observations and analysis on everything under the Iraqi sun, by Ayad Rahim (ayadrahim@hotmail.com), host of The Ayad Rahim Show, a program about the war we're in, exploring the Arab world, Islam, terrorism and Iraq, with insiders who are honest about their world and outsiders with special insight: http://wjcu.org/media

Monday, May 31, 2004

I went to the spot of this afternoon's car bombing. Not exactly, the spot, but close enough -- maybe ten yards (meters) away.

When the electricity went down at the office, at five o'clock, I asked my uncle to pick me up and take me to an internet cafe. He had to go to his daughter's house, in Harthiyya, the area of the bombing, to see if she wanted to come back with him -- her phone was down, although I don't think either thing had to do with the bombing. She told him that a few neighbors' windows blew out. I was surprised that none of hers did. My uncle said that at his house, my bedroom door shook. After leaving his daughter's house, I asked if we could get closer to the bomb-site. We made a wide U, through the side streets, back towards the main street of Harthiyya, Kindi Street. That's where the bombing was, and not on Kindi Bridge, as an officemate reported -- there is no such thing as a Kindi bridge. Nor was it very close to the party headquarters of Ayad Allawi, the newly designated prime minister. His headquarters are on a street called Zaytoon, which is parallel to Kindi. Advancing on Kindi Street, we saw at the intersection a couple of American humvees, one on each side of the median strip, blocking entry to the road. Soldiers aboard were at the ready, and a coule of soldiers were standing alert on the street. There were a few civilians, milling around. We got about 10 yards from the main street, and I wanted to get closer, to greet the soldiers, but my uncle had already started turning the car around. I've been warned, too, that people aren't as friendly with the Americans as they used to be, and there are those who watch who is friendly, so they could take reprisal actions.
A woman who went to medical school with Ayad Allawi, the newly designated prime minister of Iraq, reports on "this big, husky man."
The Baath party union leader, who carried a gun on his belt and frequently brandished it terrorizing the medical students, was a poor student and chose to spend his time standing in the school courtyard or chasing female students to their homes.
A news piece about the makeup of the Iraqi government taking shape. It features a couple of additions to what I've already written.
A nice historical backgrounder on ruling Iraq, from one of the top Middle East experts, David Pryce-Jones, from the pages of National Review, 13 months ago.
Continuing, with talk of government. The U.S. and the U.N. are apparently still exerting pressure on Ghazi Mish'al Ajeel al-Yawer to withdraw from the race for president, to cede the position to Dr. Adnan al-Pachachi (article and interview). Yawer, a civil engineer, is favored by the majority of the 22 remaining members of the coalition-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. He has been outspoken in his criticism of U.S. failings in Iraq. Many Iraqis dislike the fact that he favors the traditional Arab robes and headdress. Pachachi, 81, was a long-time top Iraqi diplomat, including foreign minister, and is from a prominent political family. In the early '70s, he became top adviser to the new Gulf state the United Arab Emirates. One criticism of Pachachi is that he is beholden to that country, and, as a lifelong Arab nationalist, to the status quo in the Arab world. One piece of evidence in this regard is that he kissed the hand that fed him. In a recent televised meeting, Pachachi kissed the hand of Shaykh Zayid bin Sultan al-Nahayan, the ruler of the United Arab Emirates. Many see that act as undignified, for an official representative of another country. Moreover, Zayid's hand may still be feeding Pachachi. It's widely held that the former gave the latter millions of dollars to form a party to counter Shi'a influence in Iraq, and that Pachachi's liberal Independent Democratic Grouping is devoid of Shi'a, who comprise more than 60 percent of the country's population. Another chief criticism of Pachachi, who opposed Saddam's regime, is that he did not work actively to bring it down, sometimes even resisting such efforts. Today, it was announced that the selection of the president has been postponed for another 24 hours.

The other major tasks at hand, selection of the 26-member cabinet and two vice presidents, could be affected by who's chosen as president. It is said that 11 of the current ministers will stay on, including Interior Minister Samir Sumaida'ie, an architect and Sunni Arab from Ramadi, who lived in England from the late '70s. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zeybari, a Kurd, will stay on, too -- either in his current post, or as defense minister. If Zeybari switches jobs, he could be replaced as foreign minister by Dr. Barham Salih, representative of the rival Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Salih, Iraq's representative to the United Nations, is also being mentioned as depty prime minister. tehre was talk of creating a second deputy PM post, but that was rejected. Other names for the top posts are Adil Abdul-Mehdi, for treasury/finance minister, and Thamir Ghadhban, for oil minister. All of the posts are to be hammered out in consultations between Allawi; the American civil administrator, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III; U.N. envoy Lakhdhar Brahimi; and other members of the Iraqi Governing Council. The U.N. is said not to be happy with the Iraqis' choice of Allawi, because of his past ties to U.S. and British intelligence agencies. The primary task of the interim government that's to take power, June 30, if not sooner, is to pave the way for elections, by the end of January.

For the elections, Brahimi is to appoint members of an independent commission of Iraqis to oversee and monitor their organization and implementation. In addition, there is to be a national conference of 1000-1500 politicians in early July, headed by Pachachi. This is envisioned by some to be a loya jirga-type assembly, similar to that headed by Brahimi, when he was the U.N.'s envoy for Afghanistan. Bremer, too, favors this plan for Iraq, which could include discussions on a permanent constitution. Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, opposes such a gathering, and has called, instead, for the establishment of a national assembly, including the main political parties. Chalabi's congress does not expect to be in the new government.
About the huge explosion that struck here, about three hours ago, we've had little news. Our electricity went off, soon after the explosion, and our generator needed a replacement belt. Before the power went, the scrawl at the bottom of the television screen said the bomb went off in the Harthiyya part of Baghdad, which includes the Green Zone, the base for U.S. operations in the country. Then, an hour and a half later, during my interview with Cleveland's Channel 8, they received news that one person was killed, and, a minute later, that the explosion subsumed four or five cars, which was more like it, judging from the size of the blast -- its sound, that is.

Now, our generator is back in order, and we have electricity. However, there seems to be something wrong with our internet connection, and I can't move around in cyberspace. However, one of the workers here just got back from the headquarters of Ayad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord, and said that the explosion happened near the Kindi Bridge, which is close to Allawi's party headquarters, which would make the designated prime minister the possible target. It was two weeks ago, today, that Izzideen Saleem, the president of the governing council, was killed in a suicide car bombing.

On television, the scrawl said that one Iraqi woman was killed, and 13, wounded, in the blast.

Now, half an hour after I started this post, I've been able to get into a web-site, to give me the news. Two people, killed -- both Iraqi -- and 13 people wounded.
I wrote the following, a few minutes after the explosion that hit us, two-plus hours ago. Just as I completed it, the electricity went off, and a belt in our generator needed replacing. So, two hours later:

A little more, about the explosion we just had, some 10 minutes ago.

After I finished my last post, I moved my laptop to another desk, so that, now, the glass sliding-door is 15 feet to my right, instead of a foot behind my back.

Huda, the cook, said that we're gonna have a lot more bombings, as the president and government are chosen. A co-worker related that Huda also said that Ayad Allawi, the prime minister-designate, said he'll ask all foreign companies to leave the country, so the targets of the bombings could be narrowed and pinpointed. I thought that sounded a little ridiculous. Then what? You get rid of the Arabs? the Shi'is? the Sunnis? the pro-Americans? What?

Russia reportedly decided in the last couple of days to pull out its workers from the country, which electricity minister Ayhem al-Samira'i said would be a disaster. He's been in negotiations with Russian officials.

Another guard here said the bomb could have been directed at Saddam's Salam Palace, which most people call nisoor (eagles) palace, after a roundabout close by. However, the palace, which Saddam built to receive visiting Arab heads of state, is occupied by the American military, and most strikes into military zones are via mortar shells, and this, my friends, was no mere mortar explosion.

Finally, when the bomb exploded, we were all startled, and shaken up. The doctoral law-student here, started cursing the bombers.
We just had a huge explosion here. The sliding glass doors behind me, reverberated, for a second or two. The sound was tremendous. The four of us in this room all reacted with horror -- it's the biggest explosion we've heard, since I arrived, eight weeks and one day ago. One of my workmates, whenever she hears an explosion, expects a second -- they come in twos, she says. So, she called on me to get away from the glass doors. I got down behind one of the desks. After a couple of minutes, I went to the front, to ask the guards what it was. They were out in the street, in front of our house, looking beyond the house, to some smoke in the distance. I could barely detect the smoke -- it was white. Then, one of the guards said we'd be able to see it from the roof. As I followed him, two women, one of them, carrying a child, came out of the house next door, onto the street, to look.

From the roof, we looked around. To our left, were some masons, working on the neighboring house. They pointed towards the back. Only landmark I could discern was Saddam's Nisoor Palace (Eagles). Somebody said it (the bomb) was in the Green Zone, that it must be "a booby-trapped car." Somebody said, "Who's gone, is gone." The guard with me said, "We'll see which governing council member's been killed."

Downstairs, the cook said it must've been a truck, loaded with two, three tons [of explosives]. I was advised to move to another desk, 10 feet away from the glass doors. I said, glass is gonna fly, what's the difference?
Yesterday, I cited the New York Times' ombudsman's critique of his paper's coverage of the issue of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. I was tempted to ask if the New York Times would, likewise, critique its bias against liberating Iraq, including repeatedly dismissing evidence of Iraqi complicity with 9/11 (which Czech President Vaclav Havel had to confirm, directly to the White House), and its distortions of statements by Henry Kissinger, among others.

I was also tempted, in light of the Times' self-criticism on weapons of mass destruction, to post an article I came across, from nearly two years ago, quoting a senior Iraqi official admitting use of weapons of mass destruction and vowing to use them, again. A quote, from the pro-Saddam Arabic newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi:
A senior Iraqi official who refused to reveal his name said that the Iraqi regime would defend its existence and its reputation. The Iraqi official said unequivocally: "When the regime was under intense attack in Al-Fau and began to be under threat, it did not hesitate to use all the weapons of mass destruction in its possession. Similarly, when the people of Halabja, or some of them, became guides for the Iranian forces that tried to breach the northeast [front], the regime did not hesitate to use chemical weapons." Therefore, "do not expect us to stand idly by in the face of any aggression that seeks to destroy and banish us not only from the regime but also from life."

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Who's in the White House? The gun Saddam Hussein held, when he was captured, six and a half months ago.
I'm to be on TV, tomorrow morning -- hooray for me! That's Cleveland's Channel 8 (Fox), at 6:40 in the morning, eastern time. They've had me on, almost every week since I left Cleveland, and I arrived in Baghdad, eight weeks ago, today. Tomorrow's Memorial Day, so I'd like to talk about World War II, the world war we're in, and a letter I got from a Marine in Lyndhurst who's serving in the Falluja area. Stay tuned.
Last night, I did it -- and lived to tell the story.

I went out, wearing shorts.

I'd gotten home in the evening, got out of my work clothes and into my home clothes -- shorts and T-shirt. As I sat, having dinner in the front lawn, my uncle suggested we -- including three of his grandsons -- go out for ice cream. I begged off, so I could make phone calls -- to my ex-"dating" partner, Layla; my old officemate, Ali; and a couple of relatives, who'd promised to help me procure an Iraqi ID. Layla's line was busy, so, somehow, I decided to join the rest for ice cream. My uncle said I should change clothes -- that shorts would make me look American, which is risky. I pressed it, told him I'd seen a man wearing shorts a while back, and consulted the grandsons -- eight to 14 years old. My uncle relented. I changed T-shirts, though -- took off my "America Strikes Back" T, with eagle, battleships and fighter jets, and didn't put on my American-flagged "United We Stand" shirt. It might be a while, before I can wear those, in public.

The ice cream place was busy, so we parked a ways away, and had to walk a distance. We sat outside, had our ice creams -- the "mixed," with smears of some six different-colored flavors -- and I also tried a glass of raisin juice, which wasn't as sweet as I thought it would be -- purple, and tastes like grape juice. While there, I saw another man wearing shorts -- my uncle said I was starting a trend. We then went to make a long-distance phone call, to my uncle's best friend, who's in Egypt for cancer surgery and radiation, while I looked for a song in the same place that my mother recommended. The boys, we left a few shops back, to get falafil sandwiches. Finally, we stopped at a dry cleaner, to pick up the winter blankets. Back we came, arriving safely at home base -- no blood, no foul. I might have gotten a few looks, but I didn't notice.

Right now, I'm in an internet cafe, and beneath my long-sleeved shirt (I was at a wake), I have on a T-shirt with a map of Iraq, crossed by jail bars, with three doves clasping olive branches flying out of the cell -- topped by the words, in English, "Free Iraq." This was printed, during Saddam's rule, but it could go both ways. To describe the T-shirt, I unbuttoned the top shirt, and am leaving the T-shirt exposed. The lengths, and risks, I go through, to serve my readers.

Since first beginning this post, I've taken off the long-sleeve shirt, fully exposing myself -- and some people say I have a cushy job.
A Reuters report about the New York Times ombudsman's criticism of the paper for its reporting on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. For Daniel Okrent's full review, and his charges of institutional failures, here's a link to the Times piece.
A postscript, to yesterday's post on the choice of Ayad Allawi as prime minister of the government that's to take over, June 30 -- or earlier.

The selection of the 58-year-old Allawi is a popular choice. First, because he is a moderate from a well-respected, modern, educated Shi'a family. Second, and just as, if not more, importantly, he's a large man with a history in the Ba'ath Party, and, so, is viewed as a "tough guy," someone who can handle the job ahead -- in particular, dealing with security and an Iraqi populace that most people feel needs a tough hand, if not an iron fist. Finally, because of his Ba'ath background, many believe he may be able to ease the unrest among Saddam loyalists, Ba'this and/or Sunnis -- that is, he can speak their language.

Next up, will be the selection of the president, two vice presidents and 26 ministers, the most important of which will be the oil, treasury, foreign, defense and interior ministers. The presidency, even 24 hours later, still looks like it will be in the hands of Ghazi Mush'al Ajeel al-Yawer, a Sunni, rather than Dr. Adnan Pachachi, the octogenarian former foreign minister (pre-Saddam, 1966-68). The post is expected to be announced today or tomorrow, along with the two vice presidents. Bayt al-Shi'i, a Shi'a bloc being organized by Ahmad Chalabi, is backing Yawer's candidacy, and Chalabi's paper, Al-Mu'tamar, reports that the United States is pressuring Yawer to withdraw from the race. Pachachi, who heads the Independent Democratic Group, might excuse himself because of age.

For the posts of the two vice presidents, that leaves -- to borrow a phrase from former U.S. Interior Secretary James Watt -- a Kurd, a Turkoman and a Christian. The category left out, presumably, will receive the equivalent post of Speaker of the House, as is the case in Lebanon -- that is, if there is a general assmebly-type body, which is, as yet, undecided. The category unspoken for, is women. In the Governing Council, there are three women, two Shi'i Arabs and a Turkoman -- or Turkowoman, if you please -- and none of them, is anything to write home about. Nisreen Birwari, a Kurd and the sole female minister (of municipalities and public works), is highly regarded and has been impressive.

For the two vice presidencies, the top candidates appear to be Dr. Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, Dr. Adil Abdul-Mehdi and Rozh Noori Shawa'yees. Ja'fari, a physician and the head of the Iran-backed Da'wa Party (Islamist), and Mehdi, an economist and the political head of the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- both Shi'a -- apparently were runners-up in the premier sweepstakes. They were reportedly rejected by U.S. administrator Paul Bremer, who attended the Governing Council session on Friday, and may have cancelled each other out, making Allawi the compromise pick. Shawa'yees is the head of the Kurdish parliament, representing Masoud Barazani's Kurdish Democratic Party, and was reportedly agreed upon by the other main Kurdish party, Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Sources report that discussions over the post of prime minister started 10 days ago with five or six names, were winnowed down to three, with Bremer insisting on the necessity of finding a prime minister, by Friday. When Allawi was chosen, Bremer congratulated him and left the hall. U.N. envoy Brahimi was absent from the meeting, and arrived after Bremer's departure, to be informed of the council's choice.

Allawi has reportedly submitted his roster of ministers to Bremer and Brahimi, who must officially approve the choices. The main task of the interim caretaker government is to organize elections, which are to be held by the end of next January.

More to come, but my ride is here.
I've changed the name of my blog -- see above -- way at the top.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

It looks like the prime-ministerial sweepstakes are over. The winner is: Ayad Allawi.

In a surprise move, the U.S.-appointed Governing Council decided to take matters into its own hands, and "unanimously" chose Allawi, yesterday, at four in the afternoon. The U.S. government said it "welcomes" the choice, but that it's ultimately U.N. envoy Lakhdhar Brahimi's, to confirm. The United Nations said it was surprised by the selection -- Allawi was not its preference -- but "respects" the choice.

Despite his great first name, I don't like this "Ayad." He's a Baghdad University- and British-educated neurologist from a prominent, well-respected Shi'a family. He was, and may still be, a Ba'thi -- possibly a reconstructed Ba'thi, although I haven't heard or seen any such blueprints or redesigns. He was a senior member of the Ba'ath Party until he fled the country in 1976. He survived an assassination attempt in London two years later, then helped found the Iraqi National Accord (al-Wifaq al-Watani il-Iraqi), a group of anti-Saddam Ba'this and military officers that was sponsored by the Syrian and Saudi governments. He has since led the Syria-based group, and returned to Iraq after the fall of Saddam. He also had covert aid from the U.S. and Britain for coup-plotting in the nineties.

Throughout, Allawi represented the Arab nationalist wing of the opposition to Saddam, and, as such, was almost always included as a top figure in one anti-Saddam coalition or another. My indelible image of the burly Allawi came in the November 1999 conference of Iraqis held in New York City. He was one of seven members of a presidential council, and was, suddenly, announced, its first head. There were backroom dealings, with Ambassador Frank Ricciardone, Clinton's pointman on Iraq, playing arbiter. Late in the game, Allawi's top rival, Ahmad Chalabi, pulled out of the conference, and Allawi was chairing the conference. There were protests over lack of debate, questions on a few procedures and decisions, and calls for opening up the process. Allawi, sitting regally on the dais, declared, "Enough of democracy, I'm gonna move you in the Wifaq way," Wifaq being the name of Allawi's party. Conferees were infuriated, and demanded a chance to speak. Allawi ignominiously and gruffly shot down the most servile pleas. He then strutted down from the stage, with a phalanx of faithful, fawning flunkies filing behind him, hailing him as "the leader." So many of us, watching the scene, cringed and shook our heads as his cortege passed by.

Since returning to Iraq, he was selected by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, as one of the 25 members of the governing council, which was established last July. He was chosen chairman of the council's security committee, and has been one of the council's rotating presidents. His choice as premier comes as a surprise to many. Previous names mentioned for the post -- all Shi'a -- were Mehdi il-Hafudh, an economist, the current planning minister and ally of Adnan Pachachi; Adil Abdul-Mehdi, an economist and aide-de-camp to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakeem, of the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq; Ibrahim Ja'fari, a physician and head of the Iran-backed Da'wa Party and an IGC member; and, the latest, Hussein Shahristani, a nuclear chemist.

Shahristani appeared to be the choice of the U.N.'s Brahimi, and the White House's pointman on the U.N.-led transition, Robert Blackwill, whose job, it appears, is to persuade the U.S. administration to accept Brahimi's recommendations. Shahristani, though, begged off the job.

BBC analyst Roger Hardy reported that
leading Shi'i members of the council resisted what they saw as Mr Brahimi's attempts to bypass them.... They are reported to have joined forces to oppose the appointment of respected scientist Hussein Shahristani as prime minister -- and insisted that the top job should go to one of their own.
Brahimi's initial calls for a government of technocrats were interpreted by many, especially Shi'a and Kurds, as an attempt to sideline the politicians and install Arab nationalists, including former Ba'this.

In another development, the presidential hopes of Ghazi il-Yawer, a shaykh of the Shammar tribe from outside Mosul, are ascending. In what may be an attempt to balance the scales between the forces of Arab nationalism and non-nationalists, Yawer could be chosen over Pachachi, who is a nationalist, like Allawi, while Yawer is an ally of non-nationalist Ahmad Chalabi. Both Yawer and Pachachi are Sunni Arabs, in what is looking exceedingly like a de facto Lebanon-style confessional division of the posts of head of state and head of government. No such division of the posts is in the interim constitution.
Maybe my last citation of the day for a National Review article, another one by Michael Ledeen, this, about the denunciations of rabble-rouser Muqtada Sadir by Iraq's senior Shi'a clerics. Ledeen quotes from that great Iraqi blog Healing Iraq, by Zeyad, a dentist in his mid-twenties.
Another article from National Review, this one, by Michael Ledeen -- about the smear campaign in Washington of Ahmad Chalabi, Iran's role in Iraq, and the intelligence community's failures and current "CYA mode."
In a previous National Review article by Frank Gaffney -- defending the honor of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith against "unsubstantiated yet oft-repeated allegations concerning...misdeeds" -- there is this:
[O]n April 26, ABC News aired part of a videotaped confession by suspected al Qaeda terrorist Azmi al-Jayousi, who was captured before he could unleash a devastating chemical attack in Jordan. Al-Jayousi admitted that he was trained in Iraq by al Qaeda deputy Abu Musab al-Zarqawi sometime after the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. According to ABC News, he reportedly confessed: "In Iraq, I started training in explosives and poisons. I gave my complete obedience to Zarqawi. No questions asked. After the fall of Afghanistan, I met Zarqawi again in Iraq."
"The Battle of Iraq: Defeat now will mean a more difficult future ahead." That's the title of Frank Gaffney's National Review article, which takes the memorializing of World War II as its starting point. The key excerpts:
We've grown so accustomed to talking about "the war in Iraq" that many Americans no longer understand a central characteristic of this fight: It is but one front in a far larger global conflict.

This misunderstanding contributes materially to the demoralization of the public....

A more appropriate way to think of the present conflict,
[rather than as a Vietnam- or Korea-type war], is as the battle of Iraq, as in World War II's Battle of Britain — a vast fight to the death that shaped the course of the larger global struggle. Had the British been overrun by Nazi invaders after December 7, 1941, the larger war would not have ended nor, in all likelihood, would its ultimate outcome have been altered. But achieving the complete destruction and unconditional surrender of the Axis powers would have been much more difficult, protracted, and costly in lives and treasure....

[taken by the U.S. administration in Iraq] convey to Iraqis that we are once again in the process of abandoning them. This perception can only translate into far less support for our forces and efforts and more support for, or at least acquiescence toward, freedom's enemies in Iraq.

Accumulating evidence of such changes on the ground will also further erode American popular support for staying the course in Iraq....

Losing the battle of Iraq will not end the costs of fighting America's terrorist foes. If anything, the emboldening of our enemies that will attend an ignominious retreat will ensure that the costs of waging the rest of the war will be vastly greater, not only for the present generation but for our children and grandchildren.

Friday, May 28, 2004

I recently posted a letter from a Cleveland-area Marine about his experience with Iraqi detainees near Falluja. I just got an e-mail from the friend who sent me the letter, saying that the Marine's letter was not for publication. I apologize -- to him, to his family, his peers and colleagues -- for my indiscretion, and for any damage I may have caused. The Marine recounted how his group had treated the detainees with the utmost of respect and humanity, sacrificing their own comfort for the detainees'.
You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You start looking at the beautiful faces surrounded by the scarves.

For previous entries to my list.
An e-mail from Rita, who first responded to an article of mine last summer, and reconnected, recently.
Date: 5/27/2004 11:41:47 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Rita

Hello Ayad,

I am enjoying your blog info. I was talking to my sister-in-law the other day, telling her about our emails and she shares much of the concerns that are mine. So she wanted the address of the blogspot and is reading it regularly. They live...close to Cleveland.

One message we are getting from the media is the scariness of living in Iraq. When reading about it from you, it is impressive that you take it so tongue-in-cheek. I suppose that makes it easier to live under the circumstances.

How long do you plan to remain there?

The letter from Josh was very inspiring. We know the American way is honorable even though we are not without our share of dishonorables. The Abu Ghraib incidents are unacceptable and completely contrary to what we believe. Any show of inhumanity to another, by anyone, Iraqi or American, or for that matter all other countries and peoples, is abominable. Let us correct the errors and move forward.

As I read the other responses you receive, I'm satisfied that this is a safe vehicle for passing on the news. Thanks for including me.

God bless and keep you safe.


* * *
Date: 5/28/2004 8:58:17 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Rita,

.... That's nice, that you passed on the blog to your sister-in-law and that she and you are reading it -- appreciate the custom.

As far as the risk, danger, of living here, you really don't feel it, on a day-to-day basis. I mean, you hear explosions, every now and then. Then there's the helicopters overhead -- several times a day, they're directly overhead -- I like that, though, I root 'em on. Every other day or so, I see a Humvee patrol -- usually two, together -- especially if I drive around -- well, ride around -- I haven't driven yet.

As to my tongue-in-cheekness -- I don't know -- I don't know if it's tongue-in-cheek, as it is, just plain relaxedness. I'm pretty easygoing, and don't let things get to me -- not an agitated, worried kind-of-person....

Oh -- another thing, as far as making it easier to live here, if you don't get worried about it. Well, there's not much you can do about it, anyway. Well, I guess you try to reduce the risks. About which, I don't know much. So, the relos don't let me go out by myself, since I don't look so Iraqi -- look, and walk, and talk, whatever, too much like an American. I'm gonna grow a moustache and a beard, at the suggestion of one of the guards at the office I work at, so I can look more Iraqi, blend in more. And, of course, with my cancelled trip to Lebanon, it was decided -- mostly by others -- that it was still too big a risk, to go overland. That's a major bummer -- getting imprisoned here, like the rest of 'em -- the poor saps.

I hope to be here, till mid-July -- so another month and a half. I wanna be here for the transfer of sovereignty. Then, July's a big month, here -- historically -- quite a few anniversaries -- so we'll probably get some fireworks....

Thanks for your kind words, Rita, and you take care, too.

See ya....
Post script: My approach may not be tongue-in-cheek or relaxedness, as plain stupidity and foolhardiness. Who knows? And who knows what's best and wisest? I also forgot to write to Rita, about the experience of Israelis. I've been feeling, and wishing Iraqis start to feel, too, that they're in the same boat as Israelis. Keep dreaming! Well, the news they get of Israel, is not at all sympathetic -- not yet. And on top of the explosions and helicopters, there's always the shots -- in the middle of the night, is when it's most apparent, although the locals say they don't even hear 'em anymore. They've been through hell, though.
I just read another of George Packer's lengthy New Yorker reports from Iraq, this one titled "Caught in the Crossfire: Will moderate Iraqis embrace democracy -- or Islamist radicalism?" The most compelling part of the piece is the first four or five pages, before he gets into political reporting and analysis. At the outset, he's in the Baghdad morgue, with the spinal cord of the article, Dr. Bashir Shaker, a young forensic-medicine specialist. Down the hall from the morgue, which is part of a building called the Medico-Legal Institute, is a room for examining women for their virginity -- girls, too, of course. Through Shaker's eyes, and the stories he tells, we get a glimpse of the intermingled issues of honor, women's lives, Islamic law and tradition in Iraqi society. This, to me, has been one of the very saddest things here -- what has happened to women. It feels like things have been set back 50 years, maybe centuries. Maybe it's me, though, with the angle I've had on things, with the result of my episode of "dating," here.
In an article by Mahdi Bassam, a friend, on Iraqis' views of Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administration and U.N. envoy Lakhdhar Ibrahimi, he concludes:
The American military initially performed with valor in Iraq. Iraqis did greet Americans as liberators. Paul Wolfowitz was not wrong. But, the success of the U.S. military has been undermined by arrogant State Department diplomats and ambassadors.... American diplomats have soiled the reputation of the United States. It is the civilians, and not the military, who bare the brunt of Iraqi anger. Iraqis will be united in one aspect. Many Arabs and Kurds alike, unfortunately, will wish CPA good riddance on June 30.
Yesterday, I wrote that many people here feel that the detainees in Abu Ghraib, and the insurgents holed up in Falluja, "are...either members of the old regime, trying to regain power, or are people doing the bidding of neighboring countries, whose worst nightmare is, as an article I just read put it, that Iraq stabilizes and democratizes, and 'the countdown begins for them.'"

That quote from the article I read, was from memory. The exact quote is, "stabilizing Iraq means the beginning of the countdown for the Arab governments." The article, in Arabic, is titled "For these reasons, Doctor Ahmad Chalabi is the best for the presidency of Iraq?" When I told Baghdad University law professor Dr. Mishkat el-Moumin about the article, and the quote, she responded, "And they know it, too."

Thursday, May 27, 2004

As I read the following e-mail, from a friend in England, I thought it was going to address the issue of interfaith groups in Iraq that David Levey raised, a few weeks ago.
Subj: Good News
Date: 5/26/2004 2:40:36 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Abdulkhaliq Hussein"

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Monday, May 24, 2004 7:07 PM

The High Council of Islam in Iraq has suggested that both Sunni & Shia sects merge and be called Sushi!!
Sushi-lovers of the world -- Unite!
I just got forwarded to me a letter from a Cleveland-area Marine about his experiences dealing with detainees near Falluja. In the middle of a rain and sandstorm, the Marines were forced by a superior to evacuate their vehicles and allow the Iraqi detainees inside the vehicles, instead. The letter reminded me of something quite a few people have been saying about those held in Abu Ghraib, and what my friend Alaaddin al-Dhahir wrote me from Holland, six months ago.

About Abu Ghraib, many people feel that the detainees getting all the sympathy abroad, are the same Amn, Feda'yyeen Saddam, et al, who raped and tortured Iraqis while in power, and who have now made Falluja their base of operations, to continue their torture and killing, by other means. They are, thus, either members of the old regime, trying to regain power, or are people doing the bidding of neighboring countries, whose worst nightmare is, as an article I just read put it, that Iraq stabilizes and democratizes, and "the countdown begins for them." The often-stated message is: these people should get no mercy, and we don't care what's done to them.

I know -- I can hear my friends Alaaddin and Teresa Thornhill saying, but this doesn't excuse what was done, and it certainly doesn't help our cause -- especially not with the Arab world. Listen -- I'm passing on what I hear, **it happens, and crimes are being punished, which will be a "plus," in the overall picture -- is, already. As for the Arab world, see what I just wrote, above, about neighboring countries, and Fouad Ajami's article of a fortnight ago.

In addition, talk turned, yesterday evening, at another uncle's home, in A'dhamiyya, to the economy, and how a repeat of the mid-sixties boom is expected, in a year to two years' time. The prime minister who oversaw the economic good times was law-school dean Abdul-Rahman al-Bazzaz, who, when the Ba'ath came to power, was arrested, put in Abu Ghraib prison, which Iraqis called QaSr il-Nihaya (the palace of the end), and tortured and humiliated, including being ridden like a horse. I think, but am not sure -- Bazzaz was killed in Abu Ghraib.

I'll turn it over to Alaaddin, now, and his response, last December, to a survey I conducted on what people would like to see happen with Saddam:
How about making him look like a mouse with a tail? Keep exposing him as a coward or make a belly dancer out of him, much the same way they did with Abd al-Rahman Al-Bazzaz and others in Qasr il-Nihaya!

Many politicians and generals were forced to belly dance as they were physically and mentally tortured –- in their pajamas.
Here's a back-and-forth with a friend in Cleveland, who asked me about coming to Iraq.
To: "Ed Ponce"
Sent: Wednesday, May 19, 2004 7:12 AM

Hi, Ed,

I assumed you were coming as part of a group -- a team of security people.
If you're on your own, without anybody to escort you around -- no, not safe.
You've gotta have somebody here, to take you around -- and, preferably, an
Iraqi, who knows his way around -- "wise to the street."

As for how long till it gets safe. Well, the simple answer is: years. But
the next few months might give us a better idea -- with how Iraqis deal with
their intenal and external threats.

All right -- I've gotta go, Ed. I'm sorry that conditions weren't better,
and I could see you here. Keep me apprised, of course, if anything changes,
on your end.

All right -- take care. Adios.

Oh -- what are you going to be doing in Dubai and Kuwait?

Okay -- see you, Ed.

* * *

Date: 5/19/2004 8:56:41 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Ed Ponce"

Business in Dubai and Kuwait. I have a big body armor contract I am working
on. I understand what you mean about safety, but I've found that the only
way to establish business contacts is by meeting them and establishing a
personal relationship. Since I don't know anybody in Iraq, except for
friends of friends, I hoped to meet Iraqi Council officials and commercial
agents with influence in future affairs. If you happen to know any, please
let me know so at least I can communicate by fax, phone or email.
Lastly, why are things getting so bad now? Are Iraqis realy tired of the
Americans as we hear here?

* * *

Date: 5/20/2004 12:38:31 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Ed,

I do know a lot of people -- in and out of government. I'd be glad to put you in touch with them. Let me know what types, in what positions you're interested in. I suppose, in police, civil defense, military, security fields. Well, you tell me.

As far as things getting worse, I don't know if that's the case. Actually, Falluja's been settled. At the other end, Sadir's pretty much squeezed -- nobody's supporting him. What is happening -- what will continue to happen -- is that there will be increased pressure put on the Iraqis -- by the Saddamists and foreign terrorists -- as the June 30 date approaches, in their first months of Iraqis taking the reins. It'll all be a long process, as I'm sure you know.

Well -- I'll hear from you, again, and we can take it from there.

All the best,


* * *

Date: 5/20/2004 1:06:15 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Ed Ponce"

Ayad, by all means anyone involved in supplying police & security equipment.
Let me know if you can find any contacts. Will be much appreciated.
On the war, I agree with you completely. It's just a shame the Democrat
Party is doing the work of the enemy in their zeal to get power back. They
are playing with treason, but in this country nothing will happen to them.
Last night, I concluded my post from the internet cafe, by paraphrasing Gary Keillor's concluding line from his Lake Wobegon stories. I misspelled Wobegone, though. I know, some of you might be saying that I'm misspelling Keillor's first name, too -- but...hold your horses, cowpokes, he changed his first name, to make it sound more literary, just as poor old Gary Hartpence shortened his last name, to distance himself from the teasing he took as a kid -- being called "hotpants." And, both, the products of midwestern, fundamentalist upbringings.
On the road again -

Just can't wait to get on the road again.

The life I love is making music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again.

On the road again
Goin' places that I've never been.
Seein' things that I may never see again
And I can't wait to get on the road again.

On the road again -
Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends.
Insisting that the world keep turning our way

And our way
is on the road again.
Just can't wait to get on the road again.
The life I love is makin' music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again.

Just can't wait to get on the road again.
Yup, love those wide-open roads, like we're going places.
California, here I come,
Right back where we started from,
Ta ra ra, Ta ra ra, Ta ra ra ra,
Ta ra ra, Ta ra ra, Ta ra ra ra Ta ra ra ra
Well, I'm supposed to be heading west -- on the road, again -- right back, where I started from. On the road to Amman, to be precise. We need a Crosby-Hope road-film opening screen, here, with the title of the movie in squiggly script in the middle of one of those doily-patterned curtain frames. I don't know, did Crosby or Hope -- well, it had to be Bob Hope, of course, a Clevelander -- did he ever get kidnapped in one of their road movies? Well, there was a "Road to Morocco" pic, wasn't there?

I guess that's what it was -- parents must've seen that movie, last night, and they freaked. My parents called from Cleveland, this morning, wondering if I could get into Syria with an American passport, and no sign that I was Arab, other than the name -- I was born in England. "Only our kind, allowed here." That's something I and others had wondered about, but hadn't looked into. So, my aunt told them to call her husband in Lebanon, and have him call his Syrian friend about an American being allowed into the country. There's also my father's brother, who's in Lebanon, having just made the trip, with his wife, from Baghdad.

The uncle I'm staying with, freaked out, too, but for a different reason. Last night, when he arrived to pick me up at the internet cafe, I was putting the final touches on my last post, so I showed him what this blogging thing was all about. I read him the post, which I started because I overheard the guy at the next carrel say that an Iraqi with an American passport had been kidnapped. So, my uncle put two and two together, and got -- no go! This was more than coincidence, he ruled. "God is trying to tell you something!" (Great gospel song, although I can't remember what movie I heard it in.) On the drive back from the cafe last night, he'd asked me if I'd talked with the neighbor, before he said this thing, that maybe he was trying to scare me, knowing that I was American, or had followed me in. Well, I hadn't talked with the neighbor, although he did, maybe, raise his voice, a little, when he relayed the news "item." My uncle also said -- something that's frequently said -- that 95 percent of what Iraqis say are lies and rumors.

So, I'm back in the office, around the corner from my uncle's house, while my aunt and her daughter and son-in-law are on the road to Damascus. Hey, that would be a funny movie -- "on the road to Damascus" -- just the words sound funny. Wait a minute! -- oops, title's already taken -- I forgot. It would've been an especially good dramatic picture, if I got kidnapped -- a Hallmark special, a Sally Field vehicle -- she'd play the part of my mom, to the rescue. The guy driving the car to Damascus, and the two people who loaded the car this morning, said that the "mujahideen" aren't stopping cars along the road, these days. One of my officemates said the masked crusaders have proper checkpoints, looking for foreigners. He added that the Russians might've written "Roos" (Russians) on their cars, thinking that would protect them. Two Russain engineers were killed, yesterday morning, at the entrance to the Dora electricty generation station, which supplies most of Baghdad. In another premonition, my uncle said he didn't trust the driver, because he had a goatee and said something about the other guy (the regular driver's) car getting into an accident.

My parents proposed that instead of going to Lebanon by car, I fly. That is, I fly from Baghdad to Amman -- that's the only air route out of Baghdad, right now. From Amman, I could go overland -- first to Damascus, then on to Beirut. That would probaby cost a thousand-plus dollars -- and that's just for the plane portion. Once you get out of Iraq, they don't kill foreigners -- oops, I mean, kidnap them -- so I could take a bus or something, which wouldn't cost much, but the plane out of Baghdad, is pretty steep, and all for a movie and a night out on the town. My parents said they'd transfer me the money -- that it's not the money that's important, it's the risk I'd be taking. They were still trying to persuade me not to go, overland.

Then there's also bussing it, all the way from Baghdad. People have told me that, when I leave Iraq, at the end of my stay, I'd be better off taking a bus, as those don't get stopped by highway robbers and the like -- that there's protection in numbers. Still, I think I'd need some protection, in the form of a companion.

Then, another officemate, with whom I just took a much-needed jaunt around town, during which I got to see Firdos Square for the first time -- that's where that big statue of Saddam was brought down, on April 9, 2003 -- this officemate told me he could get me into a convoy of cars going out of the country -- that convoys don't get stopped.

So, where does that leave me?

In Baghdad, for another day or two, at least, and maybe I'm stuck here, like the rest of these rotten bastards. Somebody get me out of here! I'm a prisoner, like the rest of them.

My uncle says he'll show me a good time. We'll get the ID, and, then, be able to travel around. Since I met a brick wall at the interior ministry a few days ago, two people promised they could make the thing happen, on the spot. So, I'll call them up, now, instead of in a week or two, after returing from Lebanon -- and get that going.

I told my dad that I...I'm trying to figure out how to translate the expression -- it's Tuggett rooHi -- literally, it's "my soul's burst" -- something like, "I'm bored stiff," or "I've had it up to here" -- that there's nothing to do, here -- no movies, no concerts, no restaurants -- how do these people live like this? My dad suggested a lute concert -- there had to be some music being performed -- or one of the traditional musical ensembles, called Chalgi il-Baghdadi, whose best practitioners are in Israel. I said, "Tuggett rooHi min al-Iraq" (I've had it up to here with Iraq). My uncle wanted to share his premonitions about my travel, with his brother. I heard my uncle say to him, "There hasn't been a [decent] movie theater here in 30 years. The [family membership] Mansour Club used to have a screen [for outdoor movies in the summer], but the projector broke and the screen got torn apart, so they stopped, 20 years ago."

So, for now, you've got me back, reporting to you from Baghdad.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

I'm sitting in an internet cafe, in the Mansour part of Baghdad. My uncle, his wife, his sister and I just got back from visiting another uncle in the A'dhamiyya part of the city. I began writing about the visit, but set it aside, to finish later, and I expect to post it, from Beirut.

I'm writing, again, now, because the guy sitting next to me, just said that an Iraqi guy was kidnapped who has an American passport. I'm trying to get his attention, to ask him for more information, but he's immersed in instant-messaging with a girlfriend, it looks like -- using video and voice links. I sneaked a few peaks, and the woman on the screen looks like she's wearing a pajama. He's asking her, now, whether he should come over, to watch a concert on TV by the most popular Iraqi singer, Kadhum al-Saahir. Most of the people here, seem to use the internet to chat -- talk with relatives abroad, or meet people. This applies to home computers, as well as internet cafes. On the computer screens at the cafes, I find a lot of leftover icons for porn sites and chat sites, to meet people. They're looking to meet the world.

I finally got my neighbor's attention, and he told me he saw it on Jazeera television, yesterday -- about the Iraqi American who was kidnapped. He didn't know where it happened -- says it was probably on the road to Amman -- and that it was a tribal matter. I didn't understand that -- got the impression that it was a family feud, which didn't make any sense. He then said that the tribal council was to settle it, or to settle the ransom -- or something like that. I didn't want to take up more of his time. He's been whispering and giggling into the mouthpiece on his headphone.

That's the news from Lake Wobegone -- where all the men are macho, all the women are behind closed doors, and all the children...keep their mouths shut.
This space might go unoccupied, and unadorned, for a couple of days -- hallelujah! jump for joy! and pop the champagne!

At this time tomorrow, I should be somewhere in the Syrian desert, or making my way from Damascus to Beirut. I'm to leave the house in an SUV in the morning, with my aunt, her daughter and the daughter's new groom. We'll head west out of Baghdad, past Falluja and Ramadi, then take another highway north, for the Syrian border. Question is, do they shoot Americans...er, do they let Americans into Syria? Remember, we've got the new sanctions on. We've wondered, but haven't pursued the question. Guys in the office were just joking -- more of that great Iraqi humor -- that they'll pass word along about an incoming American, so I can be met by "the resistance." Then they could stick my American passport in my mouth. I added, "Yeah -- cut off my head, and stuff the passport in my mouth," a la the apple in the pig's snout.

I'll certainly do my best to get to an internet computer, to update you on my whereabouts, the sights, and doings -- but it's terra incognita, for me. Last time I was in Lebanon was in 1971, when we took our migratory flight to New York. We won't spend any time in Damascus -- just in transit, switching cars (to evade pursuers -- stay away, or else!) -- although I must pay my familial visits to relatives there -- maybe on my way back -- although, even then, I'll be severely restricted, as I'm not to make my way, alone. As soon as I arrive in Lebanon, we're to look for somebody there who'll head back soon -- I don't want to stay more than a week or 10 days -- just long enough to rest, relax and recuperate -- and I'll return with...that person.
Rumors abound today -- and no doubt will continue abounding for the next week to two weeks (how do you "abound," anyway?) -- about the makeup of the Iraqi government that's to take over, June 30. The name of Adnan Pachachi is still practically the only one mentioned for the post of president of the republic.

A new name is arriving on the scene, for the post of prime minister. That name is Hussein Shahristani. Shahristani is a short, soft-spoken, bespectacled nuclear chemist who was tortured and spent 10 years in solitary confinement for refusing to help Saddam build a nuclear bomb. He escaped prison in the Kuwait war, in 1991 -- actually, I believe he was let out by his captors, when the Baghdad prison was struck. Shahristani went on to set up human rights centers in Iran and England. He received his doctorate from Toronto University, where he met his Canadian wife, who became Muslim. The surprise here is that Shahristani has not been involved in politics. The prime minister is to have two deputies, who many speculate will be a Kurd and a Turkoman, to complete the set. Shahristani is Shi'i, while the octogenarian Pachachi is Sunni.
In the war over the future of Iraq, we are met on a great battlefield. Here, a couple of wide-angle views of that battle. In the left corner, weighing in on the Arab nationalist, pro-Brahimi, anti-Chalabi side: Patrick Seale, author of -- pay attention, here comes my biased zinger -- a sympathetic biography of the late Syrian dictator Hafudh al-Asad (I didn't say "fawning," although I could've).

In the right corner, the defending champion, William Safire, with a couple of jabs to the body (of Brahimi), then, after laying back on the ropes for a couple of weeks, the right hammer. He's down for the count! Did I hear someone out there say, "Sounds like he's got a dog in this fight"?

In the latter article, Safire adds another point of contention between Chalabi and the CIA (which I forgot, in my summary of Chalabi's juxtaposition in our Beltway turf battles) -- that being the CIA-backed 1996 coup plot that Chalabi told the CIA was penetrated by Saddam, resulting in hundreds of killed and imprisoned Iraqis. Embarrassment, and accusations of incompetence, followed. Speaking of which, over the past couple of days, Chalabi has been asking for a public mano a mano with CIA director George Tenet. He says, let's put everything on the table -- I'll show you my cards, you show me yours -- and everybody can see 'em all -- and may the best man win.
Political protest has taken flight in Iraq.

Its first and only subject, thus far, has been the flag of the country. Miniature bumper stickers have cropped up. People have pictures of the old flag stuck on their shop windows and cars. The sales of flag stickers, small pennants for rear-view mirrors, actual flags and other flag-related items have skyrocketed. An office building at the Ruwad intersection of Mansour has a giant banner stretching vertically over some five floors. The soccer team, after its upset win over Saudi Arabia, took a victory lap, hoisting the old flag. Celebrants in the streets of Baghdad, and around the country, that night, waved the old flag. Three weeks ago, there were demonstrations in Mosul and Ba'guba for the old flag. Two weeks ago, Fallujans welcomed the reentry of the U.S. marines with the old flag. At schools and universities, it's the old flag that greets entrants. A colleague says this is more an expression of political parties, which dominate schools, than it is of individuals' sentiments. Even members of the Governing Council, which approved the new design, have been interviewed in their offices with the old flag sitting on their desks. I have yet to see the new flag in public. I did witness part of a vigorous debate on television, with four experts arguing the politics and artistry of the old and the new.

These displays of rejection are, of course, in response to the unveiling, last month, of the design for a new flag. There, apparently, was a rush to produce a new flag, in time for the transfer of sovereignty and the summer Olympics, at which Iraq will be represented not only by athletes but also by its foreign minister, Hoshyar Zeybari, a Kurd. Kurds have been adamant in their rejection of the old flag, which represents genocide, Arabism, Arab dominance and chauvanism. They have not displayed the old flag in Kurdistan, and vow not to do so. Many Arabs feel no affinity with the new flag, which lacks the red, black and green of the conventional Arab flags and banners -- not to mention the stars. Adnan Pachachi, who's slated to be the president of the republic on June 30, said the new flag is not Arab enough. Many have criticized it for looking too much like the Israeli flag. Some Arabs say, good riddance to things Arab, and all that's associated with it. Many -- Islamists and non-Islamists alike -- are vociferous about the removal of the words "Allahu Akbar" (God is greater), which Saddam added to the flag, in his own hand, after the Kuwait war.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

A few days ago, I wrote about two Ba'ath Party members who used theirs positions to serve Iraqis. Today, the daughter of the one who received death threats, came to the office where I'm working. I showed her what I wrote about her mother, and she has a few corrections and additions.

First and foremost, the threatening letters may not be politically motivated. The family suspects that the letters are, instead, from a man who tried to court the daughter, 13 years ago. They plan to ignore them, in the hope that the jilted stalker might be lulled into inaction. The mother's last name is not Dulaymi, but Nu'aymi. The party headquarters were in Hindiyya, where she lived, an area between Kerbela and Hilla (near the ruins of Babylon), and the region she covered included Kerbela, but not Hilla. In addition, she was the principal of Halab High School for girls, and a top math teacher, too. The daughter said her mother was safe -- that she went to northern Iraq, and was the least fearful of anyone in the family. She was, her daughter testified, very brave and committed -- to neighbors, students, friends and her country.

The daughter promised to supply details of her mother's efforts to save people pursued by the regime and in the service of others in need.
This cheered me up, and lightened my load. Thanks, Doug -- and talk about man and wife starting to look alike -- check out Patti's smile.
Subj: Exhaustion
Date: 5/23/2004 10:44:29 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Dear ayad,
I don't know how you were able to convey utter exhaustion in text, but you did. (Wore me out just reading it.) Just know that I believe you are recording things which will stay with you forever, and for all who read about your experiences as well. Again, all I can say is thank you. Your efforts are appreciated very much.
Now; Don't kill yourself, and stay safe. A reply to this is not needed. Just know that I worry too much.

Keep up the good work,
PS. Patti says Hi:-)
Yesterday afternoon, at about two-thirty, a suicide car bomber killed two Iraqi and two British civilians, as they were about to enter the Convention Center grounds in Baghdad. Two people from the Iraq Foundation, whose offices I've been using, had entered the grounds moments earlier.

People wonder, when will these people stop their destruction and wreckage, and allow everybody to live normal lives. A man who works for my uncle was in the house this morning, talking about Jaysh il-Mehdi (the Savior's Army), Muqtada Sadir's militia. Where he lives, in the Thawra part of Baghdad (called Saddam City, renamed Sadir City, for Muqtada's father), he says the Mehdis have free reign, and people are afraid of them. People tell them to cease their activities, that innocents are getting harmed; the Mehdis charge their accusers of being "agents" (of America). "So, people just shut up, and sit at home," he said. The Mehdis block roads, to set up ambushes for American troops, and civilians get caught in the crossfire. My uncle's employee described the Mehdis as "a second Ba'ath, even worse." Last night, they were at it, from nine o'clock till six this morning.

Most people say that when Iraqis take over, they'll know how to deal with such people -- the wreckers, the kidnappers, the militias. A few executions here, a few executions there, and that'll teach 'em, that'll put 'em in line. Iraqis know how to deal with Iraqis, they say.

Meanwhile, today's papers report from the Iranian newspaper Keyhan that an Iranian group has publicly called for volunteers for suicide attacks on American and British troops in Iraq. They've enlisted names, the group says, and are looking for ways to send the attackers to Iraq.

The health ministry announced yesterday that across the country, 1168 Iraqis have been killed as a result of military clashes and bombings since the fifth of April. An additional 2350 Iraqis were wounded. Among the dead were 49 women and 37 children, and among the wounded, 152 women and 73 children. Over the same 50-day period, 450 Iraqis in Najaf and Kerbela were killed, and 865, wounded, most of them, from Jaysh il-Mehdi. Kerbela has witnessed two days of calm, while clashes persisted in Najaf. In Baghdad, 290 Iraqis have died in fighting and bombings, with 1215 more, injured. In Falluja, the ministry reported, 280 Iraqis and tens of American soldiers were killed. The health ministry's operations room began its nationwide tabulations on April 4.

An official spokesperson from the Najaf provincial government reported that 359 people (one newspaper has the figure as 395) from Najaf and Kufa have died and 580 have been injured in the last month and a half of fighting, most of them, from Jaysh il-Mehdi, as well as many women, children and elderly. In addition, he reported, 46 cars were burned, and 15 houses, 51 shops, four hotels, seven markets, three mosques, two schools and one health center were destroyed.

In Kufa, the ancient Sahla mosque was struck, Sunday at dawn -- locals say, by American forces. The Americans say they surrounded the mosque and found Sadir militiamen and weapons inside. A number of people were killed and wounded. The mosque goes back to the Umayyad Dynasty, and includes one of the many claimed last stops of the twelfth imam, Mehdi (the vanished, awaited messiah). The mosque's old library was destroyed, and large amounts of money, antiques, and gold and silver engravings, including gifts of kings and sultans, were looted. The Shi'i Waqf (religious trust) appealed to UNESCO, Interpol and other concerned agencies to assist in tracking down the stolen items.

American helicopters dropped leaflets over Kufa on Sunday and over Najaf on Monday, asking residents to pinpoint the whereabouts of "saboteurs" in their areas.

Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul Bremer III visited Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi at his headquarters, yesterday, according to the newspaper al-Ittihad. Chalabi's paper, al-Mu'tamar, reports a letter from lawyers of a Boston law firm asking the U.S. government for compensation for destroyed and looting items from the raids on his home and party offices, last Thursday.

Today, the transportation ministry is to be transferred to Iraqi sovereignty, making it the thirteenth, of twenty five Iraqi ministries, to be turned over to Iraqi control.

The government that's to take power on June 30 is to be announced by the end of this week or the begining of next, according to most officials involved in the selection process. The main competition is over eight posts -- those of president, prime minister, two deputy prime ministers, and the foreign, defense, treasury and oil ministers. A top candidate for one of the top posts, Adil Abdul-Mehdi -- the aide-de-camp of Aziz Abdul-Hakeem, the Governing Council member representing the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- is reported to have a doctorate in economics from France, in addition to being an Islamist writer and publisher there, as I reported earlier. Iraq's third largest ethnic group, Turkomen, are seeking high posts in the government, including six of the next government's 26 ministries. Kurds have reportedly downgraded their demands from the presidency and/or prime ministership. Shi'a, who comprise approximately 60 percent of the population, demand no less than the presidency or prime ministership. All politicians and groups say there shouldn't be any sectarian factors in deciding the government's makeup, which should be chosen, instead, on the basis of people's ability and the public interest. U.N. envoy Lakhdhar Brahimi's reported initial call for a government made up of technocrats was viewed by Shi'as and Kurds as a backdoor way to return Ba'this and/or Arab nationalists to positions of power.

Monday, May 24, 2004

A week ago, my friend Marc Jaffe recalled the large bagels sold by Palestinians, after I wrote about the Iraqi bagels I bought. I wrote to Marc:
Subj: Palestinian bagels
Date: 5/24/2004 10:03:52 AM Eastern Daylight Time

I remembered -- they were called
ka'ka, which I thought was weird, coz it's also what they called cakes, and it's what Iraqis call sort-of biscotti. Oh, well.

So, how's it going over there? and what about those suicide squads from the bullpen? No laughing matter, I know.

See you, Marc.
Date: 5/23/2004 2:30:01 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "David Levey"

Your comment about "America would turn everything into gold and honey,
overnight" reminds me of a story frequently heard in immigrant tales. That
of how immigrants - Jews, Poles, Italians, Irish, whomever in the old (and
even not so old) days would come to America thinking the living is easy and
that the streets are, if not literally, then proverbially paved with gold.
They got this idea from the newspapers and from their relatives who of
course would boast about their great jobs and the great big cities and the
clean fresh air of the countryside and how big and fat their kids (and
wives) were getting off the fat of the land. Even in the former Soviet
Union, many would believe that America is like "Dynasty" and "Miami Vice."

That is of course before they came here. Once they got here, many
immigrants revised their opinions. Yes, America is a place of incredible
opportunity - but it also means working incredibly hard. It also means
living by rules that are not your own. This leads to changing expectations,
a willingness in many cases to abandon old traditions and ways of doing
things and even rejecting the "old culture."

Iraqis have in that sense the worst of both worlds. They don't understand
enough about America to know that it is not all golden. And they are still
left with the perception that America can do anything it wants - therefore if
something goes badly, the Americans must be doing it intentionally. And of
course unlike being "in" America, being "with" America means that Iraqis
don't need to change to American laws and customs. America is the "foreign"
power rather than the immigrant being the "foreigner" in America. So as
illustrated in your Saturday entry, the "bakhshish" culture
, which as you know
really is not the way we do things here in the USA flourishes, along with
all of the other "traditions" of Iraq- the good, the bad and the indifferent

I'd be interested in hearing your perspective on Beirut and your journey


* * *
Date: 5/24/2004 9:35:29 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, David,

As usual -- thanks, and great job, of summing things up so well. I failed to thank you for doing that, in the case of explaining so well the Jew-hatred, -blaming, etc.

It does look like I'm gonna make the trip to Lebanon -- I really need the break.

I'll keep posting, I hope, along the way, which will include a stop, or two, in Syria -- my first trips in 32 years, I think. First since '71 in Lebanon, and I don't think I made a stop in Syria since then, either.

See you.
I should add, that most people's information about America still comes from "Dynasty" and the movies. That's on top of the propaganda fed to them by their governments and media, that says "we're not responsible for anything," and America controls all. The propaganda includes how decadent and crime-infested America is, the implication being, "quit your griping, you ain't got it so bad here, after all."
I wrote on April 17 and May 5 about doctors in the Iraqi military trailing the chemical bombings of 1987 and 1988 to chart the efficacy of various elements contained in the cocktail of poisons used. In essence, the chemical bombings of 50+ villages and towns in Iraqi Kurdistan were an experiment, to see which chemicals worked best -- killed the most people, in the quickest amount of time, or in the most painful way -- practice, for later use -- better, I suppose, more important, use. I just got around to tracking down, on the internet, the article where I learned about the activities of these military doctors. It's from the March 25, 2002, issue of The New Yorker, and is called "The Great Terror." In the first half of the article, Jeffrey Goldberg tells the horrific story of Halabja, to show "new evidence of Saddam Hussein's genocidal war on the Kurds." The first-hand accounts contained there, I felt, have all the makings of a powerfully moving play -- just need a good dramaturg. In the second half of the article, Goldberg interviews people in Kurdistan who shed light on Saddam's "possible ties to Al Qaeda".
I saw the tribe in action, last night -- and, no, I'm not talking about the Cleveland Indians. Actually, I've been seeing the tribe in action for weeks.

Last night, my aunt came back to her brother's house (where I'm staying), after several days at her daughter's. That's another story -- stay tuned. My aunt saw me, dragging -- not my usual cheerful self. I told her I was tired, and sad about the demise of my relationship with Layla. So, she went over, picked up the phone and called Layla. She told her she (my aunt) was sad about the breakup, and that I was very sad over it. My aunt very much wants to bring me and Layla together, and faults me for not having proposed marriage, right from the start. There you have it. That's the way it's done. I'm about to join this aunt for a little vacation in Lebanon.

A few days before, my aunt had packed up most of her things and left her brother's house. She was upset that he was expending so much energy and emotion on his daughters, one of whom would soon move in, upstairs, with another, already living with her family in a house he built for her on the same property, across the front yard, some 14 years ago.

About a week before, my uncle called on the daughter from across the front yard, and asked her to have a word with her husband, so he would desist from yucking it up and enjoying himself with the neighbor's guards and drivers -- especially in front of him. My uncle is very disdainful of the neighbor, a Pakistani, because he’d done a lot of business with Saddam's son Uday, and has often, even since Saddam's ouster, supplied women at his home for business partners and government officials, including parties at his swimming pool.

Then, in the first of these recent episodes, my aunt called up her daughter in America and told her she wasn’t to see a friend who’s family might be involved in strip joints. That was an order. She put the kibosh on that relationship. Initially, another daughter was deployed into action, to investigate the Lebanese-American family and impress her sister. The sister replied that her friend was fine, that her family was involved in clubs, and that she (the sister) was praying and had done nothing wrong. The heavy artillery was in reserve -- Dad.
I headed back to the interior ministry yesterday morning, to complete my citizenship application and obtain an Iraqi ID. This time, I went in, solo. The power windows of my cousin's car were stuck, so I let him stay with the car. My cell phone couldn't come in with me, past the front-door security check. I went back up to the fifth floor. The man I'd seen on Wednesday, was there. He told me the half-dozen metal barrels in the anteroom were a fire-fighting device. They had a fire in the building in 1998, and...things didn't work out, I guess. He wasn't there, then.

I had with me -- in lieu of a document from a municipality to prove I lived here (my cousin had tried, but his friend who works with the municipality couldn't issue anything for me, as I wasn't a permanent resident) -- my uncle's ID and his food-ration coupon (I'm living with this uncle). Not good enough. I had to have something from the municipality -- for me. It looks like we've hit a dead end. My cousin said I should just stay put, not venture far, or try to get the guards from the office to accompany me. Otherwise, maybe I should wait a year, till things get better, so I can get around on my American passport. Well, I just might have to call in the heavy artillery -- my friend the interior minister, if he can be called away from more pressing matters.

As to why our citizenships were frozen, my uncle clarified that last night. Rather than my grandfather's brother living in Qom, Iran, the reason all the Rahims had their citizenships "frozen" was that my grandfather's grandfather was born in Tabriz, Iran (while his parents, my grandfather's great-grandparents, were spending the summer there). As a result, my father's cousin who was a Ba'ath Party member in good standing, and friends with Saddam from the '60s, went to Saddam and pleaded with him, "What have you done with all the Rahims?" For four months, my uncle said, he drove himself mad, scouring all manner of records, to prove we were Iraqi. "And we've been here a thousand years. And who's he? He doesn't know who his father is -- the son-of-a-bitch. And people ask why we hate him." My uncle found a record for a property in Hilla (near the ruins of Babylon) that went back to the mid-19th Century. He brought out papers for a building the family owned in Kerbela from the 1950s. All, to prove he's a proper Iraqi. For his son, who accompanied me to the interior ministry both days, the matter was more pressing, for, with the Iran war still going, he wouldn't be deported to Iran, with the rest of the family, he'd be imprisoned in Iraq, in Abu Ghraib, so he couldn't join the Iranian army, against Iraq.
You know you’ve been in the Arab world too long, when:

You’re thirsty, and you actually have a craving for a Pepsi.

Click here, for previous items from my top-ten list.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

I got the following e-mail last week, from a person who first got in touch with me last summer, after seeing an article by me:
Subj: Re: "We've come back to life"
Date: 5/18/2004 4:45:23 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Rita

I have thought many times of writing to you again. The news from Iraq has been pretty much downbeat in the last month. So much hatred, So much violence. One would be led to believe that the Iraqis are totally anti-American. What is the situation from your point of view. We need some good news. I'm worried that the Democrats will win the election and we will go down hill from there. Can you offer us some ray of hope amidst the dark?

Hope you don't mind my writing to you. You proved a good comforter in your article, "We've come back to life". Are you still firm in your belief?

Thanks for listening,

Rita's recent e-mail included her September e-mail to me, and my reply:
> Subj: "We've come back to life"
> Date: 9/5/2003 3:12:37 PM Eastern Daylight Time
> From: Rita
> Dear Ayad,
> Thank you for the article as stated above. It was so rewarding to actually hear a positive story relating to Iraq. As the press would have it everything is doom and gloom over there and we are led to believe that a big mistake was made when the coalition forces went to liberate the country.
> I have heard occasional stories that speak to that which you wrote but by and large every article suggests no progress has been made. And that in fact we are going backwards. The President is sustaining many "hits" as to the intelligence of his policy. What we saw on TV the day Bagdad fell made one feel sure the right thing was done. I only hope it won't be long before total peace prevails.
> Please continue letting us know the reality of the situation in Iraq. We are certainly not getting it from our press.
> Thanks again.
> Rita

Hello, Rita,

Thank you for writing, and for your compliments. I'm trying, but I'm just one person, swimming in a sea of negativity -- oh, well. A lot of the negative reports, unfortunatley, have nothing to do with Iraq, but are salvos in our domestic political battles.

It will take time (in Iraq) till, as you called it, peace prevails. For we're countering 45 years of political violence there, and 35 years of the most brutal repression. But all the ingredients for a positive outcome, I believe, are there -- a desire by Iraqis to make things better, a commitment from America to see things through, and impatience on both sides. So

I'm pretty optimistic.

All the best, and thank you.

Ayad Rahim
Then, my recent reply:
Date: 5/20/2004 12:30:11 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Hello, Rita,

Good to hear from you, again. You're always welcome to write -- no need to apologize.

I am in Baghdad -- got here more than six weeks ago. I've been keeping a blog, which I started a couple of weeks before I left Cleveland, on the second of April. Its address is below, and, although there's a lot there, you might wanna have a look, if you're really interested in what's going on -- especially, how I see things. I'm optimistic, still -- that's my nature, though. I just looked at your first e-mail, and my initial response, and things really haven't changed. The "bad" news is, still, a function of our political battles -- in America. People are very happy to be rid of Saddam -- it's even more amazing, when you hear people talk -- about their lives before. They had very high expectations -- thinking America would turn everything into gold and honey, overnight -- mainly because they had these very unrealistic notions of what America could do, and also because they've been waiting so long to be relieved of their agony, they're just longing for a decent life.

As to your question, no, people are not anti-American -- not by a long run. Sure, there are some people -- the ones who get all the ink and the pictures on TV -- that's what sells, that's what's dramatic. Most people, though, just go about their lives. I'm in an internet cafe right now, and people come in and out. Outside of here, people are walking around the stores -- there are clothing stores around here -- I'm in a fashionable area, a sort of suburb of Baghdad -- there are rug stores. I'm hoping to go get some ice cream or fresh juice, in 35 minutes, when my uncle's due to pick me up, at nine o'clock.

Well -- I could write a lot more, but, suffice it to say, it's gonna be a long road, as I wrote you before, but the ingredients are still good -- all the things necessary to make this work. And we also have no choice in the matter -- faced off, as we are, against what I call Arab fascism, the source of the terrorism we're facing.

I wish you all the best. I apologize for not being able to answer your questions, and maybe not being able to ease your worries/concerns more, but, be...assured, we have done the right thing, we continue to do the right thing, and although you don't get much word of good things happening, let alone expressions of appreciation from Iraqis, there are plenty of people who are appreciative -- although I wish more would be, but that's not our goal -- and there are a lot of great things happening.

Good bye.
Rita's responses:
Subj: "We've come back to life"
Date: 5/21/2004 11:31:49 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Rita

Thanks, Ayad, for responding to my recent e-mail and giving me the address of your blog.

Some days one wonders if there is any good news re. Iraq. It seems each new day brings a new crisis. I have never doubted going into Iraq was a good thing. It is so satisfying to know these people are no longer living under the black cloud of Saddam.

In our typical "we want it right now" mentality we look to each news report as telling us all has been accomplished. In reality we know it takes time.

I didn't understand why Chalabi was raided and do so appreciate your explanation of what he is all about. When I first became aware of his name in the news there seemed to be some concerns about him and I couldn't understand the role he was playing on the Council. Now we hope this isn't a crisis that will alter the plan of turning over sovereignity.

We have befriended a Rwandan refugee family and have taken them as part of our family. Listening to their story of the Rwandan massacre in 1994 helps us to understand the life of the Iraqi people under the cruelty of Saddam. Man's inhumaity to man is unfathomable.

I will look forward to the updates on your blog. Maybe that will help to deal with this journey to peace.

God bless and keep you safe.


Date: 5/22/2004 12:28:01 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Rita

Hi Ayad!

...in responding to your request. I had to give it some thought. I'm honored that you consider what I wrote to be worthy of putting on your blog, however, I have concerns.... I truly would like to be a voice for the good that America stands for because that is what we want for Iraq....

Another Suzanne Fields column (May 10), about "Male humiliation, Muslim rage," with Abu Ghraib in the foreground, and Arab history as a backdrop. Again, by clicking here, you'll get her newest column, but her archives are at the bottom.

Fields's last paragraph, below, reminds me of what Baghdad University law professor Mishkat el-Moumin says she tells her students -- that violations of human rights happen in democracies and dictatorships. The difference is, in democracies, the victim can confront the violator; in dictatorships, that cannot happen.
It was our Army that discovered the humiliation at Abu Ghraib Prison, and our media, with its guarantee of freedom of the press, that put them out for the world to see. This is a sign of the strength of Western values, not weakness, and we must make that point over and over, as many times as necessary, to impress it on the consciousness of the world.
Thanks to Suzanne Fields's May 20 column (by clicking here, you get her newest column, but her archives are at the bottom), I tracked down excerpts from President Bush's May 14 commencement address at Concordia University, in Mequon, Wisconsin:
Third, America needs your idealism to show the good heart of our country to the whole world.... The kingdom you serve is not bounded by coasts or rivers or checkpoints. The hymns you sing are sung in every language. The needs of all the world are your concern, and I hope that, with your generous spirit and global vision, you will point the way for others.

The moral ideals of America are also universal. Because we believe in the rights and dignity of our own citizens, we believe in the rights and dignity of people everywhere.... And where there is tyranny, oppression, and gathering danger to mankind, America works and sacrifices for peace and freedom. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is the Almighty God's gift to all humanity.

At this hour, our fellow citizens are sacrificing for the security and freedom of Afghanistan and Iraq. Their mission is like others we have given to past generations in our military: to defeat the violent and rescue the innocent. The mission of our military is also vital to the interests of America: We will not allow Afghanistan and Iraq to fall under the control of radicals and terrorists who are intent on our own destruction. On these matters, the compassion and the vital interests of our country speak as one: For the sake of peace, for the sake of security, we will stand for freedom.

The great events of these historic times can seem remote, and beyond the control of individuals. Yet, we have recently seen how much difference, for good or ill, the choices of individual men and women can make. In Iraq, the cruelty of a few has brought discredit to their uniform and embarrassment to our country. The consequences of their failures of character reach well beyond the walls of a prison. Yet, those failures cannot diminish the honor and achievement of more than 200,000 military personnel who have served in Iraq since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The character of the men and women who wear our uniform has been shown in countless acts of goodness and decency and unselfish courage. Our American military comes from all parts of the country. Six are members of the graduating class, and we thank them all.

One person can do so much harm, or so much good. One person can show the compassion and character of a whole country in an hour of testing.... By showing the generosity of America, you can help change the world.

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