Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Arabs: do not allow the Sunni-Shia divide to widen

This is an excellent article (thanks Z!). Notice that it was published on SaudiDebate.com, a Saudi web site - obviously at least some Saudis are good peeps. I have a feeling that the majority of Saudis are good peeps!

Autocrats’ talk of “Sunni-Shia” divide is dangerous pretence which risks Arab “cold war”

By Fawaz Turki

So let me get this straight.

Arabs have just found it necessary to revisit an old dispute - old, as in 1,400 years old - that has the potential to tear our societies apart.

The dispute, transposed into the public debate, posits the notion that Iran is a threat to us and that Shiites - all Shiites, be they our Arab brothers or Persian neighbors - are the enemy. Suddenly, terms like "the Persian menace" and "the Eastern tide", known in Arabic as Zahf, have begun to appear in the op-ed pages of prominent Arab journals.

There is talk of forming an American-backed alliance of Sunni-dominated regimes, a kind of anti-Shiite front, similar to the Baghdad Pact that the British wanted to introduce Arabs to in the mid-1950s to combat ‘Communist encroachment'. The target, in the words of the Jordanian monarch, King Abdullah, will be the "Shiite crescent", namely Iran, Hizbollah and the Alawite regime in Syria - and wherever else behind every lamp post and under every bed Shiites may be found.

In April last year, Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, told Al-Arabiyya that "Iran definitely has influence on Shiites" - a not altogether remarkable observation - and that "most of the Shiites are loyal to Iran and not to the countries they are living in."

And Saddam Hussein, that buffoon and semi-literate oaf who paid at the end of a noose not long ago, was mindful of the same idea when he sent a recorded message to "the Iraqi people and the Arab nation", on the occasion of his birthday, April 28, 2003 while he was still on the run, telling them that the fall of Baghdad a few weeks earlier to American forces was similar to its fall to the Mongols in 1258: Baghdad was betrayed by its last caliph, Ibn Alqami, a Shiite, who allegedly stabbed his people in the back by helping the Mongols sack their city.

"Just as Holagu entered Baghdad," he ranted in his famously reedy voice, "so did the criminal Bush enter Baghdad, with the help of Alqami."

Where has all this venemous rhetoric come from? Where has all this egregious stereotyping of our Shiite brothers, whether in Iran or the Arab world, come from?

Propounded by irresponsible commentators with ready access to the media, and by political leaders whose voices are amplified a million times over because of who they are, these views threaten, in time, to became the prevailing fantasy in our part of the world, dutifully embraced by the mass of our people.

I say, in time.

To be sure, the Arab street loves crackpot tales and conspiracy theories (the Sept.11 attacks were the work of Israeli agents, the death of Princess Diana was the result of some diabolical plot by British intelligence to end her life rather than see her married to an Arab Muslim, Monica Lewinsky was an agent-in-place put there in the White House by the Jewish lobby), but the notion that Iran is rebuilding itself as an evil empire poised to dominate the Arab world and that all Shiites are a fifth column in the heartland of our society, is something that few Arabs are buying - for now.

The average Arab does not, very simply, view Iran as a threat and Shiites as an enemy. A recent poll by the respected Zogby International of people in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, found that close to 80 percent of respondents considered the US and Israel to be the primary threat to the Arab world. Only 6 percent picked Iran. In fact, the poll indicated, Iran's opposition to the US, and its consistent support for the Palestinians, is widely popular among ordinary Arabs.

The article of faith in the Arab street (and trust me on this one, I understand the Arab street, where I grew up and which remains part of my archetypal roots) is this: the US is fueling sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites (Iraq remains contextually a different case altogether) in order to weaken and dismember the Middle East, armed as it is with the old imperial strategy of Divide and Rule. And as Washington continues to harp on the threat posed by the Iranian government, the Hizbollah movement and the Alawite regime in Syria, Arabs are not having it. Rather, the Americans' endgame, they believe, as they draw on the teleological spirit that animates their street, is to weaken Islam from within and foster regional tensions - all of which is good news for US arms companies, companies that over the last two years, for example, have sold Kuwait, the UAE, Oman, and Saudi Arabia a staggering $138 billion worth of weapons.

Tending toward the conspiratorial? Perhaps.

But why the devil, I ask, should we allow this new, dangerous trend - a potential Sunni-Shiite cold war - to imbue the mass sentiment in our part of the world?

Theological differences between Sunnis and Shiites are small, decidedly smaller than those that, say, divide Protestants and Catholics. For centuries we have lived together, shared common struggles, formed friendships and intermarried. In 1920, as a case in point, Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites fought in the same battle, for the same cause, against the same enemy - British colonial overlords - and more recently, in the same manner, against Israel.

The divide between our two sects - where and when it existed - is not over matters of theological principle but of competing claims to political power, over the role each plays in running a government, and over control of state resources.

That Shiites in Lebanon, for example, are demonstrably vocal has more to do with the fact that they had traditionally been under-represented, marginalized and impoverished, than with a conspiratorial plan by Iran to see its nefarious designs implemented there.

Take Iraq.

Iraq today - and no one need be reminded - is a basket case, a country torn asunder by a communal-based system and unspeakable blood-letting.

Shiite leaders, who have exacerbated Iraq's fatal contradictions through their brand of identity politics, have treated the country as their domain and its resources as their piggy-bank.

These leaders - many former exiles with little legitimacy among their people - have carved out private fiefdoms in government ministries and social institutions, preying on state coffers to finance their militias (not to mention lining their own pockets), putting personal concerns ahead of the national interest, and filling their fetid prisons with political opponents. In short, they are complicit in the degradation and destruction of the Iraqi nation.

All true. But these folks are not engaged in all this because they are Shiites - rather because they are Iraqis who have, for generations, been socialized on an ethic of authoritarianism that promotes the idea of rule through coercion, violence and terror, and fosters corruption as a norm in social relations.

When Sunnis ruled Iraq, lest we forget, they too ruled as Iraqis imbued with the same penchant for brutality. Surely, the dreariness of life under Iraqi Baathists was not a function of their Sunni faith, but of their will-to-power.


There were many Iraqis then, as I'm convinced there are many Iraqis today - both Sunnis and Shiites - who sought to reshape the tenor of their time, to enforce on the development of their country's national sensibility much of their own progressive thought, adamantly refusing to give echo to the bellowing of those who propagated sectarian jargon. And they paid a price for that: they were hunted down and dragged off to die.

The end result of that is the spectacle today of ordinary Iraqis tearing at each other's throats, and where they are doing so, are running off like crazed lemmings in their hundreds of thousands, to seek refuge in surrounding countries, taking with them their perceived woes, and giving credence to the flat and shoddy idea that Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs are forever antagonists, and that Iranians, a people we have shared a glorious history with, are somehow our enemies.

I don't subscribe to that notion one bit. And I'll tell you why by indulging a recollection or two.

When I was growing up in the mean streets of Beirut, in the late 1950s, your identity politics was defined by, well, your political identity. You were a Nasserist, a Baathist, a Greater Syria Nationalist, a Marxist, a Socialist, and the rest of it. Anyone in our midst, in our fiercely political milieu, as it were, who even hinted at creating a plus-minus dichotomy between Muslims and Christians, let alone between Sunnis and Shiites, was ostracized as a ta'ifi (parochialist), the worst appellation you could level against a person in those days - with the next worst appellation being iqlimi (regionalist): one who sought to tell you that some Arabs are superior, or inferior, to others.

Religious identity? Ya, sure. Shiites, for example, commemorated Ashura every year on the tenth day of the holy month of Muharram, a day of collective atonement expressed through self-flagellation, much in the celebratory manner that Irish Catholics commemorate St. Patrick's Day on March 17, another occasion for self-flagellation, when they slosh down copious pints of Guinness till they drop.

That was about it.

Shiites at the time were seen as being as much of an "urgent threat" as a late notice from your public library.

But today something sinister looms on the horizon.

If we allow the divide to widen between Sunnis and Shiites in Arab society, or between the Arab countries and Iran, purely because of our confessional differences or some fantasy about "Persian imperial ambitions", as one worthy wrote in this very publication recently, then we will all suffer disastrous consequences. Our relations as Sunnis and Shiites will play a large role, in years to come, in defining our social, political and cultural transformation, and in determining how we see, and are seen by, the outside world.

In history - and consider Muslim Spain as an example - it was political pluralism and religious tolerance that proved themselves to be the vessels of human grace and the prime carrier of civilization.

Let us not cut our sensibility off from nearly all that is alive and radical in the universal message of Islam ("you have your religion and I have mine") and Arab culture by resorting to a sordid brand of sectarianism in our part of the world.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Clerics for Beethoven

This is my kind of cleric: one who is not afraid to tell the truth and to admit to enjoying music. Although I'm not sure he's a real cleric (MEMRI introduces him as a 'Bahraini intellectual'), it was good of Abu Dhabi TV to interview him. You must use Internet Explorer to view this video. (Thanks Dad)

Nothing civil about civil war

Attacks in Sunni Areas in Baghdad Kill at Least 29

BAGHDAD, May 22 — A truck laden with explosives detonated near a market in southwest Baghdad today, killing 25 and wounding more than 100 in the latest in a series of devastating attacks that have set back the American-led effort to stabilize the capital.

The blast destroyed houses and shops, leaving a deep crater and a wide swath of bodies and charred vehicles near the crowded Shaabiya market, in the largely Shia neighborhood of Amil, witnesses said.

Ali Salah, a high school student, said he saw a truck careen into a parked car before detonating near a checkpoint outside the market, one of the new security steps taken by American and Iraqi troops to seal off populated areas as much as possible from such attacks.

“All of a sudden I heard a loud explosion. There was a big cloud of dust and a piece of metal fell in front of my shop. I thought it was part of a vehicle,” said Abu Muhammad, a shop owner.

At least 114 people were wounded, according to an Interior Ministry official, including schoolgirls who had finished exams at a nearby intermediate school, according to a witness interviewed by phone who was shopping at the time with his mother.

Witnesses described a scene of confusion and mayhem as survivors ran in panic and rushed to transport the wounded and remove the dead as water from broken pipes and blood covered the streets.

“We managed to remove corpses of the martyrs. Some were kids and women and some were badly injured. This is a big crime. May God revenge them,” said Ahmed Abu Jasim, a merchant, who broke down in an interview as he described the scene.

Insurgents have stepped up their use of large car bombs, especially in Shia neighborhoods, a tactic that American commanders admit still has the potential to reignite sectarian bloodletting that has shown some signs of diminishing recently.

“Something this large obviously could have been much worse had it been inside the market,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a spokesman for American forces in Baghdad.

Earlier this month another large truck bomb detonated in the neighboring Baya district, killing at least 35 people and wounding 80 others.

Shortly after today’s attack, witnesses said Mahdi Army members, the Shiite militia loyal to Moktada al Sadr, began firing weapons into the air, apparently to disperse the crowd. They later exchanged gunfire with American troops and Iraqi police who arrived and sealed off the area, the witnesses said.

“The fighters thought that the Americans were here to arrest them,” according to a man who declined to give his name.

Mr. Salah, the high school student, had been taking his six-year cousin for an inoculation before the bomb went off.

Several months earlier, he said, his family had left its home near the Baghdad airport, near some of the worst sectarian fighting, and come to the Amil neighborhood, because it is protected by the Mahdi Army.

When the bomb went off on Tuesday, he and his cousin were hit by shrapnel and flying glass and fell to the ground, their clothes shredded. They climbed into a truck picking up wounded and dead, which included two badly mangled young children.

“It was a horrible scene,” he said.

Later in the day, women in black gathered at the door weeping as men exchanged condolences, while other men from the neighborhood loaded coffins onto a mini bus and headed to the cemetery.

“It is so sad, but what can we do?” said Mr. Muhammad the shop owner. “We leave our homes everyday without knowing if we will return or not.”

In Adhamiya in northern Baghdad today, mortar shells killed four and wounded 25, most of them students at Ibn al-Haitham College, witnesses said.

Talib Najim 23, a student at Ibn al-Haitham College, said three mortars landed inside the college at around 8:50 a.m., before the start of lectures. One of the mortars exploded in the corridor between the biology and physics departments and the other two landed near the computer department, but did not explode, he said.

“I saw a lot of wounded students, their uniforms, the white shirts and gray trousers, stained with blood,” he said.

In Diyala province, terrorists who had set up a roadblock resembling an official checkpoint opened fire on a car with a family inside, killing a man and a woman and their four children, police said.

Ali Adeeb and Khalid al-Ansary contributed reporting.

How the U.S. Has Aggravated Sectarian Tensions in M.E.

Read my earlier post titled 'Playing the Sectarian Card to Contain Iran' along with this one.

Hersh: Bush administration arranged support for militants attacking Lebanon

In an interview on CNN International's Your World Today, veteran journalist Seymour Hersh explains that the current violence in Lebanon is the result of an attempt by the Lebanese government to crack down on a militant Sunni group, Fatah al-Islam, that it formerly supported.

Last March, Hersh reported that American policy in the Middle East had shifted to opposing Iran, Syria, and their Shia allies at any cost, even if it meant backing hardline Sunni jihadists.

A key element of this policy shift was an agreement among Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security adviser, whereby the Saudis would covertly fund the Sunni Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon as a counterweight to the Shia Hezbollah.

Hersh points out that the current situation is much like that during the conflict in Afghanistan in the 1980's – which gave rise to al Qaeda – with the same people involved in both the US and Saudi Arabia and the "same pattern" of the US using jihadists that the Saudis assure us they can control.

When asked why the administration would be acting in a way that appears to run counter to US interests, Hirsh says that, since the Israelis lost to them last summer, "the fear of Hezbollah in Washington, particularly in the White House, is acute."

As a result, Hersh implies, the Bush administration is no longer acting rationally in its policy. "We're in the business of supporting the Sunnis anywhere we can against the Shia. ... "We're in the business of creating ... sectarian violence." And he describes the scheme of funding Fatah al-Islam as "a covert program we joined in with the Saudis as part of a bigger, broader program of doing everything we could to stop the spread of the Shia world, and it just simply -- it bit us in the rear."

Check out the interview

Playing the Sectarian Card to Contain Iran

"After Iran and Iraq went to war in 1980, Saudi Arabia threw its weight behind Saddam, financing his war effort to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. This was an Arab-Iranian war but also a Sunni-Shia war. If in Iraq it was Saudi-supported military might that would stop Khomeini, elsewhere Saudi Arabia had other resources to limit the spread of Khomeini's message.

Saudi propaganda underscored Khomeini's Shia identity on the one hand and the divide between Shiism and Sunnism on the other. It was clear to Riyadh and other capitals in the region that the surest and perhaps the only way to contain Khomeini was to play the sectarian card. This not only made it less likely that individual Sunnis would accept Khomeini as an Islamic leader but also enabled various governments to crack down on Islamic activism more easily, and after Khomeini's threat was gone to resist political reform. Any movement that got out of hand could be characterized as Iranian-generated or -inspired and hence a form of Shia rebellion against the proper order of things.

Governments from Nigeria to Bahrain, Indonesia, and Malaysia sought to drive wedges between Sunnism and Shiism, casting the former as "true" Islam - and the incumbent government as its defender - while branding the latter as obscurantist extremism. In 1998 the Nigerian government of General Sani Abacha accused the Muslim Brotherhood leader Sheikh Ibrahim al Zak Zaki of being a Shia just before he went on trial for antigovernment activism. In the 1990s the government of Bahrain repeatedly dismissed calls for political reform by labeling them as Shia plots. In Malaysia in the 1980s, the government routinely arrested Islamic activists on the pretext that they were Shias, thus avoiding the appearance of clamping down on Islamic activism while projecting an image as Sunnism's champion against subversive activities.

In India and Pakistan, Sunni ulama confronted the Khomeini challenge head-on, branding his vitriol against the House of Saud as a species of fitna (sedition) wielded against the Muslim community. The Saudi rulers, conversely, were routinely painted as Sunnism's greatest defenders and the symbols of its resistance to Shia attempts at "usurpation" in a historical context stretching all the way back to the early Shia rebellions against the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates. The Shia-Sunni struggles for the soul of Islam that had punctuated Islamic history were thus reenacted in the late twentieth century, with the Saudi princes in the caliph's role.

Saudi Arabia continued to pursue its strategy of containing Shiism by working closely with Wahhabi ulama to build a network of seminaries, mosques, educational institutions, preachers, activists, writers, journalists, and academics that would articulate and emphasize Sunni identity, push it in the direction of militant Wahhabism, drive all possible wedges between Sunnism and Shiism, and eliminate Iran's ideological influence. As one observer remarked concerning the geographical distribution of the Saudi-funded Sunni extremist madrasahs, or seminaries, that opened in Pakistan in the 1980s, "They form a wall blocking Iran off from Pakistan." It was in this context that one of Faysal's sons, the Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki, laid the basis for a Saudi-Pakistani strategic relationship that would underwrite the Taliban's conquest of Afghanistan and its renting out of that country as a training ground for various "holy warrior" outfits. The Pakistani-trained Taliban reflected traditional Pashtun biases against Shias, including the Afghan Hazara, whose plight is depicted so vividly in Khalid Husseini's 2003 novel, The Kite Runner. Taliban fanatics declared Afghan Shias to be infidels and massacred at least two thousand of them in Mazar-i Sharif and Bamiyan in 1997 and 1998, and many more in pogroms across Afghanistan up until the U.S. invasion. Others were told to convert to Sunnism or face death; many fled to Iran or Pakistan.

One of Saudi Arabia's aims was to stretch that Sunni wall from Pakistan north through Afghanistan and into Central Asia. The brand of radical Islam that began spreading across Central Asia and the Caucasus in the 1990s did not come from Iran but was a Sunni radicalism born of the deliberate Saudi policy of containing Iran.

Riyadh's strategy of turning militant Sunnism into a growth stock raised few Western eyebrows right through the 1990s, when Iran and its brand of Shia extremism still seemed to be the most dangerous face of Islam and the main threats to Western interests. It was the Shia who popped first into Western minds when Westerners thought about anti-Americanism, revolution, terrorism, hostage-taking, and suicide bomb attacks. The political fervor that emanated from Tehran and the kind of violence that it perpetrated were seen as flowing naturally from Shias' apocalyptic bent and cult of martyrdom. Even hotheaded Sunnis seemed less dangerous by comparison. They may have been hard-shell reactionaries who despised modern and Western ways, the thinking went, but they entertained no religious doctrines bloodthirsty enough to match those of the Shia, with their fixation on killing and dying for the cause. This inclined the West toward complacency when it came to Sunni extremism and its spread, first to Pakistan, then to Taliban-era Afghanistan, and then across Central Asia. Also largely unnoticed was Sunni sectarianism's role in the horrors visited upon Iraq's Shias after the first Gulf War and the failed uprising of 1991."

-Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival

Bombing Markets in Shia Neighborhoods

I wonder if we'll see this story on Dahr Jamail or Uruknet. Do people ask why they murder women and children? Do people wonder why markets in Sunni Arab neighborhoods are not bombed like this? Would that be too 'sectarian'??

Iraq car bomb kills 25, politicians deadlocked

'BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A car bomb in a busy Baghdad market killed 25 people and wounded 60 on Tuesday, while parliament adjourned without any action on constitutional reforms aimed at stopping sectarian violence.

The bombing at a popular outdoor market in southwestern Amil was Baghdad's worst car bombing since 35 people died on May 6 in nearby Bayaa, another Shi'ite district repeatedly targeted in attacks blamed on Sunni Islamist al Qaeda.'

Massive Car Bomb Destroys Baghdad Market

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
Baghdad, IRAQ: An Iraqi holds the body of a child killed in a massive car bomb which tore through a market in the flashpoint Baghdad district of Amil, 22 May 2007. Initial reports put the number of dead at 24 and 39 wounded, the vast majority of which were women and children.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

State of Despair: Iraqi Refugees

Below is Part 1 of an excellent (and sad) documentary about Iraqi refugees in Jordan. An interview with a family of the Sabean religion, which predates Christianity, is particularly heartbreaking. I think these interviews corroborate what I have suspected all along: that the lives of Iraqis are being threatened by members and supporters of the former regime in order to make the lives of Iraqis as miserable as possible, and in order to extort money. Iraqis who have worked for Americans are especially vulnerable to kidnapping, torture, and murder. The people who commit these crimes could be Sunni or Shi'i (Shia militias are obviously responsible for attacks on Palestinians and other Sunni Arabs), I don't know, but they are clearly lawless and without morals. Part 2 and Part 3 deal with the Palestinian refugees from Iraq. In Part 3 Iraqis are asked if US troops should leave Iraq now. (Thanks Dad for sending me the link).

PS: The translation at 5:24 through 5:19 (Part 1) states that Abu Maher is saying that "We huddle together, eat at the same time, and sleep together for warmth so as to save on heating oil." He is actually saying "We huddle together, eat early and sleep early; we warm up our beds so that we don't have to turn on the heater so that we save on heating oil."

Gunmen dressed as Iraqi soldiers kill 15 Fayli Kurds

I wonder what our Arab brethren think of this crime. I'm willing to wager that the majority of Arabs will blame this attack on the Iraqi government!

Update: Read what the Angry Arab just posted: "Gunmen in Iraq Army Uniforms Kill 15 Civilian Villagers in a Sunni Arab Region" The NYT article he linked to does not mention that the victims were Fayli (Shia) Kurds and implies that the Iraqi Army murdered them. I doubt the 'Angry Arab' would have linked to the article had it mentioned the sect and ethnicity of the victims.

Gunmen dressed as Iraqi soldiers kill 15

BAGHDAD - Gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms shot and killed 15 men Saturday in a Kurdish Shiite village northeast of Baghdad and a U.S. soldier was killed and another seriously wounded while searching for three comrades missing for a week after an ambush.

In Baghdad, at least three mortar shells or rockets slammed into the Green Zone after British Prime Minister Tony Blair had arrived for talks with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders. One person was injured, but it was unclear how far Blair was from the blasts.

The attack against the villagers occurred early Saturday when gunmen wearing army uniforms entered the village of Hamid Shifi, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad. They rousted families from their homes and opened fire on the men, killing 15 of them, an Iraqi general and a Kurdish political party said.

The victims were Kurdish Shiites, according to a statement posted on the Web site of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

The village is located in Diyala province where violence has risen sharply in the past six months.

Continued

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"I Never Said Goodbye"

Susannah Tarbush has written a wonderful review of Pauline Knowles-Samarraie's book I Never Said Goodbye:

I Never Said Goodbye

“Munem, how can we ever go to Iraq now?” These were the words of a young Englishwoman, Pauline Knowles, to her Iraqi fiancé in July 1958 as they watched in horror the black and white TV news of overthrow of the monarchy in Iraq. But it was inevitable that Munem Samarraie would eventually return to Iraq from England, where he had been sent by his government on a scholarship. Three years later he left for Baghdad, having completed his studies in engineering at the University of Birmingham.

The following year Pauline, whom he had married not long after the coup, joined him in Iraq with their young son Mazin. It was the first time this unsophisticated young woman from the town of Halifax in the north of England had ever flown in an aircraft.

“I didn’t even feel the slightest twinge of anxiety or fear when faced with the prospect of a new culture, a new language and a new country with a history as old as Time itself,” Pauline Knowles-Samarraie writes in “I Never Said Goodbye: A Mother’s Memoir of Love and Brutal Loss Inside Saddam’s Regime”, published recently by Andre Deutsch of London. She was “like a blank page, all ready for the story of my new life to be written upon it.”

Pauline could not have known that the story of her life over the following four decades would have tragedy and loss written on its pages, in parallel with the bloody trajectory of Iraq’s modern history. Her husband Munem would fall foul of the Saddam regime and would, like so many others, be killed. And as if that was not enough, her son Mazin would be imprisoned in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison and she would only find out his terrible fate years later.

But these tragedies lay far in the future, and when Pauline first arrived in Baghdad her new life lived up to her expectations. She quickly made friends, and was given a job in the English section of Iraq radio. In their free time she and Munem would travel around Iraq seeing the sights, including his home town of Samarra.

More than 40 years on, Pauline lives near Brighton on the south coast of England, far from the horrific turmoil of Iraq. She wrote her memoir in collaboration with Karen O’Brien, Arab World Regional Editor for the BBC World Service and author of biographies of singers Kirsty MacColl and Joni Mitchell.

The memoir includes accounts of political and economic developments in Iraq alongside Pauline’s personal drama. The first coup Pauline experienced was in 1963. When she returned to her broadcasting studio she found it had been “turned into an executioner’s chamber: the walls and floors were smeared with dried blood.”

Munem rose within the oil industry and the family moved to a new house near the Dora refinery. They enjoyed a rich social life: there were gatherings in friends’ houses, poolside parties at embassies, nightclubs on the banks of the Tigris, open air cinemas and Thursday night dances at the Engineers’ Union. “We were a cosmopolitan group in the Swinging Sixties and we loved the social life.” Pauline gave birth to her second child, a daughter Nada.

Saddam Hussein made his presence increasingly felt. Pauline remembers his coming to her in-laws’ house to pay his condolences after the death of Munem’s brother Bedri in a London hospital. Saddam was a friend of Munem’s oldest brother, Faleh, and was already regarded as something of a hero because he had been among the group of Baathists that had tried to assassinate the leader of the 1958 coup, Abdul Karim Qassim. Pauline conveys his almost movie-star charisma.

Just as Saddam came to take over Iraq and to impose his ruthless power, so he came to dominate the life of Munem Samarraie and his wife. In 1972 the Iraqi oil industry was nationalized which gave the Ministry of Oil new power and status. The sharp oil price rises after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war brought Iraq the riches to embark on ambitious economic development. Munem was intimately involved in the development of the oil industry.

Saddam telephoned Munem so frequently that “my husband came to dread the sound of the ringing telephone.” Munem never had a break from work and Saddam would phone him at all hours of the night to demand “Why didn’t you do this? What’s happening about that?” Pauline writes: “Later we would realize just to what extent Saddam was able to use people but, in using them, he destroyed them. He cleverly hid his cruel streak initially; so many people – millions in fact – were completely taken in by him.”

The intolerable pressure on Munem at work put the couple’s relationship under much strain. According to Pauline, Munem took his frustration out on his family. And yet when she and Munem were invited to a reception by Saddam, “like every other women in the room, I was completely drawn in by the aura of power exuded by this handsome man.”

Nowadays biographies published in Britain are expected to give a warts-and-all picture of their subject, and “I Never Said Goodbye” is no exception. Pauline tells us how she found a candid love to Munem letter from a European woman, whom she calls Anita. He assured her it was just a brief fling, long over. Some time later Munem told Pauline to take the children back to England and then wrote telling her that their marriage was over and that she should not return to Iraq. After Pauline wrote to his brother Faleh, she received new tickets and she and the children rejoined Munem. Later on she discovered a large bundle of hidden letters that had been sent to Munem at his office address by several women in England, France and Germany whom he had met during his long trips on government business. Munem blamed her and seemed unrepentant, but he refused to let her leave him.

Pauline’s depictions of Munem are tinged with bitterness. It is as if the discords of her marriage have blighted her assessment of a man who was remarkable in a wider context. As she recognizes, he had a deep commitment to his country and developing its potential. Indeed, one of the things that first attracted her to him when he was studying for his A-levels in Halifax was his determination, and the way he seemed so assured about himself and his path in life.

Munem was clearly courageous. He realized he must get his family out of Iraq, but knew this plan would be blown if they all left at once and in any case Mazin was at that time in the army. He therefore insisted that Pauline and Nada leave first, as if they were going on holiday to England.

The last time Pauline saw Munem was in a hotel room at Heathrow airport where he had stopped off during a business trip. He was sitting with a number of friends who had left Iraq and now lived in England. Munem told Pauline that Saddam had told him to leave Iraq, but that he could not do this because he did not want to endanger Mazin and his family. She later found out Munem was imprisoned when he returned to Iraq, and executed without trial on August 19 1986. She suspects he had got into trouble for speaking out against something that outraged him. “Munem had gone back to Iraq for that final time in defiance of Saddam, purely to protect his son. It was tantamount to signing his own death warrant.”

Pauline lost contact with her son, and found out he was in Abu Ghraib prison. Years later, in 1995, she revisited Iraq and it was only then that one of her brothers-in- law, who had also been in prison, told her: “Saddam hanged him”. She realized the extent of her in-laws’ deception since Mazin’s disappearance.

Throughout her book Pauline paints her in in-laws in generally negative, unsympathetic tones. Of course, we only hear her side of the story. During Munem’s absences from Baghdad on business, she and the children would be expected to stay with his family. She tells how early in her married life his brother Badir objected to her makeup and Western clothes and smashed the wardrobe mirror in her room. It took her years to reach a modicum of understanding with the great matriarch of the family, her mother-in-law Umm Faleh.

One gratifying outcome of the publicity marking the publication of Pauline’s memoir is that it has prompted some Iraqis who knew Munem very well to record their own memories of him. A moving and deeply-felt tribute from the London-based Iraqi oil analyst Muhammad-Ali Zainy was published on April 15 on the blog Iraqi Mojo .

Zainy describes Munem as his dearest and best friend. Both of them graduated from Birmingham University, and they were long-time colleagues in Iraq’s Ministry of Oil. He writes in his lengthy tribute: “Yes they executed Munem, for a ready-made but sham accusation, bribery! What a tasteless joke! Munem lived a poor man and died a poor man. He was most patriotic, most honest, and most incorruptible. He was a true democrat and a strong believer in human rights. His only sin was that he was against the regime and that was a medal of honour for him and for all Iraqis who were martyred for the same reasons.”

Zainy proposes that some time in the future when life in Iraq goes back to normal, the Ministry of Oil should make an oil and gas museum. “The museum should include a big room for all those oil and gas Iraqis who got martyred for one reason or another, from the beginning of the Iraqi oil industry till this day; and the late Munem al-Samarraie should have a statue in that room.”

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 7th May 2007

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Iraqi Names

"A word about Iraqi male names. In 1972 the government decreed that instead of using the family name, indicative of the clan, tribe, or the area of origin, men should use a maximum of three personal names - self, father, and grandfather. This order was issued primarily to mask the fact that al Tikritis - originating in the native area of President Ahmad Hassan Bakr and his relative, Saddam Hussein - held far too many top positions. Though this law has not been formally revoked, the use of the family names has crept back."

--Dilip Hiro, Iraq: In The Eye Of The Storm, 2002

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What Nir Rosen Got Wrong on Iraq

I have enjoyed reading Nir Rosen's articles in the past, but I must admit that this one irritated me.  My comments are in red:

What Bremer Got Wrong in Iraq

By Nir Rosen
Wednesday, May 16, 2007; 12:00 AM

I arrived in Iraq before L. Paul Bremer arrived in May 2003 and stayed on long after his ignominious and furtive departure in June 2004 -- long enough to see the tragic consequences of his policies in Iraq. So I was disappointed by the indignant lack of repentance on full display in his Outlook article on Sunday.

In it, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority argues that he "was absolutely right to strip away the apparatus of a particularly odious tyranny," including the Baath Party and the Iraqi army. (disbanding the Iraqi army was a mistake, but Iraqis themselves would have sought justice/revenge against the hardcore Baathists who were responsible for atrocious crimes)   He complains about "critics who've never spent time in Iraq" and "don't understand its complexities." But Bremer himself never understood Iraq, knew no Arabic, had no experience in the Middle East and made no effort to educate himself -- as his statements clearly show.

Time and again, he refers to "the formerly ruling Sunnis," "rank-and-file Sunnis," "the old Sunni regime," "responsible Sunnis." (I don't know if Nir realizes that the top brass in Saddam Hussein's regime were Sunni Arabs)   This obsession with sects informed the U.S. approach to Iraq from day one of the occupation, but it was not how Iraqis saw themselves -- at least, not until very recently. Iraqis were not primarily Sunnis or Shiites; they were Iraqis first, and their sectarian identities did not become politicized until the Americans occupied their country, (actually I believe that sect became politicized when Shia mosques and marketplaces were getting bombed and key Sunni Arab MPs were accused of supporting terrorism) treating Sunnis as the bad guys and Shiites as the good guys. (Not true.  If the Sunni Arabs were treated as bad guys, why then are 20% of Iraqi MPs Sunni Arab?  Why is the Iraqi Vice President a Sunni Arab?) There were no blocs of "Sunni Iraqis" or "Shiite Iraqis" before the war, just like there was no "Sunni Triangle" or "Shiite South" (The south has always been primarily Shii) until the Americans imposed ethnic and sectarian identities onto Iraq's regions. (Imposed?  Did the Americans tell the Iraqis that they must be identified as either Shii or Sunni?)

Despite Bremer's assertions, Saddam Hussein's regime was not a Sunni regime (yes it was); it was a dictatorship with many complex alliances in Iraqi society, including some with Shiites. If anything, the old tyranny was a Tikriti regime, led by relatives and clansmen from Hussein's hometown. (Good job, Nir) Hussein punished Sunnis who became too prominent and suppressed Sunni Arab officers from Mosul and Baghdad in favor of more pliable officers from rural and tribal backgrounds. Local Sunni movements that were not pro-Hussein were repressed just as harshly as the Shiites. (True, but Saddam's regime never punished the Sunni Arabs by attacking their towns with mustard gas or bombing them en mass after a failed uprising.)

Bremer was not alone in his blindness here. Just two weeks ago, I interviewed John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, about the crisis of Iraqi refugees, who now number more than 2 million. He displayed the same dismal approach to Iraq as Bremer. Bolton claimed that most of the refugees were Sunnis, fleeing because "they fear that Shiites are going to exact retribution for four or five decades of Baath rule."  (Many Shia have also fled the country.  Two of my uncles (Shia) moved to Nejef in the summer of 2005 after receiving death threats from the 'Mujahideen' of Amriya.  My uncle's wife's sister decided to stay in Baghdad with her husband, who was working as a translator for the Americans. A few months later he was murdered in front of his family by the 'brave resistance', perhaps by a hardcore Baathist)

Many Iraqis saw the Americans as new colonists, intent on dividing and conquering Iraq. (If that is the case, why did so many Iraqis allow themselves to be divided?) That was precisely Bremer's approach. When he succumbed slightly to Iraqi demands for democracy and created Interim Governing Council, its members were selected by sectarian and ethnic quotas. Even the Communist Party member of the council was chosen not because he was secular but because he was a Shiite. (And who chose him?)

In Bremer's mind, the way to occupy Iraq was not to view it as a nation but as a group of minorities. So he pitted the minority that was not benefiting from the system against the minority that was, and then expected them both to be grateful to him. (Pitted?  I don't remember anybody pitting the Shia against the Sunni Arabs.  Nir should elaborate on what he means by 'pitted'.  He writes as if Iraqis are pitbulls.)   Bremer ruled Iraq as if it were already undergoing a civil war, helping the Shiites by punishing the Sunnis.  (I seem to recall that up until February of 2006, it was the Shia of Iraq and any pro-democracy Iraqis who were being punished by the 'resistance'.) He did not see his job as managing the country; he saw it as managing a civil war. (It has been a civil war)  So I accuse him of causing one.  (That's what the 'resistance' and their supporters want everybody to believe.  Bombing Shia mosques and marketplaces places don't cause civil war.  Drilling holes in Sunni heads doesn't inflame civil war.  Paul Bremer and his mistakes cause civil war.)

Bremer claims that Hussein "modeled his regime after Adolf Hitler's" (Joseph Stalin would be a better comparison) and compares the Baath Party to the Nazi Party. Set aside the desperation of the debater who reaches immediately for the Nazi analogy and remember that there is no mention of such "modeling" in any of the copious literature about Iraq. This ludicrous Nazi analogy permeates the entire article; it also permeated the proconsul's time in Baghdad, when Bremer imagined himself de-Nazifying postwar Germany, saving the Jews (the Shiites) from the Nazis (those evil Sunnis).

This thoughtless comparison is one of the main reasons why he performed so horribly in Iraq. (Remember, most Baath Party members were Shiites; so in Bremer's analogy, I suppose most of the Iraqi "Nazis" would be "Jews.") (Most Baath Party members were Shia because most Iraqis are Shia.  Iraqis who worked for the government had no choice but to become members of the Baath Party.  Evidently Nir did not ask the Iraqi Shia he stayed with if they were still fond of the Baath Party.)

Bremer claims that Iraqis hated their army at the time of the U.S. invasion. In fact, the army was the most nationalist institution in the country, one that predated the Baath Party. In electing not to fight U.S. forces, the army was expecting to be recognized by the occupation -- and indeed, until Bremer arrived, it appeared that many soldiers and officers were hoping to cooperate with the Americans.

Bremer is wrong to say that Shiites hated the Iraqi army. He treats Iraqis as if they were Hutus and Tutsis, claiming that "Shiite conscripts were regularly brutalized and abused by their Sunni officers." This is just not true. To be sure, Sunnis were overrepresented in the officer corps, and Shiites sometimes felt as if they faced a glass ceiling.  (Good job, Nir)  But just as there were Shiite ministers under Hussein, there were also Shiite generals. At least a third of the famous deck of cards of Iraqi leaders most wanted by the Americans were Shiites. (and they were all a bunch of low cards - the most senior was former Information Minister Mohammad Sa'eed al Sahaf, who was released and is now living comfortably in the Gulf)

Bremer also claims that the "Fallujah Brigade" was a recalled brigade from Hussein's former army. Again, simply not true. I was there. The brigade may have been led by a former Iraqi general, but enlistment was open to all volunteers in Fallujah, as I personally saw. The brigade was not a pre-existing unit that was merely recalled; rather, it was composed of a diverse group of former officers, soldiers, policemen and members of the resistance.

Bremer also exaggerates the numbers of casualties in the 1991 uprisings against Hussein. While the Baathist regime was brutal and killed tens of thousands, there is no evidence that Hussein killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, as Bremer claims. (perhaps a poll led by an Ivy League American university asking Iraqis how many family members they lost under Saddam's regime should be done. Many Arabs believe that the Iraqis killed by Saddam's regime somehow deserved it.  It has been estimated that 100,000 Iraqis were killed by the regime during the 1991 uprising alone)   But there is growing evidence that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed since Bremer first came to power in Baghdad.  (Many Iraqis have been killed by the 'resistance' and terrorists from all over the Arab world since 2003)

Some have indeed pilloried Bremer for his individual errors, such as disbanding the army. But these blunders are not the reasons why most Iraqis hate the American occupation and support violent resistance to it. The main grievance most Iraqis have with America is simply the occupation itself -- an occupation that lingers on years after Bremer waved goodbye.  (hopefully the 'brave resistance' and terrorists will stop mass murdering Iraqis, so the occupiers have no reason to stay in Iraq!)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Sistani Warns Against Haste in Passing Oil Law

I wonder if the Arabs will be more pleased with Sistani after this.  I doubt it.

Sistani Warns against Haste in Passing Legistlation including the Oil Law

Sayid Ali Al Sistani "Radio Sawa" has broadcast, on 7 May, 07, an interview with Mr. Haider Ibadi, a leading member of Al Da'wa Party, to which the Iraqi Prime Minister Al Maliki, belongs.

Mr. Ibadi disclosed that Sayid Ali Al Sistani, the highest religious authority in Iraq, has warned against any rush in passing outstanding legistlation, which includes, by implication, the controversial Draft Oil Law. This major setback to the American mounting pressure on the Iraqi Parliament to pass the Draft Law comes at a time of rising opposition among the elite community of Iraqi Oil experts, political parties of various orientations, including the Accord Front, which represents several groups of religious forces.

It appears now there is wide and growing opposition to the crude American pressure nearing unusual unanimity in rejection of American plans to grab Iraq's rich oil reserves.

Crude pressure laid on by the bucket full when Cheney arrived in Baghdad in an unannounced visit this week. According to BBC News, "US officials said Mr Cheney wanted faster progress on the fair division of oil revenues and the passage of laws to reinstate former Baath Party officials." It does seems that the US is in rush to push through the Oil Law. The BBC went on to report that: "Ambassador Crocker said the vice-president would try to dissuade Iraqi politicians from taking a two-month holiday this summer." For the Iraqi parliament to take a two-month vacation in summer is impossible to understand," he said, given the "major effort" being made by US and Iraqi security forces."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Al Jazeera

It was reported today that the Iraqi parliament voted to "start legal proceedings against Al-Jazeera television over perceived insults by the Arabic news channel against Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani." Interesting. I find Al Jazeera to be biased and not supportive of democracy in Iraq, but to sue Al Jazeera for criticizing Sistani seems rather silly. The reasons Iraqis dislike Al Jazeera go beyond Al Jazeera's "insult" of the revered cleric. If you have read my blog since October, you know that I dislike Al Jazeera - just search for 'Al Jazeera' using the blog search tool in the upper left corner if you are interested in what I have written about them. Based on discussions about Al Jazeera with Iraqis I know, it seems that most Iraqis dislike, even HATE, Al Jazeera. Iraq Pundit recently wrote in a post titled Why Iraqis Still Hate Al Jazeera:

'Suddenly Faisal Qassem and his guests and Al Jazeera itself disappeared for me, and instead I saw a crowd of Iraqi men, women, and children choking to death in a cloud of chlorine gas released by one of the noble resistance's truck bombs. I saw the booksellers of Mutanabbi Street blown to pieces, their precious burning pages raining down on their corpses. I saw Iraqi girls who had gone to school and Iraqi mothers who had gone to the market, all murdered and lying in a sea of Iraqi blood. Characters like Qassem have seen all this too, but they don't see murder, they see "resistance."

But that's Arab Nationalism, isn't it? When the Baathist regime was overthrown, hardcore nationalists equated Arab "honor" with the survival of brutal and tyrannical trash. Now, they equate "resistance" with our slaughter. Do you remember the stories, following the overthrow of the Baathists, about Al Jazeera crews who had been set upon by Iraqis who had been enraged by the coverage? Sometimes these crews were forced to take refuge in their equipment trucks until help arrived. Sometimes they were chased to the next town. There was a reason for that Iraqi rage. There still is.'


I thought that was pretty good, and I agree. But we must give credit to Al Jazeera where credit is due. I thoroughly enjoyed the debate between Sadeq Al Musawi and Mish'an Al Jabouri - Al Jazeera would not have invited Musawi if they were totally biased. As'ad Abu Khalil (the Angry Arab) was a recent guest of Al Jazeera English in a discussion about the US media as accomplices to the Bush administration's propagandizing of the war. After watching the debate, I was surprised by the variety of guests, and I was delighted by what Alberto Fernandez said 47 minutes into the debate. It seems that Arab media has evolved over the years - it seems that Arab media has learned from western media. So Al Jazeera is not evil, and criticizing Sistani is not a crime, but overall they are still biased, in my opinion, and I doubt they will ever support true democracy in Iraq.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Iraqi Jews

Israelis from Iraq remember Babylon

"During the Shia festival of Muharram we would take part in the procession and along with our Arab friends, beat our chests to remember the epic battle of Karbala," said Yakov Reuveni, remembering his youth in 1940s Iraq.

"My best friend was the son of the mayor of Ammara. After school we would go out to the date palm grove with the freshly caught fish from the river Hidekel, which we would barbeque in the fields over an open fire."

The river Hidekel runs through his home province, Ammara, 380km (236 miles) south-east of Baghdad.

Among his most cherished memories, says Yakov, is the after-school stroll along the riverbank with his Arab friend.

He grew up in a moderately well-to-do Jewish home with his parents, four siblings and grandparents.

His father had a clothing store in the heart of Ammara's central market.

Nostalgia

It was an easy, happy life. Jews shared almost all aspects of life with their Arab neighbours, reminisces Yakov.

He was 17 years old in 1951, when his family emigrated to Jerusalem.

For the Jews of Middle Eastern origins, like their European co-religionists, coming to Israel was the culmination of a religious journey - it was the fulfilment of the centuries-old dream to live in the so-called Promised Land.

It was an easy, happy life. Jews shared almost all aspects of life with their Arab neighbours, reminisces Yakov.

He was 17 years old in 1951, when his family emigrated to Jerusalem.

For the Jews of Middle Eastern origins, like their European co-religionists, coming to Israel was the culmination of a religious journey - it was the fulfilment of the centuries-old dream to live in the so-called Promised Land.

But many who came over to Israel as part of the mass migration that followed the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, look back with nostalgia and fondness for the life that they had left behind.

Israel has a vibrant Iraqi Jewish community who arrived throughout the 1950s. Many Iraqi Jews settled in the area known as Mahane Yehuda in the heart of west Jerusalem.

It is a famous market with alleyways lined with grocery shops: rows after rows of shops laden with colourful fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, dried fruit, sweets, different kinds of bread, cheese, traditional salted fish.

These stores are still mostly owned by the descendants of the Iraqi and Kurdish Jewish immigrants.

Fish feast

"The most memorable taste was the fish called maskuf, from the river Hidekel," says Yakov.

"After the Sabbath, we would wander off to the fields and have a feast with fish cooked on the spit, Iraqi pita and arak."

After maskuf and arak, a strong aniseed flavoured local alcoholic drink, the boys would go to Ammara's club to watch belly dancing.

Yakov recalls, with vivid, powerful details, the life that he had once led, a life that was changed overnight by the political realities of the time.

"We used to eat with them, sleep with them, go to school with them, the Arabs and the Jews went to the same high school.

"We never thought of who was Jewish and who was Arab, until 1947. It all suddenly changed. The people that you knew as good people turned into bad people for you and you became bad for them. It was very sad."

Thinking in Arabic

In the heart of the Mahane Yehuda market is Cafe Mizrakhi, which specialises in certain traditional delicacies from Iraq. The word Mizrakhi means Oriental Jews.

It is owned by Eli Mizrakhi, whose family came from northern Iraq, or what is now known as Iraqi Kurdistan.

"Most of us still feel connected to the country where we or our ancestors came from. Our parents and our grandparents still remember many things from their Iraqi past and they bring them to us, with food, music, language."

Both Eli and Yakov agree that despite having gone through the process of assimilation into Israel, they keep alive many aspects of their previous lives, in particular, Iraqi food and speaking Arabic.

"We used to eat kubbeh and bamia, or okra. The kubbeh, made with minced lamb, was the national food for the Jews all over Iraq. Thursday was the day of khitchri - it's a dish cooked with rice and lentils.

"I still think in Arabic, still I can't string together all my thoughts in Hebrew. You have to understand, my mother tongue is Arabic," says Yakov.

Now living in a small cottage with his wife in south Jerusalem, Yakov keeps himself busy recreating sweet pickled orange from his youth, while longing to someday return to Babylon.

Did Condi know about UN oil-for-food scandal while employed by Chevron?

Report: Chevron settling Iraq oil probe dating back to Condi Rice's tenure on its board

US energy giant Chevron is preparing to settle a government probe into kickbacks under the now-defunct oil-for-food UN program for Iraq.


The New York Times said the US oil giant was to make an acknowledgement that it should have known about kickbacks -- in the guise of surchages -- on its Iraqi oil purchases, as part of an expected agreement with US prosecutors likely to include fines of up to 30 million dollars.

The Times reports that the Iraqi oil export surcharges were begun in 2000 by Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization. "At the time," write Claudio Gatti and Jad Mouwad, "Condoleezza Rice, now secretary of state, was a member of Chevron's board and led its public policy committee, which oversaw areas of potential political concerns for the company."

Rice left Chevron's board in early 2001, after President Bush tapped her to be his national security advisor.

The California-headquartered firm, America's second largest oil group, could not be reached for comment by AFP. An official for the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which the Times said was involved in the probe, declined to comment.

The newspaper said the probe relates to tens of millions of barrels of Iraqi oil that Chevron purchased between 2000 and 2002 under the former United Nations oil-for-food program.

Under the UN program, which ran from 1996 until just after the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in March 2003, Iraq was allowed to sell oil and use the revenues to purchase humanitarian supplies.

Citing government investigators and uncovered documents, the Times said about 20 million dollars in "surcharges" were paid on Iraqi oil shipments bought by Chevron.

Chevron reportedly purchased much of the Iraqi oil it bought during this time through intermediaries, which included small oil traders.

US energy group El Paso Corp. agreed in early February to pay 7.7 million dollars in penalties related to illegal surcharges on Iraqi oil contracts under the UN program. El Paso agreed to pay the penalties without admitting or denying any wrongdoing.

Government investigators claimed that El Paso indirectly funneled 5.5 million dollars in "illegal surcharges" to Iraq related to oil purchases from third parties.

The Times report, available in full at this link, added that Chevron was still in negotiations with the government and that a final agreement could still be weeks away.

Baghdad Barrier Art

Instead of causing violence, some Iraqis have decided to make good use of the walls of Baghdad (Thanks Dad):







I have heard that the hardcore Baathists and Al Qaeda have prohibited people from painting the walls to ensure that the walls are not made more attractive.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Iraq's Christian Minority Flees Violence

This is sad. We knew many Christians when we lived in Baghdad. One family that was close to ours is Palestinian Christian (double wammy). My father saw them in 2003 and said they were doing well, but we have not heard from them since. I hope they are still well.

Iraq's Christian Minority Flees Violence (Thanks David All)
Half Of Nation's Christian Population May Have Left After Increasing Incidents Of Attacks And Kidnappings

(AP) Despite the chaos and sectarian violence raging across Baghdad, Farouq Mansour felt relatively safe as a Christian living in a multiethnic neighborhood in the capital.

Then, two months ago, al Qaeda gunmen kidnapped him and demanded that his family convert to Islam or pay a $30,000 ransom. Two weeks later, he paid up, was released and immediately fled to Syria, joining a mass exodus of Iraq's increasingly threatened Christian minority.

"There is no future for us in Iraq," Mansour said.

Although Islamic extremists have targeted Iraqi Christians before, bombing churches and threatening religious leaders, the latest attacks have taken on a far more personal tone. Many Christians are being expelled from their homes and forced to leave their possessions behind, police, human rights groups and residents said.

The Christian community here, about 3 percent of the country's 26 million people, has little political or military clout to defend itself, and some Islamic insurgents call Christians "crusaders" whose real loyalty lies with U.S. troops.

Many churches are now nearly empty, with many of their faithful either gone or too scared to attend. Only about 30 people attended this Sunday's mass at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in the relatively safe Baghdad neighborhood of Karradah, and only two dozen took communion in the barren St. Mary's Church in the northern city of Kirkuk on Sunday.

As many as 50 percent of Iraq's Christians may already have left the country, according to a report issued Wednesday by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal monitoring and advisory group in Washington D.C.

"These groups face widespread violence from Sunni insurgents and foreign jihadis, and they also suffer pervasive discrimination and marginalization at the hands of the national government, regional governments, and para-state militias," said the report.

Islamic extremists have also targeted liquor stores, hair salons and other Christian-owned businesses, saying they violate Islam, the report said.

"This is not the culture of Iraqis or the nature of Iraqis. We have lived during centuries together in a respectful attitude and friendship," said Luwis Zarco, the Catholic archbishop of Kirkuk.

In much of the Middle East, Christians are a largely tolerated minority that have achieved a measure of business and professional success, but they are sometimes viewed with suspicion by their Muslim neighbors.

In Saddam-era Iraq, the country's 800,000 Christians — many of them Chaldean-Assyrians and Armenians, with small numbers of Roman Catholics — were generally left alone. Many, such as Saddam Hussein's foreign minister and deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, reached the highest levels of power.

But after U.S. forces toppled Saddam, insurgents launched a coordinated bombing campaign in the summer of 2004 against Baghdad churches, sending some Christians fleeing in fear.

A second wave of anti-Christian attacks hit last September after Pope Benedict XVI made comments perceived to be anti-Islam. Church bombings spiked and a priest in the northern city of Mosul was kidnapped and later found beheaded.

In the recent violence, residents of the Baghdad neighborhood of Dora said gunmen knocked on the doors of Christian families, demanding they either pay jizya — a special tax traditionally levied on non-Muslims — or leave. The jizya has not been imposed in Muslim nations in about 100 years.

One man, Arakan Admon, was wounded in a drive-by shooting last week when his family ignored the threats, relatives said.

In response to the threats, about 70 percent of Dora's Christians have fled, police said.

"The terrorists want to turn Dora into a base to attack other Baghdad neighborhoods," said Christian lawmaker Younadam Kana. "Criminal gangs made use of the situation and they started to kidnap Christians and demand ransom. It is a coalition between terrorists and criminals."

The southern neighborhood is a Sunni insurgent stronghold that has seen frequent U.S. shelling under a security crackdown against the sectarian violence.

In the northern city of Mosul, men began knocking on doors last month, demanding that Christian families pay a $3,000 tax that would be used to fight the U.S.-led forces, local residents said. Some paid; others fled.

Mansour, a 63-year-old retiree, said that while many other Christians left, he chose to stay in his Amariyah neighborhood in western Baghdad. He was hoping that the Baghdad security plan, which U.S.-led forces launched on Feb. 14, would improve the situation.

"But the opposite happened," he said.

Mansour was kidnapped March 11 by gunmen who identified themselves as al Qaeda. After 15 days in captivity, his family paid the ransom and fled the country, leaving their home and electric appliance store behind, Mansour said in a telephone interview from Syria.

They said that if Mansour and his family did not convert, they would have to pay $30,000. After 15 days in captivity, his family paid the ransom, he said.

The next day, they fled the neighborhood, leaving their home and electric appliance store behind. Hours later, an insurgent called demanding Mansour bring back his car, he said. He returned, handed over the keys, then left the country.

Days later, a group of insurgents knocked on his brother Mudhafar's door, telling him to leave his house within 24 hours, because they don't want Christians in the neighborhood, Mansour said. His family fled to Syria as well, leaving all its possessions behind.

The local Hammurabi group, a Sunni human rights organization, harshly criticized the attacks and demanded the government protect all Iraqis.

"These actions violate the values of Islam," the group said.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Clandestino

When I first heard this song, I loved it. Now that I've watched the video, I love it even more. I wish I knew Spanish fluently. Thank you Sousan for introducing me to this wonderful band! Clandestino by Manu Chao



The lyrics (shukren Sousan):

Alone I go with my sorrow
Alone goes my sentence
To run is my destiny
To escape the law
Lost in the heart of the great Babylon
They call me
clandestine
For not having any papers

To a city of the north
I went to work
I left my life
Between Ceuta and
Gibraltar
I'm a line in the sea
A ghost in the city
My life is forbidden
So says the authority

Alone I go with my sorrow
Alone goes my sentence
To run is my destiny
For having no papers
Lost
in the heart
Of the great Babylon
They call me clandestine
I'm the lawbreaker
Mano negra clandestine
Peruan clandestine
African clandestine
Marihuana illegal

Alone I go with my sorrow
Alone
goes my sentence
To run is my destiny
To escape the law
Lost in the heart of the great Babylon
They call me
clandestine
For not having any papers

Iraqi Sunnis Caught Between Shia Militias and Al Qa'ida

The Great Wall of Baghdad may be going up, but there's still carnage on the streets
By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad
Published: 06 May 2007

The first thing Said, a small contractor, did on visiting a military prison in west Baghdad was to pay a $2,000 bribe. The money went to an officer in return for a promise not to torture Said's brother and business partner, Ali. The main payment comes later. For Ali's release, Said will pay a further $100,000.

The brothers are Sunni, and the police commandos who arrested Ali are Shia. What happened to him explains why the US military "surge", the dispatch of 20,000 extra troops to Iraq announced by President Bush in January, is failing to end the Sunni-Shia sectarian civil war in the capital.

The US and the Iraqi government are having some success in cultivating divisions between the fanatical partisans of al-Qa'ida in Iraq and the rest of the Sunni community. But overall, the five million Sunni community supports armed resistance to both the US and the Shia-Kurdish government.

Ali, a 40-year-old with three children, was a successful businessman before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. A member of the al-Hamdani tribe, he lived in the predominantly Sunni middle-class neighbourhood of al-Khudat in west Baghdad. After the invasion, he worked as a driver for a Western company for two years, but a bomb blast destroyed his car and seriously injured him. In 2005, one of his sons was kidnapped, and he had to pay $20,000 to get him back.

It is a grim measure of the insecurity of life in Baghdad that Ali, despite his injuries and the kidnapping, was considered by his neighbours to be doing well. He had gone back into contracting, and was making money. But 10 days ago, he was driving from his home to Karada, a Shia district in east Baghdad, when he was stopped by Interior Ministry commandos. One of them said to him: "We haven't seen you for a long time. Where have you been?"

Ali made the mistake of telling the truth, saying that, like one million Iraqi refugees, he had been in Syria. This was enough to make him a suspected insurgent. He managed one desperate phone call on his mobile to his brother before he disappeared into the Defence Ministry prison in the Shia area of al-Khadamiyah, the jail where Saddam Hussein was executed.

Ali was luckier than most. The number of tortured bodies, often still in handcuffs, found on the streets of Baghdad is creeping up again. Shia death squads are taking revenge on the Sunni for the gigantic truck bombs that have devastated Shia markets, killing hundreds. Al-Qa'ida in Iraq has made itself unpopular in Sunni areas, less because of their anti-Shia onslaught than for killing Sunnis who are lowly government workers, such as rubbish collectors. Civilian pilots from Iraqi Airways have also been assassinated. Given that more than half the population is unemployed, most of the few available jobs are with the government.

The sealing off of whole districts with walls has had a mixed response in Sunni neighbourhoods. "It is a little safer in my district," said Omar, a driver from al-Khadra, a Sunni district in west Baghdad. "There are fewer bodies in the streets." His problem is rather that he does not know if the soldiers at the single entrance and exit to al-Khadra are doubling up as death squads. If he is detained, he may then be passed on to a prison where Sunnis are routinely tortured.

Even before the walls started to surround Sunni districts of the capital, few people were leaving their own neighbourhoods. Only one of the great markets that once fed and clothed Baghdad is still open after they were repeatedly targeted by bombers. Instead, small shops are springing up in side streets and gardens, where there is a greater degree of security.

President Bush's decision to escalate the war by sending reinforcements is really more a change in tactics than a new strategy.

The Sunni rebellion that started in the summer of 2003 is too well established to be crushed. When insurgents are squeezed in one part of Baghdad, they move to another, or to a neighbouring province. The Kurds were able to destabilise Iraq for half a century despite suffering persecution and genocide, and Sunnis are well positioned to do the same.

One casualty of the new plan is the authority of the Iraqi government. The Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, announced in Egypt that the construction of a wall around the Sunni district of al-Adhamiyah would stop, but without effect. An Iraqi army spokesman simply said that the Prime Minister had been misled. The Iraqi Defence Ministry is largely under American control - one senior Iraqi army official who obeyed a direct order from Mr al-Maliki late last year found himself jailed by US forces.

The American relationship with the Iraqi government is a mixture of genuine support and contemptuous neglect. President Bush phones Mr al-Maliki once a fortnight, though government members complain the Prime Minister never passes on the contents of these conversations.

A dilemma that the US military has never resolved is that its military actions in support of Iraqi government troops against Sunni insurgents and Shia militiamen affect the sectarian balance of power in Baghdad. Driving out the Mehdi Army from south Baghdad, for example, may be seen by Shias living there as opening them up to attack.

Last Monday, Iraqi government troops stormed Naaman hospital in walled-off Adhamiyah, the last hospital in east Baghdad that Sunnis still thought safe to attend. Snipers were on the roof, and all doctors and patients were ordered out or arrested, except for three in intensive care.

The troops were said to have an order from the Shia-controlled Health Ministry to close the hospital, but the Americans insisted Naaman would be reopened. Although pro-resistance Sunni websites have claimed that 82 patients had been murdered, this has been impossible to confirm.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Zarqawi Fan: Kill the Shi'a First, Then the Americans

In Jihadist Haven, a Goal: To Kill and Die in Iraq

ZARQA, Jordan — Abu Ibrahim considers his dead friends the lucky ones.

Four died in Iraq in 2005. Three more died this year, one with an explosives vest and another at the wheel of a bomb-laden truck, according to relatives and community leaders.

Abu Ibrahim, a lanky 24-year-old, was on the same mission when he left this bleak city north of Amman for Iraq last October. But he made it only as far as the border before he was arrested, and is now back home in a world he thought he had left for good — biding his time, he said, for another chance to hurl himself into martyrdom.

“I am happy for them but I cry for myself because I couldn’t do it yet,” said Abu Ibrahim, who uses this name as a nom de guerre. “I want to spread the roots of God on this earth and free the land of occupiers. I don’t love anything in this world. What I care about is fighting.”

Zarqa has been known as a cradle of Islamic militancy since the beginning of the war in Iraq. It was the home of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, who was killed last summer. Today it is a breeding ground for would-be jihadists like Abu Ibrahim and five of his friends who left about the same time last fall, bound for Iraq.

Interviews with Abu Ibrahim and relatives of the other men show that rather than having been individually recruited by an organization like Mr. Zarqawi’s, they gradually radicalized one another, the more strident leading the way. Local imams led them further toward Iraq, citing verses from the Koran to justify killing civilians. The men watched videos depicting tortured and slain Muslims that are copied from Internet sites.

“The sheik, he was a hero,” Abu Ibrahim said of Mr. Zarqawi. But, he added, “I decided to go when my friends went.” For the final step, getting the phone number of a smuggler and address of a safe house in Iraq, the men used facilitators who act more like travel agents than militant leaders.

“Most of the young people here in Zarqa are very religious,” an Islamist community leader said. “And when they see the news and what is going on in the Islamic countries, they themselves feel that they have to go to fight jihad. Today, you don’t need anyone to tell the young men that they should go to jihad. They themselves want to be martyrs.”

The anger is palpable on the streets of Zarqa. “He’s American? Let’s kidnap and kill him,” one Islamist activist said during an interview with a reporter before the host of the meeting dissuaded him.

The stories of the men from Zarqa help explain the seemingly endless supply of suicide bombers in Iraq, most of whom are believed to be foreigners.

Suicide bombings in Iraq are averaging roughly 42 a month, American military officials said.

[In April, a pair of truck bombers killed nine American soldiers, another bomber blew himself up in the Green Zone killing one member of Parliament, and others killed more than 290 civilians.]

Rising Anger at Shiites

The anger among militants in Zarqa, a mostly Sunni city, is now directed at Shiites as much as Americans, reflecting the escalation in hostility between the two branches of Islam since Shiites gained dominance in the new Iraqi government. “They have traditions that are un-Islamic and they hate the Sunnis,” said Ahmad Khalil Abdelaziz Salah, an imam whose mosque in Zarqa was attended by some of Zarqa’s bombers.

Asked to name his targets, Abu Ibrahim said: “First, the Shiites. Second, the Americans. Third, anywhere in the world where Islam is threatened.”

Among a small circle of young Islamists and relatives here, the fates of the six young men are well known. Three of the men are said to have died: two as suicide bombers and one apparently by gunfire. One has been held in Iraq and the other two, including Abu Ibrahim, were turned back.

Abu Ibrahim, who spoke on the condition that his name and some personal details be withheld, told his story in interviews over five hours. To back up his account, he agreed to show reporters his passport, which confirmed he entered Syria last fall. Relatives of another one of the young men quoted from a letter he had written saying goodbye and indicating he was going to Iraq. The family of a third man, who was captured and is being detained by American troops, provided a copy of his detention records from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The six men left Zarqa last fall, all apparently with the same goal, but driven by their own individual circumstances.

The youngest, 19-year-old Amer Jaradad, left without telling his family where he was going. But they were not surprised.

One of his six brothers, Jihad — named for the Islamic obligation to defend the religion — had already died fighting in Falluja in 2005, said his father, Kasem Mufla Jaradad.

“Amer was very close to Jihad, and when Jihad became a martyr Amer was in the last year of school. He began spending his time reading Islamic books,” Mr. Jaradad said.

That same year, 2005, Amer called to say he, too, had gone to Iraq, Mr. Jaradad said. Mr. Jaradad sent two of his older sons to Baghdad and they brought Amer home. “As a father I was thinking and hoping that we lost one son and that was enough,” Mr. Jaradad said. “But I could tell Amer was thinking, ‘This life doesn’t count anymore and I will follow the way of my brother.’ ”

“One time I tried to get him away from these things,” his father said. “I said, ‘Shall we get you a wife,’ and he said, ‘No, this is not important to me. Jihad is.’ ”
Amer left again for Iraq on Oct. 19 last year, near the end of Ramadan, when security at the borders is more relaxed. And once again, he phoned home three weeks later to say he had made it. That was the last they heard of Amer until one of his brothers got a call on Jan. 19 on his cellphone — the number of which Amer had taken with him — saying Amer was blown up in the truck he was driving with a bomb in it.

News reports cite a truck bombing in Kirkuk on the day he was said to have died, but his father and brothers say they cannot be sure that Amer was the bomber.

Praise for Suicide Bombers

At his crowded funeral in Zarqa, one of his brothers praised Amer and other suicide bombers. “They are the best youths and good persons,” he said. “He was successful in life, but decided to fight the Americans in Iraq.”

The mother of another of the young men, a 20-year-old engineering student, still believes that her son went to Iraq looking for a job. At the family’s home recently, she sank to her knees, weeping and clutching his physics book.

He walked out the door of his family’s two-room apartment, telling his mother he was meeting friends for breakfast. The next his family heard was notification from the Red Cross that he had been detained by American troops in Iraq, according to one of his sisters, who asked that her brother not be identified for fear of jeopardizing his education should he be released.

His family was large and poor, with 17 children. Going to college gave him a glimpse of opportunities, but he failed to win a scholarship to study medicine in England, the sister said.

“Rich people go to his university,” she said. “He wanted to be somebody and he couldn’t.”

At the same time, he adopted a strict adherence to Islam. “I noticed the change two years ago,” his sister said. “He stopped listening to music. He isolated himself from us. At family gatherings, he sat by himself, thinking.”

Unlike his mother, the man’s sister concedes that he probably went to Iraq to fight. In March 2007, when another of the six friends, a 19-year-old laundry worker named Abdullah Fasfous, died in Iraq, the sister showed her mother his picture.

“Oh, this poor guy,” she said her mother told her. “They also told him they would get him a job.”

Mr. Salah, the imam, said the young man prayed at his mosque and tutored youngsters in the Koran. Mr. Salah said if he had known his plans, he would have tried to dissuade him from going to Iraq.

“It’s very difficult at the moment,” Mr. Salah said. “If you do a suicide operation, the Muslims are mixed up with non-Muslims and maybe you kill Muslims.”

But he is hardly a voice of restraint. Mr. Salah counts Shiites among the non-Muslims. He joined the recent call for retribution against them, which gained fervor well beyond Zarqa after Shiite executioners were videotaped jeering as Saddam Hussein was hanged in December.

In his home he showed visitors a newly released video titled “The True History and Aims of the Shiites.” It portrays Shiites deriding the first three caliphs, or leaders of the ancient Islamic world, and saying that the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad, Aisha, had been a prostitute.

“You see, they hate our caliphs and they hate the Sunnis,” Mr. Salah said.

When the video showed scenes of Sunnis tortured and killed by a Shiite militia in Iraq, he added, “We didn’t see the Shiites like that before, but now in Iraq they showed their real face.”

Continued

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Axis of Evil Comedy - Maz Jobrani

This guy is hilarious too. Who is funnier - Maz Jobrani or Aron Kader?

Maz Jobrani - Persians and Arabs

Israel is a Democracy???

Kudos to the LA Times for publishing this excellent letter by Azmi Bishara. Sometimes I wonder if Americans truly understand Israel's history and how Palestinians continue to be treated in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.

Why Israel is after me
By Azmi Bishara

AZMI BISHARA was a member of the Knesset until his resignation in April.

May 3, 2007

Amman, Jordan — I AM A PALESTINIAN from Nazareth, a citizen of Israel and was, until last month, a member of the Israeli parliament.

But now, in an ironic twist reminiscent of France's Dreyfus affair — in which a French Jew was accused of disloyalty to the state — the government of Israel is accusing me of aiding the enemy during Israel's failed war against Lebanon in July.

Israeli police apparently suspect me of passing information to a foreign agent and of receiving money in return. Under Israeli law, anyone — a journalist or a personal friend — can be defined as a "foreign agent" by the Israeli security apparatus. Such charges can lead to life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

The allegations are ridiculous. Needless to say, Hezbollah — Israel's enemy in Lebanon — has independently gathered more security information about Israel than any Arab Knesset member could possibly provide. What's more, unlike those in Israel's parliament who have been involved in acts of violence, I have never used violence or participated in wars. My instruments of persuasion, in contrast, are simply words in books, articles and speeches.

These trumped-up charges, which I firmly reject and deny, are only the latest in a series of attempts to silence me and others involved in the struggle of the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel to live in a state of all its citizens, not one that grants rights and privileges to Jews that it denies to non-Jews.

When Israel was established in 1948, more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled in fear. My family was among the minority that escaped that fate, remaining instead on the land where we had long lived. The Israeli state, established exclusively for Jews, embarked immediately on transforming us into foreigners in our own country.

For the first 18 years of Israeli statehood, we, as Israeli citizens, lived under military rule with pass laws that controlled our every movement. We watched Jewish Israeli towns spring up over destroyed Palestinian villages.

Today we make up 20% of Israel's population. We do not drink at separate water fountains or sit at the back of the bus. We vote and can serve in the parliament. But we face legal, institutional and informal discrimination in all spheres of life.

More than 20 Israeli laws explicitly privilege Jews over non-Jews. The Law of Return, for example, grants automatic citizenship to Jews from anywhere in the world. Yet Palestinian refugees are denied the right to return to the country they were forced to leave in 1948. The Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty — Israel's "Bill of Rights" — defines the state as "Jewish" rather than a state for all its citizens. Thus Israel is more for Jews living in Los Angeles or Paris than it is for native Palestinians.

Israel acknowledges itself to be a state of one particular religious group. Anyone committed to democracy will readily admit that equal citizenship cannot exist under such conditions.

Most of our children attend schools that are separate but unequal. According to recent polls, two-thirds of Israeli Jews would refuse to live next to an Arab and nearly half would not allow a Palestinian into their home.

I have certainly ruffled feathers in Israel. In addition to speaking out on the subjects above, I have also asserted the right of the Lebanese people, and of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to resist Israel's illegal military occupation. I do not see those who fight for freedom as my enemies.

This may discomfort Jewish Israelis, but they cannot deny us our history and identity any more than we can negate the ties that bind them to world Jewry. After all, it is not we, but Israeli Jews who immigrated to this land. Immigrants might be asked to give up their former identity in exchange for equal citizenship, but we are not immigrants.

During my years in the Knesset, the attorney general indicted me for voicing my political opinions (the charges were dropped), lobbied to have my parliamentary immunity revoked and sought unsuccessfully to disqualify my political party from participating in elections — all because I believe Israel should be a state for all its citizens and because I have spoken out against Israeli military occupation. Last year, Cabinet member Avigdor Lieberman — an immigrant from Moldova — declared that Palestinian citizens of Israel "have no place here," that we should "take our bundles and get lost." After I met with a leader of the Palestinian Authority from Hamas, Lieberman called for my execution.

The Israeli authorities are trying to intimidate not just me but all Palestinian citizens of Israel. But we will not be intimidated. We will not bow to permanent servitude in the land of our ancestors or to being severed from our natural connections to the Arab world. Our community leaders joined together recently to issue a blueprint for a state free of ethnic and religious discrimination in all spheres. If we turn back from our path to freedom now, we will consign future generations to the discrimination we have faced for six decades.

Americans know from their own history of institutional discrimination the tactics that have been used against civil rights leaders. These include telephone bugging, police surveillance, political delegitimization and criminalization of dissent through false accusations. Israel is continuing to use these tactics at a time when the world no longer tolerates such practices as compatible with democracy.

Why then does the U.S. government continue to fully support a country whose very identity and institutions are based on ethnic and religious discrimination that victimize its own citizens?