Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Democracy sprouting in Iraq

'Another set of politicians is betting that the future belongs to those who hold themselves above the sectarian din. The forerunner of this group is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who should be commended for breaking ranks with the dominant identity-based Shia coalition that first propelled him to power and stature. Sure, he did so after failing to secure a guarantee from it about keeping his job post-elections, but the narrative he is going to run on is patriotism, rather than myopic sectarianism; he too cannot run on efficiency and integrity, but his fallback rhetoric is positive, rather than malicious. This changes the game in fundamental ways; what Maliki is starting in the Shia camp will echo immediately in the Sunni camp, and eventually find itself expressed in the Kurdish camp too.

This will be a years-long process, so it is lamentable that true secular democrats are not available in force and funding to mount a challenge at this stage. But their time will come as the trend deepens; if their moment is not to be at these next elections, their chances will improve in the electoral round after that. Maliki is an Islamist, but wants to market his secular credentials. This will not be enough for a number of Iraqis who do not want to vote for Islamists under any guises; their fall-back candidates will likely be Ayad Allawi and Saleh al-Mutlag in lieu of real democrats. Allawi and Mutlag’s sole saving grace is that they are secular, but they far from being democratic: they are the chief proponents of neo-Ba’athism, that is the rehabilitation of Ba’athists into Iraqi politics. For these next elections, they are place-holders for the anti-Islamist vote, but in another cycle they may be eclipsed by a democratic opposition.

The positive trends discussed above will need time to mature. But the fact that they are in the works means that things are heading the right way in Iraq. They are doing so with minimal U.S. meddling --as exhibited by Mr. Hill -- as they should be. The U.S. should not be playing favorites in this game; the Iranians and Saudis are doing so, rumored to be spending tens of millions of dollars, but they are thankfully and effectively canceling each other out. One of the biggest accusations against the concept of a democratic revolution in Iraq is that it can be imposed by the Americans. Fine, the Americans cleared away the poisonous legacy of the Saddam years to allow this new sprout to flourish. Like the date tree of Iraq, the country’s iconic symbol, once the sprout takes, it requires minimal attention, its roots shooting downwards to soak up the ample reserves of ground water. If vigilance is required, it should be directed against those who wish to uproot the sprout, or bioengineer it to look something like the weird growths that pass for government in much of the Middle East. A tree grows in Baghdad -- let it be.' --Nibras Kazimi

Was it worth it?

Q. As you look back at your time in Iraq, can you tell us whether anything has changed since you began your reports? Are you hopeful in any way that the people of Iraq will achieve some kind of peaceful accord so that life for them will be less violent? Will Iran leave Iraq alone so that the people of Iraq can rebuild their lives and their country?
— Barbara M.

A. Well, Barbara, one thing that’s changed, and for the better, is that Saddam Hussein is gone for good, along with his murderous tyranny, and that 25 or 30 million Iraqis are no longer subject to the sickening extremities of state-sponsored brutality — the Murder Inc. — that were the hallmark of his quarter-century in power. That, of course, has become a commonplace point for those who argue, still, that all in all it’s been worthwhile despite the appalling costs that those who committed allied troops to the invasion of 2003 seemed not to have factored into their calculations.

And since this week’s debate among us on the “At War” blog goes to the fundamental issues in contest in assessing the war in Iraq, and whether in any sense it’s been worthwhile, it is perhaps not a bad thing to start by reminding ourselves of what those costs have been: the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have been killed and injured, the total tragically and shamefully unknown; the 4,664 allied troops who have lost their lives, 4,346 of them Americans; the tens of thousands of allied troops who have returned home with amputations and other life-changing injuries; the hundreds of billions of American taxpayers’ dollars, almost certainly a trillion dollars before the last American troops come home; the blighted lives of millions of Iraqis who have lost relatives and friends, fled the country, or suffered years of deprivation, from lost years of education to debilitated hospitals to merciless summers without electrical power for cooling, as well as countless other indignities.

Still, now that the end of the war for America is in sight — God grant — it is worth remembering what good there was achieved by the invasion. In the fury of the debate over unconventional weapons, it has been largely forgotten that ending Saddam’s tyranny for the sake of ordinary Iraqis was one of the justifications offered by President George W. Bush for toppling the regime in Baghdad — one stated in a lower key, to be sure, and subordinate to the argument about the threat Saddam posed with his (as it turned out ) non-existent stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. At the worst moments of the American occupation, between 2005 and 2007, there were many Iraqis, to be sure, who argued that things would have been better if Saddam had never been ousted, for all of the miseries he inflicted. But that was a snapshot, a cry of desperation, if you will, and not, in my experience, a reliable reflection of what the majority of Iraqis believed, in moments of sober reflection. Certainly it was not the view of most Shiites, more than 60 percent of the population, who, with the Kurds, suffered the worst of Saddam’s viciousness, and who were freed by the allied invasion to claim the political primacy denied them for centuries by the minority Sunnis. The short-lived protests at Saddam’s botched and politically tainted hanging in December 2006, even among Sunnis, were a testament of their own on how the great majority of Iraqis felt.

As for where the balance lies in all this — whether it has in any sense been worth it — that’s an issue for history, and for the peoples most deeply impacted by the war: Iraqis, first of all, and Americans, who will no doubt come to a more settled view over the longer term, once we have a clearer sense of Iraq’s future trajectory. That, of course, remains profoundly uncertain. What does seem fair to say is that America, by deposing Saddam and opening the way for Iraq’s fractious ethnic, sectarian and political groups to settle their differences not by the gun and the garrote but through the give-and-take of parliamentary democracy, has opened the door to a better future than was in prospect before 2003. Whether Iraqis will walk through that door is now a matter for them; American influence, though far from spent as long as 130,000 United States troops remain the guarantor of last resort against any near-term return to dictatorship, is waning by the day, and the government of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has shown, in numerous ways in recent weeks, that it feels ever more at liberty to ignore American advice and urgings on hot-button political and security issues.

Many leaders — Prime Minister Maliki himself; moderate Sunnis like the vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi; and the most modern of all men who have held senior positions in Baghdad since 2004, Barham Salih of the Kurds — seem to have grasped to one degree or another the lesson that American ambassadors and military commanders have pressed for years, which is that there can be no political stability in Iraq without a fundamental commitment to political reconciliation between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. But there remains a dearth of anything that could be called statesmanship among the political leaders in Baghdad. More than five years after Iraqis formed their first post-Saddam government, the fundamental issue confronting the country — agreement on the future disposition of political and economic power among the contending population groups — remains unresolved: Many Sunnis remain unreconciled to a future that strips them permanently of their dominant status, just as many Shiites seem reluctant to concede to their former persecutors the place in the Iraqi sun that will be necessary if there is to be any hope of binding their loyalties to a Shiite-dominated state; and the loyalty of the Kurds to the new state, in many ways, is as conditional as that of the Sunnis. Beyond all the complexities, it is that basic impasse that explains the failure to agree on the future sharing of oil revenues, to settle the dispute over the contested oil city of Kirkuk or to resolve a manifest of other potentially explosive issues.

Without reconciliation, all the gains Iraq has made — a growing economy, for one — will be at grave risk of foundering when American troops are no longer around to act as a counterweight to the sectarian ambitions and vengefulness that remain a powerful and unrequited force in Iraqi political life. That’s a warning that Mr. Maliki, and President Obama, have been given insistently by American officials closest to events in Baghdad — including the present and immediate past U.S. ambassadors, Christopher R. Hill and Ryan C. Crocker, and the present and former American military commanders, Gen. Ray Odierno and Gen. David H. Petraeus. Earlier this month, in a speech to a blue-ribbon audience in London, General Petraeus repeated what he has told Congress repeatedly, that the stunning improvements in the security situation in Iraq in the past 24 months remain “fragile and reversible.” Decoded, what that means is that there is still a real risk of backsliding in the security gains that began with the 2007 troop “surge,” and of Iraq heading back toward the murderous sectarianism that General Petraeus faced when he took command in Baghdad in early 2007. What Mr. Obama would do if chaos set in as the American troop withdrawal gathers momentum next spring and summer could be one of the most testing moments in his presidency, all the more so for the evident fact that most Americans and most American legislators — not to mention many in command ranks in the armed forces with lengthy on-the-ground-experience in Iraq, to judge from my e-mail correspondence — seem to have decided that America has already borne the burdens of Iraq for too long and needs to shift its priorities to Afghanistan.

Already, there has been a frightening increase in the “spectacular” suicide bombings across Iraq that punctuated the pre-surge period, and there seems every chance that Shiite and Sunni extremist insurgent groups will do everything in their power to destabilize the national elections in January, which will determine the government that will be in power as the last American troops leave — a government that will no longer face, if it chooses not to, the imperative of facing the electorate’s verdict when its four-year term expires. As for how Iraq’s neighbors will behave if the worst comes to the worst, that’s anybody’s guess, save for the certainty that countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran — especially Iran, which has already shown its readiness to meddle in the Shiite politics of Iraq, and to arm extremist groups with the armor-penetrating weapons known as explosively formed penetrators that have killed many American troops — are not likely to stand idly by. Six and a half years from the moment when American troops captured Baghdad on April 9, 2003, nothing is settled, save for the fact that Saddam lies buried — and for most Iraqis, unregretted — in a temporary mausoleum in Awja, his hometown 100 miles north of Baghdad.' --John Burns, NYT

Monday, September 28, 2009

"we were always at war with Saddam in charge"

From a great story posted by Omar:

'Saeed said he saw his wife shot in the neck while hanging clothes out to dry, was thrown in jail by an associate of Saddam Hussein and was forced to participate in three separate wars as a result of Hussein's administration.

"I could not understand why we were always at war with Saddam in charge," Saeed said. "The Americans have always tried to help the people of Iraq and he had to make it hard for all of us."

Iuliano agreed with Saeed, saying, "The last people who ever want to see war are those of us in uniform." '

“We’re so out of here”

'This week, John F. Burns, The Times’s chief foreign correspondent, will be taking questions on the end of the American war in Iraq.

In February, the newly inaugurated President Obama announced that all combat troops would be withdrawn by August 2010, seven and a half years after the war began, and the remaining troops by 2011.

But with relative calm in Iraq and instability expanding quickly in Afghanistan, Americans and their leaders increasingly see Iraq as the war already fought. “We’re so out of here,” a Marine officer said in July in Anbar province, once the heart of the insurgency there.

Does America seem intent on leaving Iraq, no matter what happens? Should we? Would a return to wide-scale sectarian violence, or the opening of a new front between Kurds and Arabs, obligate U.S. soldiers to stay? What was accomplished and what was left undone?'

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Al Qaeda group escapes Tikrit prison

It's not clear how many of these men are members of Al Qaeda.

NYT: 'Sixteen prisoners, including leaders of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other extremist groups who had been sentenced to death, escaped from a prison in northern Iraq, in what officials described as a brazen breach of security that prompted a manhunt across a large part of the country on Thursday.'

BBC: 'Reports said five of the group, who were being held at a facility in Tikrit, had been sentenced to death for involvement in attacks.

A security official said that the men removed the windows from a bathroom, crawled through the opening and climbed a ladder over the prison walls.

One of the men has since been caught, but the rest remain at large.

Checkpoints have been set up around Tikrit, which is a predominantly Sunni town in Salah al-Din province about 80 miles (130km) from Baghdad.

Iraqi military spokesman Maj Gen Abdul-Karim Khalaf said extra surveillance had also been ordered at Iraq's borders and throughout the north-west of the country.

A senior provincial security official told AFP news agency that the escapees had probably received assistance from within the prison system.

"It is clear there was co-operation with specific groups that helped them escape. Probably one of the officials helped them," he said.

In a separate development, 24 people have been arrested in Morocco on suspicion of having links to a cell recruiting suicide bombers for Iraq, according to a state news agency.

It said the group, based in towns and cities across Morocco, was also suspected of recruiting men to fight in Somalia and Afghanistan.'

Update (Saturday, Sept 26): 'Also Saturday, the police said that they had captured two more suspects in a brazen escape from a detention center in the city of Tikrit on Wednesday in which 16 prisoners escaped, apparently by climbing out a bathroom window.

Among the escapees from the center, about 80 miles north of Baghdad, were members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a Sunni extremist group, who had been sentenced to death. Eight of the 16 men have been recaptured, the authorities said.

The entire staff of the detention center — more than 100 people — has been detained for questioning as part of an investigation into whether the prisoners had inside help, and the chief of the prison has been dismissed.'

"Neighbouring countries don't want Iraq to succeed"

I'm glad Iraq Pundit is writing again:

'The mainstream media in the United States want so much to prove that their predictions of a dead Iraq that they allow it to interfere with their professionalism. The Arabic papers are famous for printing rumours wihtout bothering to check them out.

Instead of writing about how politicians are forming alliances, new parties, and negotiating to make changes in the country, the newspapers print rumours. Instead of showing that democracy is slowly developing here, the papers add to the conspiracy theories that spread so easily in the region. But most Iraqis believe, rightly or wrongly, neighbouring countries don't want Iraq to succeed.'

How the Arabs reacted to the end of Saddam

Below is a post I put together from two comments for this post and thought it summarizes well my feelings about how the Arabs in general reacted to the overthrow, trial, and hanging of Saddam. I think it's important to document their reaction.

FYI: 90% of Arabs are Sunni Muslim. The combined population of Arab nations is 325 million, about the same population as the US.

'Approximately half of my relatives fled Iraq before 2003. Most of them live in the UK now. None of my relatives worked for the US military except a relative who worked as an economic advisor to the CPA for two years, and he was never harmed. But he was in Kurdistan. A man who was married to my uncle's wife's sister worked as a translator for the Americans (not sure in what capacity) and in 2005 he was shot in the head in front of his family while shopping in Baghdad.

In 2006 on the Angry Arab blog many commenters labeled Iraqi translators and Iraqi police as traitors, which made me very angry. Many of those commenters, even though some of them were born and raised in America, attacked me for being a "traitor" to my country, because I was happy to see the end of Saddam and his murderous dictatorship and one day I called Bush's intentions in Iraq "noble" because I believed that he and many Americans were genuinely interested in helping the Iraqi people overcome years of war and sanctions and build a prosperous democracy. I still believe that this was America's intentions for Iraq. Bush may have had ulterior motives and may have hoped that western oil companies would benefit, and some companies like Halliburton and Blackwater did benefit from the war. But it was Operation Iraqi Freedom, despite the ulterior motives and despite the crimes of US soldiers, which were few in comparison to the crimes of Saddamists and Wahhabi terrorists. Some Shia militiamen also killed innocent Iraqis.

Some accused me of not condemning crimes committed by Americans in Iraq. I know that many innocent Iraqis were accidentally and intentionally killed by US forces, but the vast majority of violent deaths in Iraq since 2003 have been caused by the "resistance" and the jarab who blow up markets and restaurants. I know we're supposed to blame those murders on America too, and many Iraqis have, but I won't do that. Bush made mistakes for sure, but I will always blame the murders on the people who directly participated in the murders.

Saddam's henchmen were responsible for the wrongful imprisonment and murder of many of my relatives, and astoundingly some people expected me to tell the world to keep Saddam in power. It was as if they expected me to shut up about Saddam's crimes, so my writings wouldn't be used as justification to overthrow the mass murderer.

Most people in the Arab world and most leftists have never lived in a dictatorship like Saddam's, and therefore they really have no idea how most Iraqi Shia and Kurds felt about Saddam's regime. The only kind of Shia they seem to like are the ones who fight Americans, like Muntadhar al Zaidi and Muqtada al Sadr.

Since the overthrow of Saddam's regime my relatives have had difficult lives or sure, due to the security situation. I've blamed the Bush administration for not adequately planning for the overthrow of the dictatorship and other things, and I've blamed the new Iraqi govt for being incompetent and corrupt. But the reason there was so much sectarian violence, so much hatred towards the Shia, is because the Sunni extremists provoked the Iraqi Shia in the most horrific ways, and the Sunni Arabs did not protest very much. Many of them insisted that the US was behind the bombings of markets and other public places in Iraq. The extremists proved they would murder 34 Iraqi kids just to kill one American soldier. They did it and committed many more horrible crimes, and all the Arabs and leftists could do is blame Bush. The Sunni Arab "resistance" proved they could make life for Iraqis much worse than before the invasion, and they did, because the Sunni Arabs lost control of Iraq, and therefore they tried to destroy Iraq.

Angry Arab fans attacked me for being angry with the Arab terrorists instead of the Americans. They also attacked me for pointing out that life for Iraqi Shia and Kurds was quite miserable before 2003. The response from the Sunni Arabs, as the Sunni Arab "resistance" blew up Iraqi markets and universities, was "how do you like your freedom now??"' I will never forget the rage I felt after reading the responses of our Arab "brothers" from all over the globe. Some of them could not understand my rage and were merely condemning the perceived meddling in Iraq and the injustice that resulted from such meddling.

In the 60s and 80s, the Sunni Arabs and leftists did not protest US meddling in Iraq. In 1991 they did not scream as loudly about US intervention, even though the US-led coalition bombed Iraq for 40 consecutive days and nights in 1991, even though the US launched the war on Iraq from their HQ in Doha, Qatar.

They did not protest as strongly about US meddling until Saddam's murderous regime was overthrown in 2003, and when the murderers were put on trial for crimes against humanity and the piece of shit was belatedly hung in 2006, the Sunni Arabs got *really* pissed. They escalated their attacks and blew up even more markets, weddings, funerals, universities, restaurants, and just about anything related to the newly elected government in Baghdad. But no bombings of markets in Qatar, the country that hosts the US CENTCOM, from which the US military again launched the air campaign in 2003.

In 2006, after the Al Askari mosque was bombed, the Sunni Arabs discovered Shiite death squads had been murdering innocent Sunni Arabs in Baghdad. Their protests and animosity towards Iraqi Shia grew. Prior to their discovery of Shiite death squads, they did not protest "Sunni death squads", which began their murderous rampages in 2003. The Sunni Arabs did not notice, or perhaps ignored, the 144 suicide bombings in 2004 or the 478 suicide bombings in 2005. Angry Arabs could not easily blame suicide bombings on Americans or Iraqi Shia, because even the idiots among the Sunni Arabs know that Americans and Iraqi Shia don't do suicide bombings in markets and restaurants.

During this time a historic trial, the first trial of an Arab dictator, was taking place. In the past, if an Arab tyrant was overthrown, he was immediately killed. No trial, no questions, no evidence or debate. That's how the Arabs do revolution, and they were pissed that one of their Lions was being humiliated by "infidels". Many Arabs and Arab Americans believed that Saddam was innocent, and that even if he is guilty, he should not be killed. So the war on the Iraqi Shia and US forces intensified.

In 2006 I became acquainted with a Palestinian American woman, born and raised in California, a frequent commenter on Angry Arab. When I first started commenting on the blog she attacked me and called me a traitor and did not believe I am Iraqi, but eventually we became friends and we talked a few times on the phone. The day after the convicted Saddam and his half brother were hung she called me and said "bad move Shia". That is how the Sunni Arabs, even the ones in America, reacted to the overthrow and trial and hanging of a mass murderer, a tyrant who imprisoned and killed millions of innocent Iraqis, a dictator who led Iraq to ruin. They treated him like a hero, they mass murdered Iraqis and blamed it on Americans, and then they asked the Iraqis if THIS is the freedom they wanted!

Certainly not all Sunni Arabs thought alike, and I know many Sunni Arabs, mostly Iraqis, who were happy to see the end of Saddam. But a few Iraqi Sunni Arabs were very angry about the hanging of Saddam and turned him into a hero-martyr:

I suppose I should not have wanted to see the end of Saddam's regime. I should not have ever sought support from the US, the country that helped put the tyrant in power in the 60s and helped him again in the 80s, to remove the tyrant from power in 2003 and help Iraqis set up a semblance of a democracy in Baghdad. I should have known, like many smart people apparently did, that Sunni Arab extremists would incite sectarian violence in Iraq, and that Shiite militias would react by killing innocent Sunni Arabs. Shoulda stuck with Saddam, shoulda kept quiet about his crimes like the Sunni Arabs did so well.

The "brave resistance" demanded an end to the occupation. Well it's been two years now since Shiite militias killed innocent Sunni Arabs, nine months since Bush has been out of office, and it's been three months since US troops withdrew from Iraqi cities. But the "resistance" is still blowing up innocent Iraqis, mostly Shia. Hundreds have been killed in the last few weeks. Is that not injustice? '

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obama why?

Some excellent satire aimed at health insurance companies in America!

Obama: Time to move forward on peace in Palestine

"The U.S. is committed to a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East," Obama said. "It is past time to talk about starting negotiations. It is time to move forward."

During his individual meetings with Abbas and Netanyahu before their three-way session, Obama expressed to both sides his "determination and, quite frankly, his impatience" that negotiations begin as soon as possible, according to a senior administration official familiar with the discussions.

"It's time to get started," the official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the meetings. "He argued to them that we have a window of opportunity to actually achieve the goal of achieving two states, but that it is a limited window and both sides need to act now so they don't miss it."

Missing from the meeting was Hamas, which has popular support in Gaza and they are respected in the West Bank. If we rely on Mahmoud Abbass and Netanyahu alone to achieve peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, true peace and justice will not happen during Obama's administration.

Also missing from the meeting were Israelis who want to see a two state solution that is truly fair, one that gives control of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians (Netanyahu will never allow it), or a representative of the growing number of Israelis and Palestinians who are demanding a one state solution that would give Israeli citizenship to all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

The hurdles are huge, and it may be years until we see a truly peaceful and fair treaty, so I admire President Obama for pushing forward in the pursuit of peace in the mid east.

The Circle of Bereaved Parents

Today on BBC World Service I listened to this program, partly about the stories of two people, a Palestinian and an Israeli who joined the Circle of Bereaved Parents after losing two daughters in violence. I was saddened by these stories, but I was pleased that at least some Israelis and Palestinians are understanding each other and are reconciling with each other.

'Israeli Rami Elhanan and Palestinian Bassam Aramin have both lost daughters in the conflict between their peoples. But instead of demanding revenge, they are working together for peace and reconciliation. Rami and Bassam are part of a 500 strong group called The Circle of Bereaved Parents. Their stories are told in a book called "Nine Lives." '

"There is a difference between revenge and justice", says Bassam.

Also listen to this: 'Jane O'Brien hears about a scheme in the United States in which amputees from the Vietnam war help US soldiers who've lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jo Beimfohr lost both legs in a roadside bombing in Iraq in 2005. During his treatment he was visited by Jack Farley, a Vietnam War veteran who lost one of his legs in a mortar explosion.'

Miscarriage of Justice in the UK: About a week ago during a long drive I was listening to the BBC World Service and was surprised to hear this story about a British couple who were falsely accused of child abuse, after which their children were taken away from them by Social Services. This happens often in the US, and in many cases at least one of the parents is wrongly imprisoned, but I didn't know that it also happens in the UK. Being falsely accused of abusing your child, and then losing your child to Social Services, which places your child with a foster family, is another type of injustice that must cause feelings of bereavement.

"Cracker" revisited

A few months ago I was urged by a few commenters to avoid using the term "cracker" to describe racist white folk, even though Bill Clinton (referring to Lawton Chiles' use of it) and Jude Law (in a movie) used the term. Now Bill Maher has been using it on Real Time:

Iraq wants Saddam-era debts dropped

'Iraq's president said Tuesday he will press his government's case before the United Nations this week to have the country's remaining multibillion dollar Saddam Hussein-era debts dropped.

President Jalal Talabani said he will make the appeal at the General Assembly meeting in New York, which starts Wednesday. With its economy hit hard by falling oil prices, Iraq has been seeking the cancellation of some $25 billion in U.N.-mandated reparations for Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The government has also asked other Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, to cancel other remaining debts.

"We will demand an end to the unjust compensation imposed on Iraq," Talabani told reporters before leaving for New York.

In July, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged the Security Council's most powerful members to cancel all sanctions and more than 70 resolutions adopted after the Kuwait invasion. At the time, al-Maliki said Iraq is now a democracy that poses no threat to international peace and security.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon responded by suggesting that Kuwait and Iraq discuss alternatives, including the possibility of converting outstanding war reparations into investments to help Iraq's reconstruction. Kuwait has so far resisted the idea.'

Saddam invaded Kuwait in August, 1990. The Iraqi Army was expelled from Kuwait by the end of February 1991. Although it was Saddam who had decided to invade Kuwait, the royal jarab in Riyadh wanted to keep Saddam in power in Baghdad and urged Bush Sr. to not allow the Iraqi Shia to overthrow Saddam's regime. Bush Sr. complied and Saddam remained the Butcher of Baghdad.

Kuwait recovered quickly, while Iraqis suffered through another 12 years of cruel sanctions, and while Saddam built 81 palaces and murdered many more Iraqis. Saddam's dictatorship was belatedly overthrown in 2003.

Kuwait's projected 2009 GDP: $137 billion ($39,849 per capita)

Saudi Arabia's 2008 GDP: $593 billion ($23,834 per capita)

Iraq's projected 2009 GDP: $83.553 billion ($4,000 per capita)

Both Kuwait and KSA have exported suicide bombers to Iraq since 2003. What would Iraqis do without their Arab "brothers"????

Monday, September 21, 2009

Anglican Church leader urges US & Iraq to protect Iranian exiles

'The spiritual head of the Anglican Church expressed concern Sunday about Iranian exiles living in a camp in Iraq, saying they faced "human rights violations" that needed to be addressed urgently.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said both the United States and the Iraqi government had a duty to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf, home to the People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI) dissident group.

"The continuing situation in Camp Ashraf, together with the fact that the 36 people taken from the camp in July have not been released, constitutes a humanitarian and human rights issue of real magnitude and urgency," Williams said in a statement.

The camp's 3,500 residents had been under the protection of the U.S. military until the facility was handed over to Iraqi jurisdiction last January.

In late July, Iraqi forces took control of the camp, northwest of Baghdad, sparking clashes in which at least seven exiles were killed.'

A relatively peaceful Ramadhan & Eid in Iraq

On Sept 18: 'A car bomb attack has hit the town of Mahmudiyah just outside the Iraqi capital, killing seven people and leaving another 21 wounded.

The explosion occurred at around 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) in a popular market crowded by people who were shopping for food to break the fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The town of Mahmudiya, 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad, is located within the so-called 'Triangle of Death' where sectarian tensions hiked in 2006 and 2007 in the worst such violence in the aftermath of Iraq's occupation by the US and its allies in 2003.

Earlier in September, two roadside bombs there killed at least two people and wounded 10 others.

Evening gatherings in Ramadan have been a frequent target of terrorist cells associated with al-Qaeda in the past, but Iraq has seen a fall in bombing casualties this month.'

For those who don't remember, Mahmudiya is the town south of Baghdad where in 2006 drunk US soldiers murdered an Iraqi girl's family and then raped and murdered her.

Violent crime continues, often unreported:

'As the worst of the country's sectarian bloodshed ebbs, Iraqis now face a new threat to getting on with their lives: a frenzy of violent crime.

Many of those involved are believed to be battle-experienced former insurgents unable to find legitimate work. They often bring the same brutality to their crimes that they showed in the fighting that nearly pushed the country into a Sunni-Shiite civil war in 2006 and 2007.

The result has been a wave of thefts and armed robberies, hitting homes, cars, jewelry stores, currency exchanges, pawn shops and banks.

Kidnapping, too, remains terrifyingly common, as it was during the peak of the insurgency. Now, however, the targets are increasingly children, and the kidnappers, rather than having sectarian motives, are seeking ransoms.

In southern Baghdad's Saydiyah neighborhood, photos of missing children are pasted on electricity poles and the concrete blast walls that enclose many areas of the bomb-battered capital.

There are few statistics tracking the number and kinds of crimes, in part because the government remains focused on the bombings and other insurgent attacks that continue to plague Baghdad and Iraq's north.

But in the minds of the public, crime has become at least as consuming as the violence directly related to the war. And like the lack of electricity and other services, crime is now a top complaint of Iraqis.'

Iraqis are looking forward to TRULY peaceful, relative to the peacefulness of the era before Saddam became Iraqi President.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Injustice" compelled him to act

It's interesting how some people act when they see injustice. Muntadhar al Zaidi saw the injustice that befell Iraq, and so he threw his shoes at American President George W. Bush, as if Dubya was the only person in the world responsible for the injustice in Iraq. That's how many people, especially Arabs, prefer to see the Iraq war: it was all Bush's fault. If only Bush had left poor little Saddam to stay in power in Baghdad, everything would be fine in Iraq. Certainly the Sunni Arabs would be happy, and there would have been no bombings of markets in Shia neighborhoods.

In 2006 the Angry Arab was inundated with comments from people who truly believed that the bombs being detonated at police stations and at public places in Iraq were planted by the US military, as if the US wanted to incite sectarian violence in Iraq, as if the sectarian violence somehow helped the US agenda.

Muntadhar al Zaidi writes: "Our patience and our solidarity did not make us forget the oppression. But the invasion divided brother from brother, neighbour from neighbour. It turned our homes into funeral tents."

No mention of the 3arab jarab, many of them Saddamists, who directly mass murdered Iraqis and forcefully divided "brother from brother" all over Iraq. It is as if there was no injustice in Iraq before 2003, as if Iraqis were all united. Why did Muntadhar al Zaidi not act when he saw the injustice of Saddam's regime? Or did he not see the injustice of Saddam's regime?

Muntadhar al Zaidi wrote about the "scandal of Abu Ghraib" as if there was no torture or murder at Abu Ghraib before 2003, as if torture and murder of innocent Iraqis happened only after the US invasion, as if Iraqis were united for 24 years under the dictatorship of Saddam.

Perhaps Muntadhar al Zaidi was too young to remember the oppression, torture, and murder of Iraqis in the 1980s. Maybe he doesn't know that Saddam's Republican Guards and other security apparatuses slaughtered Iraqi Shia by the tens of thousands in 1991, or maybe that bit of oppression and violence can be blamed on Bush Sr. Maybe he was too young and impressionable to realize that by 2000, Iraqis had already fled Iraq by the millions, not because the US invaded Iraq, but because Saddam's tyranny was too much for Iraqis to bear. Maybe Muntadhar al Zaidi is just a typical Arab who in 2003 did not know what Saddam's regime had been doing to Iraqis for 24 years, and with the discovery of honest reporting in the Arab media (actual reporting done by Jewish American journalist Seymour Hersh) in 2004, the images of abuse at Abu Ghraib by US soldiers angered him, like they angered so many Arabs.

It is as if throwing his shoes at Dubya has solved any of Iraq's problems. If throwing your shoes at a leader is an appropriate response to injustice, why doesn't Muntadhar al Zaidi throw his shoes at the people who have been causing the explosions at Iraqi markets, police stations, universities, restaurants, and even weddings and funerals? Was it Bush who caused those explosions? Or should we forget about them and focus on the crimes committed by American forces, like the Arabs do? US troops withdrew from Iraqi cities almost three months ago, but last month "insurgent attacks produced the highest monthly death toll among Iraqis in 13 months." Is that not injustice, ya Muntadhar? And why didn't you throw one of your shoes at the incompetent Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki?

Nibras Kazimi asks appropriately: "Would al-Zaidi dare to throw a shoe at Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, whose regime enabled jihadists and Ba'athists to wage the bloody insurgency against the New Iraq?"

Friday, September 18, 2009

Almost 3eed: Time to kill Pakistani Shia

'At least 30 people were killed Friday in a suicide car bomb attack in a Shiite market village in northwest Pakistan, and at least 36 others were wounded, a police commander said.

The powerful explosion shook the village of Usterzai near the garrison town of Kohat, flattening a two-story hotel and a number of shops at a nearby bazaar. Rescue teams worked through the afternoon to pull victims from the rubble.

The bomb contained more than 300 pounds of explosives, said Ali Hassan Khan, the police stationhouse officer in Usterzai.

A crowd of Shiite residents in the town, angry at the failure of the police to provide security in their vulnerable neighborhoods, attacked a police car with rocks when it arrived at the scene of the blast on Friday.'

Thanks Molly for the link.

PS: In Pakistan the Wahhabi-inspired jarab have been murdering Shia, without much Arab or Muslim protest, for decades.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

You know Iraqis have freedom

when they can demand an apology from the Iraqi Prime Minister!

“I demand from him to apologise for covering up and keeping the truth from people,” Mr al-Zaidi said. “I will talk later about the names that got involved in torturing me, including some senior officials in the Government and army.”

Imagine what would have happened to an Iraqi who demanded an apology from Saddam.

PS: If the allegations of torture are true, then not much has changed since Saddam. That is very sad.

' His cousin, Haidar al-Zaidi, said: “Muntazer will go to Greece for medical treatment because he was injected with unknown chemical drugs and he suffers from a continuous headache.” '

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Iraq's neighbors a "lurking menace"

But Iraq must talk to them and try to be "neighborly" with them, and the US must help. David Ignatius writes:

The Baker-Hamilton recommendations are mostly forgotten, swept away by President George W. Bush's 2007 surge of U.S. troops. That certainly improved security, but the recent bombings in Iraq are a reminder that the surge didn't usher in a new era of peace and love. Political reconciliation is still more slogan than reality -- and the neighbors are more a lurking menace than Baghdad's partners.

He is certainly right. Let's review the list of Iraq's neighbors:


Lying to the north of Iraq, Turkey has been the least menacing. Turkey has enjoyed good relations with Israel, Europe, and the US. Turkey has a robust tourism industry, and they've been able to contain extremists and provide relatively good security. But in Turkey, you may be arrested for teaching or studying Kurdish. Recently Turkey has bombed Kurdish militia inside Iraq, and most worrying, the Turks have dammed the Tigris and Euphrates at several places, squeezing Iraq's historically life-sustaining rivers and resulting in more severe droughts in Iraq. But in a country that has experienced at least 1,200 suicide bombings in the last 6 years, Turkey's offenses seem minor.

Iran (aka Persia)

Going clockwise on the map, we see Iran to the east, which shares 1,458 kilometers of border with Iraq. Persia occupied the land between two rivers for almost two centuries, and in 539 BC, Cyrus of Persia sacked Babylon and freed the Jews.

It can be argued that Iran has had the greatest influence on Iraq, especially since the rise of Khomeini and his Islamic Revolution. In 1965 Khomeini moved to Najaf, home of the Imam Ali shrine, and there he lectured and instilled in young Shia the notion of Islamic revolution and Islamic government. By the late 60s he became a marja taqlid or "model for imitation" for hundreds of thousands of Shia. By 1975 support for Khomeini the leader of the Islamic Revolution had grown in Iran and among the Iraqi Shia. The Ayatollah was forced out of Iraq by Iraqi VP Saddam Hussein in 1978, and in January 1979 the Shah left Iran. The following month Khomeini moved back to Iran and became the first Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, changing the course of history in the region for decades to come.

In the 70s in Iraq the Islamic Da3wa Party had gained popularity, and they too wanted an Islamic government, which put them at odds with the ruling Ba3ath Party and Saddam Hussein, who pushed aside his President-cousin Ahmed Hassan al Bakr and took control of Baghdad in 1979. By the summer of 1980, Saddam and his security apparatuses had murdered and expelled tens of thousands of Iraqi Shia and pushed Da3wa out of Iraq. In September 1980 Saddam's Iraq invaded Iran, beginning a horrible war that cost a million lives by 1988 and ruined the economies of both countries. In the 80s Iraqi Shia who were able fled by the hundreds of thousands to the US, Europe, and of course to Iran.

Today the Iranian influence in Iraq is even greater, with Da3wa in charge of Baghdad, Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council party garnering about 10% support among Iraqis, and with Muqtada al Sadr studying quietly in Qum in an effort to become the next big Ayotallah. Iran was happy to see the end of Saddam's dictatorship, but they did not want to see the the Iraq become a colony of the US. Instead, some Iraqis fear that Iraq will eventually become a colony of Iran.


In July 1990 I became a citizen of the United States of America. Less than one month after I became naturalized, Saddam's Iraq invaded Kuwait. After Bush Sr. crossed his line in the sand and built a case for war against Iraq, my father became afraid. For a while there my dad really thought I might be drafted, if it ever became a real war, which it never did become. It was interesting to see my father go through the effort to find out if I could ever be drafted into such a war. The answer was no, I couldn't be drafted because I could be considered an "conscientious objector". It turns out my help would not be required anyway, as the US military, with the help of the British and many Arab states, bombed Iraq into the Stone Age, and making life very difficult for Iraqis for many years to come.

On the face of it poor little Kuwait looks to be the least menacing of Iraq's neighbors. There are unknown numbers of Shia in Kuwait, and many of them are Iraqis who fled Saddam's tyranny. But Kuwait is ruled by a Sunni Arab family, and in general they were friendly with Saddam and shared his fear of Iran. So what happened to the love? Saddam invaded Kuwait because, basically, Kuwait was being a punk ass bitch (please pardon the vernacular), giving money (the Kuwaitis say loaning) to Saddam to fight Iran, and then after the war, after Iraq's economy was devastated, Kuwait produced oil way beyond their OPEC quota, and thus resulting in lower oil prices, which hurt Iraq's bottom line. The Iraqis also claimed Kuwait was slant-drilling into Iraq's oil field.

In the end Saddam invaded Kuwait and stole many of its riches and refused to leave Kuwait. However he intentionally kept his Republican Guard out of Kuwait, which was a wise move for him, because he would need them to put down the Shia rebellion after the war and keep himself in power. The allied forces, led by the US, pounded Iraq's army, first by 40 days of air strikes, and then by a ground invasion, killing tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers, and accidentally, of course, killing thousands of Iraqi civilians. The Iraqi army was expelled from Kuwait, and on their way out of Iraq, Saddam had his guys burned nearly 700 Kuwaiti oil wells, creating a huge environmental disaster. The US military, led by Colin Powell and Norman Swartzkoff, won a quick war in Iraq and could have easily overthrown the Iraqi dictator, but in the end Bush decided to allow Saddam to live, and ordered US troops not to intervene in the Shia rebellion. It is said Bush's decision was influenced by the Saudis, who did not want to see the Shia take control of Iraq.

Today Kuwait has good relations with Iraq, and the two countries have restored diplomatic ties. Kuwait was the only non-Iraqi Arab country to support the American overthrow of Saddam. They understood Saddam's tyranny very well. But Kuwait still wants its money back, even though Iraq's debt to Kuwait was racked up by Saddam's regime, and many Wahhabi-influenced Kuwaitis have entered Iraq and mass murdered Iraqis since 2003.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The Saudis, the founders of Wahhabism, have been a royal pain in Iraqis' asses for decades. An analysis in 2007 revealed that half of suicide bombers in Iraq came from Saudi Arabia. The majority of the hijackers on 9/11 (80%) were also Saudi. The two statistics, from two very different places, have one thing in common: Wahhabi terrorism.

KSA never wanted to see the Shia take control of Iraq, and they have ben the biggest funders of the insurgency in Iraq. The Saudis were also the biggest funders of the war between Iraq and Iran.

The Saudis did not want to see Saddam take control of Kuwait, but they did not want to see the Shia take control of Baghdad either. Thus the Saudi government, led by King Fahd, urged Bush Sr. to keep Saddam in power in 1991, and thus they funded the Sunni Arab insurgency in Iraq after 2003, their clerics preaching "resistance" against the "infidel" occupier and the "agents of Iran", this despite the presence of many Iranians, Arab Shia, and Americans in the Arabian peninsula. The US launched two wars on Iraq from CENTCOM in Doha, Qatar, but Qatar enjoys peace, even Starbucks, while Baghdad burns. Nevertheless the Wahhabis sent hundreds of brainwashed suicide bombers to Iraq, to murder mostly Iraqi Shia.

With full control of the oil that Saudi Shia live on and near, the Saudi royals are not interested in democracy, and they are not interested in restoring diplomatic ties with the new Iraq. “To isolate itself from Iraq, Saudi Arabia has signed a $1 billion contract with the European defense company EADS, for the construction of a 900-kilometer [562-mile] fence." Iraqis wait anxiously and hope the fence will protect them from the backward Wahhabi cultists.


I've heard the weather in Amman is beautiful. In the summer of 1991 my mother and sister visited Amman to see my aunts and cousins who fled Iraq earlier that year. By 2000 approximately half of my relatives had fled the wars and tyranny of Saddam Hussein, starting new lives elsewhere, mostly in the UK. I don't understand why those refugees did not receive the same attention that our Arab brothers have paid to recent Iraqi refugees from the current war. Jordan deserves praise for accepting such a large number of refugees, and not just Iraqi. 60% of Jordan's population is of Palestinian descent. Twice there were large influxes of Palestinian refugees into Jordan - in 1948 and 1967. Also twice there were large influxes of Iraqi refugees - 1991-1992 and 2005-2007. Iraqi Baathists have fled to Amman in large numbers.

But there is a dark side to Jordan's relationship with Iraq. The person most responsible for inciting the sectarian violence in Iraq was a Jordanian terrorist named Abu Musab al Zarqawi. He was born and raised in Zarqa, not far from occupied Palestine. Even closer to occupied Palestine is the Jordanian town of Salt, whose deranged sons were compelled to join their mujahideen-brothers in Iraq, to attack the new Iraqi government and its security forces, and to participate in the most gruesome sectarian conflict the world has seen in decades.

The Jordanian government, to its credit, has fought extremists and has at times been at the receiving end of Salafi terrorists like Zarqawi, but in my opinion they have not done enough to fight extremist and backward ideology in their country. Honor killings are still common in Jordan, and when the killers are punished, they are in most cases not punished nearly severely enough.


Syria is an enigma. Its population is 80% Sunni Arab, but for decades it has been ruled by a Baathist Alawi family that has had cozy relations with Iran since the Islamic Revolution. Syria's alliance with Iran was the reason for the split between Saddam and Hafez al Assad. Recently I asked my cousin if Alawis are true Shia, and I asked him if they are true Shia, how could they allow so many "mujahideen" to enter Iraq via Damascus and cause so much death and destruction against their Shia brethren in Iraq? "NO" the Allawites are not true Shia, he said, and even if Assad wanted to prevent Baathists and Wahhabis from planning and coordinating in Damascus, he couldn't because most Syrians are Sunni Arab, and many of them have been influenced by Baathism or the Muslim Brotherhood and maybe Wahhabism. So it is even more ironic that Syria has been supported by Shia-dominated Iran.

Syria has been home to the largest number of Iraqi refugees since 2003, and although their existence in Syria has been relatively peaceful, many Iraqis in Damascus are worried about raised tensions between the two governments. Iraqi PM Maliki has blamed Damascus for the August 19 explosions in Baghdad. In the end, the Syrian regime may decide to normalize relations with Iraq at least for economic reasons.

This Ramadhan we have seen fewer violent deaths in Iraq than in previous years, but in general Iraqis continue to suffer as a result of sectarian conflicts than seem never to end. This year the average number of deaths per day from suicide attacks and vehicle bombs (7.8) is still higher than in 2004 (5.2), but the number of deaths per day from gunfire/executions is 4.6, the lowest since 2003. With continuing violence and an inept government in Baghdad that still cannot provide security or 24-hour a day electricity to all Iraqis, there's not much to cheer about in Iraq these days. Many Iraqis are looking forward to the crucial elections in January, and many are hoping for real change in Iraq.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Ramadhan: time to kill some infidels

"Roadside bombings in Iraq killed four American troops and seven Iraqis in a flurry of attacks Tuesday corresponding with a Muslim holy month when insurgents regularly step up their fighting.

The attacks, which occurred in Baghdad and several hot spots in northern Iraq, also left 28 people wounded.

The strikes fell during the holy month of Ramadan, considered to be a time of peace and giving for Muslims across the world."

Al Qaeda continues to murder Iraqis

'BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- At least eight members of an Iraqi family were killed and a child was wounded Wednesday in a bombing in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, local police said.

The bomb was planted in a vehicle parked outside the house of a local Awakening Council leader in southern Kirkuk, police said.

He was killed along with seven other family members, including women and children. A wounded two-year-old child was the only survivor.'

Angry Arab points out sectarianism in Tikrit

Kudos to Professor As3ad Abu Khalil for pointing out the sectarianism in Saddam's home town:
"Tikrit University in US-occupied Iraq rejects a PhD dissertation because it deals with a poet who is Shi`ite born, atheist and communist."

However, instead of stating that Tikrit is Saddam's home town and discussing the history of persecution of Iraq's Shia, he says that Tikrit is in US-occupied Iraq, as if the US presence in Iraq is somehow relevant to the sectarianism in Tikrit University. The implication, I suppose, is that there is injustice in Iraq because it is occupied by the US. No mention of unfairness towards Iraqi Shia before the US "occupation".

The sectarianism would of course exist in Tikrit without the US presence, and if Iraq was not "occupied" by the US, the professor would probably ignore the sectarianism out of Tikrit, as most Arab and Arab American intellectuals did before 2003.

PS: The Tikrit Uni PhD student who was brave enough to base his dissertation on a Shiite communist atheist poet deserves much praise.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Baathism Modelled After Nazism & Stalinism

Christopher Hitchens: "It's the most extraordinary live show of a real for keeps political purge that you'll ever see. And then there's the second half which has been seen by much fewer people and was not shown on PBS where the surviving half are told to go out in the yard and are given guns and are told to shoot the convicted half. Now they're in the plot. Now they are cemented to the leadership.

Now Kanan Makiya in his book says correctly, he says Hitler wouldn't have thought of that. Stalin didn't even think of that, and he thought about these things a lot, about how to get one member of the Central Committee to betray another member and keep them all guessing, so that you're the ultimate beneficiary but this is that added little touch of sadomasochistic genius, this is the adding of The Godfather and The Sopranos to the mixture of Nazism and Stalinism that was in fact the birth of Baathist ideology to begin with. In case you don't know or haven't studied it, the Iraqi Baath Socialist Party was modelled in large part on admiration for European National Socialist and Fascist movements, hoped to emulate them especially in their nationalism against the West. But mutated by Saddam Hussein it became also one that very, very much admired, he had a great admiration for and grew a special moustache in admiration of the work of Yosif Vissarionovitch Dzugashvili, the great Georgian known to us historically as Stalin. So you had him in modern Iraq, a regime in our own time, that was openly, directly modelled upon the two most extreme examples of European totalitarianism.

When I used to go there in those days, it's often very difficult when you come out of a country like this, to explain to people quite what it's like when you're there; the atmosphere of terror, the look that comes into people's eyes when you mention the name of the leader, the absolute look of flash of panic, 'anything could happen to me now'. The person who spills their cup of coffee in the morning on a copy of the party paper that has the leader's picture on it, and everyone in the café goes completely quiet. He just desecrated a picture of the leader; the police are on their way now. You've just made the biggest mistake of your life, and it's very likely that your family will go to prison with you, and maybe they'll have to watch you being tortured, and if they do, they'll have to applaud. And if they have to watch you being executed they'll be later sent a bill for the bullets that were used to be fired into the back of your head because no-one's exempt.

It's often I think very, very hard for people who live in civilised countries, democratic countries, to understand what it would be like to live even a day under a regime that was like this. I used to find in arguments about Iraq that I knew right away when someone didn't know what they were talking about. The dead giveaway would always be when they would say, 'All right, I agree, Saddam Hussein is a bad guy', I'd say, 'Now that means you don't know, you don't know anything about him, if that's what you think. You don't know what it would be like to be sitting at home wondering where your daughter was and finding out because the police came around, banging on the door, handed you a video while they stood there, of her being raped by their colleagues, just to show you who was boss.'

The word 'evil', which I began with, I think does need a bit of justification. Many people think that to even use the word 'evil' is sort of naïve or morally too judgmental or, you know what I'm driving at, too simplistic. And yet it's somehow a word without which we cannot do. Hannah Arendt in her study of totalitarianism borrowed from Immanuel Kant the concept of radical evil, of evil that's so evil that in the end it destroys itself, it's so committed to evil and it's so committed to hatred and cruelty that it becomes suicidal. My definition of it is the surplus value that's generated by totalitarianism. It means you do more violence, more cruelty than you absolutely have to to stay in power. You've already made your point, you've done everything you need to do to make people realise that you're in power, but you somehow can't stop, there has to be a special appetite that must view special prisons for rape, there must be special mass graves just for children. There must be the desire to see how far you can go, and even if you knew this will in the end bring retribution, it's worth it in some sense, for its own sake. Maybe that's the only redeeming thing about it, maybe the irrationality is the one saving grace of it, but at any rate it's not a word it seems, that we can abolish from our vocabulary. If you doubt me, just ask any liberal how they're going to vote at the next election and they'll always say it's for the lesser evil. Somehow the word is necessary even in relativistic terms.

I haven't started with Iraq; I haven't begun to tell you what it's like. The nearest I can come from personal experience would be I suppose being present when a mass grave in a district of the south, was being opened, near Babylon, just after the intervention in 2003, and I was there; I'd gone with a group of my fellow reporters and the temperature in Iraq at midday around that time goes well above 100, and you have to be coated in sunscreen at all times, and you're coated in sweat anyway, and it gets in your hair and in your clothes and on your face, you're sort of covered in slime in effect, protective slime, and that's fine until the wind gets up a bit as the mass grave is being excavated, and you find that you're being covered in a coat of powder. Grey powder, which is made of people. It's the filth and the smut of people who'd been buried en masse for a long time and were just being dug up and are being now blown around in it in a grave. If you want to feel dirty, if you want to feel dirtied up by the experience of fascism, try finding that you're 12 hours away from a shower and you can't get dead person out of your hair, or off your face, there's nothing you can do about it, you're stuck with it, you're tainted, you're polluted, and you're living in a country or visiting a country in this case which is digging itself slowly out of a generalised mass grave."

HRW: Saudis must offer Shia equality

"Saudis 'must offer Shia equality'

A report by the Human Rights Watch pressure group has detailed what it says is systematic discrimination in Saudi Arabia against Shia Muslims.

Unfavourable treatment of minority Shia extends from education and employment to the justice system, leading to a big increase in sectarian tension, it says.

They comprise 10 to 15% of the Saudi population, and have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens.

Human Rights Watch wants a government commission to tackle the problem.

Saudi Arabia follows the puritanical form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, and many Wahhabi clerics regard Shia Muslims as unbelievers.

Equal opportunities

The report focuses on an incident in February, when Shia pilgrims in the holy city of Medina clashed with religious police.

This led to Shia demonstrations in the Eastern Province followed by the arrest of a number of the protestors.

Shias want equal opportunities in government and the military as well as freedom of worship.

They want to be able to build their own mosques, have their civil courts granted more power and to print their own religious books.

Human Rights Watch says that a government commission should explore the sharing of holy places among Muslims of differing creeds, especially in Mecca and Medina."