Sunday, October 31, 2010

Latest Al Qaeda plot seen by Al Jazeera viewers as "politically motivated and contrived"

From the Palestinian Pundit:

'This new [Al Jazeera] poll asks:

Do you think that the suspect packages case is a real threat to the West or a contrived and politically motivated story?

With over 1,000 responding so far, 91% said that it is a politically motivated and contrived story.'

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Saddam's goons chiefly responsible for bloodbath

"The continuing bloodbath is chiefly the result of an obscene alliance between the goons of the previous dictatorship and the goons of a would-be-future theocratic one. From the very first day after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, without ever issuing so much as a manifesto or a bill of grievances, this criminal gang awarded itself permission to use high explosives, assassination, torture, and rape against a population that was given no moment of breathing space after three decades of war and fascism."

--Christopher Hitchens

Read more:

Kidnapped hikers were peace activists

This story only gets sadder. These poor hikers must have thought the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are cool with pro-Palestinian American peace activists.

"Bauer and Shourd, who was freed last September, had been based in Syria before their friend, Fattal, joined them for a hiking trip in Iraqi Kurdistan on the border with Iran. Bauer and Shourd are peace activists who expressed sympathy for the Palestinians and had been organizing actions and demonstrations against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The two had worked in Syria with Palestinian refugees—their friends have praised them for their commitment to what those friends described as ending U.S.-Israeli aggression. From his base in Syria, Bauer made several trips to Iraq and wrote about the human cost of the U.S. occupation. His last article, for The Nation, was about death squads in Iraq that he said were supported by the U.S. Army. In a meeting with Ahmadinejad in New York last month, Shourd told him about their activism, citing it as proof of their innocence. But that history does not appear to have had any impact on Iranian officials considering possible clemency or amnesty.

...Last week a document released by WikiLeaks clearly indicated that the hikers were arrested inside Iraqi territory. "

Few cared as much about Iraqi deaths before 2003

Hayder Al-Khoei wrote an excellent response to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's article "A record worse than Saddam's":

"Her fundamental mistake is that she somehow looks at Iraq in an epochal vacuum void of any historical context. She ignores the fact that the sanctions were manipulated by Saddam to score political points (a past-time Ms Alibhai-Brown appreciates). During the last year of Saddam’s disastrous rule, he allocated just US$16m for the Ministry of Health to spend for the year, amounting to around 60 cents per Iraqi, meanwhile, in the last decade of his rule (a decade in which Iraq was heavily sanctioned), Saddam spent an estimated US$2.2b on constructing palaces for himself and the coterie of despots he surrounded himself with. Saddam lived a life of luxury while his people starved through the economic sanctions and he, more than anybody else, should be held responsible for the suffering of millions upon millions of people under his regime. What followed cannot be “a worse record than Saddam’s” because the butcher of Baghdad was a big part of it.

Many in the west are obsessed with WMDs and the lies that were told to secure support for the Iraq war, but to many Iraqis, the matter is inconsequential. Saddam was the weapon of mass destruction.

...To Iraqis like me, who have lost immediate family-members both pre and post 2003, the sudden burst of conscience from a public that was silent during three decades of the harshest, most despotic regime the Middle East has seen in the last few centuries is abhorrent in itself, and leads me to question the motivation behind the sudden faux-concern for the plight of the millions of suffering Iraqis. Here in London, Iraqis campaigned for years against Saddam, and tried desperately to convince people like Ms Alibhai-Brown to support their worthy cause. Very few heeded the calls; apparently stories of Iraqis dying are not all too interesting. Unless of course the West is somehow culpable in the killing.*

It is such a shame that commentary on Iraq has been reduced by many to an industry focused at selling news with little regard for history and context. Much of the suffering in Iraq today is a direct result of Saddam’s legacy. It is the failure to understand and appreciate historical context that has led to the crass, shallow, superficiality that has become a feature of much of the news coverage in Iraq.

It is cruel to count victims as statistics who perished in the recent war, but if we want to be soulless and academic, then the civilian victims that are identified in the latest documents make up only one-third of those who vanished during the Anfal campaign under Saddam. More to the point, Ms Alibhai-Brown seems to paper over the fact that tens of thousands of the post 2003 war victims were in fact targeted by a ruthless insurgency in Iraq, and insurgency that relies on remnants of Saddam’s regime for funding, logistics and indeed recruits. Saddam may have been arrested, tried, and executed, but his men are still in Iraq committing the same crimes they have always been committing. The legacy of Saddam is still claiming lives and it is still destroying the country."

--Hayder Al-Khoei

*Bolded for emphasis. Read the whole article here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Saddam withheld medicine from Iraqi kids

I wasn't surprised to read this plea by westerners who believe that Tariq Aziz should not be executed.

However this part of the article did surprise me:

"During our conversation in 1999, we appealed to him [Aziz] for an end to the suffering which Saddam's regime brought to many people in Iraq. In particular we drew Mr Aziz's attention to the suffering of children in hospitals where medical equipment and medication were being withheld. We understood this equipment was in warehouses, not being released."

Saddam's regime withheld medical equipment and medication from Iraqi children? I guess I shouldn't be surprised. But I am! How evil does a human have to be to withhold medicine from dying children?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fear and Loathing of Muslim Garb

Ever since I heard Juan Williams say that he gets nervous and fearful when he sees somebody wearing Muslim garb on a plane I’ve thought about the term “Muslim garb” and the two times I dressed in “Muslim garb” for Halloween. We escaped the hell hole that Iraq was in 1982 and ended up back in Colorado in October of that year, just in time for Halloween. I was 13 and I decided to dress as an oil sheikh because our generous American friends with whom we stayed during those first few joyful weeks owned an oil company, and I thought it would be funny and convenient. My parents had no money to waste on costumes. I had a dishdasha and I borrowed my dad’s 3gal and shemagh. My mom drew a goatee on my face. It was simple and it worked well.

A few Halloweens later in high school I wore a similar outfit, but on my head I wore a checkered kafiya with 3gal and I wore the dishdasha I received as a gift the previous year. Two other students also wore kafiyas that day, but their outfits looked more menacing – one guy carried a toy machine gun. The school paper’s photographer took a picture of the three of us in “Muslim garb” and the photo ended up in an article showing some of the creative costumes worn that day. I thought it was funny back then, but I realized later that maybe the photo helped perpetuate a portrayal of Muslims (or Arabs) as terrorists. Maybe this is the image that is etched into the minds of many Americans when they hear “Muslim garb”. During the 1980s, American mainstream media (ABC, CBS, and NBC at the time) broadcast on a weekly basis many images of Arab militants wearing checkered kafiyas. But a kafiya is not as much Muslim garb as it is Arab garb.

I could go on about stereotyping Arabs and Muslims in American TV and media, but Jack Shaheen, an Arab American professor of communications I learned about in college and invited to speak at our campus, has already done a very good job in covering that side of the story. It's good to see the Arab kafiya becoming more popular among westerners, as this will no doubt help combat the stereotype. Christian white folk wear "Muslim garb" too, it turns out:) I've seen it since I was a student in Boulder and the kafiyas have become quite colorful. I bought one like this two years ago, but I still haven't worn it on a plane.

Now what is "Muslim" garb? One could write a whole blog post about the different types of “Muslim garb” worn all over the planet. Abbas Hawazin once posted on the different types of hijab worn by Muslim women. That was a good post showing the varieties of hijab.

I would venture to say that approximately half of Muslim women in the world do not wear any form of hijab and they wear western style garb most of the time. Worldly women no doubt pack and wear a combination of outfits, depending on the countries they travel to and from. In many Muslim countries, like US ally KSA, hijab is mandatory, but some Saudi women wear completely different clothes when they travel abroad.

Most Muslim men I know wear pants and shirts, but they live in western countries. Even in Iraq, many (maybe most) men also wear pants. The dishdasha has become old school among Arabs and Muslims. Nevertheless many Muslims still proudly wear their old school “Muslim” garb and they don’t think about the nervousness their garb may cause on planes.

In Iraq alone the variety of garb is wide ranging. When you consider the number of Muslims in the entire world and think about the different types of garb they wear, you begin to understand that “Muslim garb” is not easily defined. One out of every five humans is Muslim. Go to Indonesia, home to 200 million Muslims, and you will see an incredible variety of clothing, ranging from sarongs to silk scarves as hijab to jeans and t-shirts.

Nothing about “Muslim garb” should scare me or you, unless the Muslim’s face is wrapped with a kafiya and he’s aiming a gun at you. But it is unlikely you or I will ever see that, especially on a plane!

On the other hand, there is something about the sight of a woman covered from head to toe and face veiled that is embarrassing to a westernized Muslim. It is strange to see in the summer in LA, or in a restaurant in a western country. I feel sorry for those women if they are forced to wear such outfits, but if Muslim women and girls living in western countries choose to wear the veil and ibaya/niqab/burka in western countries I do wonder WHY? Many Muslim women are forced to wear hijab but it seems the majority of Muslim women do it because they believe it pleases God.

Last summer in the UK I met an Iraqi woman who told me that wearing hijab brings her closer to God. How? The Qur’an instructs Muslims to dress modestly. It doesn’t say cover your hair and it definitely doesn’t say cover your entire body from head to toe. Over the years my mother has introduced me to many Iraqi women in the UK and US, hoping I would marry one of them. A few of these women wore their own versions of hijab (usually a head scarf) when I met them. The hijab alone disqualifies them. I don’t mind meeting them. Many women who wear hijab are beautiful and interesting. I simply do not want to marry a muhajaba (a woman who wears hijab). My mother thinks that I can convince a woman to stop wearing hijab after marriage. Even if this is true, I’m not sure I can date a muhajaba long enough to become engaged. So these days I ask the muhajaba on the first date: are you willing to stop wearing hijab? Usually the answer is no, and I respect that.

The Qur’an says there should be no compulsion in religion, but that’s not how it is in Iran and much of the Persian Gulf. Iran has their religious police. KSA has their Mutaween. There is no reason to fear "Muslim" garb, but I think there is good reason to loathe people who force others to wear "Muslim" garb.

Back to Muslims on a plane. Let’s say you’re flying LA to NYC to London. Most likely there will be many Muslims on those planes. Some of those Muslims will be wearing western clothes because that’s what they always wear and some of them wear western clothes just to blend in while they travel. Some Muslim women will wear hijab. A few passengers may be turbaned Sikhs, and they aren’t even Muslim. None of them should cause fear.

“Muslim garb”, whether it’s secular or Salafi or in between, has nothing to do with terrorism. A terrorist wearing a shirt and jacket can conceal an explosives belt just as easily as a dishdasha-donning terrorist. But neither can get past good security. Thus there is no logic in trying to associate “Muslim garb” with terrorism.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Torture and death nothing new in Iraq

'Many Iraqis say torture is still a regular part of life.

One soldier, who didn't want to give his name for fear of losing his job, says two months ago he watched as nearly 20 soldiers brutally beat an insurgent who had confessed to booby-trapping a house and killing eight Iraqi troops.

"It started with slapping him on the face and punching him. And he fell on the ground. And they started beating him and kicking him with their boots, smashing his ribs," he says.

They smashed his face as well. It only took minutes for the suspect to die. Another officer confirmed the insurgent was killed by Iraqi soldiers but denied he was beaten.

Either way, with abuse like this still common, many Iraqis' reactions to the WikiLeaks documents has been indifference and resignation. Torture and death are nothing new in Iraq.'

Wikileaks details 109,000 deaths in 6 years

'While American and British officials have long denied any official record of civilian deaths, the WikiLeaks documents reveal an official record of 66,081 noncombatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities from Jan. 1, 2004, to Dec. 31, 2009.

According to The New York Times, which also had early access to the WikiLeaks files, the death count appears to be greater than the numbers made public by the United States during the Bush administration. It falls roughly in line with independent estimates by Iraq Body Count, which was repeatedly discredited by the Bush administration.'

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wikileaks reveals extent of mayhem by security contractors

"A British firm, Aegis, is revealed as having suffered the highest losses of any private company. More than 30 of its employees died, according to an analysis by the New York Times, which was given full access to the files.

Most of the dead were Iraqi drivers, guards and other employees.

But it is a handful of American contractors whose actions will come under further scrutiny.

In one incident, employees of a firm called Custer Battles fired at Iraqi security forces at a checkpoint, into a crowded minibus and at the tyres of a car that came too close to their own, all in one spree. No action was taken against them after they paid some compensation money to those affected."

I know I've posted this video a couple of times already, but I think it's important to remember:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tea Party not good with facts

'Europol releases an annual study of terrorism; the results do not support claims that "(nearly) all Muslims are terrorists"

Islamophobes have been popularizing the claim that “not all Muslims are terrorists, but (nearly) all terrorists are Muslims.”  Despite this idea becoming axiomatic in some circles, it is quite simply not factual.  In my previous article entitled “All Terrorists are Muslims…Except the 94% that Aren’t”, I used official FBI records to show that only 6% of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil from 1980 to 2005 were carried out by Islamic extremists.  The remaining 94% were from other groups (42% from Latinos, 24% from extreme left wing groups, 7% from extremist Jews, 5% from communists, and 16% from all other groups).'

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Women can play the role too

'Q: Is there any evidence that women are better than men at peace building and rebuilding?

A: There is evidence that not only in peace building and rebuilding but in other areas as with migrant workers, the priorities for women are usually different. As a result women invest in the family, and during conditions where there is war or natural disaster, you will find that women can even cross borders to be able to keep the family together, and are able to negotiate the safety of their families. So in that context we see that women should be a part of any peace building negotiations.

Q: Women can play that role when they have an opportunity, but is there any sign that women are getting more such opportunities?

A: Sadly, no. Opportunities are still limited because the recognition that women can play that role is still limited. We are saying that if we invest enough in women, in their education, in empowering them to have a voice, to raise their voice, and if we recognise their voices and find space for them to play a role in peace building, then they will do a good job.

Liberia is a very good example of that. It's women who walk the streets saying we want peace. But society still does not recognise the real value of women, and that is a real problem.'

Do Americans get nervous when they see Muslims on a plane?

"Williams, who is black and has written extensively on the civil rights movement, was the latest journalist to be fired for comments that were seen as biased. UPI's Helen Thomas and CNN's Rick Sanchez were dismissed after making comments deemed offensive to Jews.

But Williams' remarks reflect a view so widely held among Americans that his dismissal has raised accusations of overly sensitive political correctness. According to two recent polls, Williams' remarks reflect the opinions of many Americans, leading some observers to suggest that Williams was fired for saying what everyone else is thinking."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Put more into education

'A visitor to Afghanistan who ventures outside the American security bubble sees pretty quickly that President Obama’s decision to triple the number of troops in Afghanistan has resulted, with some exceptions, mostly in more dead Americans and Afghans alike.

So what can we do instead? Some useful guidance comes from the man whom Afghans refer to as “Dr. Greg” — Greg Mortenson, an American who runs around in Afghan clothing building schools, as chronicled in the best-selling book “Three Cups of Tea.”

The conventional wisdom is that education and development are impossible in insecure parts of Afghanistan that the Taliban control. That view is wrong.

An organization set up by Mr. Mortenson and a number of others are showing that it is quite possible to run schools in Taliban-controlled areas. I visited some of Mr. Mortenson’s schools, literacy centers and vocational training centers, and they survive the Taliban not because of military protection (which they eschew) but because local people feel “ownership” rather than “occupation.”

“Aid can be done anywhere, including where Taliban are,” Mr. Mortenson said. “But it’s imperative the elders are consulted, and that the development staff is all local, with no foreigners.” '

Three Cups of Tea is a great book, truly inspirational.

What to do when you see 'Muslim garb'?

Juan Williams: “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

What kind of garb were the 9/11 hijackers wearing? Dishdashas?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Muslims attacked us on 9/11"

Before I forget I want to write a post about Bill O'Reilly's statement on "The View" (a show I'd never heard of until last week) about why there should not be a mosque near ground zero: because "Muslims attacked us on 9/11." I don't really care if there's a mosque near ground zero, and if New Yorkers don't want a mosque there then I don't think a mosque should be built there. But to say that "Muslims attacked us on 9/11" without elaborating, as if to lump all Muslims with Al Qaeda, is to be simple-minded and maybe even stupid. It's like saying "Christians killed Jews in WWII" or "Christians killed Native Americans." Or how about "Buddhists killed Americans at Pearl Harbor"? It's a true statement, but sounds ridiculous by itself.

I happened to be on Yahoo! when I saw that article, which was the most emailed article on Yahoo! on Thursday. Bill O'Reilly's comment didn't bother me as much as some of the comments for that Yahoo! article. Many comments claiming that Muslims all over the world celebrated 9/11 and that all Muslims want to convert American Christians to Islam. It's downright silly.

Separation of Church and State

This is noteworthy. Apparently some conservative Americans don't think or don't know that separation of church and state is in the US constitution. Wow. Aren't these the same politicians who are afraid of Sharia law? Separation of church and state (and of mosque and state, synagogue and state, etc.) is one of the primary reasons America is so great.

See more here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

US military says 77,000 Iraqis killed in 5 years

"In its most extensive death tally of the Iraq war, the U.S. military says nearly 77,000 Iraqi civilians and security officials were killed from early 2004 to mid-2008 — a toll that falls well below Iraqi government figures.

The military's count, which spans the bloodiest chapter of Iraq's sectarian warfare and the U.S. troop surge to quell it, is short of the 85,694 figure released last year by the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry that covers early 2004 to Oct. 31, 2008."

Education is Key

'Just 40 years ago, Oman was one of the most hidebound societies in the world. There was no television, and radios were banned as the work of the devil. There were no Omani diplomats abroad, and the sultan kept his country in almost complete isolation.

Oman, a country about the size of Kansas, had just six miles of paved road, and the majority of the population was illiterate and fiercely tribal. The country had a measly three schools serving 909 pupils — all boys in primary grades. Not one girl in Oman was in school.

Oman’s capital city, Muscat, nestled among rocky hills in the desert of the Arabian Peninsula, was surrounded by a traditional wall. At dusk, the authorities would fire a cannon and then close the city’s gates for the night. Anyone seen walking outside without a torch at night was subject to being shot.

Oman was historically similar to its neighbor, Yemen, which now has become an incubator for Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. But, in 1970, Oman left that fundamentalist track: the sultan’s son deposed his father and started a stunning modernization built around education for boys and girls alike.

Visit Oman today, and it is a contemporary country with highways, sleek new airports, satellite TV dishes and a range of public and private universities. Children start studying English and computers in the first grade. Boys and girls alike are expected to finish high school at least.

It’s peaceful and pro-Western, without the widespread fundamentalism and terrorism that afflict Yemen. Granted, Yemen may be the most beautiful country in the Arab world, but my hunch is that many of the young Westerners who study Arabic there will end up relocating to Oman because of the tranquility here.'

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ahmedinejad is a one-trick pony

'Ahmadinejad is a one-trick pony. His thing is double standards. Ask about the Iranian nuclear program, he’ll retort with Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal. Ask about Iran’s economic difficulties, he’ll see you with September 2008. Ask about rampant capital punishment, he’ll raise you a Texas. Ask about Iranian lying, he’ll counter with human rights and Abu Ghraib.

Not surprisingly, in Fareed Zakaria’s “post-American world,” he has an audience. He’s adept enough, with a touch of Tony Curtis in “The Boston Strangler,” switching personalities with eerie ease.

Throw in some headline-grabbing lunacy — 9/11 as self-inflicted, or the Holocaust as invention, or “Iran is the freest country in the world” — and you have a post-modern media star and villain.

And what do all his words amount to? I’d say not a whole lot beyond unnecessary misery for 71 million isolated Iranians. This guy is all hat and no cattle.'

--Roger Cohen, NYT

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Iraqi oil becomes more important

After the Deepwater Horizon disaster I thought about the risks of extracting oil from underneath a deep sea compared to the risks of extracting oil from Iraqi fields. Eventually, I thought, Iraqi oil and gas would become more important to the world because it's relatively easy to extract.

'Iraq's oil production is increasingly important to meet world energy demand, industry executives meeting in London said Tuesday, as they predicted that the political fallout from the Gulf of Mexico spill will have a long-term impact on U.S. production.

After years of sanctions and war, Iraq — home to some of the world's largest reserves — is finally finding the political stability necessary for oil extraction.

"Iraqi supply is one of the largest game changers," Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the International Energy Agency told the annual Oil & Money conference.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC Chief Executive Peter Voser said his company has already raised oil production from Iraq's Majnoon field to 70,000 barrels a day, from 45,000 barrels a day previously.'

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pop quiz on world religions

1. Which holy book stipulates that a girl who does not bleed on her wedding night should be stoned to death?

a. Koran
b. Old Testament
c. (Hindu) Upanishads

2. Which holy text declares: “Let there be no compulsion in religion”?

a. Koran
b. Gospel of Matthew
c. Letter of Paul to the Romans

3. The terrorists who pioneered the suicide vest in modern times, and the use of women in terror attacks, were affiliated with which major religion?

a. Islam
b. Christianity
c. Hinduism

4. "Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son.” This verse is from:

a. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
b. The Book of Revelation
c. An Islamic hadith, or religious tale

5. Which holy text is sympathetic to slavery?

a. Old Testament
b. New Testament
c. Koran

6. In the New Testament, Jesus’ views of homosexuality are:

a. strongly condemnatory
b. forgiving
c. never mentioned

7. Which holy text urges responding to evil with kindness, saying: “repel the evil deed with one which is better.”

a. Gospel of Luke
b. Book of Isaiah
c. Koran

8. Which religious figure preaches tolerance by suggesting that God looks after all peoples and leads them all to their promised lands?

a. Muhammad
b. Amos
c. Jesus

9. Which of these religious leaders was a polygamist?

a. Jacob
b. King David
c. Muhammad

10. What characterizes Muhammad’s behavior toward the Jews of his time?

a. He killed them.
b. He married one.
c. He praised them as a chosen people.

11. Which holy scripture urges that the "little ones" of the enemy be dashed against the stones?

a. Book of Psalms
b. Koran
c. Leviticus

12. Which holy scripture suggests beating wives who misbehave?

a. Koran
b. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
c. Book of Judges

13. Which religious leader is quoted as commanding women to be silent during services?

a. The first Dalai Lama
b. St. Paul
c. Muhammad


Friday, October 08, 2010

The most cosmopolitan neighborhood in the Middle East

Hamra, Beirut.

'Hala Alsalman, a 32-year-old Canadian-Iraqi documentary filmmaker, sat on a vintage couch next to the cafe’s separate library, which has film screenings on Monday nights and offers an impressive buffet of books, CDs and DVDs.

She was in Beirut to document the rebuilding of the old, destroyed synagogue in downtown Beirut as part of a film project about Jews in the Middle East.

“It’s a pretty amazing place,” she said, opening her laptop to reveal a large photo of the building’s grandly vaulted interior and Arabian architectural details. “Many Lebanese don’t even know it’s there.” But the spirit of 21st-century Hamra emerges most fully as the sun sets and the lights of its many D.J. bars and live music spots flicker to life. That spirit echoes from every corner of the neighborhood, from the animated conversations in the livingroom-like Ferdinand lounge, noted for its hamburger with blueberry jam, to the live jazz and Arabian pop echoing from sleek new music bars like Cello and Mojo’s.

On a Tuesday night, a three-piece combo called Pindoll filled the small basement stage at a bar called Dany’s. The group shifted between cool swing, oddball funk and a lounge jazz version of “These Boots Were Made For Walkin”’ as a packed crowd swilled bottles of Almaza Beer.

Upstairs on the outdoor terrace, the owner Dany Khoury, a 33-year-old art director for films, marveled at the boom in local nightlife since he opened his namesake watering hole two years ago.

“There was nothing here,” he said between sips. “Now there’s around 20 bars” in Hamra, including three new arrivals in the same small passageway.
“Hamra was never affected by religion or politics,” said Mr. Khoury, who grew up in a Christian district across town but never dreamed of opening his bar anywhere but Hamra. “You’ll see neighbors who are Christian, Sunni, Shiite, Orthodox, Maronite, Catholic, Druze, whatever. They’re all walking on the same streets, doing the same stuff, eating the same food.”

It’s an admiration often expressed among Hamra residents and habitués. As the bar prepared to close, some boisterous Lebanese customers filed out in a flurry of chatter in Arabic, English and French. Mr. Khoury smiled. “It’s probably the most cosmopolitan neighborhood in the Middle East.” '

I want to go there.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

1991 Gulf War oil spill largest in history?

This article claims that the 1991 Gulf War oil spill is the largest in history: "The Gulf War oil spill, when Saddam Hussein intentionally spilled oil into the Persian Gulf, resulted in anywhere from 240 million to 460 million gallons of crude oil poured into the Gulf. It remains the world’s largest oil spill today."

I was surprised to see that today because just a few weeks ago, while writing the post Humans can be quite stupid, I read this Wikipedia article, which at the time listed the Gulf War oil spill as the third largest in history. The list of the largest oil spills in that Wiki entry has since been updated to include "Kuwaiti oil fires" and "Kuwaiti oil lakes". The Wiki article claims that an incredible 42-63 BILLION gallons of oil were burned in 1991, and a further 1-2 billion gallons of oil were spilled from sabotaged fields in Kuwait that year. One billion gallons is more than five times the amount of oil spilled as a result of the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

Until now I did not know that so much oil was burned in 1991 (more than 200 times the amount spilled by Deepwater Horizon), and I did not know that Saddam's saboteurs discharged millions of barrels of oil directly into the Persian Gulf. The burning of dozens of billions of gallons of oil may not be considered a spill by some, but it's definitely a waste and a huge spike in emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Those environmentally damaging acts of sabotage alone should have been reason enough to overthrow Saddam in 1991.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Why Iraqi Sunni Arabs turned on Al Qaeda

"A story of Iraqis caught smoking in public having their fingers cut off and, in one particularly gruesome incident, a story of an old man who had sold cigarettes to American soldiers who was publicly beheaded in front of his family and local community by al-Qaeda men.'

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

"We have not labored in vain"

"The Iraqis have a fetish about their sovereignty, but they also understand their dependence. They will need American help, cover for their air space, protection for their oil commerce in the sea lanes of the Persian Gulf. This Iraqi government will remain, for the foreseeable future, a Shiite-led government anxious about the intentions of the Sunni Arab states; about the Turks now pushing deeper into Iraq's affairs, armed with Neo-Ottomanist ideas about Turkey as a patron of the Sunnis of Iraq. And there will always play upon Iraqis—Shiites in particular—a healthy fear of Iran and a desire to keep the Persian power at bay. There will be plenty of room for America in Iraq even after our soldiers have packed up their gear and left.

The question posed in the phase to come will be about the willingness of Pax Americana to craft a workable order in the Persian Gulf, and to make room for this new Iraq. It is a peculiarity of the American presence in the Arab- Islamic world, as contrasted to our work in East Asia, that we have always harbored deep reservations about democracy's viability there and have cast our lot with the autocracies. For a fleeting moment, George W. Bush broke with that history. But that older history, the resigned acceptance of autocracies, is the order of the day in Washington again.

It isn't perfect, this Iraqi polity midwifed by American power. But were we to acknowledge and accept that Iraqis and Americans have prevailed in that difficult land, in the face of such forbidding odds, we and the Iraqis shall be better for it. We have not labored in vain." --Fouad Ajami

Friday, October 01, 2010

Iraq breaks a record

"Iraq on Friday will surpass the previous record for the country that has gone the longest between holding a parliamentary election and forming a government, experts say.

The Netherlands had held that unfortunate honor after a series of failed attempts left the country without an elected government for 207 days in 1977, according to Christopher J. Anderson, director of the Institute for European Studies at Cornell University.

Iraqis have now spent 208 days with no new government and, while the Dutch weathered their storm, Iraq's weak institutions may not hold up against mounting pressure and a steady level of violence."