people blow themselves up among college students, Iraq's only hope for a brighter future?  I understand why the former Baathi elite would want to destroy Iraq, but why does Al Qaeda do it?  They must realize by now that Sunni Arabs also attend Mustansiriya.

At least 41 die in Iraq blast
Updated 2/25/2007 9:38 AM ET
The silhouette of an Iraqi police commando is reflected on a pool of blood inside a room after a suicide bombing at Mustansiriyah University's School of Economy and Administration in eastern Baghdad. About half of the university victims were women, according to a spokesman for the nearby Imam Ali hospital.
By Ali Yussef, AFP/Getty Images
The silhouette of an Iraqi police commando is reflected on a pool of blood inside a room after a suicide bombing at Mustansiriyah University's School of Economy and Administration in eastern Baghdad. About half of the university victims were women, according to a spokesman for the nearby Imam Ali hospital.
BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide bomber struck Sunday outside a college campus in Baghdad, killing at least 41 people and injuring dozens as a string of other blasts and rocket attacks left bloodshed around the city.

Most of the victims were students at the college, a business studies annex of Mustansiriyah University that was hit by a series of deadly explosions last month. At least 46 people were injured in Sunday's blast.

The wave of attacks around Baghdad came a day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki lauded the progress of an ongoing U.S.-Iraqi security operation seeking to cripple militant factions and sectarian killings in the capital.

The suicide attacker detonated a bomb-rigged belt near the main entrance to the college, where students were resuming midterm exams after the two-day weekend in Iraq. Police said that guards confronted the bomber as he tried to enter the college grounds.

A 22-year-old student, Muhanad Nasir, said he saw a commotion at the gate. "Then there was an explosion. I did not feel anything for 15 minutes and when I returned to consciousness, I found myself in the hospital," said Nasir, who was wounded in his head and chest.

The blast left cement walls pockmarked by shrapnel and twisted parts of the metal gate and turnstile. Parents rushed to the site and some collapsed in tears after learning their children were killed or injured. Students used rags and towels to try to mop up the blood.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Shi'i Democracy

This is an excellent article (thanks Maury!) that discusses the rise of Shi'i democracy.  I will post only the first part because it's so long, but you should read the entire article if you want to learn more about Shiism.  The author refers to Lebanon as a Shia majority country, which is interesting because I grew up believing that the Shia in Lebanon have a plurality, not a majority.   I have also heard some people claim that the majority of Lebanese are actually Sunni.  Before the elections in Iraq, I was hoping that a secular government would be formed in Baghdad, but it should not be surprising that the Iraqi Shia voted for religious leaders who are viewed by many as being fundamentalists.  The Iraqi Shia have been plunged into war and poverty for decades, and history has shown that in times of war and poverty, people often turn to religion.

On a side note, I would like to point out that it makes more sense to call it a Shii democracy (as opposed to Shia democracy) as Shii is the adjective (and singular) form in Arabic - see 'FYI' in the sidebar to learn more.  Also, I wish journalists would start spelling it Nejef (like it sounds) rather than Najaf.  I don't know how many times I have heard American journalists call it 'Najoff'.

PS: Until 2003 I thought Iraq and Iran were the only countries in the world with Shia majorities.

'Shia Democracy': Myth or Reality?

In contemporary Shiism, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani of Najaf (the holiest center of Shiism) has been the marja with the largest popular approval since the death of his mentor Abol-Qassem Khoi in 1992.

Editor's note: This is the first part of a two-part article.

The Other Islam

Discussions about the democratic deficit in the Muslim world tend to conflate Sunnis and Shias as culturally homogeneous groups. Nuances about diversity within Islam only come up related to the regional variation in practices and political institutions (e.g. Middle Eastern Islam, North African Islam, South Asian Islam, Central Asian Islam, and Southeast Asian Islam). Some scholars make the distinction between Arab and non-Arab countries with regard to their political culture and regime type. The unspoken assumption in studies proving the proclivity of Muslim countries toward authoritarianism is that sectarian schisms within Islam do not matter much when it comes to attitude and receptivity to democracy. Whether there are well-delineated differences between Shias and Sunnis in the way they conceive of—and construct—political authority has not been given much serious research. This is a surprising omission in contrast to the extent to which political scientists have debated the impact of the Catholic-Protestant schism on the evolution of capitalism and democracy in the Western hemisphere.

Blindness to the Shia-Sunni divide in the literature on democratization is likely to be the result of glossing over the smaller sect of Islam, Shiism, which claims no more than 15 percent of the world's Muslims. Most Western depictions of what is termed "Islam" focus implicitly on Sunnism and Sunni political culture, except when the case studies of interest are Shia-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan). That there exists another Islam, Shiism, with its own identity and at least 200 million worldwide adherents, is largely bypassed. Perhaps there is something to "Shia democracy" as a concept that might hold a ray of hope for furthering democracy in the Muslim world. If deep-set Shia-Sunni differences are theological, social, and economic in nature, then one should expect non-random differences in their political culture and preferences too, which in turn might translate into differing orientation to regime types. The general framework of this essay is provided by Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel's theory (2005) that causation runs from values (culture) to institutions (democracy or authoritarianism) and that values differ systematically from culture to culture. If Shia and Sunni communities have systematically different cultures, they should a posteriori be different in their political infrastructures.

Part I

Shia Communities as Democratizers

Masoumeh Ebtekar, the first female vice president of Iran under the reformist former President Muhammad Khatami, recently remarked that Shia gains through electoral means in Iraq will "encourage us (Iran) to open up, since we see a different example of governance but with similar mentality that is also Shiite" (2005, 58). This sentiment is echoed by the prominent Iranian dissident intellectual Abdol Karim Soroush's thinking that as the Shia majority in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq comes to power, there will be a shift in "the overall balance among Shiites toward democratic legitimacy and away from the idea of clerical rule we see in Iran" (2004a). Historian Juan Cole buttresses this school of thought by noting that between April 2003 and January 2005, Shias underwent a remarkable development in legal thinking about democracy that is not new and that will outlive the contingencies in Iraq:

The ideals of elections, representation of the people, expression of the national will, and a rule of law are invoked over and over again by the most prominent Shiite religious leaders. Unlike Khomeini in 1979, they are completely unafraid of the term "democracy" and generally see no contradiction between it and Islam. (2006, 34)

The first full-length treatment of the subject of Shias as democratizers has been given by Vali Nasr, another Iranian thinker, who extends the range of the projected democratic tide beyond Iran to Shia-populated parts of the Middle East and South Asia. The gist of his argument is as follows:

Shias are both an objective and a subjective democratic force. Their rise in relative power is injecting a robust element of real pluralism into the too-often Sunni-dominated political life of the Muslim world. Many Shias are also finding democracy appealing as an idea in itself, not merely as an episodically useful vehicle for their power and ambitions. (2006, 180)

Shias, unlike Sunnis, are supposed to be rebellious by nature and opposed to dutifully obeying authority that lacks legitimacy. Historically repressed and discriminated, Shiism's ideal was always to fight against Sunni injustices and tyrannical rulers. Since the origin of the Shia-Sunni split in medieval times, Shia imams (spiritual leaders descended from the Prophet Muhammad) invoked a fear of revolt among Sunni Caliphs and were countered with persecution, imprisonment, and killing. To survive persecution in the Sunni-dominated Caliphates and Ottoman Empire, ordinary Shias had to hide their sectarian affiliations (taqqiya) and their imams escaped to Iran and India to seek refuge. The germs of anti-authoritarianism and protection of minority rights were thus, according to Nasr, inherent in Shiism from the very beginning (c. eighth century A.D.).

The break Shias initiated from Sunnism centered on what they considered to be the morally just kind of political authority. In contrast, the Sunni understanding of worldly power concentrated on a preoccupation with order, not the quality of rulership. The theory of government developed by medieval Sunni jurists was to uphold any government as long as it maintained stability and order and protected the Muslim (Sunni) community. Shiism emphasized the substance and quality of a regime much more than its form, an important congenital characteristic that would resonate with the evolution of democracy in modern times. Imam Ali's political testament (ahd) and Imam al-Sadiq's instructions to the Shia governor of Ahvaz, both of which entered Shia political culture by the 11th century, contain the patrimonial theory of just rule and fair treatment of subjects by kings. Respected ulama of the Safavid period (17th century) reiterated these themes with special emphasis on the rights (haqq) that subjects have against rulers. They stressed avoidance of tyranny, accountability, and access of holders of temporal authority to subjects. To Mulla Baqir Majlisi,

if kings show gratitude for their power and domination and if they observe the rights of the subjects, their kingdoms will last. Otherwise, they will soon disappear. A king will remain while he is an unbeliever, but not while he is a wrongdoer. If a possessor of knowledge should act badly with his flock, his knowledge will soon be taken away; otherwise, it will be increased. (Chittick 1988, 291)

The idealistic expectation of accountable and fair rulers in historical Shiism was revived by Ayatollah Na'ini of Najaf during the time of the Iranian constitutional revolution of 1906. He persuaded the Shia ulama of the time that while the world awaited the return of the twelfth imam (hidden from human perception), "the form of governance most compatible with Shi'ism is democracy-shaped and defined by a popularly ratified constitution" (Milani 2005, 27). His contemporary and fellow constitutionalist, Sayyid Imad Khalkhali, wrote, "In our time, sovereignty is founded on justice, fairness, and the principle of equality, as is obvious from the Europeans" (Dabashi 1988, 339). Mangol Bayat (1982) argues that Shia intellectuals of the modern era who employed Western ideas of constitutionalism, sovereignty of the people, liberal democracy, and secularism, were in fact carrying on the long-established tradition of dissent in Shiism. Despite loud calls for Westernization from as early as the mid-19th century, their thought was in spirit and form deeply rooted in the Shia norm of standing up to absolutist despotism. It is noteworthy that pro-democracy trends such as these did not evolve with as much depth or sophistication in the history of Sunnism, a faith that spoke the language of rulers more than that of the ruled.

Hakim's Popularity in Iraq

A few weeks ago an Iraqi American friend told me he thinks that Abdul Aziz al Hakim's son (Ammar) is actually smarter than his father. No matter what you think of the father, the Hakim family is very popular among the Iraqi Shia.

Arrest of Iraqi Shi'ite leader's son proves to be misstep for US
Incident strains uneasy relations; apology is offered

By Christian Berthelsen, Los Angeles Times | February 24, 2007

BAGHDAD -- The US military detained the son of one of America's closest political allies in Iraq for several hours yesterday, raising the ire of Shi'ite Muslim officials and straining delicate relations with Iraqi leadership. The American ambassador here quickly apologized for the incident.

Meanwhile, the US military announced that three soldiers attached to American-led forces were killed in combat in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province on Thursday, but released few details pending notification of relatives. At least 3,154 American troops have died in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003, according to, a website that tracks casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Soldiers arrested Ammar al-Hakim and at least three of his bodyguards around noon as they crossed into Iraq from Iran about 80 miles southeast of Baghdad, the capital. His father, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, heads the largest Shi'ite voting bloc in the Iraqi Parliament. The elder Hakim met with President Bush in December in Washington and pledged to help end bloodshed in Iraq.

In a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times, Ammar al-Hakim said troops arrested him because his passport was nearing expiration and they thought his identification picture did not match his appearance. He complained of being treated roughly by US soldiers, including being blindfolded as he was transported to a military base and having his underwear searched once he arrived there.

"We supported the new Baghdad [security] plan and we hoped that it would succeed, but at the same time people's dignity should be respected," Hakim said. He said the government would seek answers from the United States about how the incident was handled.

Hakim was released after about seven hours, and US officials rapidly began damage control efforts. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad appeared on Iraqi government television, saying that the United States was "sorry about the arrest" and meant no disrespect.

Hakim's father leads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, the largest Shi'ite party in Parliament. The elder Hakim was a onetime opponent of Saddam Hussein and spent much of the 1980s in exile in Iran as a commander of the Badr Corps. The Badr Corps has been criticized for close ties with Iran and has been accused of operating death squads targeting Sunnis, but it is also viewed as among the more moderate Shi'ite forces in Iraq.

Ammar al-Hakim heads the Shahid al-Mihrab Foundation, a charity affiliated with SCIRI that provides food and money to the foundation's supporters.

News of Hakim's arrest drew widespread attention yesterday , a day of relative calm in Iraq.

Friday, February 23, 2007

4 Years in Jail for Insulting Mubarak (and Islam)

I'm surprised that the US government does not exert more influence on countries with dubious human rights records, especially the ones we give billions of dollars to every year. This is not the kind of regime we want to be supporting. A mere threat to reduce aid might do wonders.

Egypt: Karim Amer sentence makes bloggers new target of the authorities

Press release, 02/22/2007

Amnesty International condemns the four-year sentence handed down by an Egyptian court today against blogger Karim Amer, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

"This sentence is yet another slap in the face of freedom of expression in Egypt," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Programme Director. "The Egyptian authorities must protect the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, even if the views expressed might be perceived by some as offensive. Amnesty International considers Karim Amer to be a prisoner of conscience who is being prosecuted on account of the peaceful expression of his views."

"The Egyptian authorities must repeal legislation that, in violation of international standards, stipulates prison sentences for acts which constitute nothing more than the peaceful exercise of the rights of freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion."

Karim Amer is the first Egyptian blogger to be tried for writing blogs criticizing Egypt's al-Azhar religious authorities, President Husni Mubarak and Islam. Charges against him included "spreading information disruptive of public order and damaging to the country’s reputation", "incitement to hate Islam" and "defaming the President of the Republic".

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Would Cubans Blow Up Their Marketplaces?

My dad forwarded me this funny cartoon. It made me wonder if communists would blow up marketplaces in Havana if the US invades Cuba and overthrows Castro.

US Going After Mahdi Army

Targeted Mahdi Members Sleep in Cars
Baghdad Update: US Database of Wanted Militamen
Posted 3 hr. 15 min. ago

The Mahdi Army are heavily targeted in many areas, Slogger eyewitnesses say.

Sources named Washash, Sadr City, Sha`ab, Shula, Hay Ur, Baghdad al-Jadida, Mashtal and others as focal points of raids against the Sadrist militia. In Zayyona and Palestine Street area, as well, raids are focused on Mahdi Army targets, Slogger sources say.

However, sources suggest that those captured are not highly important members of the organization.

In parts of Washash, near Mansour, the Americans and Iraqi troops have captured many Mahdi Army members, and it appears that US and government forces have the militia members’ names in a database. Eyewitnesses report that when the US or the Iraqis catch someone they check his name on a laptop.

Some of the Mahdi Army members are reportedly sleeping in their cars and moving around from area to area when to avoid raids.

The Americans and the Iraqi government are offering $1,500 to anyone who provides information about insurgents or the Mahdi Army, sources report. Sources were unable to confirm if any Iraqis had cashed in on the offer.

Armed militias in Shi`a areas, who used to show their weapons in the daylight with impunity, are not seen anymore, according to local sources.

Still, some people were killed or kidnapped in Shi`a areas, and some people reportedly think that the Mahdi Army is behind this. Even so, a source with links to the Baghdad morgue was told that the body counts had dropped from 300 to 50 weekly.

Yet, many people think the Mahdi Army are not the real targets of the security operations, and sources seem to share the expectation that the militia will come back after operations die down.

Iraqis inspect flash bang cartridges on Thursday, left by US and Iraqi troops as they raided overnight houses at Baghdad's impoverished district of Sadr City. Photo by Wissam al-Okaili/AFP.

"Iraq: Two Voices"

IraqPundit has just published a good post about two Iraqi women with very different views on the occupation.

Guess who this is: "You lost," the blogger tells America. "You lost the day your tanks rolled into Baghdad to the cheers of your imported, American-trained monkeys. You lost every single family whose home your soldiers violated. You lost every sane, red-blooded Iraqi when the Abu Ghraib pictures came out and verified your atrocities behind prison walls as well as the ones we see in our streets. You lost when you brought murderers, looters, gangsters and militia heads to power and hailed them as Iraq’s first democratic government. You lost when a gruesome execution was dubbed your biggest accomplishment. You lost the respect and reputation you once had. You lost more than 3000 troops. That is what you lost America. I hope the oil, at least, made it worthwhile."

Now, one could pause to footnote many of these assertions. Were all the people cheering the fall of Saddam really "imported, American-trained monkeys"? Who dubbed Saddam's botched execution as being America's "biggest accomplishment"? Weren't Iraq's current rulers elected by Iraqis? But we're not here to argue. Rather, let's bring on our contrasting voice.

It belongs to Jabria Jassim, an Iraqi-American who teaches in the Chicago area. Prof. Jassim recently spent time with family members in her native Baghdad, and has since written a description of what she saw and heard there. (I should note that I found Prof. Jassim's piece because it was recommended by none other than Juan Cole.)

"My heart aches," writes Prof. Jassim, "for all of the military and families who have become caught up in this fire of hate on behalf of my people. I know the media here [in the US] is doing a great job reflecting the hate of the insurgents and the terrorists toward the American troops. What they don’t show is the reality of millions of Iraqis praying to God to protect the soldiers who are fighting for their freedoms from the clutches of these ruthless criminals and murderers.

"Believe me," she continues, "I was there when people in my neighborhood were happily spreading the good news and congratulating each other when America troops kicked off doors in the Haifa neighborhood, one of the safe-havens for terrorists. The operation lasted a whole day. I, myself, wanted to hug the soldiers and convey to them the gratitude of the Iraqis; but it was impossible to even leave the house that day."

Insurgents Want to Maximize Civilian Death and Terror

I wonder if ANY insurgents do not target civilians.

U.S. Troops Find Chemicals in Iraq Raid

The Associated Press
Thursday, February 22, 2007; 10:57 AM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. troops raided a car bomb factory west of Baghdad with five buildings full of propane tanks and ordinary chemicals the military believes were to be used in bombs, a spokesman said Thursday, a day after insurgents blew up a truck carrying chlorine gas canisters.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said the chlorine attack Wednesday - the second such "dirty" chemical attack in two days - signaled a change in insurgent tactics, and the military was fighting back with targeted raids.

"What we are seeing is a change in the tactics, but their strategy has not changed. And that's to create high-profile attacks to instill fear and division amongst the Iraqi people," he told CNN. "It's a real crude attempt to raise the terror level by taking and mixing ordinary chemicals with explosive devices, trying to instill that fear within the Iraqi people."

But he suggested the strategy was backfiring by turning public opinion against the insurgents, saying the number of tips provided by Iraqis had doubled in the last six months.

One of those tips led U.S. troops to a five separate buildings near Fallujah, where they found the munitions containing chemicals, three vehicle bombs being assembled, including a truck bomb, about 65 propane tanks and "all kinds of ordinary chemicals," Caldwell said. He added that he believed the insurgents were going to try to mix the chemicals with explosives.

The pickup truck carrying chlorine gas cylinders was blown up Wednesday, killing at least five people and sending more than 55 to hospitals gasping for breath and rubbing stinging eyes.

On Tuesday, a bomb planted on a chlorine tanker left more than 150 villagers stricken north of the capital. More than 60 were still under medical care on Wednesday. Chlorine causes respiratory trouble and skin irritation in low levels and possible death with heavy exposure.

Iraqis clear debris on the site of a house that was destroyed during fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents in the volatile Sunni city of Ramadi, Iraq, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007. U.S. troops battled insurgents in fierce fighting that killed at least 12 people in Ramadi, U.S. officials said Thursday, while Iraqi authorities claim the dead included women and children. (AP Photo)

Another Sunni Woman Raped by Security Forces

Another Sunni Woman Raped by Security Forces
Four Iraqi Soldiers Confessed, Charged With Crime
Posted 1 hr. 34 min. ago

As the scandal over the alleged rape of a 20-year-old Sunni woman by Iraqi police last weekend continues to simmer, it has been revealed that incident was the second time last week Iraqi security forces were denounced for allegedly raping a Sunni woman.

In the first case, three grunts and a lieutenant have been accused of raping a middle-aged, married mother of eleven and attempting to rape two of her daughters in Tal Afar northern Iraq. The case has been referred to the judiciary for prosecution.

According to news accounts quoting Gen. Njim Abdullah, the mayor of Tal Afar, security forces were performing a sweep for weapons and insurgents when the attack took place.

The men initially denied the charges but later confessed after the woman personally confronted them.

The three soldiers admitted to assaulting the woman while their lieutenant filmed the attack with a cell phone camera. A fifth soldier apparently happened upon the scene while it was in progress and pointed a gun at his comrades to force them to stop.

The BBC quoted Gen. Abdullah as saying: "One of the soldiers did not approve. His name is Mushtaq Taleb from Basra. He wanted to stop his comrades by threatening them with weapons because it is an immoral act, but the rape took place anyway."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The use of new weapons

It is scary to think what kind of killing these people can do with seriously nasty weapons.

Iraqi Insurgents Use 2nd 'Dirty' Bomb

Associated Press Writer
Published February 21, 2007, 5:48 PM CST

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Insurgents exploded a truck carrying chlorine gas canisters Wednesday -- the second such "dirty" chemical attack in two days -- while a U.S. official said ground fire apparently forced the downing of a Black Hawk helicopter. All nine aboard the aircraft were rescued.

The attacks offer a sweeping narrative on evolving tactics by Sunni insurgents who have proved remarkably adaptable.

Military officials worry extremists may have recently gained more access to firepower such as shoulder-fired anti-aircraft rockets and heavy machine guns -- and more expertise to use them. The Black Hawk would be at least the eighth U.S. helicopter to crash or be taken down by hostile fire in the past month.

The gas cloud in Baghdad, meanwhile, suggests possible new and coordinated strategies by bombers trying to unleash toxic -- and potentially deadly -- materials. "Terrorists are using dirty means," said Brig. Gen. Qassim Moussawi, an Iraqi military spokesman.

Rape allegations amid car bombings

Rape allegations amid Iraq car bombings
By Christian Berthelsen, Times Staff Writer
10:29 AM PST, February 21, 2007

BAGHDAD -- Questions about the alleged rape of a woman by Iraqi police swirled around the U.S.-led security operation in Iraq today, as car bombings and an assassination left at least 19 people dead around the country and another U.S. helicopter went down.

One of the car bombings involved another effort to explode chlorine gas canisters, the second time in two days that insurgents have used crude chemical weapons attacks to target civilians. At least two people were killed, 25 poisoned and eight others injured in the attack.

In the rape case, a 20-year-old Sunni woman first came forward Sunday with allegations that she was attacked by three Iraqi police officers who searched her house, accused her of aiding insurgents and took her to a local police station. She later went to a U.S. medical facility for treatment, which admitted her and released her the following morning. She described the alleged attack in an interview that began airing on television here Monday.

The Iraqi government quickly dismissed her allegations, clearing the officers after a one-day investigation and accusing the victim of being an impostor wanted on criminal warrants. In the process they named her and gave out other identifying details.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The War Between Iraqis and Al Qaeda

Buried under allegations of rape - I wonder if Al Jazeera covered this:

'Al-Badeel Al-Iraqi reports that gunmen associated with Al-Qaeda in Iraq have murdered 24 people from the Al-Bu Farraj and Al-Bu Risha tribes, which are part of the Anbar Salvation Council, a coalition of local tribes in western Iraq fighting Al-Qaeda, in Ramadi. The Iraqi police said that gunmen suspected to be members of Al-Qaeda stopped a bus carrying a family of 13 persons returning from a funeral near Fallujah and killed them in cold blood after learning they were members of the Al-Bu Farraj, a Sunni tribe in opposition of Al-Qaeda. In Ramadi, two suicide bombers targeted the residence of Sheikh Abdul Sattar Al-Buzayi’, a tribal leader who formed the Anbar Salvation Council after Al-Qaeda murdered his father. 11 people were killed in the attack when a suicide bomber rammed his rigged vehicle into the outer gates of the house. Moments later a second bomber drove his truck into the house. Sheikh Buzayi’ told the pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper that five guards, four women and three children were killed in this attack, adding that it was in response to clashes in Ramadi yesterday that killed 12 members of Al-Qaeda.'

Security Crackdown Working?

"I’ve noted on this site in the past that I am a Shiite. But, as is the case with many Iraqis, mine is a mixed family of both Shiites and Sunnis. A few months ago, a Sunni relative who lived in a mixed neighborhood received a threat from Shiite thugs, many of whom have been engaged in the sectarian “cleansing” of Baghdad’s neighborhoods. The threat came in the form of a letter that informed the 70-year-old man and his wife that they were no longer welcome in the area, and that they had to leave immediately. In the envelope with the letter were bullets, obviously intended to frighten the elderly couple and to underline the seriousness of the threat.

The old man, who had lived in his modest house for at least 30 years, fled with his wife to the home of a sister.

By the way, this old couple had never been political in any way. Like most people, they had always lived quietly, avoiding conflict. They were well liked by those who actually knew them. Indeed, their immediate neighbors, including Shiites, pleaded with them not to leave. “We’ll protect you,” they told them. “Don’t go.” But the man’s wife was understandably shaken by the threat, and there was no question of staying.

They’re back in their own home now. The man called the other day to give us all the welcome news. The kind of thugs who had been terrorizing Sunnis, at least in my relatives’ part of town, have been forced to disperse as a result of the crackdown, and they no longer decide who can stay and who must go. My relatives were welcomed warmly by their old neighbors, who wanted to see this return as a sign of increasing normality.

Will the thugs eventually come back? I don’t know; that will obviously depend on many events to come. And, yes, it’s true that bombs continue to explode among the city’s innocents, and that the murderers in Iraq are still asserting themselves. But for now, my relatives, their neighbors, and the piece of Baghdad of which they are a part can live in hope again." -IraqPundit

Iraqi Anger at Foreign Arabs Grows

I got this from the Sandmonkey, who writes "Well, with foriegn arabs flocking to Iraq to blow themselves up and funding iraqis to do the same, not to mention the redicilous arab worship to Sadam and Zarqawi, I am surprised this didn't happen sooner!"

Anger at foreign Arabs builds in Iraq
By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Writer Mon Feb 19, 3:18 AM ET

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The wealthy Arab man, sporting a foreign accent, has just given an Iraqi teenager some cash and a bomb when police burst in and arrest him. "You come here from abroad and want to make this young man kill his Iraqi brothers?" an officer asks.

The television ad, widely aired across Iraq in recent weeks and meant to encourage Iraqis to report suspicious behavior to police, is a startling example of a new strain of anger and discrimination against foreign Arabs in this Arab-majority country.

Suspicion toward foreign Arabs stems, in part, from the fact that the Sunni-led insurgency has included many foreign fighters, most of them Arabs, who are blamed for deadly attacks that have claimed thousands of Iraqi lives.

Foreign Arabs who live in Iraq often try to hide their identities by faking an Iraqi accent or staying silent. Iraqis are usually suspicious when they hear a person speaking Arabic with a non-Iraqi accent.

Moroccan Suicide Bombers

My parents took us kids to Morocco when I was 10 years old, and I remember how kind the Moroccans were and how beautiful Morocco is. After college I visited Gibraltar and met Moroccans who speak three languages fluently. It astounds me to think that even one Moroccan can be convinced today to travel all the way to Iraq and kill people. I do not understand how some people can kill innocent human beings in the name of Allah. I wonder how close they got to occupied Palestine on their way to Iraq.

Terrorist Networks Lure Young Moroccans to War in Far-Off Iraq
Conflict Is Recruiting Tool for Al-Qaeda Affiliates

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 20, 2007; Page A01

TETOUAN, Morocco -- In the Arab world, this hilly North African city is about as far as you can get from Iraq. But for many young men here, the call to join what they view as a holy war resonates loudly across the 3,000-mile divide.

About two dozen men from Tetouan and nearby towns in the Rif Mountains have traveled to Iraq in the past 18 months to volunteer as fighters or suicide bombers, according to local residents and officials. Moroccan authorities said the men were recruited by international terrorist networks affiliated with al-Qaeda that have deepened their roots in North Africa since the invasion of Iraq four years ago.
To stanch the flow, U.S. intelligence and military officials have tried to trace the fighters' steps. On the basis of DNA evidence recovered from the scenes of suicide attacks, as well as other clues, officials have confirmed that at least two bombers came from Tetouan, a city of more than 320,000 across the Strait of Gibraltar from southern Spain.

One of them, Abdelmonaim el-Amrani, a 22-year-old laborer, abandoned his wife and infant child in Tetouan to go to Iraq. On March 6, 2006, just before sunset, he drove a red Volkswagen Passat stuffed with explosives into a funeral tent in a village near Baqubah, Iraq, according to witnesses. Six people were reported killed and 27 injured. It was months before Amrani's family in Tetouan learned of his fate from Moroccan police.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Deir Yassin Remembered

It has been almost 60 years since the massacre of 100 Palestinians at Deir Yassin, a small village outside Jerusalem, and it is just a glimpse of what has happened to Palestinians who lived on land that was desired to be part of the new state of Israel. It is sad to think that many Americans will not watch this video because they feel more comfortable with their version of what happened to the Palestinians in 1948. It is good to acknowledge the truth, always. We cannot run away from the truth.

Iraqi Oil Law (and the Constitution)

Below are the comments of an Iraqi oil & gas expert in London to a group of Iraqi technocrats who met in Amman on Saturday to discuss the draft oil law.


I am writing to you with regard to the latest Iraqi draft oil law. I have a few simple comments, which I will mention later. However, I am really surprised why this hurry in making this law. Is it because Iraq now is in peace and international oil companies (IOCs) are flocking in droves to Iraq to share in the development and production of Iraq's huge reserves? Not at all. Violence in Iraq is worse than ever, and I really do not believe that force alone (i.e the latest Maliki/Bush security plan) will solve the problem unless it is coupled with a sincere political plan to negotiate, compromise and positively respond to any legitimate demands the insurgents have. I am, however, pessimistic about any political solution being undertaken now because, simply, those in power are driven by religious/sectarian beliefs and, by definition, cannot compromise. In the absence of a political solution, therefore, the ongoing bloodshed and strife will continue in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, and the IOCs will not come to Iraq any time soon because they are not prepared to risk the lives of their personnel under such conditions.

Then is it that the Iraqi government is under pressure from the American administration and have to hurry up with this law? Maybe so. Perhaps one can infer this from the attachment (US Congress.doc) where Condoleezza Rice was being grilled by US senators on the delay of the Iraqi oil law, as if everything in Iraq is now just fine, and the only obstacle that is standing in the way of Iraq's reconstruction is absence of the oil law!

Although the Iraqi government is pushing for this law to be written and ratified quickly, I do not think this is the Iraqi people's priority right now. If we put the violence and political issues aside, it is the Iraqi constitution which we really should care about, given that it should be amended by May this year. As it stands now, the Iraqi constitution is a big disappointment. It divides and does not unite. It is gravely biased towards the regions and provinces to the detriment of the federal government. As a social contract it is not legitimate (in my view) since it was rejected by the Sunni Arabs and by a good portion of the Shi'a Arabs, and even those supposedly majority Shi'a Arabs who said yes to it, their choice was not made under full comprehension of the constitution's content. This is, indeed, true! People who are with no basic services, hungry, unemployed, living under extreme fear of being kidnapped or killed, misguided by their leaders and misinformed by the media, cannot make a free choice. And, as if this was not enough, the party leaders, especially the Shiites and the Kurds, reciprocated, behind closed doors, convenient changes in the constitution's articles, and that was in itself a betrayal to the whole Iraqi parliament and to the Iraqi people, whom they were supposed to represent.

Oh yes, we know what happened! For us, oil and gas people, we could realise with a single glance at the oil and gas articles, that something was seriously wrong. In addition to the pervasive vague language, the inexplicable bias towards the region and governorates, it is beyond belief to see that one of the articles allows the federal government to participate with the governments of the region and producing governorates in the oil and gas management of only the present fields (what is the definition of present fields?) to the exclusion of future fields!! What is the reason for this exclusion is beyond my comprehension, other than to leave Iraq's future oil and gas riches, which are, by the way, about twice the size of the presently proven reserves, to the custody of the self-interested region and weak and competing governorates, who could very easily be cornered and overcome by the IOCs. This is not withstanding CORRUPTION, which can play havoc with the Iraqi people's only remaining assets.

I am sorry to have taken so long to express my bitter feelings about the shortcomings of the Iraqi constitution. All I want to do here is to take the opportunity of your gathering in Jordan, and ask you, as Iraqi patriots and cultured men, to raise the people's awareness regarding the upcoming constitutional amendment, and to encourage the media and other Iraqi institutions, civil societies and organisations to loudly voice their opinions as to what articles they are not happy with and what amendments they propose, and put extreme pressure on the Iraqi parliament to come up with the desired constitutional amendments. We have a successful example now before us when the liberal media (especially the western media) have recently imposed pressure on the Iraqi government and the American administration concerning the proposed oil and gas law. One last thing I should mention, and that is the oil and gas law, which you are working on, should be constitutional, i.e. in compliance with the constitution, and it would be difficult to write such law if the amended constitution in its final shape is not yet known and properly understood.

Comments on the oil and gas law:

1. In Article 4 (Definitions), No. 19 (p.7) Oil Operations: All activities concerning exploration, development, production, etc.
The first three activities mentioned seem to be in logical order as, in the case of a risk contract, a contractor starts with exploration, and in case of a commercial discovery the next step would be development and then production. But this sequence (or the proper part of it) does not seem to have been followed in the text of the law. For example, in Article 9 (Licensing), oil operations' licences are given on basis of exploration and production contract(EPC). In this case why development was skipped, shouldn't this contract be called exploration, development and production contract (EDPC)? Also, shouldn't the contract mentioned in Article 12B, first line, (P.17) be called development and production contract (DPC) since the field is already
discovered and no exploration is involved? In a nutshell, when there is exploration involved it is (EDPC) and when no exploration involved it is (DPC).
Of course when only service is involved, then it is none of the above, as it is a service contract.

2. In Article 9, a model contract should make it possible for the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC) to partner with the potential contractor in a joint-venture or have a working interest with the contractor the percentage share of which would be decided, in each case, by INOC.

3. As you all know, the PSA has been subjected to severe attacks by some media and NGOs, and was discredited, among others, in the eyes Iraqi oil workers (see haasan Juma'a attachment). Indeed the name of a contract is immaterial since it is the contract terms which govern the contract, as you can have a PSA with contract terms highly favourable to the host country and gives little to the contractor and, on the other hand, you can have a service contract with terms and conditions that squeezes the host country and in the meantime highly favourable to the contractor. So the name is not the issue, as you do not judge a book by its cover but by its content. Since the contracts DPC and EDPC are similar to PSAs in content, I suggest that in the model agreement no specific percentage of profit oil to the contractor is allowed, and his remuneration after recovering the cost would be an acceptable rate of return on investment plus reasonable incentives if he fulfils certain conditions.

4. Since it does not make a difference for Iraq to pay in cash or oil at the market rate, it may make a difference for the contractor to receive his cost and remuneration in oil, and he should be allowed to do that.

5. The contractor prefers the oil he receives to be bookable. Booking means that the estimate of his cost and remuneration he is going to receive in oil can be presented to the United States Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) as his own reserves. This helps the standing of the company in the market but, to the best of my knowledge, this is only an accounting procedure between the contractor and the SEC, and booking, as such, will not create for the contractor any ownership rights on the Iraqi reserves. However, to be on the safe side, and in case of booking, a perfectly legal language should be incorporated in the contract to the effect that booking will not in any way, shape or form, give title or create for the contractor ownership rights on the reserves underground. We should give incentives to the contractor as long as there is no cost to Iraq. The same applies to 4. above.

6. Article 35B requires that records, etc. should be kept in the two languages (Arabic and English). The model contract should, nevertheless, mention which language to be considered in court in case of a difference in interpretation.

7. The model contract should mention that corruption (such as bribing Iraqi employees, etc.) is a criminal act and will be subject to prosecution under Iraqi law.

Gentlemen, these are all I can mention so far since, I am sure, you will enrich the law with more and far better suggestions. I wish you success and all the best in your endeavours.

-With my best personal regards,

Muhammad-Ali Zainy
Centre for Global Energy Studies, London

Sunday, February 18, 2007

'US patience is limited'

Rice tells Iraq U.S. patience is limited
Secretary of state praises leaders on security issue

Ernesto Londono, Washington Post

Sunday, February 18, 2007

(02-18) 04:00 PST Baghdad -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed support for a nascent Baghdad security plan during an unannounced visit to the capital Saturday, but she reminded Iraq's leaders that Americans were growing increasingly frustrated with the unyielding lethality and cost of the war.

Deadly Baghdad blasts send grim message

Most viewed news story on Yahoo now:

Deadly Baghdad blasts send grim message

By BRIAN MURPHY, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 50 minutes ago

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Militants struck back Sunday in their first major blow against a U.S.-led security clampdown in Baghdad with car bombings that killed at least 63 people, left scores injured and sent a grim message to officials boasting that extremist factions were on the run.

The attacks in mostly Shiite areas — twin explosions in an open-air market that claimed 62 lives and a third blast that killed one — were a sobering reminder of the challenges confronting any effort to rattle the well-armed and well-hidden insurgents.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Missing in Baghdad

A good and very sad article (thanks Z!) that shows how Sunni Arabs are suffering in Baghdad. There is no 'Sunni side' in this war. There is a side that wants to make life as miserable as possible for Iraqis, and there's the innocent Iraqis, mostly poor who have to bear the brunt of this civil war, and would like just to have their lives back. Many people talk about a side that does not target civilians, a resistance that just wants foreign troops out of Iraq, but unfortunately the bombings, kidnappings, and murders of innocent civilians (Sunni, Shii, Kurdish, Christian) have overshadowed any efforts by some groups (if they exist) to avoid civilian deaths.

Missing in Baghdad: My Father
What happens when a call from Iraq upends a reporter's life in New York
February 17, 2007; Page A1 (WSJ)

About 5 o'clock on a mid-December morning, I was awakened by a call from my brother in Iraq. "Dad is missing," he said. He was upset and some of his anger spilled out at me: "You should be here," he shouted. "You don't seem to care."

My father had left home in Baghdad that morning to go to the auto-repair shop across town where he works. Fifteen minutes after he left, car bombs exploded on his route to work and he hasn't been seen since.

His disappearance set off a desperate search by my family through the netherworld of war-torn Baghdad. It also put me in the agonizing position of trying to help my family with the violent dislocations of civil war -- over the phone, from thousands of miles away. I'm the oldest son and have been studying and working in New York for more than two years. Since my father vanished, my three grown siblings and my mother have looked to me as the head of the family.

Every time I hear about a bomb going off, I brace myself for the worst possible news. Last February, my entire family went missing for two weeks, without a word. When my cellphone rings and an Iraqi number shows up on the display, I say a silent prayer before answering.

My life has always been marked by Saddam Hussein's wars. Born to Sunni parents -- my mother a homemaker, my father a mechanic -- I grew up in a brick house in a poor Baghdad neighborhood where Sunnis and Shias lived together. War with neighboring Iran dominated my early childhood. Many nights, Iranian jet fighters roared overhead. Most afternoons, we would watch "Sowar min Al-Marakah" ("Pictures from the Battle"), a propaganda show featuring battlefield footage and the mangled corpses of Iranian soldiers. My parents once gave me medication to fight a recurring nightmare of being squashed under an Iranian tank.

I was in primary school in 1991 when Operation Desert Storm kicked off after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Once, a U.S. missile hit a spice factory near our home. We smelled the spices, thought it was a chemical attack and covered our mouths with wet towels. During most of my teens, we lived under U.N. sanctions on government-issued rations of staple foods.

There were happy times, too. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the celebrations surrounding the Muslim religious holiday of Eid. During the festival, my father used to take me, my sisters and my brother to the park for amusement rides, to eat kebab and to walk at night by the Tigris River.

I always wanted to be a journalist. But under Saddam, studying journalism was pointless, since all newspapers were run and rigorously monitored by the government. In middle school, I started teaching myself English, practicing with translation texts and old American newsmagazines left in our basement by a relative. I used to spend hours memorizing vocabulary lists and looking up new words in an outdated dictionary. I dreamed of going to school in a Western country, of traveling the world and writing about it.

The Wall Street Journal's Sarmad Ali details the pain he and his family have felt since his father's disappearance in Iraq.

By 2003, at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we were already used to war. My family evacuated to the countryside, with the exception of my father, who said that if he had to die, he would rather die at home.

We returned several weeks later, after Saddam was toppled. My father welcomed us back, but he appeared broken. A secular Sunni and fervent patriot, he had been against the American invasion and never thought it would happen. Now, he had become pessimistic about the future of his country: The looting in the aftermath of the invasion disgusted him. "They stole everything from the government buildings around us," he said, as we walked in the door. "TVs, computers, and even water pipes."

But life continued. My father went back to work; my younger sister and brother went to high school, and my older sister, who had graduated with a degree in English, helped my mother around the house. I found a job as a journalist for a new local English-language paper. I reported stories on bombings, reconstruction projects and other news from all over Iraq.

The violence increased. I had been on the job less than one year when the editor, an Iraqi-American, left the country, afraid that his life was in danger. Along with three other journalists, I kept the publication alive on the Web, posting news items from an Internet cafe in downtown Baghdad.

Before he left, the editor got me in touch with Columbia University in the U.S., which shortly afterward offered me a scholarship to study journalism. My parents said I should accept. I did, and four months later I took off. The morning I left, my brother insisted on carrying my big suitcase to the cab. My mother splashed a pitcher of water behind me, an Iraqi tradition wishing a traveler a safe return home.

With $300 in my pocket, I took a 15-hour cab ride to Jordan, and a plane to New York from there.

By August 2004, I settled in New York, enjoying the life of a newcomer in his 20s. I started to take classes and learned new things, from buckling my seat belt in a plane to working out in a gym; from using a washing machine to eating sushi and tandoori dishes. Later, I landed an internship, and then a reporting job with this newspaper.

But as I was getting used to my comfortable new life, I was also regularly pulled back into Iraq, where things were getting worse. A few months after my arrival in New York, I was chatting with a friend in Baghdad on my cellphone when he told me that an acquaintance had died in a roadside bomb attack. I became afraid of getting calls from Iraq, sometimes not answering them. I considered changing my phone number so no one could call me with bad news -- but I could still call people back home when I felt like it. Other times, I became obsessed with fear and would call to check on my family and friends, burning through a 400-minute calling card in a weekend.

When Al-Askari's famous gold-domed Shiite mosque was bombed last February, violence erupted throughout Iraq. Suddenly I couldn't get in touch with anyone back home. I didn't know whether my family members were dead or alive, whether they were taken by gunmen for ethnic reasons or if it was just that their phone line was down. I stopped eating, stopped going to work. I tried calling at three different times every day, to no avail. They surfaced two weeks later, safe and sound, after having fled to the countryside to stay with distant relatives, in an effort to escape violence or retaliation against Sunnis.

During an instant-message conversation with a friend in Iraq, the war dealt me its first massive blow: Haider Al-Maliki, a friend from university in Baghdad who had come to visit me in New York the year before, was found dead, his body riddled with 13 bullets. He was stopped by unknown gunmen while in a cab in the southern city of Amarah and shot on the spot. Other friends began going to their jobs at the government and in the Green Zone in disguise, trying to avoid Haider's fate. One friend poses as a student, while another takes a roundabout route to work for fear of being followed.

Meanwhile, my sister, seeing that ethnic violence was increasing near our neighborhood, asked me if the family should buy a gun. "Ask the neighbors what they are doing," I told her, not knowing what to do. When we talked a week later, my family had opted against it.

My father kept going to work every day, despite the rising violence. It was one way of staying sane. Then, in December, he went missing, and I got my brother's frantic call.

I told my brother to calm down and said that I was here to help -- that I left the country to help the family. "You are there, with air conditioning, entertaining yourself, while we are here in hell," he retorted.

I tried to ignore the comments -- I had heard them from him before -- and told him to focus on the matter at hand. He did. After dad left, he said, there was a huge bombing near the central station where he was supposed to transfer to another bus. Dad never showed up at work and never came back home.

I told him to go to the area of the bombing -- a busy marketplace in central Baghdad -- to see where the wounded were taken. I also called three of my old friends in Baghdad to ask them to accompany him. My brother had already asked some of our cousins to visit police stations to see if my father had been taken into custody.

A few hours later, we talked again. By that time, my brother had visited a local hospital, where most victims were taken. He said that my father wasn't on the hospital's official list of the dead, so he walked around to see if he could recognize him among the wounded. He described a scene of chaos and carnage: Blood was everywhere, people were weeping in the halls, hospital staff were running back and forth -- but my father was nowhere to be found.

Two days after the bombing, I called my friend Ala and asked him to go to the hospital morgue to see if my father might be among the unidentified dead, victims who weren't carrying IDs or were burned beyond recognition. Ala went and checked three charred bodies, but concluded they were not my father. One was too fat, he said. Another had hair, while my father is bald. And the last one was too young and short to be my father.

My cousin went to a nearby police station, a mini-fortress surrounded by barbed wire and sandbags, to see if my father was mistakenly being held. He told the lieutenant that he was looking for his uncle and gave him the name. He wasn't there.

A week passed and my father still hadn't been found. On the phone, my mother sounded faint and sick but kept saying she was all right. She told me to take care of myself and that my father would come back. She insisted that my father was fine. Her proof: He was not at the morgue.

My older sister couldn't keep up appearances. She stopped eating, stopped taking showers and descended into a depression, my younger sister said. She hadn't been well for more than a year, ever since several cars exploded near her on a market square. Back then, the sight of a child's charred body had sent her into shock. For days, all she could do was hug her knees and murmur over and over: "Poor girl, they killed her, animals." She recalled running through streets awash with blood and sewage, packed with civilians pushing flat wooden carts on which they piled the wounded and the dead. Her condition improved only after she got antidepressants. But after my father went missing, she spiraled back into a severe depression. Medical assistance proved elusive this time, with violence deterring nurses from visiting.

On my way to the gym one recent day, I got a call from my brother with more bad news. A mortar shell hit near my house and damaged the already-fragile bedroom walls. "Do you know that your mother and sisters are sleeping in the hallway shivering in this cold winter?" my brother said. I told him I would send money. Exasperated, he said that even with money they wouldn't be able to fix the room and that they would sleep in my old bedroom from now on.

I feel responsible for my family, but at the same time helpless. I am not a U.S. citizen, or a permanent resident. My guest status here prevents me from being able to bring my family to join me. I ask them to stay strong and take care and stay indoors. I try to give them hope, although I know it could be a false hope. Sometimes I stop calling them for a few weeks to avoid listening to all this.

I've considered going back many times, mostly because I miss my family and I haven't seen them for more than two years. But that is risky -- both because of the growing violence and because it's not certain that I could leave the U.S. and return. My mother says I should stay here. "Don't even think of coming back," she told me on the phone a few weeks ago. "People are leaving, not coming."

These days, my mother and sisters don't go outside the house at all. None of them have traveled before. They don't have passports. And they don't have the money it takes to buy tickets, taxi rides, hotel rooms. They say there are no guarantees of finding a way to make a living in neighboring countries like Jordan.

I seek consolation in small things that remind me of home. I keep three envelopes with my mother's recipes scribbled on them -- lentil soup, tomato sauce with beans and Iraqi-style biryani -- next to my bed. When bad things happen back home, I cook them. My laptop is stocked with songs about Baghdad. I search the Internet for pictures of Iraq before the U.S. invasion. Pictures of the Tigris River. Of bustling Baghdad streets. Of the past that is no longer.

Occasionally, I talk to the few Iraqis I know in the U.S. -- a friend in Michigan, another in Massachusetts. A small Iraqi-flag key chain hangs on a nail sticking out of my wall.

Bombings in the news send me scurrying to my computer for information about the exact time and location of the explosions. I lay curled under my green comforter, going over in my mind where my family members and friends might have been at the time.

New friends keep me company. While civil war raged in Iraq, I attended parties celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. At Christmas break, I went to the home of a friend's aunt in Connecticut; I shopped for gifts -- books, a T-shirt, a scarf, a tie -- and we ate a big dinner.

I don't tell my friends in America too much about what is happening with my family in Iraq. I try to avoid talking about the war because it's so far removed from the world of restaurants, coffee shops, and polite conversations. I worry people won't understand or don't want to be bothered. During a recent dinner in New York's Chinatown, a friend asked, "How's your family?" When I told her about my father, she was shocked. She offered condolences and said I shouldn't hesitate to ask her for help. I felt grateful, but a little awkward because I knew that neither she nor anyone else who means well can really change things for my family.

Sometimes, my family becomes hopeless and says my father must be dead -- otherwise he would have returned by now. Other days, they are more optimistic, saying that he may have been taken by kidnappers and he will be released.

The last time we talked, my younger sister pleaded with me to help her find a way out of Baghdad. She said she would cook and clean for me, if I could just figure out a way to get her out of there. It made my heart sink.

Trying to check on the fate of my father, I called my brother on his cellphone -- the only phone in my family's possession -- late last month. That day, bombs had gone off on a Shiite market where he likes to shop for DVDs and CDs. Press reports said there were more than 80 dead. He did not pick up his phone. Not the next day either. I recently reached a friend in Iraq, who said he had seen my brother. But I'm still waiting for him to call back.