Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Iraqi & US Forces Protect Najef From Cultists

I guess I should be surprised by the number of people calling this a massacre of civilians, as if the Iraqi and US military want to massacre civilians, but I'm not really surprised. I do not doubt that civilians died, but even Juan Cole has written about the strange behavior of this group, and points out that the Iraqi forces were surprised and nearly overwhelmed.

The claims of a massacre of innocents makes me wonder if some people were disappointed that this group could not carry out its mission, but I also know that many people do not trust the Iraqi or American governments. Notice that most of those who cried 'massacre' did not mention that dozens of other Iraqis were murdered during Ashura, except for the few who reported that Shia militias launched mortars into a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad that killed five Sunni teenage school girls and Zeyad's neighbor (I don't know if Zeyad's neighbor was killed in the same mortar attack).

If this story is true, it should dispel the myth that Iraqi forces cannot confront Shia cultist criminals.

Cult had dug in for massive battle

The group, well armed and well organized, was decimated by Iraqi forces aided by U.S. air power, authorities say.

By Saad Fakhrildeen and Borzou Daragahi, Special to The Times
January 31, 2007

ZERGHA, IRAQ — The dead wore the same footwear, imitation leather dress shoes with Velcro flaps. Their mangled bodies filled the trenches. Bags of ammunition, with the names of fighters written on them, sat by their sides.

A pulpit made of bamboo stood next to a grassy field, a newspaper filled with rambling and enigmatic religious writing strewn nearby.

An unauthorized hourlong walk Tuesday through the bombed compound of a religious cult called Heaven's Army revealed provocative clues about the group, which was decimated Sunday in a 24-hour U.S. and Iraqi offensive that authorities say left 263 alleged members dead and 210 injured. Nearly 400 members were arrested, an Iraqi defense official said.

Iraqi officials said the obscure messianic group was poised to launch an attack on Shiite clergy and holy sites in Najaf in the belief that it would hasten the dawn of a new age. Iraqi officials said they got wind of the plan and attempted to investigate but were attacked by the group's gunmen in a battle that also killed five Iraqi troops and two U.S. soldiers, who died when their helicopter crashed.

The bulk of the damage to the group's base was inflicted by U.S. airstrikes, which turned the tide of a fierce ground battle that pitted the fighters against Iraqi troops backed by U.S. forces.

Iraqi officials have released scant new details about the composition and aims of the group. Mohammed Askari, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said foreign Arabs were among those slain and captured. He declined to provide more than basic casualty figures.

But the camp itself, amid lush groves of eucalyptus and palm trees, offered a trove of details about the members of Heaven's Army.

They had plenty of food. Each fighter had his own supply of chocolate and biscuits. They were prepared: A 6-foot dirt berm and an equally deep trench surrounded the 50-acre compound.

They were well organized. Living in at least 30 concrete-block buildings, all the fighters had identification badges. The group published its own books and a newspaper. The members apparently were enamored with their leader, a charismatic man in his 30s named Dhyaa Abdul-Zahra, whose likeness adorned the newspaper.

And they were well armed and ready for battle. High-powered machine guns, antiaircraft rockets, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and late-model pickup trucks with mounted guns were scattered around the eight farms that make up the compound, about 10 miles north of Najaf.

A wooden platform on a tree served as a sniper's perch. The would-be shooter lay dead on the ground by the tree trunk.

"Without the bombings of the Americans we would have remained for two weeks unable to penetrate," said an Iraqi soldier, who led a Times correspondent and other Iraqi journalists through the compound.

None of the fighters wore uniforms. They wrapped black-checkered scarves around their necks and wore running suits or flowing dishdasha robes. Their bodies were contorted and burned from the bombing campaign. A few were blown to pieces. The fighters included young boys as well as middle-aged men. Some apparently held ordinary day jobs — one slain fighter, Ahmad Mohsen Kadhem, 31, had an identification card in his wallet showing he was authorized to carry weapons as a guard for a nearby company, the government-owned State Organization for Cereals.

Arabic readers described the articles in the group's eight-page newspaper, the Statement, as little more than religiously inflected gibberish, with made-up words and references to "manifestations and sightings" of Imam Mahdi, the last in a line of Shiite Muslim saints.

A book found at the complex, called "Heaven's Judge," also bearing the picture of Abdul-Zahra, dismisses the teaching of Shiite Muslims as well as Sunnis. "The Shiites are misled," says the book, which rebuffs central tenets of Shiite theology.

"The house of the prophet Muhammad has adopted a path using signs to point to heavenly facts, a method for considering the order of secrets," it adds, in statements that perplexed both Shiites and Sunnis who read it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The American Iraq

The American Iraq
Not the stuff of glory, but with a power and legitimacy all its own.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

So this government in Baghdad, fighting for its life, has not mastered even the grim science of the gallows, and has no knowledge of the "drop charts" used for hangings around the world. The Tikritis had been much better at this sort of thing. They had all the time in the world to perfect the skills and techniques of terror; they had done it against the background of relative indifference by outside powers. And they had the indulgence of the neighboring Arabs who gave their warrant to all that played out in Iraq under the Tikriti despotism.

Pity those men now hunkered down in Baghdad as they walk a fine, thin line between the yearning for justice and retribution in their land, and the scrutiny of the outside world. In the annals of Arab history, the Shia have been strangers to power, rebels and dissidents and men on the run hunted down by official power. Now the ground has shifted in Baghdad, and an Arab world steeped in tyranny reproaches a Shia-led government sitting atop a volcano. America's "regional diplomacy"--the name for our earnest but futile entreaties to the Arab rulers--will not reconcile the Arab regimes to the rise of the Shia outcasts.

In the fullness of time, the Arab order of power will have to come to a grudging acceptance of the order sure to take hold in Baghdad. This is a region that respects the prerogatives of power. It had once resisted the coming to power of the Alawites in Syria and then learned to accommodate that "heretical" minority sect and its conquest of Damascus; the Shia path in Iraq will follow that trajectory, and its justice is infinitely greater for it is the ascendancy of a demographic majority, through the weight of numbers and the ballot box. Of all Arab lands, Iraq is the most checkered, a frontier country at the crossroads of Arabia, Turkey and Persia. The Sunni Arabs in Iraq and beyond have never accepted the diversity of that land. The "Arabism" of the place was synonymous with their own primacy. Now a binational state in all but name (Arab and Kurdish) has come into being in Iraq, and the Shia underclass have stepped forth and staked a claim commensurate with the weight of their numbers. The Sunni Arabs have recoiled from this change in their fortunes. They have all but "Persianized" the Shia of Iraq, branded them as a fifth column of the state next door. Contemporary Islamism has sharpened this feud, for to the Sunni Islamists the Shia are heretics at odds with the forbidding strictures of the Islamists' fanatical variant of the faith.

Baghdad, a city founded by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mansour in 762, was sacked by the Mongols in 1258: The invaders put it to the sword, and dumped its books and libraries in the Tigris. In the (Sunni) legend, a Shia minister by the name of Ibn Alqami had opened the gates of the city to the invaders. History never relents here. In a commentary that followed the execution of Saddam, a Palestinian commentator in the West Bank city of Jenin wrote in a pan-Arab daily in London that a descendant of Ibn Alqami (read Nouri al-Maliki) had put to death a descendant of al-Mansour.

These kinds of atavisms cannot be conciliated. The truth of Iraq will assert itself on the ground, but the age of Sunni monopoly on power has passed. One of Iraq's most respected scholar-diplomats, Hassan al-Alawi, has put the matter in stark terms. It is proper, he said, to speak of an "American Iraq" as one does of a Sumerian, a Babylonian, an Abbasid, an Ottoman, and then a British Iraq. Where Iraq in the age of the Pax Britannica rested on an "Anglo-Sunni" regime, this new Iraq, in the time of the Americans, is by the logic of things an American-Shia regime. The militant preachers railing against the fall of Baghdad to an alliance of the "American crusaders" and the "Shia heretics" are the bearers of a dark, but intensely felt conviction. We should not be apologetic, in Arab lands seething with bigotry and rage, about our expedition into Iraq. We shouldn't fall for Arab rulers who tell us that they would have had the ability to call off the furies had we had in place a "process" for resolving the claims of the Palestinians, and had we been able to "deliver" Israel. Those furies have a life of their own: In truth, they are aided and abetted by these same rulers in the hope of tranquilizing their own domains and buying off the embittered in their midst.

The Sunni Arab regimes, it has to be noted, are not of one mind on Iraq. Curiously, the Arab state most likely to make peace with the new reality of Iraq is Saudi Arabia; those most hostile are the Jordanians, the Egyptians and the Palestinians. The Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, has read the wind with accuracy; he has a Shia minority in his domain, in the oil-bearing lands of the Eastern Province, and he seems eager to cap the Wahhabi volcano in the Najdi heartland of his kingdom. There is pragmatism in that realm, and the place lives by its own coin. In contrast, Jordan and Egypt present the odd spectacle of countries heavily invested in an anti-Shia drive but with no Shia citizenry in their midst. The two regimes derive a good measure of their revenues from "strategic rent"-- the aid of foreign powers, the subsidies of Pax Americana to be exact. The threat of Shiism is a good, and lucrative, scarecrow for the rulers in Cairo and Amman. The promise of standing sentry in defense of the Sunni order is what these two regimes have to offer both America and the oil states.

The Palestinians, weaker in the scale of power and with troubles of their own, are in the end of little consequence to the strategic alignment in the region. But to the extent that their "street" and their pundits matter, they can be counted upon to view the rise of this new Iraq with reserve and outright hostility. For six decades, the Palestinians have had a virtual monopoly on pan-Arab sentiments, and the Arabic-speaking world indulged them. Iraq--its wounds, and the promise of its power and resources--has been a direct challenge to the Palestinians and to their conception of their place in the Arab scheme of things. A seam is stitched in Palestinian society between its Muslim majority and its minority Christian communities. Palestinians have little by way of exposure to the Shia. To the bitter end, the Palestinian street remained enamored of Saddam Hussein. Iraq's Shia majority has returned the favor, and has come to view the Palestinians and their cause with considerable suspicion.

For our part, the Pax Americana has not been at peace with the Shia genie it had called forth. We did not know the Shia to begin with; we saw them through the prism of our experience with Iran. Moqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad and Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut: This was the face of the new Shiism and we were spooked by it. And we were susceptible as well to the representations made to us by Arab rulers about the dangers of radical Shiism.

This was odd: We had been in the midst of a searing battle with al Qaeda and the Taliban, zealous Sunni movements, but we were still giving credence to the Arab warnings about the threat of Shiism. Nor were the Shia who would finally claim power in Iraq possessed of an appreciable understanding of American ways. Nouri al-Maliki speaks not a word of English; with years of exile in Syria behind him, he was at considerable disadvantage in dealing with the American presence in his country. He and the political class around him lacked the traffic with American diplomacy that had seasoned their counterparts in Cairo, Amman and the Arabian Peninsula. Without that intimacy, they had been given to premonitions that America could yet strike a bargain, at their expense, with the Sunni order of power.

We held aloft the banner of democracy, but in recent months our faith in democracy's possibilities in Iraq has appeared to erode, and this unnerves the Shia political class. President Bush's setback in the congressional elections gave the Iraqis legitimate cause for concern: Prime Minister Maliki himself wondered aloud whether this was the beginning of a general American retreat in Iraq. And there was that brief moment when it seemed as though the "realists" of the James Baker variety were in the midst of a restoration. The Shia (and the Kurds) needed no deep literacy in strategic matters to read the mind of Mr. Baker. His brand of realism was anathema to people who tell their history in metaphors of justice and betrayal. He was a known entity in Iraq; he had been the steward of American foreign policy when America walked away, in 1991, from the Kurdish and Shia rebellions it had called for. The political class in Baghdad couldn't have known that the Baker-Hamilton recommendations would die on the vine, and that President Bush would pay these recommendations scant attention. The American position was not transparent, and there were in the air rumors of retrenchment, and thus legitimate Iraqi fears that the American presence in Baghdad could be bartered away in some accommodation with the powers in Iraq's neighborhood.

These fears were to be allayed, but not put to rest, by the military "surge" that President Bush announced in recent days. More than a military endeavor, the surge can be seen as a declaration by the president that deliverance would be sought in Baghdad, and not in deals with the rogues (Syria and Iran) or with the Sunni Arab states. Prime Minister Maliki and the coalition that sustains his government could not know for certain if this was the proverbial "extra mile" before casting them adrift, or the sure promise that this president would stay with them for the remainder of his time in office.

But there can be no denying that with the surge the landscape has altered in Baghdad, and that Mr. Bush is invested in the Maliki government as never before. Mr. Maliki's predecessor--a man who belongs to the same political party and hails from the same traditional Shia political class--was forced out of office by an American veto and Mr. Maliki could be forgiven his suspicion that the Americans might try this again. It was known that he had never taken to the American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, and that he fully understood that American officials would rather have other Shia contenders in his post--our old standby Ayad Allawi, the current vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi, both more worldly men at ease with American ways. So if this is America's extra mile in Baghdad, it has to be traversed with a political leader whose abilities and intentions have been repeatedly called into question by American officials.

This marriage of convenience may be the best that can be hoped for. Mr. Maliki will not do America's bidding, and we should be grateful for his displays of independence. He straddles the fence between the things we want him to do--disarming the militias, walking away from Moqtada al-Sadr--and the requirements of political survival. We have been waiting for the Iraqis to assume responsibility for their own affairs and we should not be disconcerted when they take us at our word. The messages put out by American officials now and then, that Mr. Maliki is living on borrowed time, and the administered leaks of warnings he has been given by President Bush, serve only to undermine whatever goals we seek in Baghdad.

With Saddam's execution, this prime minister has made himself a power in the vast Shia mainstream. Having removed Ibrahim Jaafari from office last year, the American regency is doomed to live with Mr. Maliki, for a policy that attempts to unseat him is sure to strip Iraqis of any sense that they are sovereign in their own country. He cannot be granted a blank check, but no small measure of America's success in Iraq now depends on him. If he is to fall, the deed must be an affair of the Iraqis, and of the broad Shia coalition to be exact. He may now be able to strike at renegade elements of the Mahdi Army, for that movement that once answered to Moqtada al-Sadr and carried his banners has splintered into gangs led by bandit warlords. In our concern with Moqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army, we ought to understand the reluctance of Mr. Maliki's ruling coalition to take on the Shia militias. The terror inflicted on the Shia--an unrelenting affair of the last three years--makes it extremely difficult for a Shia-led government to disarm men who pose as defenders of a community still under brutal siege.

Boldness and despair may have come together to carry forward this new drive in Baghdad. Fear of failure often concentrates the mind, and President Bush's policy could yet find its target right as the skeptics have written off this whole project in Baghdad. Iraq has had its way of meting out disappointments at every turn, but the tide of events appears to be working in the president's favor.

There is a "balance of terror" today between the Sunni and Shia protagonists. More and more Sunni Arabs know that their old dominion is lost, and that they had better take the offer on the table--a share of the oil revenues, the promise that the constitution could be amended and reviewed, access to political power and spoils in return for reining in the violence and banishing the Arab jihadists. The Shia, too, may have to come to a time of reckoning. Their old tormentor was sent to the gallows, and a kinsman of theirs did the deed with the seal of the state. From the poor Shia slums of Baghdad, young avengers answered the Sunni campaign of terror with brutal terror of their own. The old notion--once dear to the Sunnis, and to the Shia a nagging source of fear and shame--that the Sunnis of Iraq were a martial race while the Shia were marked for lamentations and political quiescence has been broken for good.

The country has been fought over, and a verdict can already be discerned--rough balance between its erstwhile Sunni rulers and its Shia inheritors, and a special, autonomous life for the Kurds. Against all dire expectations, the all-important question of the distribution of oil wealth appears close to a resolution. The design for sharing the bounty is a "federal" one that strikes a balance between central government and regional claimants. The nightmare of the Sunni Arabs that they would be left stranded in regions of sand and gravel has been averted.

This is the country midwifed by American power. We were never meant to stay there long. Iraq will never approximate the expectations we projected onto it in more innocent times. But we should be able to grant it the gift of acceptance, and yet another dose of patience as it works its way out of its current torments. It is said that much of the war's nobility has drained out of it, and that we now fight not to lose, and to keep intact our larger position in the oil lands of the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf. This may not be the stuff of glory, but it has power and legitimacy all its own.

Mr. Ajami is a 2006 recipient of the Bradley Prize, teaches at Johns Hopkins and is author of "The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq" (Free Press, 2006).

Syria Not Helping Iraq

We have long suspected that suicide bombers have been entering Iraq from Syria. There must be some level of cooperation between Iraqis in Anbar and the suicide bombers who enter Iraq at the Syrian border. I have noticed that US officials rarely mention Jordan or Saudi Arabia when discussing suicide bombers in Iraq. In fact, this US official praises the government of Saudi Arabia for doing its 'utmost' to fight Al Qaeda. Hmmm.

Suicide bombers ‘entering Iraq from Syria’

By Daniel Dombey, Diplomatic Correspondent

Published: January 30 2007 22:08 | Last updated: January 30 2007 22:08

Dozens of al-Qaeda suicide bombers from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Sudan are crossing into Iraq from Syria every month, a senior US official said on Tuesday.

Speaking to the Financial Times in London, the official said that, while sectarian conflict now represented the biggest threat to the country, the violence was being stoked up from abroad.

“This is the most difficult challenge,” he said. “How do you bring down sectarian violence in the face of this al-Qaeda campaign to prompt sectarian violence?”

But he added that the US’s new strategy for Iraq also depended on much greater co-operation from the Iraqi government.

The US says outside actors – chiefly Syria and Iran – are still one of the biggest factors determining the level of violence in Iraq. It also portrays its recent decision to pursue Iranian operatives in Iraq as an effort to “push back” against Tehran’s increased influence in the region.

The official alleged that the vast majority of suicide bombers came across the border from Syria, and that they received training for their task within Syria as well as inside Iraq itself.

“We do not believe that there was an inevitability to the Shia-Sunni conflict on this scale,” he said, arguing that the violence had been greatly increased by al-Qaeda acts such as the bombing of the Samarra mosque last February.

He said that 75-80 per cent of the estimated 75 suicide bombings a month were carried out by foreigners, and that Saudi Arabia and Sudan were the most common countries of origin. But he emphasised that the Saudi government was doing its utmost to take on al-Qaeda.

“We have been wholly unsuccessful in affecting Syrian behaviour with regard to the passage of these elements,” the official said, adding that the countries of the region wanted to isolate Syria further.

No Arab Coverage of Shia Pilgrims' Call for Peace?

I've been looking for Arab media coverage of the calls for peace by Shia pilgrims, but I can't find any. Al Jazeera did cover today's violence in Iraq, but no mention of the calls for peace. Please leave a comment if you find anything that mentions the peace banners or Hakim's speech.

Jan. 30, 2007, 2:56PM
On Shiites' holiest day, 58 dead in Iraq

By BASSEM MROUE Associated Press Writer
© 2007 The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Bombers struck Shiite worshippers in two cities Tuesday and gunmen ambushed a busload of pilgrims in a series of attacks that killed at least 58 people as more than 2 million Shiites jammed major shrines for ceremonies marking Ashoura, the holiest day of the Shiite calendar.

The bloodshed took place despite heightened security following a battle with messianic Shiites who authorities said planned a large assault on Ashoura ceremonies. With security so intense at the main venues, extremists chose targets in smaller cities where safety measures were less stringent.

In the deadliest attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up among a crowd of worshippers entering a Shiite mosque in Mandali near the Iranian border, killing 26 people and wounding 47, according to police. At least 12 more died and 28 were wounded when a bomb exploded in a garbage can as Shiites were performing outdoor rituals in the largely Kurdish city of Khanaqin, police said.

In Baghdad, gunmen in two cars opened fire on a bus carrying pilgrims to the capital's most important Shiite shrine, killing seven and wounding seven, police said. Hours later, mortar shells rained down on two mostly Sunni neighborhoods, killing nine and wounding 30 in what police said appeared to be a reprisal attack.

One person was killed in a mortar attack on a Shiite neighborhood, police said. Two policemen were killed in a bombing in Mosul and a Shiite man was shot dead in Baghdad, police said.

But intense security prevented major violence in the Shiite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, venues for the biggest and most important Ashoura commemorations. Police found eight bodies Tuesday of people slain by sectarian death squads in Baghdad, the lowest single-day total in months.

Ashoura ceremonies mark the 7th-century death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, in a battle near Karbala that cemented the Sunni-Shiite schism. Worshippers beat themselves with chains, slice their heads with knives and pound their chests in expressions of grief over the death of Imam Hussein.

More than 1.5 million pilgrims, mostly Iraqis but from as far away as India and Pakistan, jammed the southern city of Karbala for the Ashoura commemorations, according to provincial Gov. Akeel al-Khazaali. Hundreds of thousands more joined rituals in Najaf, Baghdad and other cities.

In Karbala, all private transport was banned — including bicycles — and pilgrims had to submit to body-searches at dozens of checkpoints before reaching the two golden-domed shrines of Imam Hussein and his half brother Imam Abbas. U.S. unmanned surveillance aircraft flew over the city to look for signs of trouble, al-Khazaali said.

"Even if the terrorists tear us to pieces, we will not stop coming to visit Imam Hussein," said Abbas Karim, 27, a laborer from Nasiriyah.

Security has been tight at Ashoura commemorations since a string of bombings and suicide attacks killed at least 181 people at Shiite shrines in Baghdad and Karbala in 2004. Last year's Ashoura commemorations were largely peaceful, but suicide bombers killed 55 Shiites in 2005.

This year, fears of sectarian attacks were running high because of ongoing Sunni-Shiite violence, which surged after last February's bombing of a major Shiite shrine in the mostly Sunni city of Samarra.

Security measures were further tightened after U.S.-backed Iraqi forces fought a fierce, all-day battle last weekend with hundreds of messianic Shiites who officials said were planning to slaughter pilgrims and clerics during Ashoura commemorations in Najaf.

In Najaf, deputy Gov. Abdul-Hussein Abtan said that more than 300 militants were killed and 650 captured in the battle, which ended Monday. He said 11 Iraqi troops were killed and 30 wounded. Two U.S. soldiers died when their helicopter crashed during the fighting.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Shia Call For End to Violence

Thank you valerie at ITM:)

Shi'ite pilgrims call for end to violence in Iraq

By Sami Jumaili

KERBALA, Iraq, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Shi'ite pilgrims called for an end to sectarian killing in Iraq as they swamped the holy city of Kerbala on Monday to commemorate the death of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson in battle there 1,300 years ago.

Some of the two million black-clad pilgrims attending the annual Ashura event sought to emphasise Muslim unity and dampen the communal tensions between Sunnis and Shi'ites that have raised fears of an all-out civil war.

"Stop the bloodletting," read one banner held aloft by pilgrims; "Let us make Ashura a day for brotherhood among Iraqis," read another; "We are all Muslims," a third.

"Every Day Is Ashura"

Where Were You?

Dear Dr. X,

I had the misfortune of reading the terrible letter that you sent to Ann Clwyd. Let me begin by saying that whilst I do not by any means condone the terrible present situation in Iraq, and whilst I criticise the governments of the USA and the UK for allowing the situation to get out of hand, and for not having an exit strategy, I still believe that it is possible to bring this chaotic situation under control after crushing the remnants of the defeated Saddam’s party and his henchmen, albeit at a greater cost to all parties concerned.

Like you, I am also a Christian doctor from Iraq who has been working in this country for the last 26 years.

Unlike you, however, I and my family, have not only watched but also sensed and experienced bitterly and in person, the physical and the psychological torture and the terror that we were subjected to, at the hands of Saddam’s thugs and secret service criminals.

I am not here trying to compare your family’s situation with mine, but if your family was perhaps fortunate enough for 35 years, to enjoy the privileges of Saddam’s tyrannical and brutal reign, my family and relatives, had to escape the intimidation and the imminent danger to their lives...They fled the country in 1991 leaving behind very good jobs and homes and their livelihoods.

In doing that, we lost a member of the family. We were the lucky ones; many lost more than one member and some could not make it at all and were killed under torture or disappeared completely.

You say that all this time, you have been active in human rights...But I and many other political prisoners and detainees...have not even heard of you...Other human rights personnel, in this country and abroad, were very active in condemning the brutality of the criminal Saddam and his regime, in various publications and in mass gatherings and meetings, but we never saw you in any of those meetings nor did we hear any condemnation like that from you. So where were you all that time?

Where were you...when Saddam and his regime were arresting, torturing and killing thousands of Communists and Shia in the late 70s, 80s and 90s? Or did not that matter to you?

Where were you when he, his sons and his thugs were inventing new methods of torture, like dangling the bodies of their victims in acid baths, starting from the perineum, and pulling them in and out, so that they would die a slow and painful death; or pumping the rectum with petrol and then shooting them, so that they would burst into a ball of fire?

As a doctor, working in a human rights organisation and claiming to be one of the founders of the medical group "within that organisation" wasn't that something that stirred at least some repulsion in you to prompt you to campaign for the human rights of those people?

And what about some of Uday’s crimes? Have you written or spoken about them? Have you ever denounced him publicly, when he and his thugs, used to behead young decent women from respectable families, who would refuse to surrender to his lust, after raping them, and then throw their severed heads in front of the doors of their parents’ homes, with a message ‘whore’ displayed on their heads?

Where were you, when Saddam first used chemical weapons in 1983, during the war with Iran, and then again in 1987 and in 1988, in Halabja, or haven’t you heard of it? And where was your human rights campaign when Ali Kimyawi supervised the throwing of whole families from helicopters in Kurdistan and the throwing of shackled Shia victims, from the roofs of tall buildings in the south of the country? Wasn’t the condemning of that savagery an essential part of your human rights job?

I have not heard, or seen you, condemning Saddam’s regime, when his torturers...rape the wives, mothers and sisters, of the detained members of the Communist party, the Shia political parties and Shia religious leaders, in front of their eyes, in order to obtain forced and false confessions from them!

Didn't that incite some anger in you similar to the one that you expressed in your letter to Ann Clwyd?!

The mass graves are yet another example of the recent additions to that reign of terror. Did you do, or write, anything about that?

You say that you are a Christian doctor, where were you when Dr Habib Almalih, a Christian doctor from Ainkawa and many others were virtually cut into pieces and put in black sacks and thrown at the doorstep of their parents’ houses, forbidding them even to hold any funeral service for them?

And again, being a Christian doctor, where were you, when Saddam gave the order to wipe out and flatten to the ground, 65 Christian villages of the Assyrian community in Kurdistan and hanged four young leaders of the Assyrian democratic movement and left them, hung and strapped on the electricity poles for days, for everybody to see?

It will take several books, to write about the crimes against humanity, the vicious torture and violations of human rights, the mass murders and extra-judicial killing and the genocide that have been committed by that fascist and repressive regime, which I haven’t seen you denouncing!

Finally, in stark contrast to your shameful silence in condemning these atrocities of the criminal Saddam and his regime, in the UK and internationally, Ann Clwyd, and for the last two decades, has been one of the torch-bearers”— I include in that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn)—

“in the fight against the violations of human rights by that repressive regime.
I have therefore inevitably arrived at a conclusion that it should be you that must reconsider your position in the human rights organisation and not Ann Clwyd.”

The letter is signed Leonard H. Jacob, physician from Sheffield.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Attack on Ashoura

They have attacked Shia during Ashoura before, and it appears that this year the Iraqi and US forces have prevented at least one huge attack:

BAGHDAD, Iraq Jan 28, 2007 (AP)— 'U.S.-backed Iraqi troops on Sunday attacked insurgents allegedly plotting to kill pilgrims at a major Shiite Muslim religious festival, and Iraqi officials estimated some 250 militants died in the daylong battle near Najaf. A U.S. helicopter crashed during the fight, killing two American soldiers.'

They want to kill Sistani on Ashoura. Big prize there if they do that.

Update: Zeyad says that this was probably a Shi'i splinter group that opposes Sistani, and that the US was duped by SCIRI into attacking this group of cultists.

Fouad Ajami on Iraq

He is described by many as an Arab American neocon, but I find nothing wrong with Fouad Ajami.

Katie: 10 Questions On Iraq

Questions by Katie Couric

We’ve heard so much about Sunnis and Shia. What are the main religious differences between them? What do they have in common?

Big, complicated history. It begins with the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, leaving no male heir. The majority Sunni (literally orthodox, mainstream) community subscribed to the rule of the first three Caliphs who succeeded him. The minority movement, the Shia (literally the Partisans) of his son-in-law, Imam Ali, husband of his daughter Fatima, asserted that succession belongs to the Prophet’s family, to Ali in the first, and to the Prophet’s grandsons and their descendants. In the great civil war in the House of Islam that played out in the later years of the seventh century, the Sunni governments won, the Shia “martyrs” and oppositionists lost. In 680, The Prophet’s grandson, Imam Hussein, the hero-martyr of Shi’ism was killed in southern Iraq on the plains of Karbala. And with this, the great wound in Islam deepens forever. What Sunnis and Shia still have in common is belief in the unity of God, in the Prophet Muhammad, in the Quran. They are separated by temperament and by how they look at history.

2. Why are Sunnis and Shia politically divided? Could you tell us about the history of the two sects in Iraq?

The first question goes to the heart of this second one: They differ about legitimate power, and who should hold it. The Shia believe that power belongs to the pious, and to The Prophet’s family; the Sunnis believe that power and order have legitimacy of their own. In Iraq the Sunnis and the Shia are both Arab through and through. Iraq became a battleground between the (Sunni) Ottoman empire and the (Shia) Persian empire. The Sunnis, though a minority in Iraq, have ruled that country for centuries. The Shia were cut out of political power, and successive regimes in that country (the monarchy, the military regimes since the Revolution of 1958 that overthrew the monarchy) were based in the Sunni community. With the Shia holy cities and seminaries of Najaf and Karbala on Iraqi soil, the Shia clerics have had great say over the life of the Shia community.

3. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen what appears to be a resurgence of sectarian violence in Iraq. Why is this happening now?

The sectarian violence is precisely what the Arab Sunni jihadists have sought to trigger, in alliance with the Saddamists. Last February, they attacked the sacred Shia mosque in Samarra. The result was predictable: The Shia were drawn into the fight. And now the Shia have extremists of their own, and death squads and avengers – the boys of Moqtada al-Sadr in the slums of Baghdad.

4. Is there any hope for Sunnis and Shia to live together peacefully in a democratic Iraq? Or is the ultimate solution some way of separating them into different states—as Senator Joe Biden has proposed?

In the long run, the Sunnis and the Shia are doomed to live together. In the past Iraqis prided themselves on the high rate of inter-marriage between Sunnis and Shia – Sushi is the label so many of these people go by, for wit. Partition will not work. Baghdad can’t be divided, and the Sunnis would be stranded in regions without oil. I have great respect for Senator Biden and have talked with him at great length over the years about Iraq and other Middle Eastern subjects, but he is off target here.

5. Two Shiite mosques and five Shiite-owned businesses in Detroit were vandalized earlier this month. The head of the Michigan Council on American-Islamic Relations said that many in the community believe it was an attack by Sunnis, though this hasn’t been proven. Is there also a Sunni-Shia divide among Muslims in the United States?

There is a Sunni-Shia divide in Detroit, in Amsterdam, wherever Muslims live, alas. Detroit because of the automotive industry, and the history of labor migration by poor Lebanese Shia, may have a Shia majority, though of course in the Muslim world as a whole the Shia are a minority.

6. Qatar recently held a conference intended to bring Sunnis and Shia closer together. How do you think sectarian fighting can be curbed in Iraq and elsewhere? Does it require a military or a political solution?

The conference in Qatar is o.k. as far as it goes. The problem is that there is in Qatar a very hugely influential Sunni cleric, of Egyptian background, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, who is fairly strict and not given to kind thoughts about the Shia. The answer is both cultural and political: The Sunni Arabs will have to accept the claims of the Shia; for their part, the Shia must, with time, rid themselves of the attitude of opposition that has marked their history.

7. We know that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, honorable people. But what do you say to people who ask why almost every terrorist is a Muslim?

I say there is a painful truth here, and that one of the Arab world’s most influential and liberal journalists, the Saudi Abdulrahman al-Rashed, head of Al-Arrabiya television channel based in Dubai, bluntly observed that not all Muslims are terrorists, but all (most?) terrorists are Muslims. What is clear and indisputable is that violence and terror are on the loose in Islamic lands – and in Islamic communities in the West – and that it has religious support given it by free-lance preachers who have bent the faith to their own interpretation.

8. What motivates Islamic extremism? Is it repressive governments—the lack of democracy—as the president has said? Is it economic disadvantage?

Economic disadvantage is part of the story, but that interpretation misses a lot. The boys of 9/11 (the Egyptian Mohamed Atta, the Lebanese Ziyad Jarrah who piloted the plane forced down in Pennsylvania on that sad day) were not poor. Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden come from aristocracy and a merchant dynasty, respectively. It is, in part, the will to power, and a belief that Islam – as interpreted by these men – ought to prevail.

9. We seemed to have much of the Islamic world on our side in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Why are we now so unpopular there? Is it just Iraq, or is it more than that?

Good question, but a seductive one. We did not have the Muslim world on our side after 9/11. Huge numbers of Muslims believed we got our comeuppance on that day, while others were embarrassed. Iraq complicated our lives, but the American position in Islamic lands was never brilliant to begin with. We befriend the rulers in the Arab world, and we are caught in the crossfire between the rulers and populations that resent them but can’t overthrow them. We are the perfect scapegoat for every problem under the sun. Anti-Americanism is the weapon of mass distraction, a clever man once said.

10. What is the biggest misconception Americans have about Islam?

People think that Islam is on the boil, overly political. But for the vast majority not caught up in radicalism and sectarian violence, it is a faith that provides solace and comfort, people still go on pilgrimage, give alms to the poor, turn to Islam for meaning, for a bit of shade, if you will, in a turbulent Islamic world. From Indonesia in the east to Morocco in the Western-most land of Islam, there are 1.2 billion Muslims. There is fanaticism among a dangerous minority, and ordinary life for the vast, silent majority.

The Arab Jew

What emotions does this image evoke in you? When I first saw this as a thumbnail, I thought it was some kind of provocative cartoon designed to enrage Arabs or Jews - it reminded me of another photo of a Star of David drawn on the forehead of a fallen statue of Saddam Hussein, but then I looked at the full size image and remembered that Iraq had a sizable Jewish community for thousands of years.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Dangers of Being Shi'i on Haifa St.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The body of a well-known Shiite boxer was found Friday in central Baghdad near the dangerous street where he was kidnapped earlier this week, police said.

Hassan Hadi, 42, had been hanged, police said.

The father of two was en route Monday to a spare parts store that he owns when the attackers intercepted his car and abducted him, police said.

Police said Hadi was seized while traveling on Haifa Street, a Sunni insurgent stronghold on the west bank of the Tigris River about a mile north of the Green Zone, site of the U.S. and British embassies as well as the Iraqi government headquarters.

The area was the scene of fierce clashes between insurgents and U.S.-Iraqi forces just two days later.

An official with the Youth and Sports Ministry said no ransom had been demanded and stressed that Hadi was not linked with any political party.

Hadi fought for al-Zawraa, Iraq's biggest sports club.

Athletes and sports officials have increasingly become targets of threats, kidnappings and assassination attempts, either as part of retaliatory violence between Shiites and Sunnis, or for ransom.

In December, gunmen abducted the Sunni head of one of Iraq's leading soccer clubs.

A blind Iraqi athlete and Paralympics coach also were kidnapped last year but were released unharmed after sports officials said their abductors determined neither was linked to the Sunni insurgency.

An Iraqi international soccer referee also was abducted in the fall as he left the soccer association's offices. The kidnappers reportedly demanded a $200,000 ransom.

Not Every Iraqi Who Worked For Saddam is Bad

I don't think that Saddam's Minister of Finance was responsible for violent crimes against the Iraqi people.  He does not deserve this. 

Former Saddam-Era Official Now Begs in Streets
Says He'd Rather be Dead After Losing Family, Friends, Home, Money
Posted 2 hr. 10 min. ago
Street Beggar Mustafa Bakri
© Photo by Afif Sarhan/IRIN
Street Beggar Mustafa Bakri

BAGHDAD, 25 Jan 2007 (IRIN) - "I'm a 57-year-old former Ba'athist official at the Ministry of Finance where I was earning a very good salary. I originally came from al-Qaim city in Anbar province. I graduated in economics.

"I had a wife and two lovely children – a son and a daughter. Our home was an extravagant villa and we used to eat the best food you could find in Baghdad.

"I used to buy new jewellery for my wife and daughter practically every month and I used to get my wife and all my children the best clothes and shoes.

"Whenever my son got good marks in college I would reward him with a holiday to neighbouring countries. And when he graduated from Medical College in 1999, I gave him plenty of money and arranged for him to tour Europe.

"That was my life before the US-led invasion, a life of luxury. But when the regime fell, I lost everything I had.

"My wife, Nawal, who was 46, my daughter Sundus, who was 24, and my mother were all killed in an air-strike on my father's house in Mansour, one of Baghdad's most respectable districts.

"My son Abbas, who was 26, was killed three weeks later with his wife and their two children when they drove into a closed street. The Americans killed everyone in the car because they thought they were terrorists.

"I do not even have a place to live having lost my house in Arassat, a wealthy part of Baghdad, during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Our house was totally looted by thieves and even the flowers and trees in our magnificent garden were pulled out or destroyed by vandals. Then the transitional government confiscated the house because of my Ba'athist past.

"Since then, I have been without a family, a home, money or work. When I was looking for a job in the government, they realised that I was a former Ba'athist and laughed at me. They told me to run before they called the Americans to arrest me.

"I started to live in the streets and to beg for food and water after it dawned on me that I had no one who could help me. Even my friends had turned their backs on me and other friends fled Iraq before and after the war.

"It is an embarrassing situation. I don't have a change of clothes and, sometimes, I have to go one or two weeks without a shower.

"It is hard for a man like me to have to beg in the streets and to scavenge in rubbish bins for discarded food, drinking dirty water and sleeping on street corners without a blanket or a jacket.

"I never imagined that one day I was going to be a street beggar after all that I had until four years ago.

"Maybe I'm paying for being one of Saddam's followers but during his time there was no option and if you didn't support him, you could end up dead.

"I miss my family and my old life. These days I'm alone and I live like an animal. Sometimes I pray to God to make someone blow himself up near me so that I may die, because it must be better in hell than my present life."

Friday, January 26, 2007

The 'Brutality' of Iraqi Soldiers

This is interesting. Channel 4 News of the UK has obtained a video that shows Iraqi soldiers (no doubt Shia) beating three Sunni Arab men who were caught with mortars in their cars. The beating took place in the Sunni Arab neighborhood of Amriya, the same neighborhood my uncles lived in for decades until they received letters from the 'mujahideen' in the summer of 2005 threatening to kill them if they did not leave. The video is being circulated on other blogs and through comments, and many people are pointing to this video as evidence of the brutality of Iraqi soldiers against Sunni Arabs. One commentator on another blog called it a 'genocide' of Sunni Arabs, with American complicity.

Later in the video they show the body of a 16 year old Shii in a formerly mixed neighborhood of west Baghdad. Apparently that's not as brutal as an Iraqi Army soldier beating up Sunni Arabs caught with mortars. After that a Sunni Arab man, married to a Shii woman, is shown talking to US soldiers in Amriya about a letter he received from Sunni insurgents saying that they must leave (final warning!) or the mujahideen will cut out their tongues, behead them, and eradicate their entire family. The letter was signed in the name of 'Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate' by four Sunni militia groups. It makes me wonder if people who are trying to use this as evidence of the brutality against Sunni Arabs by Iraqi soldiers have seen the entire video. Even the title of the YouTube video (Shia Iraqi soldier beat Sunnis as US trainers watch) suggests that the person who uploaded the video did not watch the whole thing. So if you watch this, watch ALL of it!

Having said this, I'm glad that people are hodling the Iraqi Army to high standards.

Insurgents: 'Death Sentence' for Iraqi Journalist

The Baathi and Wahabi scum do not tolerate dissenting views, never have. I am amazed that they carry out their criminal actions in the name of God! It should not be a surprise, as they've been doing this for many years, but I still have a hard time understanding these people when they sign their murderous threats with 'In the name of God the Compassionate the Merciful.' It is really bizarre.

Insurgents: "Death Sentence" for Iraqi Journalist
As Report Surfaces that Another Iraqi Journalist Kidnapped
Posted 1 hr. 37 min. ago

Armed group issues “death sentence” against an Iraqi journalist

Baghdad, Jan 26, (VOI) – An armed group in Diala issued a death sentence against a journalist in the Iraqi province while another journalist in Baghdad was kidnapped by gunmen 12 days ago, organizations defending press freedom said on Friday. “The so called religious court of an armed group in Baaquba, capital city of Diala province, issued a death sentence against journalist Ali Abdul-Sattar al-Hejjiya who is the deputy director of Diala branch of the Iraqi Society for Defending Journalists Rights,” the society said in a statement. The Iraqi Society for Defending Journalists Rights is a non-governmental body. “Leaflets and posters carrying the picture of colleague Hejjiya along with the death sentence were distributed in Baaquba and the (group) demanded its terrorist elements to carry out the death sentence once they find him,” the statement, received by the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI), quoted eyewitnesses as saying. The statement said that Hejjiya has previously survived several assassination and kidnapping attempts and his house in Baaquba was recently robbed and burnt up by several elements of the armed group. The society demanded the Iraqi government to “turn its words into actions and work to protect the journalists and writers who have become a target of assassinations, forced evictions and harassment.” Meanwhile, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory on Friday revealed that unidentified gunmen kidnapped a journalist in Baghdad’s al-Daawa daily newspaper 12 days ago; raising the number of kidnapped Iraqi journalists whose fate is still unknown to six journalists. “Unidentified gunmen stormed the home of journalist Karim Sabri Sharar al-Rubaie and took him at gun point to an unknown destination. He has been kidnapped for 12 days,” the observatory said in a statement received by VOI. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory is a non-governmental organization that monitors violations and aggressions against media workers in Iraq. Rapporteurs sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders), in a report published on its web site at the end of 2006, said that Iraq, for the fourth year in a row, is considered the most dangerous place for media professionals. The RSF report said 64 journalists and media assistants were killed in 2006 while the total number of journalists killed since the onset of Iraq war in 2003 reached 139 journalists, more than the number of journalists reportedly killed in the 20-year Vietnam War, 63.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Thomas Friedman

Many people don't like Thomas Friedman, but it's hard to ignore him when he's spot on.

Martin Luther Al-King?
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
The New York Times

By Thomas L. Friedman

It's hard to know what's more disturbing: the barbaric sectarian murders by Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, or the deafening silence with which these mass murders are received in the Muslim world. How could it be that Danish cartoons of Muhammad led to mass violent protests, while unspeakable violence by Muslims against Muslims in Iraq every day evokes about as much reaction in the Arab-Muslim world as the weather report? Where is the Muslim Martin Luther King? Where is the "Million Muslim March" under the banner: "No Shiites, No Sunnis: We are all children of the Prophet Muhammad."

I can logically understand the lack of protest when Muslims kill Americans in Iraq. We're seen as occupiers by many. But I can't understand how the mass slaughter of 70 Baghdad college students last week by Sunni suicide bombers or the blowing up of a Shiite mosque on the first day of Ramadan in 2005 evoke so little response. Every day it's 100 more.

I raise this question because the only hope left for Iraq - if there is any - is not in a U.S. counterinsurgency strategy. That may be necessary, but without a Muslim counternihilism strategy that delegitimizes the mass murder of Muslims by Muslims, there is no hope for decent politics there. It takes a village, and right now the Muslim village is mute. It has no moral voice
when it comes to its own.

"The Koran describes the Prophet Muhammad as a Prophet of Mercy," said Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani-born director of Boston University's Center for International Relations. "Muslims begin all their acts, including worship, with the words: `In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful.' The Koran also says, `To you, your faith, and to me, mine.' But unfortunately, these mercy-focused, peacemaking ideas are lost [today] in the overall discourse in the Muslim world about reviving lost glory and setting right the injustice of Western domination. .

"For a Muslim Martin Luther King to emerge, Muslim discourse would have to shift away from the focus on power and glory and include taking responsibility as a community for our own situation."

In fairness, for a Martin Luther King to emerge requires some free space, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the courageous Egyptian democracy campaigner, remarked to me. But right now many liberals in the Arab world are in one way or another under house arrest by their regimes. "While Islamists in Egypt have access to thousands of mosques and can meet with their followers five times a day," Mr. Ibrahim said, liberal members of his own institute "can barely move in Cairo, let alone organize a march."

The Arab regimes want America to believe that there are only two choices: Islamists and the regimes, so it will side with the regimes.

This is one reason Mr. Ibrahim hopes the Islamists will take up the democratic agenda. They could carry it to the masses. One of the most popular Islamist leaders in the Arab world today, he notes, is Hezbollah's Sheik Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon. Up to now, though, the leaders of Hezbollah and Hamas seem to prefer being of pawns of Syria and Iran than agents of democratic change and Muslim reconciliation.

There's a lot at stake. If Iraq is ultimately unraveled by Muslim suicide-nihilism, it certainly will be a blot on our history - we opened this Pandora's box. But it will be a plague on the future of the whole Arab world.

If Arab Muslims can summon the will to protest only against the insults of "the foreigner" but never the injuries inflicted by their own on their own, how can they ever generate a modern society or democracy - which is all about respecting and protecting minority voices and unorthodox views? And if Sunnis and Shiites can never form a social contract to rule themselves – and will always require an iron-fisted dictator - decent government will forever elude them.

The brutally honest Syrian-born poet Ali Ahmad Said, known as Adonis, gave an interview from Paris on March 11, 2006, with Dubai TV, and warned of what's at stake (translation by Memri):

"The Arab individual is no less smart, no less a genius, than anyone else in the world. He can excel - but only outside his society. . If I look at the Arabs, with all their resources and great capacities, and I compare what they have achieved over the past century with what others have achieved in that period, I would have to say that we Arabs are in a phase of extinction, in the sense that we have no creative presence in the world. .

"We have the quantity. We have the masses of people, but a people becomes extinct when it no longer has a creative capacity, and the capacity to change its world"

Surging Toward Iran

A very good interview with Ali Allawi (thanks Z!).  This man seems to be very sharp and is not afraid to tell the truth.  The first part of the interview (page 1) deals with the surge of troops and a US confrontation with Iran, which I agree with, especially this part:

'So it is not normal, let's say, that Iraq should adopt the US security agenda as it relates to Iran and make it its own. Iran is a neighbor - we can't really overlook the fact there are links of geography, of history, of common religion, and so on. The relationship that Iraq needs to have with Iran has to be an independent, neighborly relationship based on the mutual interests of both countries, not necessarily subject to the strategic imperatives of the US government.

But we have now, I think, been confronted with the Iraqi government having the support of the United States being withdrawn if it does not, as it were, toe the line when it comes to Iran, and especially if it does not toe the line with the administration's interpretation as to Iranian meddling in internal Iraqi affairs.'

Then I found page 2 and 3 to resonate with me even more:

Hanging Saddam Hussein
NIO: What is your view of the recent executions of top Ba'ath officials? Will they aid or detract from reconciliation in your view?

AA: There's no question about the degree of the criminality of these former leaders of Iraq and the way that they used the most oppressive and violent means to maintain themselves in power. There's no question that these people were culpable and were tried - albeit the environment of the Iraqi special tribunals was somewhat chaotic. But nevertheless, these people were convicted, tried mainly fairly, although chaotically, and found guilty.

The question is whether they should have been executed given the extent of the sectarian conflict and heightened sectarian tensions in Iraq, as well the broader Middle East. My own estimate is that Saddam should have been tried for the other crimes for which he was indicted - including the crimes against the population of the south, after the failure of the uprising [in 1991] - so that it becomes clear to all the nature of the crimes of this regime. And even if the trials took maybe another year or two or three, it doesn't matter.

But I think the way that the executions were handled basically subverted the purpose of putting Saddam on trial. So the manner of his death has overwhelmed the litany of crimes that he had committed and it became his legacy. People at the height of sectarian violence remember the way he comported himself in his last minutes, rather than the decades of oppression and violence and criminality with which he ruled the country.

I think, as it were, the cat is out of the bag now. Having executed Saddam in this way for the first set of the offenses for which he was convicted, it's very difficult, I think, to stop the execution bandwagon - which will increase tensions, I'm afraid.

NIO: And why do you think he was not tried for those other crimes?

AA: Well, there are a number of reasons, I think. One of them was the fear on the part of senior Iraqi ministers that the United States might spring him. I don't mean spring him and set him free, but maybe take him outside of the country. There was a fear about that.

The second reason, I think - I would call these negative reasons - is that the government wanted to appear to be strong and decisive. On the positive side, you can say that they had met what they thought were the legal requirements for the execution, therefore it was something pro forma - although I don't pay much credence to that because this is not a pro forma trial, neither is it your usual criminal.

But I think it has to do with the first two reasons, that fear that he may, one way or another, be taken out of the country as part of some deal that the United States may have struck with other countries in the area and the desire to appear decisive and strong.
Cornering the Mehdi Army
NIO: You have discussed in the past a strategy that involves accommodating the groups that have de facto power in Iraq, such as the Mehdi Army [of Muqtada al-Sadr], while also limiting their demands and claims. How can this be achieved, and do you believe that Washington would give and sustain support for such an outreach, given the expected criticisms that Baghdad, with US support, would be coddling the so-called "bad guys"?

AA: Well, the Mehdi Army is part of a movement. It's true, parts of it are undisciplined, parts of it have turned to criminality, but they form part of a political movement that has very strong street support. Under normal conditions I would say these people account for up to 70% of the Shi'ite street, as it were. We're talking about 6 [million], 7 million people whose political representation takes on various forms. Politically, they're part of the Sadrist movement, in terms of militias, various elements of the Mehdi Army.

Now you can't really confront the Mehdi Army without taking on the entire panoply of the Shi'ite groups, or the large lower-class elements of the Shi'ites that support this movement. It's a mass movement. So you can't just excise parts of it and assume that the others will just fall in line. They may not do so. I think it's a very shortsighted strategy just to take on the external manifestations of the Sadrist movement without trying to accommodate it one way or another in a political process.

NIO: And you think it is possible to accommodate but also limit their demands at the same time?

AA: I can't say they have a coherent political program. They don't. They are a large group of people who have borne the brunt of the deprivations of the Saddam regime in the 1990s. Very little attention was paid to them politically prior to the overthrow of the regime, and even the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] I know had nothing but contempt for them.

Still, these people are trying to create a presence for themselves politically. In regards to whether they are by and large supportive of the invasion - well, they're not. But they have to be represented

politically and over time you can begin to deal with their more responsible leaders and wean them into the political process. But if you force them into a corner, you're basically declaring war on a very large percentage of the Shi'ite population of Iraq.

The end of the state
NIO: To what degree would a highly decentralized federal government in Iraq feed Iraqi concerns - rooted in the colonial era - about outsiders dividing and weakening the state? And if security were also decentralized, as you have recommended in the past, wouldn't minorities remain quite vulnerable?

AA: I believe that the Iraqi state that was constructed so laboriously after World War I has come to an end, simply because it has ended up being occupied and has been responsible for great instability in the area and a great deal of domestic violence and oppression. So the state came to an end when the United States invaded the country and broke open, as it were, all the possibilities that Iraq could evolve into the future.

From that premise, the geopolitical unit that was created in the early 1920s had now ended. We now have to come up with a different formulation and we have to deal with the requirements of the major constituent groups as to how they see their role in this state, in this new country, assuming it maintains its geographic and geopolitical boundaries.

From that point of view, it's very difficult to re-establish a centralized state, given the great deal of fear and hostility that exists between various communities and also given the fact that something like 25% of your population and territory is already effectively outside the control of the central state.

So we have to really reconsider this. I suppose it's like the United States when it started - there was a great deal of devolution of power to the states and only after a period of time some federal institutions emerged. I think you have to start with that premise.

The various component groups of Iraq now feel far more vulnerable than they had, say, 20 or 30 years ago. They have gone through a very traumatic post-Ba'athist period in the last four years and we have to rebuild and reknit the sinews, as it were, of a unitary society and state. Now, you can't do that under conditions of great turmoil. So when you refer to the minorities, there are minorities in Iraq outside of the three main blocs, but none of them, I think, are sufficiently large to warrant their own territorial unit. I mean I can't imagine a unit for, let's say, the Iraqi Christians or the Turkomans.

So you have to work within decentralized areas. When you devolve power this way, you basically assume, or expect, that security will be provided at the local level. As you try to build up towards a central and federal arrangement, then you have to be prepared to cede part of power to the center. But until all groups are prepared to cede that, the center can't reimpose its will on the parts.

NIO: And in areas that are multi-ethnic, say Baghdad, Kirkuk, is there anything specific you would propose there?

AA: Well, it's not a cut-and-dried process. I think you have to start - I mean, Baghdad can be turned into a territory with its own government and its own regional powers over and above that of the federal region. Or maybe Baghdad may be divided into three cities. I mean, it is already. Sadr City itself is probably as big as the rest of Baghdad, just by itself. It may very well warrant that it should be incorporated as a city, in which case the capital, excluding Sadr City, might become part of a workable administrative unit.

So you have to think a little outside the box, but the plan should be towards creating not necessarily homogeneous units, but units that are large enough to be self-sustaining, to have the appropriate administrative and security machinery, and, at the same time, not have so many fault lines that create or exacerbate tensions.

And I think this should be monitored by some kind of international force after - with the United States' agreement, obviously - after this thing is headed to a transition, to a new situation.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Disintegration of Iraq

This is a good article, although I disagree that 'there were no instances of "refusal to fight Shi'ite brothers." [in Iran]' Many Iraqis did not want to fight in the war, and many Iraqi soldiers defected or simply hid with relatives inside Iraq.

'While the vision of turning Kurds into Iraqis, following every nation-state's inherent logic that all inhabitants should be members of the nation, may always have been a pipedream - the question "Why, after World War I, did everyone else get a state except us Kurds?" would never have gone away and a harking back to a glorious Arab past held little appeal for Kurds -, among the Arab population the feeling of being Arab/Iraqi first and member of some ethno-sectarian group second developed so far that in greater towns and cities mixed marriages became common and children didn't even know what denomination their parents had. Baghdad, and with it also Iraq, became one of the centers of a secular Arab culture that found its expressions in literature, music, and visual arts.

The Kurds, while not giving up on the goal of attaining an independent Kurdistan at some point in the future, were willing to accept a form of autonomy within Iraq, which eventually may well have developed into a kind of Iraqi-Kurdish civic identity. However, the beginnings of the Arabization project in the early 1970s - answering the Kurdish revolts of the 1960s and trying to counterbalance the 1970 Autonomy Agreement - and the repression after the 1975 Algiers Agreement showed that the central government saw itself as Arab and treated the Iraqi citizens of Kurdish ethnicity primarily as a disloyal (Kurdish) ethnic group within the boundaries of the (Arab) Iraqi nation. Subsequent actions on both sides only hardened the rift and resulted in a complete separation of Kurdish and Arab inhabitants of Iraq - in large part physically, but even in mixed areas (like Baghdad) at least on the level of identification and perception of oneself and others.

Also in 1975, the Iraqi government banned the annual (Shi'ite) procession from Najaf to Karbala as part of the policy against the (Shi'ite Islamist) Da'wa Party, leading to the Safar Intifada in 1977 and the arrest and, in 1980, execution of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, the leading Shi'ite religious figure in Iraq. However, while these events certainly protracted Shi'ite religious opposition to the Ba'th regime, they did not result in a widespread, popular alienation of Iraqi Shi'ites. This is best evidenced by the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran War: The Iraqi regime's stylization of the conflict as "Arab vs. Persian", through the usage of such symbols as "The Battle of Qadisiya", seems to have worked as rank and file of the Iraqi army, most of them Shi'ites, fought well and there were no instances of "refusal to fight Shi'ite brothers." The Iranian attempts to induce Shi'ite Iraqis to put sectarian before national identity, such the usage of Shi'ite religious symbols like "Karbala", did not produce any tangible results.

By 1991 this situation had clearly changed. General exhaustion from the Iraq-Iran War and the - for Iraqi citizens - surprising collapse of the Iraqi military during the liberation of Kuwait by allied forces paved the ground for the popular support of revolts in the (Kurdish) north and (Shi'ite) south of the country. While the uprisings in the South were not couched in religious terms, it was Shi'ite Islamist groups (Da'wa and SCIRI) who provided organizational structures and leadership. The Iraqi central government, having started to adopt Islamic symbolism (for ex. the phrase "Allahu Akbar" in the flag), treated the 1991 uprisings in the South and Center as Shi'ite revolts. Just as Iraqi citizens of Kurdish descent were perceived as "Kurds", now the citizens who happened to fall under the category "Shi'ites" were primarily treated as members of that community and Shi'ite religious personae were seen and treated as community leaders. This official policy emphasized communal over national or civic identity, enhanced any already existing perceptional differences between the members of various religious communities, and made Iraqis of Shi'ite background more susceptible to Shi'ite communalist ideas. Saddam's policy of elevating his relatives and others who hailed from the area of his hometown Tikrit to high offices enhanced the Sunni Arab slant of the regime.'

Securing Baghdad

Alaa the Mesopotamian has made a few suggestions on how to improve the security situation in Baghdad. Alaa has long argued that the US military should focus its efforts on securing Baghdad, and the goal should have been from the beginning to make Baghdad one big Green Zone. It's too bad that US military strategists were not reading Alaa the Mesopotamian two years ago and taking him seriously. Here are a few of Alaa's key recommendations:

'4- Lock down of the city of Baghdad at carefully studied points. The question as to where Baghdad boundaries actually are, is a crucial matter and requires very careful strategic consideration. For instance, should Abu Graib, be within or outside the protected periphery? This hotbed area is one of the havens of terrorism and the source of much of the action that afflicts central Baghdad. Likewise are the areas nearer to the center in West Baghdad. The objective is to work towards the goal of “Green Zone Baghdad” that I have proposed long time ago.

5- Recognition of the main threat and avoidance of engaging in secondary efforts that can only distract from the main objectives and open up unnecessary fronts that only serve to increase the risk to the troops and divert their attention. This point, I mention specifically concerning Shiite areas and the so-called Sadrists. These are not the main threat, and could be dealt with politically. Of course they must be controlled, but I believe the task is more political and social than military there.

6- Respect of the lives [Alaa's cousin was recently killed by US troops - apparently they thought he was a suicide bomber] and property of ordinary citizen, and adoption of the principle of courteous and respectful approach to searches and information gathering. Avoid breaking of furniture and the various acts of vandalism, not to mention downright theft, that have been so common.

7- To distinguish community and tribal leaders in each area and convoke them before embarking on action in any neighborhood. Saddam was very effective using this method, holding these leaders responsible for what happens in their communities, recompensing them generously when cooperative otherwise punishing them severely when things go wrong.

8- Recognition that there are virtually closed neighborhoods completely under “insurgent” control (the Sods) where they can rig their car bombs, suicide men, I.E.D’s etc. etc. with complete impunity, especially after the thorough ethnic and sectarian cleansing that is almost completed by now. These areas comprise many parts of West Baghdad, Adhamiya, and in the entirety of the farmland belt around Baghdad etc. Unless there is preparedness and determination to go into these areas clean them and hold them, there is little chance of success.

These are just a few points purely on the military technical side, which does not mean that we underestimate the other more important political, sociological and economic factors, but these require volumes of research which is not within my capability at the present. But still the points above are of urgency in the immediate short term.' --Alaa

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Iraqi Stamps

This is an interesting presentation of Iraqi stamps. One of them (dated 1988) shows Saddam Hussein over a map of the Arab nation and the words "Victorious Iraq". He thought he was victorious in 1991 too.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The deadliest bomb attacks in Iraq

CHRONOLOGY-The deadliest bomb attacks in Iraq
Mon 22 Jan 2007 17:13:45 GMT

Jan 22 (Reuters) - Two simultaneous car bombs tore through a busy market in central Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 88 people, Iraqi police said.

Here is a list of some of the deadliest bomb attacks in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003:

Aug. 19, 2003 - A truck bomb wrecks U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing 22 people, including U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Aug. 29, 2003 - A car bomb kills at least 83 people, including top Shi'ite Muslim leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, at the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf.

Feb. 1, 2004 - 117 people are killed when two suicide bombers blow themselves up in Arbil at the offices of the two main Kurdish factions in northern Iraq.

Feb. 10, 2004 - Suicide car bomb rips through a police station in Iskandariya, south of Baghdad, killing 53.

Feb. 11, 2004 - Suicide car bomb explodes at an Iraqi army recruitment centre in Baghdad, killing 47.

March 2, 2004 - 171 people are killed in twin attacks in Baghdad and Kerbala.

Dec. 19, 2004 - A suicide car bomb blast in Najaf, 300 metres from the Imam Ali shrine, kills 52 and wounds 140.

Feb. 28, 2005 - A suicide car bomb attack in Hilla, south of Baghdad, kills 125 people and wounds 130. It was postwar Iraq's worst single blast.

July 16, 2005 - A suicide bomber in a fuel truck near a Shi'ite mosque in the town of Mussayib, near Kerbala, kills 98.

Sept. 14, 2005 - A suicide bomber kills 114 people and wounds 156 in a Shi'ite district of Baghdad.

Sept. 29, 2005 - 98 people are killed in three coordinated car bomb attacks in the mixed Shi'ite and Sunni town of Balad.

Nov. 18, 2005 - At least 74 people are killed and 150 wounded when suicide bombers blow themselves up inside two Shi'ite mosques in Khanaqin.

Jan. 5, 2006 - Two suicide bombers kill over 120 people and wound more than 200 in the cities of Kerbala and Ramadi. Fifty-three were killed and 148 wounded in Kerbala and 70 killed and 65 wounded in Ramadi.

July 1, 2006 - A car bomb attack at a crowded market in Sadr city, a Shi'ite district of eastern Baghdad, kills 62 and wounds 114. The Supporters of the Sunni People, a previously unknown Iraqi Sunni Muslim group claim responsibility.

July 18, 2006 - Fifty-nine people are killed by a suicide bomb in Kufa, near Najaf, in an attack claimed by al Qaeda.

Aug. 10, 2006 - Thirty-five people are killed and 90 injured by bomb blasts near the Imam Ali shrine in southern city of Najaf. The Jamaat Jund al-Sahaba (Soldiers of the Prophet's Companions) group claims responsibility.

Nov. 23, 2006 - Six car bombs in different parts of the Sadr City neighbourhood of Baghdad kill 202 people and wound 250.

Dec. 12, 2006 - A suicide bomber kills 70 people and wounds at least 236 in Tayran Square, in central Baghdad after luring a crowd of labourers to his vehicle with promises of work.

Jan. 16, 2007 - A car bomb and suicide bomber strikes the Mustansiriya University in central Baghdad killing at least 70 people and wounding 180.

Jan. 22, 2007 - A double car bombing at a second-hand goods market in Bab al-Sharji, a busy commercial area in central Baghdad, kills 88 people and wounds 160.

Who Killed Americans in Kerbela?

Who Done It?

Did Shia or Sunni Militias Kill Americans in Karbala?

By NIR ROSEN 01/21/2007 6:47 PM ET
On the afternoon of Saturday the 20th of January, Karbala was shaken by the sounds of fourteen explosions. Although the Mahdi Army, the Shia militia controlled by Muqtada al Sadr was blamed for the attack on Americans as they were meeting with local officials in the city, Mahdi Army officials have insisted to IraqSlogger sources that this is not true. They have strict orders not to attack Americans even in self defense. Rumors circulating in Karbala are that three to seven sports utility vehicles full of Sunni militiamen attacked the American vehicles. It is believed that the Sunni militiamen had fake identification papers issued by the Multi-National Forces and no checkpoint could stop them because they thought they were Americans. It is even claimed that they had some English speakers with them. They were said to have fled to Hilla following the attack.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Al Qaeda On Iraq

"It's a success story for al-Qaeda, a success story for autocratic Arab regimes that made democracy look ugly in their people's eyes. They can say to their people: 'Look at the democracy that the Americans want to bring to you. Democracy is trouble. You may as well forget about what the Americans promise you. They promise you death,' " said Salameh Nematt, a Jordanian analyst and the former Washington bureau chief for the Arabic-language daily newspaper al-Hayat.

Seyid Hassan Nasrallah on Iraq

Many Arabs have called for Seyid Hassan Nasrallah to speak out against the violence in Iraq.  The famous Seyid Hassan has spoken (thanks CSS). I do not agree with him saying ' We believe that the salvation of Iraq begins with the adoption of the armed resistance and struggle against the forces of the occupation."  However, he has these wise words:

"I ask all the Sunni brothers in the Arab and Islamic Worlds, no matter what their reaction was to the circumstances of the execution of the ex-Iraqi President; whether they have a position against the ruling on principle, or whether they have a different assessment of the personality of the man (Saddam). Or those who had a problem with the timing or the circumstances of the execution, whatever their assessment is, I ask them to place the responsibility on the side that did the execution, and not place the responsibility on all the Shias in Iraq and the rest of the world. Let us agree on a principle, and let us say that if I made a mistake "I made a mistake", and not all the Shias in the world. And if Doctor X or Sheikh Y committed an error, it is their fault, and not that of all Sunnis. That is how we should proceed if we have a regard for the Arab and Islamic and national interests."  

Hizbullah's Leader on Iraq

Posted 0 hr. 39 min. ago

Seyid Hassan Nasrallah
Seyid Hassan Nasrallah

'On Friday the 19th of January, Lebanese Hizbullah's Secretary General Seyid Hassan Nasrallah was interviewed by Seyid Hassan Nasrallah Arab Satellite channel al Manar that is supported by his movement.

Although the bulk of his interview focused on internal Lebanese politics, Hizbullah perceives the conflict in Lebanon as part of a wider American project for the "New Middle East" that also includes the occupation of Palestine and Iraq. Just as American policy in Lebanon cannot be divorced from its wider policy in the Middle East or the Muslim world, so too is the increasing sectarianism in Lebanon linked to the civil war in Iraq and its effects on relations between Sunnis and Shias in the region.

The American government has accused Hizbullah of supporting the Mahdi Army militia in Iraq, arming and training the Shia footsoldiers of Muqtada al Sadr. They have offered no proof however, and given the pattern of American statements on Iraq, it must be treated with extreme skepticism. American and British officials accused Hizbullah of sending members to Iraq during the 2003 American war that overthrew Saddam Hussein. They later accused Hizbullah of doing so again in 2004 and most recently in late 2006, when Hizbullah's victory in the July war in Lebanon put it under the American crosshairs once more.

When the American military besieged and attacked the holy Shia city of Najaf in May 2004, Seyid Hassan offered assistance to Muqtada's Shia resistance fighters. Muqtada al Sadr recently proclaimed his allegiance to Hizbullah during the Israeli war on Lebanon in July of 2006. Muqtada has been seeking to emulate Seyid Hassan's movement and leadership style since his rise to power in April 2003. His supporters sold posters showing Muqtada together with Seyid Hassan and modeled their militia on Hizbullah, though unsuccessfully, since unlike Hizbullah, the Mahdi Army is sectarian and engages in attacks against civilians.'