Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Operation Iraqi Freedom is over"

President Obama announced today the end of the US combat mission in Iraq. He was cautiously optimistic about Iraq. He encouraged Iraqi leaders to move forward in forming a government.

"Iraqis are a proud people, and they have rejected sectarian war," he said.

He said the US would continue to be a friend and partner of Iraq.

"But the Iraq war is no longer the driving issue for Americans facing job layoffs and home foreclosures. In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of 1,021 adults Friday through Sunday, those surveyed rated the economy, jobs, government corruption and federal spending as the top issues shaping their vote in November's congressional elections — and preferred congressional Republicans over Democrats on handling the economy by double digits."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Let's take the moral high ground, my Muslim brothers

and sisters...for the sake of reconciliation and goodwill. Eid al-Fitr happens to coincide with the 9th anniversary of 9/11 this year, so let's celebrate relatively peaceful coexistence in America this Eid.

'Paradoxically, the public reaction has not been heated in Lebanon, a country with 18 recognized religious sects where Muslims and Christians have a long history of occasionally violent coexistence.

If the mosque were built, many Lebanese commentators said, it would increase the influence of the ideal of the secular state. Many Lebanese, however, seemed more interested that Miss U.S.A., Rima Fakih, a Lebanese-American, had suggested that Park51 seek another location, than in the debate itself.

“Let’s be honest, it is kind of weird to build it there,” said Samer Ghandour, 33. “But the U.S. is also incredibly polarized and does not tolerate Islam.”

Mahmoud Haddad, a history professor at the University of Balamand in Lebanon, said that “the Muslim community should take the high moral and political ground” and agree to move the center, even though it has every right to build near ground zero.

“They should show they are more concerned about the general good of all Americans,” said Mr. Haddad, who studied and taught in the United States for two decades. “American society refuses to accept Muslims, even of the Westernized type, and consider them as a potential risk at best.”

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the project leader, has been speaking about his Cordoba Initiative on a two-week tour of the Persian Gulf sponsored by the State Department, although he has gingerly avoided discussing the Park51 location.

“What’s happening in America is very healthy,” said Muhammad Al-Zekri, a Bahraini anthropologist, after spending an evening with the imam.

The United States, he said, was still assimilating historical influences, including Islam, into its inaccurate self-image as a solely Judeo-Christian nation. The construction of Park51, Mr. Zekri believes, will help shape that.

“We pray for the people of New York, for peace,” Mr. Zekri said solemnly. “And if it matters, we apologize for what those people have done on 9/11.”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Corruption by western companies

Interesting documentary about international bribery, focusing on the corrupt practices of BAE. When the British government investigated and tried to follow the Saudi money to Swiss bank accounts, the Saudis (Prince Bandar and his father) threatened to drop their "cooperation" in the fight against terrorism, essentially blackmailing the British government. The British government dropped the investigation of the Al Yamamah contract. Amazing.

Bush was right about the surge in Iraq

'In this atmosphere, we’re all less conscious of our severe mental shortcomings and less inclined to be skeptical of our own opinions. Occasionally you surf around the Web and find someone who takes mental limitations seriously. For example, Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway once gave a speech called “The Psychology of Human Misjudgment.” He and others list our natural weaknesses: We have confirmation bias; we pick out evidence that supports our views. We are cognitive misers; we try to think as little as possible. We are herd thinkers and conform our perceptions to fit in with the group.

But, in general, the culture places less emphasis on the need to struggle against one’s own mental feebleness. Today’s culture is better in most ways, but in this way it is worse.

The ensuing mental flabbiness is most evident in politics. Many conservatives declare that Barack Obama is a Muslim because it feels so good to say so. Many liberals would never ask themselves why they were so wrong about the surge in Iraq while George Bush was so right. The question is too uncomfortable.'

Somali Shabab are terrorists

“They are using all tactics,” said the Somali official, who was not authorized to speak publicly. “They don’t care about Ramadan. They are criminals. They are terrorists.”

Monday, August 23, 2010

Margaret Hassan's killer escaped jail last year

Embarrassing for Iraqis and sad.

'An Iraqi man convicted of kidnapping and killing a British humanitarian worker in 2004 escaped from Abu Ghraib prison last year, Iraq's deputy justice minister said Monday.

It was the first time the Iraqi government had confirmed that Ali Lutfi Jassar al-Rawi was missing. Al-Rawi, convicted last year in the death of aid worker Margaret Hassan, escaped from the prison near Baghdad on September 10, Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim said.

The escape was an "inside job," Ibrahim said. Some guards gave al-Rawi a prison uniform, enabling him to walk outside the prison in the middle of the day. A number of guards were arrested, he said, and the investigation continues. He did not say how many guards were implicated in the escape.'

Saudi constitution in accordance with Shari3a

"The Basic Law of Saudi Arabia (Arabic: النظام الأساسي للحكم بالمملكة العربية السعودية‎) (Alternative name: Basic System of Governance) is a constitution-like charter divided into nine chapters, consisting of 83 articles.[1] It is in accordance with the Salafi understanding of sharia and does not override Islamic laws."


Saudis own part of FOX News

How ironic.

'A recent Wall Street Journal editorial darkly cited unspecified “reports” that Park51 has “money coming from Saudi charities or Gulf princes that also fund Wahabi madrassas.” As Jon Stewart observed, this brand of innuendo could also be applied to News Corp., whose second largest shareholder after the Murdoch family is a member of the Saudi royal family. Perhaps last week’s revelation that News Corp. has poured $1 million into G.O.P. campaign coffers was a fiendishly clever smokescreen to deflect anyone from following the far greater sum of Saudi money (a $3 billion stake) that has flowed into Murdoch enterprises, or the News Corp. money (at least $70 million) recently invested in a Saudi media company.'

What percentage of the hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi? Anybody remember?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Don't conflate Islam with terrorism

This is a great article. Many Americans seem to think of Islam as the enemy, as if all Muslims want to see the destruction of America. There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding out there. Yesterday on FOX News I saw coverage of a protest in which a protester held a sign that said "Muslims Danced With JOY on 9/11". Really? Hannity said that Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam who wants to build the Islamic center in Manhattan, advocates Sharia law in America. Is that really true? When I first heard about the proposed Islamic center in Manhattan I assumed the money would come from Wahhabi-infested KSA, but it turns out Feisal Abdul Rauf is a Sufi Muslim. The Wahhabis have not been kind to Sufis.

Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative is one of America’s leading thinkers of Sufism, the mystical form of Islam, which in terms of goals and outlook couldn’t be farther from the violent Wahhabism of the jihadists. His videos and sermons preach love, the remembrance of God (or “zikr”) and reconciliation. His slightly New Agey rhetoric makes him sound, for better or worse, like a Muslim Deepak Chopra. But in the eyes of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, he is an infidel-loving, grave-worshiping apostate; they no doubt regard him as a legitimate target for assassination.

As good as the article is, the author asserts: "Had the George W. Bush administration been more aware of the irreconcilable differences between the Salafist jihadists of Al Qaeda and the secular Baathists of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the United States might never have blundered into a disastrous war, and instead kept its focus on rebuilding post-Taliban Afghanistan while the hearts and minds of the Afghans were still open to persuasion."

It's a bit simplistic to call Saddamists "secular". Stalin was also secular. It's also a mistake to assume the differences between Saddamists and the jihadists of Al Qaeda were irreconcilable. There were Salafi ties to Iraq before 2003. I remember seeing video of Saddam and King Fahad embracing many years after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. Obviously the differences between Saddam and the Wahhabis were not irreconcilable.

Back to the point: "While the West remains blind to the divisions and distinctions within Islam, the challenge posed by the Sufi vision of the faith is not lost on the extremists. This was shown most violently on July 2, when the Pakistani Taliban organized a double-suicide bombing of the Data Darbar, the largest Sufi shrine in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city. The attack took place on a Thursday night, when the shrine was at its busiest; 42 people were killed and 175 were injured."

Lebanon gives Palestinian refugees the right to work

The Lebanese government makes a small step towards progress.

'Lebanon's parliament adopted on Tuesday a law granting fuller employment rights to some 400,000 Palestinians in the country, revoking a ban that had barred the refugees from tens of professions for years.

"Parliament approved a law amendment lifting former restrictions on employment for Palestinian refugees, who will now have the right to work in any field open to foreigners with benefits including social security from their own special fund," a senior official told AFP.

As other foreigners, Palestinians will not be able to work as doctors or lawyers, or in the army and police force, all reserved for Lebanese citizens.

Until now, the refugees have been limited in employment opportunities, such as farming and construction.

But the thorny issue of the Palestinians is far from resolved, as they continue to live off UN handouts in destitute conditions in a dozen camps across the country and are still deprived of health care, the right to own property and the right to citizenship, among others.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) estimates Lebanon today houses 400,000 Palestinians, but Lebanese officials estimate no more than 300,000 refugees actually reside in the country as UNRWA does not strike off its lists those who emigrate.

The majority of refugees live in camps that are armed to the teeth and which international organisations warn provide fertile grounds for breeding Islamist extremists.'

Sistani tries to mediate

I'll never forget the 3arab jarab, like the Lebanese American professor As3ad Abu Khalil, who denounced Sistani because he did not use his great influence to encourage the Iraqi Shia to fight Americans.

'Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, may be exerting his influence with squabbling politicians to speed up the formation of a new government as the U.S. withdraws troops, a U.S. diplomat said.

“We know he is following this issue on a daily basis,” departing U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill said at a briefing in Washington yesterday. “I suspect any role he can play he is playing. I suspect he is playing it in the best way he can to ensure that there is a positive outcome here.”

Iraqis are facing uncertainty stemming from a five-month deadlock over the formation of a new government and a renewal in violence as the U.S. completes the pullout of its combat forces from Iraq this month. Sistani, revered by the Shiite community in Iraq, has said in the past all political groups should be included in the government in order to give Iraq stability.

Rarely seen in public, Sistani could be using his influence to end protracted talks that broke down Aug. 16 between the two top vote-getters in the March 7 parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and former premier Ayad Allawi.

Sistani believes “that when the government is finally formed, you will see Sunnis, Shia and Kurds in that government together,” said Hill, who spent the past 16 months in Baghdad.'

How stupid is the Iraqi govt?

Speaking of stupid people, I read today with disgust about another suicide bombing that killed 60 army recruits. Hundreds of young Iraqi men were in line to apply for a job with the Iraqi army. How many times has a suicide bomber killed army recruits this easily? One would think that after so many horrible experiences, the Iraqi government would not allow recruits to gather in one place. One would think that after so many painful lessons, the Iraqi government would figure out how to prevent such murder. But the Iraqi government is lame and the murder continues for the sake of Allah and Ramadhan.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Humans can be quite stupid

After the biggest marine oil spill in history, the "Obama administration said Monday that it would require significantly more environmental review before approving new offshore drilling permits, ending a practice in which government regulators essentially rubber-stamped potentially hazardous deepwater projects like BP’s out-of-control well."

That is a positive step. The explosion and the subsequent gusher was an accident, but BP has a history of accidents. This is the same company whose TV ads say they are "beyond petroleum". Ever since the Exxon Valdez oil spill, I have always wondered how people can be so careless when transporting oil. Companies should take even greater care when extracting oil from beneath the ocean. How many environmental disasters does it take for humans to change their ways?

Before writing this post I thought the Deepwater Horizon disaster was the biggest oil spill in history, but it turns out the 100 year old Lakeview Gusher was about twice as big in terms of oil spilled. I was not surprised to see the "Gulf War oil spill" ranked as the third largest oil spill, caused by the incredible stupidity of Saddam Hussein and his disregard for the environment.

Also related to humans wasting energy and changing the environment, I read today about New Yorkers who leave their air conditioners on while away from home.

“Using it when you’re not home is outright irresponsible and disrespectful of all the rest of us,” Dan Hendrick of the New York League of Conservation Voters said. “There’s no good way to look at this. The worst thing is, you’re warming our climate to cool your apartment for your own comfort.”

There is an explanation to this madness:

But as any introductory economics course might explain, tenants who blast air-conditioners on their landlord’s dime are making rational, predictable choices.

“This is Homo economicus coming out in full feather,” said Prof. Lawrence J. White of New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business. “When something is free, until some point of satiation, you will take up a lot of it.”

So stupidity is a human thing. OMG!

Bosnian lab helps identify victims of Saddam's regime

'The researchers try to restore identity to nameless remains by comparing the DNA to genetic material collected from living relatives. The detective work has been carried out on remains of victims from the 1990s Balkan wars, the Pinochet regime in Chile, Typhoon Frank in the Philippines, Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, and Asia's December 2004 Tsunami.

Those efforts have been dwarfed by ICMP's latest mission: helping Iraqis find and identify the victims of the Saddam Hussein regime and its aftermath.

Officials in Baghdad estimate that 350,000 human remains are hidden in mass graves throughout the country. Human rights groups say it could be close to a million.

...For the past two years, the team has been bringing Iraqi forensic archaeologists, anthropologists, nurses and other experts to Bosnia for training on collecting blood samples, excavating mass graves and setting up labs in Iraq.

Some of the dead were killed in the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s. Others were Kurds, killed because of their ethnicity. Or Shiites, massacred because of their religion. Or Sunnis, eliminated because of their political views.

If the estimates of human rights groups prove accurate, "they represent a crime against humanity surpassed only by the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Pol Pot's Cambodian killing fields in the 1970s, and the Nazi Holocaust of World War II," says a 2004 report from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Building on the Iraq numbers are the unknown number of mass graves filled by victims of post-Saddam revenge killings as Sunnis, Shiites and rival political factions used the turmoil to settle scores.

It could take decades to find names for the bones from Iraq but it will contribute to peace, says Adam Boys, the deputy head of the commission, who sees his work as "not for the dead but for the living."

"We see the issue of missing persons as something that stops reconciliation, that contributes to conflict," he says.

In Bosnia, two-thirds of the victims — a total of some 20,000 sets of remains — have been found and identified. Some 10,000 remain missing.

Munira Subasic, a Bosniak woman who lost her son, describes the effect this way: "Multiply that number by at least four family members and that's how many people are crying every day in Bosnia."

In Iraq, there are likely to be millions enduring that fate.

The current situation "has catastrophic effects on Iraqi society and politics," says Baghdad political analyst Hadi Jallu. "The missing people are from Iraqi sects and unless this problem is solved, these sects will still continue to mistrust and still seek revenge from each other."

Jonathan McCaskill, the ICMP chief in Iraq, said locals are being taught about forensic archaeology, anthropology, and creating databases to store genetic information and matching it with living relatives.

Iraqi archaeologists, anthropologists, forensic experts, nurses, doctors and lawyers have been visiting Sarajevo for courses on excavating bones, DNA extraction, and taking blood samples. Software ICMP has developed is being translated into Arabic and Kurdish.

In Baghdad, thousands of remains have been collected at the morgues of the Medical Legal Institute, brought in during the months after the April 2003 invasion. Iraqi experts have extracted DNA from many of the remains but so far have nothing with which to match them.

Dr. Munqith al-Dezali, the head of the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad, said each set of remains needs blood samples from three or four relatives to yield a positive identification.

Boys says much education is needed before the work of collecting those samples can even start.

He cites the case of one Kurdish village where some villagers had reservations about the procedure. When an ICMP representative told them that DNA extraction was necessary to help find missing loved ones, they asked how long one can live without DNA, thinking it was an organ.

"It is a monumental task," Boys said.'

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Iraq's army chief says US troops should stay after 2011

'The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has made a sudden visit to senior defence officials a day after the country's most senior soldier declared his forces would not be capable of securing Iraq's borders until 2020.

The visit seemed prompted by Lieutenant General Babakir Zebari's remarks yesterday, in which he repeated his claim that US forces would need to maintain a presence in Iraq beyond the end of 2011, the current deadline for their exit.

"If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the US army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020," he said.

Iraq and the US are yet to structure an agreement spelling out future defence arrangements after the end of the mandated withdrawal but both sides have indicated that future bilateral ties could extend to border patrols as well as ongoing training and mentoring.

A senior US official told the Guardian this week that any future military presence here would be "in the tens, or low hundreds, but will be far short of an occupation force".

Support for an ongoing US presence also came last week from an unlikely quarter, Saddam Hussein's former deputy, Tariq Aziz, who told the Guardian that Barack Obama would be "leaving Iraq to the wolves" if he continued to withdraw troops.'

Muslim converts to Christianity

On the way to work this morning I heard an interesting program on BBC about Muslim converts to Christianity. Listen here.

Iranian woman "confesses" to murder and adultery

'Iranian state TV has aired what it says is a confession by a woman under threat of being stoned to death for adultery.

In the interview shown on Wednesday, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani purportedly admits conspiring to murder her husband in 2005 and denounces her lawyer.

After an international outcry, Iranian officials temporarily halted her stoning sentence last month, but there are fears she will now be hanged.

The 43-year-old had said she was forced to confess to the charges of adultery.

In May 2006, a criminal court in East Azerbaijan province found Ms Ashtiani guilty of having had an "illicit relationship" with two men following the death of her husband. She was given 99 lashes.

But that September, during the trial of a man accused of murdering her husband, another court reopened an adultery case based on events that allegedly took place before her husband died.

Despite retracting a confession she said she had been forced to make under duress, Ms Ashtiani was convicted of "adultery while being married" and sentenced to death by stoning.'

Monday, August 09, 2010


"The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which rotates based on the lunar calendar, starts as early as Tuesday.

Politically-linked religious fervor tends to rise during the month, during which Muslims believe God revealed the Koran to the prophet Mohammad. Devout Muslims abstain from eating or drinking even water from sunrise to sundown to foster patience and humility.

With temperatures hovering around 120 degrees and severe electricity shortages, this Ramadan is expected to be particularly arduous for many Iraqis.

Efforts to form a government more than five months after Iraqis went to the polls have stalled over disagreements by the main political parties over who would be prime minister and little progress is expected until after Ramadan ends in September. Iraqi officials believe many of the recent attacks are aimed at discrediting the outgoing Iraqi government by showing they cannot control security."

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

41% of Republicans, 27% of Americans believe Obama not born in USA


'On President Barack Obama’s birthday, a new CNN/Opinion Research released Wednesday shows 41 percent of Republicans believe Obama was “probably” or “definitely” born in another country.

The poll of 1,018 adults shows 27 percent of Americans believe the president was “probably” or “definitely” born in another country, compared with 71 percent who think he was born in the United States.'

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Mosque near Ground Zero?

I was channel surfing and came across a stern Bill O'Reilly warning Nihad Awad that pursuing the building of a mosque near ground zero is a mistake. I can understand why an American would not want to see a mosque near ground zero or anywhere in lower Manhattan. O'Reilly actually made a good point, that no Japanese would even think of building a Japanese temple near Pearl Harbor. But Awad also made a good point by saying that Muslims were also victims on 9/11. The fact is that most victims of "Islamic terrorism" have been Muslims! Furthermore, the Qur'an instructs Muslims to respect Christians and Jews, not hijack their planes and fly them into their buildings.

However, out of respect for conservative Americans and for the victims of 9/11, and knowing that the money for the proposed project will likely come from KSA and maybe other Wahhabi-infested kingdoms, I believe it would be unwise for Muslims to insist on building a mosque near ground zero. Having said this, the actions of New Yorkers and mayor Bloomberg have already shown that Americans are quite tolerant of Islam and Muslims.

From the AP: 'A city panel Tuesday cleared the way for the construction near ground zero of a mosque that has caused a political uproar over religious freedom and Sept. 11 even as opponents vowed to press their case in court.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to deny landmark status to a building two blocks from the World Trade Center site that developers want to tear down and convert into an Islamic community center and mosque. The panel said the 152-year-old lower Manhattan building isn't distinctive enough to be considered a landmark.

The decision drew praise from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who stepped before cameras on Governor's Island with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop shortly after the panel voted and called the mosque project a key test of Americans' commitment to religious freedom.

"The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts," said Bloomberg, a Republican turned independent. "But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves, and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans, if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan." '

Contractors will replace troops in Iraq

Cops Will Be Cops

Visiting relatives in London was very interesting, as it always is. My cousin said something that rang true: cops will be cops. It is natural for an Iraqi who worked as a police officer before 2003 to continue working as a police officer after 2003.