Monday, March 24, 2008
Sunday, March 23, 2008
*March 24th: Typo: changed "compassion" to "compulsion". Maury suggested that maybe I picked up a Wahhabi edition! LOL
March 20, 2008; Page A19
"I have failed to liberate Iraq, and transform its society into an Islamic society."
-- Moqtada al-Sadr, Asharq Al Awsat newspaper, March 8, 2008
Moqtada al-Sadr -- the radical cleric dubbed "The Most Dangerous Man in Iraq" by a Newsweek cover story in December 2006 -- has just unilaterally extended the ceasefire he imposed on his Mahdi Army militia last summer. And on the eve of the Iraq War's fifth anniversary, Sadr also issued a somber but dramatic statement. He not only declared that he had failed to transform Iraq, but also lamented the new debates and divisions within his own movement. Explaining his marginalization, Sadr all but confessed his growing isolation: "One hand cannot clap alone."
What happened? Over the past five years, Sadr has been one of the most persistent and insurmountable challenges for the U.S. Leveraging his family's prestige among the disaffected Shiite underclass, he asserted his power by violently intimidating rival clerics, agitating against the U.S. occupation, and using force to establish de facto control over Baghdad's Sadr City (named after his father, and home to two million Shiites on the east bank of the Tigris) and large swaths of southern Iraq.
The story of his rise, and fall, illustrates the complex relationship between security and political power that drives the fortunes of the U.S. mission in Iraq.
Sadr's postwar ascent caught the U.S. Government completely off-guard. Iraqi society was impenetrable in the 1980s and 1990s. Neither our intelligence community nor our diplomats, who had left Iraq in 1990, knew anything of significance about Sadr. The western press and punditry had never reported on him before the war (a Nexis search reveals not a single news article mentioning Sadr's name in the year leading up to the war). The oft-cited "Future of Iraq Project," produced by the State Department, failed to warn about Sadr in its thousands of pages of projections and scenarios. Few knew he existed, let alone anticipated the influence he would one day wield.
That influence was vast: Moqtada al-Sadr came very close to establishing a state within a state inside Iraq, much like Hezbollah had done in Lebanon.
It began in 2003, when Sadr's followers orchestrated the murder of Majid al-Khoie, a moderate Shiite cleric whom the U.S. government had hoped could play a pivotal role in building a democratic Iraq. It continued with a series of armed uprisings across the south in April 2004, which took the lives of scores of American troops, and led to the collapse of Iraq's fledgling security forces. These culminated in a dramatic standoff against the Iraqi government and U.S. forces at the Holy Shrines in August 2004. In 2005 and 2006 Sadr expanded his territorial reach, using his militia to expel Sunnis from their Baghdad neighborhoods and massively infiltrating the Iraqi police forces.
In areas under his control, Sadr set up extrajudicial Sharia courts to administer justice against Iraqi Shiite "heretics." Large numbers of citizens found guilty were punished by death. The Mahdi Army militia also established its own security checkpoints in Baghdad and across the south -- supplanting Iraq's weak national army and lightly deployed U.S. forces. continued
Mine is an Iraqi American's perspective. I care about all the middle east, all of humanity, actually. So does Fouad Ajami, another Arab American. I have written about Fouad Ajami and posted his articles before. I cannot hide my admiration for this man, who is hated by many Arabs for his unwavering support for George Bush and the war against the terrorists and tyrants of the middle east. Mr. Ajami has always written about Saddam's horrors. I find it interesting that Ajami could not gain tenure at Princeton in the early 70s, maybe because he "made for himself there as a vocal supporter of Palestinian self-determination." Today he's a strong supporter of the war and George Bush. I suspect there are many Bush supporters who also support Palestinian self-determination and statehood. I believe President Bush advocates Palestinian statehood. Ajami's recent article No Surrender is another good one, although I do not necessarily agree that "Baghdad was the proper return address" in response to 9/11. Riyadh was the proper return address for 9/11. The US military was in Iraq in 1991, I'm sure Mr. Ajami remembers well, and he might agree that 1991 was the proper time to overthrow Saddam's murderous regime. In March 1991 the US and its allies (including Saudi Arabia) had already bombed Iraq (for 40 consecutive days and nights) and drove Saddam's army out of Kuwait. US troops were 50 miles from Baghdad when they were ordered to retreat. That was after the coalition bombing and destruction, right before the uprising. It took 9/11 for the US to take down Saddam. We can discuss what should have been, but we cannot change the past - it is what it is, right or wrong. The US avoided occupation and mayhem by retreating in 1991. I have argued before that Iraqi peace and democracy would have been much easier to achieve in 1991 than in 2003. For Iraqis the difference between 1991 and 2003 was 12 years of miserable sanctions and more mass murder. Most Iraqis I know left Iraq in the 1990s.
In the spring of 1991 most American soldiers returned home (a few stayed in KSA and Kuwait) to participate in an economy that soon boomed after the war. Some Americans like Anthony Arnove became even more concerned about Iraq and wrote about the devastating sanctions, some people were angry about the conditions in Iraq throughout the 1990s, and even George Clooney starred in a movie that highlighted Iraqis' suffering (not enough, imo, but the movie wasn't about the suffering of Iraqis). Most Americans, however, didn't seem to care. Even when told that some 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of sanctions, Bill Clinton's Secretary of State said it was worth it. But removing Saddam's murderous regime, even if it results in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, is not worth it. OK. Bad water and lack of medicine kills innocent Iraqis, but it is a silent death. Few people noticed in the 90s. A few Americans wrote books and raised some awareness, and the mainstream media caught the Secretary of State saying something stupid once, but there was no Code Pink in the 1990s. I don't remember any non-Iraqi Arabs complaining about Iraqi women's rights back then. Two words can describe most Iraqis' experience during the decade of the 1990s: it sucked. It took a long time for a powerful nation to stand up to the tyrants of Iraq. Iraqis have paid in so many horrible ways, awaiting liberation and democracy. Iraqis continue to struggle. But Iraqis and Americans won't surrender. We won't allow terrorists, in the guise of Islam or Arab nationalism, to take Iraqis hostage again. Iraq will be free, and with the help of America. Get used to it. The result will be a peaceful and prosperous democracy in Iraq, free of tyranny and Islamic extremism, for the first time in decades.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Monday, March 17, 2008
A new poll (Feb 20) shows that Iraqis still have differences in opinion, and they are still divided by sect: "Despite support for cohesion, the country nonetheless is very much divided along sectarian lines. Slightly more than half of Iraqis say they live in Shiite-only or Sunni-only areas (26 percent each); add those who live in predominantly Sunni or Shiite areas and just 15 percent describe themselves as living in mixed locales. This is even though Sunni Arabs account for 30 percent of all Iraqis in this survey, Shiites 51 percent and Kurds (who are Sunnis, but not Arabs) nearly all the rest." My own uncles, who fled Amriya in 2005, still live in Najaf.
Question 8 reveals that from today's perspective and all things considered, 87% of Kurds, 65% of Shia, and just 5% of Sunni Arabs (up from 4% in August) believe the invasion was right. Nobody likes to be invaded by a foreign country. Why do a majority of Kurds and Shia believe the invasion was right? Life must have been horrible for them before 2003, if they believe that a US-led invasion of their country was right. But if Sunni Arabs do not miss Saddam, why do they believe the invasion was wrong? They are no longer dominant. Many of them lost their jobs and have been disenfranchised since the invasion.
Saddam is gone forever, and today Iraqis have other problems to contend with. The Iraqi government must work harder now to reconcile with the Sunni Arabs, so that peace will at long last come to Iraq.
PS: Link to the Most wanted Iraqi cards, for those who don't know where the Ace comes from.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
In Saudi Arabia, however, it's a different story. The Shia in Saudi Arabia are not killed, thankfully, but they aren't well respected either. Saudi Shia clerics are not allowed to appear on Saudi TV, and Shia schoolchildren in KSA are told regularly that they are apostates. The latest outrageous and embarrassing example of takfiri thought comes from Saudi Arabia's most revered cleric Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak, who issued a fatwa declaring that 'two writers should be tried for apostasy for their "heretical articles" and put to death if they do not repent.' I don't know if the writers are Shia, but apparently they have written that Muslims should be allowed to follow other religions:
He said the articles suggested Muslims were free to follow other religions. Rights groups have accused Wahhabism of a xenophobic attitude which demonises other religions.
Abdullah bin Bejad al-Otaibi, one of the two writers, said he feared for his life and called on the government to intervene. The second writer was Yousef Aba al-Khail.
"My articles have been met with fatwas before but it never got to this level of directly inciting murder or directly accusing someone of no longer being a Muslim," he told Reuters.
"If this is allowed to pass, this country will be transformed into an arena of bloodshed. It will be chaos."
Barrak is the same cleric who declared in December 2006 that Shia are infidels. This reminds us that the Wahhabi really is a takfiri, a person who has decided that worshipping God in any other way than his way is punishable by death. This kind of thinking originates in Saudi Arabia, and has been the root of the sectarian conflict in Iraq. The takfiri have been rejected for the most part in Iraq. I have been told by two Saudi Shia I met in the last year that King Abdallah has made some progress in giving Saudi Shia more rights since he took over. It will be interesting to see how the King reacts to Barrak's provocative crazy fatwa.
Note at 9:35 EST I changed the title from "Wahhabi = Takfiri = Intolerant Crazy?" to "Crazy Fatwas"
So how does one judge whether a cartoon or video is humorous? How far can we go in making fun of each other? In America and Europe we have great freedom - we are allowed to say whatever we want. We are allowed to make fun of each other. We can make fun of the President. We also make fun of foreign Presidents, like Ahmedinejad being gay in NYC. Many people like to push the limit on humor, and Borat has done a good job of that. I have not seen the movie, but it looks too silly, and some parts look disgusting. The actor - Sacha Baron Cohen, has done some great comedy. He became famous as Ali G, and I still think his best skit was Throw the Jew Down the Well, which I wrote about more than a year ago. The audience must have been deceived to think the singer was authentic and really did come from Kazakhstan. But Borat the movie looks bad.
How far can we go when making fun of each others' religions? Some people, especially Shia, might find this video to be offensive. I see humor and disrespect in the video at the same time. The maker of the video (with music) probably did not know who Mohammed Baqr al Hakim was.
My cousin Mohammed in the UK sent me this video, which is an example of an American soldier respecting the Iraqi Shia. The title of the video is "American soldier becomes Shi'i Muslim." Some people may also find it humorous.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Just two days later I ran into my friend Klaus, and we talked about the post I wrote about him recently. He read it and we discussed a few of the comments, including RhusLancia's question about the government of Angela Merkel, the first woman Chancellor of Germany (I learned something new today). He said yes, it is a puppet government. Klaus said Putin has great influence in Germany, and sometimes Putin uses gas as a means to influence the Merkel government!
Elsewhere in the world, every country needs oil for transportation. China and India are both experiencing a boom in their economies, and both countries are adding thousands of cars to their roads every day. I spent three weeks in Beijing in the summer of 2006, and I could not believe how polluted it was. In Beijing alone 1,000 new cars are added to its roads every day. This is happening at a time when greenhouse gases are already out of control and affecting the earth's climate. But the world's oil supply is finite, and one day there will be no more oil. Royal Dutch Shell's chief executive fears that demand will outstrip supply in just seven years. Whoever has oil in the next 50 years will be king.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Many Sunni Arabs miss the good old days. So do the Iraqi Shia, I am told, probably because they're sick of being blown up. Saddam never blew up markets before 2003. Look what's happening now! This is "democracy" brought to you by the Americans. Fvcking Americans! The Iraqi Shia want to return to days when there were no tensions between the sects, when all was well in our beloved Iraq.
Sectarian Toll Includes Scars to Iraq Psyche
BAGHDAD, Sept. 16  — Violence swept over the Muhammad family in December, taking the father, the family’s house and all of its belongings in one chilly morning. But after the Muhammads fled, it subsided and life re-emerged — ordinary and quiet — in its wake.
Now they no longer have to hide their Shiite last name. The eldest daughter does not have to put on an Islamic head scarf. Grocery shopping is not a death-defying act.
Although the painful act of leaving is behind them, their minds keep returning to the past, trying to process a violation that was as brutal as it was personal: young men from the neighborhood shot the children’s father as they watched. Later, the men took the house.
“I lost everything in one moment,” said Rossel, the eldest daughter. “I don’t know who I am now. I’m somebody different.”
They are educated people, and they say they do not want revenge. But typical of those who are left from Iraq’s reasonable middle, the Muhammads have been hardened toward others by violence, and they have been forced to feel their sectarian identity, a mental closing that allows war made by militants to spread.
“In the past the country lived all together, but now, no,” Rossel said. “I don’t trust anyone.”
"Part of the sensitivity comes from trauma inflicted by Saddam Hussein’s government: years ago, Hashem’s grandparents were forced out of their homes by local Baathists and died in the desert. "
Sunday, March 09, 2008
I like to think that real Iraqis do not commit violent crimes, they do not murder Iraqis. Iraqis who attack Iraqi Christians, even the Christians who collaborate with the US, belong in jail. Iraqi Christians are the descendants of Mesopotamia, and yet some Iraqi Muslims have murdered them, and have driven them out of the country.
Iraqis who blame the US, or even if they blame Bush only, for JAM & AQ killing Iraqis may also be real Iraqis. Some of them will never apologize for what Iraqis have done to each other, and would instead pretend that all innocent Iraqis who die violently are killed by the US.
Real Iraqis are the ones who defend each other, regardless of sect or religion, and do not kill Iraqis for being "un-Islamic". If Iraqis want Islamic law, they can move to Saudi Arabia or Iran. Real Iraqis are the ones who protest to protect their civil rights. They are not afraid to stand up for what is right, even if it defies the current Iraqi government, even if it defies the US, as long as it is just.
Friday, March 07, 2008
Thursday, March 06, 2008
"Iraqis were enjoying a pleasant spring evening when a roadside bomb hidden under a vendor stall detonated in the primarily Shiite, middle-class Baghdad neighborhood of Karradah. Five minutes later, a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt detonated, Mohammed al-Rubaie, the head of the Karradah municipality, told the state-run Al-Iraqiya TV.
He said more than 50 civilians were killed and more than 100 injured. Many of the victims were teens or young adults, and four were women, police and officials at three hospitals said."
Some people found it odd that there were no explosions during Ahmedinejad's visit to Baghdad. Could it be that Ahmedinjad or one of his agents left that bomb in Karrada? Or perhaps it was one of those Psy-Ops operations, designed to create hatred for Al Qaeda. These theories seem so far fetched to me, so ridiculous. Just a year ago while having dinner with a friend (Palestinian), I started talking about Zarqawi and she interrupted “IF he existed” – I was shocked. IF he existed?? Then today I read some comments that reminded me that MANY people believed that Zarqawi was the work of the US government or never even existed!
Also I find strange the cartoons depicting Ahmedinejad as being protected by the US military during his visit to Baghdad. In one cartoon, a US soldier is actually saluting the Iranian president (yeah I don't think so), on the same day that UN sanctions were imposed on Iran. IraqPundit said that Ahmedinejad was NOT protected by the US military, and IraqPundit also pointed out that Ahmedinejad did not even visit Najef or Kerbela! What? Sistani, the Safavid, would not see Ahmedinejad?? What do critics of Sistani have to say about that?
PS: This Wikipedia list of suicide bombings in Iraq needs to be updated.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
“When they behead someone, they say ‘Allahu akbar,’ they read Koranic verse,” said a moderate Shiite sheik from Baghdad, using the phrase for “God is great.”
“The young people, they think that is Islam,” he said. “So Islam is a failure, not only in the students’ minds, but also in the community.”
A professor at Baghdad University’s School of Law, who identified herself only as Bushra, said of her students: “They have changed their views about religion. They started to hate religious men. They make jokes about them because they feel disgusted by them.”
That was not always the case. Saddam Hussein encouraged religion in Iraqi society in his later years, building Sunni mosques and injecting more religion into the public school curriculum, but always made sure it served his authoritarian needs.
Shiites, considered to be an opposing political force and a threat to Mr. Hussein’s power, were kept under close watch. Young Shiites who worshiped were seen as political subversives and risked attracting the attention of the police.
For that reason, the American liberation tasted sweetest to the Shiites, who for the first time were able to worship freely. They soon became a potent political force, as religious political leaders appealed to their shared and painful past and their respect for the Shiite religious hierarchy.
...Some Iraqis argue that the religious-based politics was much more about identity than faith. When Shiites voted for religious parties in large numbers in an election in 2005, it was more an effort to show their numbers, than a victory of the religious over the secular.
“It was a fight to prove our existence,” said a young Shiite journalist from Sadr City. “We were embracing our existence, not religion.”
It saddens me that young Iraqi minds were brainwashed and made to believe that killing Iraqis of the opposite sect, or of a different religion, would be rewarded in heaven. But are insurgents and young Iraqis recruited by terrorists really motivated by religion as much as they are by money?
'Of the 900 juvenile detainees in American custody in November, fewer than 10 percent claimed to be fighting a holy war, according to the American military. About one-third of adults said they were.
A worker in the American detention system said that by her estimate, only about a third of the adult detainee population, which is overwhelmingly Sunni, prayed."
“As a group, they are not religious,” said Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, the head of detainee operations for the American military. “When we ask if they are doing it for jihad, the answer is no.”
Muath, a slender, 19-year-old Sunni with distant eyes and hollow cheeks, is typical. He was selling cellphone credits and plastic flowers, struggling to keep his mother and five young siblings afloat, when an insurgent recruiter in western Baghdad, a man in his 30s who is a regular customer, offered him cash last spring to be part of an insurgent group whose motivations were a mix of money and sect.
Muath, the only wage earner in his family, agreed. Suddenly his family could afford to eat meat again, he said in an interview last September.
Indeed, at least part of the religious violence in Baghdad had money at its heart. An officer at the Kadhimiya detention center, where Muath was being held last fall, said recordings of beheadings fetched much higher prices than those of shooting executions in the CD markets, which explains why even nonreligious kidnappers will behead hostages.
“The terrorist loves the money,” said Capt. Omar, a prison worker who did not want to be identified by his full name. “The money has big magic. I give him $10,000 to do small thing. You think he refuse?”
When Muath was arrested last year, the police found two hostages, Shiite brothers, in a safe house that Muath told them about. Photographs showed the men looking wide-eyed into the camera; dark welts covered their bodies.
Violent struggle against the United States was easy to romanticize at a distance.
“I used to love Osama bin Laden,” proclaimed a 24-year-old Iraqi college student. She was referring to how she felt before the war took hold in her native Baghdad. The Sept. 11, 2001, strike at American supremacy was satisfying, and the deaths abstract.
Now, the student recites the familiar complaints: Her college has segregated the security checks; guards told her to stop wearing a revealing skirt; she covers her head for safety.
“Now I hate Islam,” she said, sitting in her family’s unadorned living room in central Baghdad. “Al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army are spreading hatred. People are being killed for nothing.”
I think the overall message of the article underscores the importance of education and reviving the Iraqi economy:
'The population they [terrorist recruiters] focused on, however, was poor and uneducated. About 60 percent of the American adult detainee population is illiterate, and is unable to even read the Koran that religious recruiters are preaching.'
Sunday, March 02, 2008
While searching for a good latmiya video to link to, I found a video memorializing the attacks on Ashoura. The video is itself a latmiya, drawing parallels between Husayn and the victims of such attacks. It is not clear which attack the footage comes from, even though the title says 2005-2006. There have been many Ashoura and Arba3een bombings - the largest in scale occurred in 2004 - today happens to be the 4th anniversary of that attack. I don't know how many have been killed this year, but at least 63 were killed in one bombing. I realized that the people who attack pilgrims have their priorities upside down too.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
I received the letter below, written by Barack Obama, from one of my cousins in the UK. The attention on Obama is now international, and much of that attention is being paid by Muslims from all over the world. In this letter Obama brings up the issue of his middle name, Hussein, and points out that some people may think it's problematic for him to share the name of the former Iraqi dictator. I'm sure Mr. Obama knows that Hussein is a very popular name among Muslims, especially as a surname, but I wonder if Barack knows the story of Imam Husayn ibn Ali, and how popular Imam Husayn (personally I am annoyed that Saddam's last name is Hussein, so I spell it differently than Imam Husayn's) is among Muslims, especially Shia. Obama's success in the Democratic Primary thus far is historic, even if he doesn't win. Arabs and Muslims are watching closely.
PS: Hat tip to Nibras for the great photo.
Letter from Barack Obama on His Muslim Heritage