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

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Roadside bomb kills two Louisiana soldiers in Baghdad
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 28, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. They died March 26 in Baghdad, Iraq, when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated near their HMMWV while they were on patrol.

Killed were:

Sgt. Lee M. Godbolt, 23, of New Orleans, La. Godbolt was assigned
to the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 141st Field Artillery Regiment, New Orleans, La.

Sgt. Isiah J. Sinclair, 31, of Natchitoches, La. Sinclair was assigned to the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 156th Armored Regiment, Shreveport, La.
National assembly meeting – take two

Tuesday afternoon's meeting of the elected Iraqi national assembly was a dud. It was over, before it got started. The meeting had set for itself the goal of selecting a speaker and two deputies for the assembly – at the least. It did not accomplish this, in its 30-minute open session, which began at 1:30, two and a half hours late. Nor have there been any announcements, of what transpired, in the closed session that followed. Actually, the assembly speaker pro tem, its eldest member, Shaykh Dhaari il-Fayyaadh, asked the media to leave the auditorium, but, in fact, almost all remained. As political analyst Uday Abu Tabeekh put it, "The media didn't leave, but 25 million Iraqis left," contrary to the transitional administrative law, he added, referring to the interim constitution, which required that assembly sessions be public and recorded.

Fayyaadh began the meeting with general remarks about creating a democratic, federal, constitutional Iraq. Fayyaadh was flanked at the head table on-stage by the leader of the (Sunni) Iraqi Islamic Party, Haachim al-Hasani, and Hsayn Shahristani, a confidante to Ayatollah Ali i-Sistani and a former nuclear chemist who was imprisoned for 10 years for refusing to help Saddam build a nuclear bomb. Fayyaadh consulted Shahristani a couple of times on matters of procedure and legality.

From the floor, assembly member Mansour a-Timimi, from Basra, said that 40 British vehicles and two helicopters raided his home and detained 11 of his family members, and asked the assembly to respond. The camera was pointed, from a distance, at the head table, at which were seated five men, and we could not see the faces of any of the other members. An assemblywoman said, "We can't do anything without selecting a president for the national assembly and two deputies. What do we tell the street, who've been waiting for us to produce something?.... Tell us what's happening." Fayyaadh asked "the Sunni brothers" to nominate a candidate for the top assembly post. There was some cross-talk, but no names were announced. An assemblyman (later identified as Hsayn a-Sadir, a cleric and member of Ayad Allawi's Iraqi List) called for a meeting, the next day, to nominate candidates for assembly leader. Fayyaadh then called for "a secret session. I ask of the media people to leave the auditorium." The television broadcast of the meeting went off. I didn't hear objections to sealing the meeting. It was later reported that all media, except Reuters and Iraqiyyeh television, were permitted to remain in the auditorium. It was also later reported that Allawi and Yawer walked out of the closed session.

Two mortar rounds reportedly fell outside the convention center, prior to the meeting. The main Jamhuriyyeh and Rashid bridges were closed for the day, as were roads in areas abutting the Green Zone, the location of the convention center.

Meanwhile, deputy prime minister Barham Salih came out of a meeting with Ukrainian officials, Wednesday, and proclaimed what Iraq "faces a genuine political crisis."

Interim President Ghazi il-Yawer's rejection of the top assembly post is said to be the cause for the hangup. He reportedly prefers to be one of the country's two vice-presidents. Efforts are supposedly ongoing, to persuade Yawer to accept the post. In the meantime, the winning United Iraqi Alliance has put forth for the post a Sunni Arab member from its ranks, Shaykh Fawwaz a-Jarba, who is Yawer's cousin, from Rabee'ah, which borders Syria, also from the Shammar tribe, and a 1982 graduate of a military academy.

Political analyst Saadiq al-Musawi identified the problem as being "the weakness of the Sunni presence in the national assembly," and that Yawer is the only one among the approximately 17 Sunni Arabs in the assembly with the necessary qualifications for the post, and was using his uniqueness as a pressure card.

The candidate of Allawi's list is said to be Adnan a-Janabi. The Iraqi List is reported to be willing to withdraw Janabi's name, in exchange for a review of the distribution of ministerial posts. Another top candidate for the post, Haachim al-Hasani, the holder of a doctorate in industrial organization from Connecticut, is originally Kurdish. Vis a vis another candidate for the post, Farooq Abdallah, of the Turkoman Front, the Kurdish coalition is said to have some reservations. The Kurdish coalition has not offered a name, but is said not to mind Jarba, with some members preferring Hasani.

Allawi has been accused by some of causing the delay, because he's refused to join the government. He has made public his conditions for joining the government, mainly, an end to the process of de-Ba'thification and keeping political parties out the security services. Some interpret both to mean, leaving the security services that Allawi has put together, alone, which many accuse of being infiltrated by Ba'thi officers that Allawi has returned. To the charge of delaying the process of forming a government, Allawi responds that he was approached to join the government, late in the day.

The assembly is to meet again, Sunday. One substantive accomplishment from Tuesday's meeting was the creation of a committee of seven assembly members, who are to draw up the internal structure of the assembly. Discussions between the three top lists reportedly resumed, Tuesday night.

According to a source in the United Iraqi Alliance's top party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the UIA is threatening to go it alone in forming a government, if matters aren't resolved by Sunday. By this scenario, the final candidates for assembly speaker are Jarba, Hasani and Shahristani.

On Hurra-Iraq's discussion program "Bil-Iraqi" (In Iraqi), Tuesday night, the four guests agreed that "a ship guided by 1000 captains" would likely sink. Thaa'ir il-Fayli said, "We don't know who's going to lead Iraq; we don't know who wants to lead Iraq; we don't know what's happened." Mhammad al-Askari blamed "unrealistic and marginal agreements reached by conferences" of the Iraqi opposition, abroad. Uday abu-Tabeekh added, "Opposition work is not administrative work." Tabeekh asked, "What's my relationship with" the exile conferences? He wanted Iraqi politicians "to be freed" from those conferences; from "the bloody memory," wherein "because of Halabcha, give me such-and-such"; and from the obstacle of the undemocratically arrived-at interim constitution. Askari, noting that the interim constitution required the approval of two-thirds of the assembly to form a government, said, "Just as the Iraqi street forced the government to respond to Jordan, they will do the same, if Sunday's meeting doesn't achieve results."

Jo'dett Kadhum al-Ubaydi called the day's session "a farce," without an agenda. Askari described it as "hasty and confused," because "they set a date," and stuck to it, even though they hadn't resolved the outstanding issues between the parties.

The discussants bemoaned a weak government, the lack of transparency, negotiations behind closed doors, and members of each list not being told what's happening. Askari said, "Show all negotiations, discussions on television, so the public gets to see who's" doing what, and can vote accordingly. He noted that the splits within the lists were apparent. Fayli noted that since the elections, some of the government ministers have left, and not returned. He added, "The Iraqi street is missing, completely." Fayli said he feared "for democracy in Iraq,…if discussions overtake elections…. The Alliance has the right to form the government…. Including others is a nice thing, but we have to respect the choice of the people. We've emptied the elections of their value."

Askari, among others, spoke of "the hawks in the first row," while the rest don't know what's happening. Ubaydi, who like Fayli, returned to Iraq from abroad, said of the interim national assembly formed last July, "three-quarters of the 1000 who attended, didn't know what was happening."

A new name hit the pipeline, Wednesday, for the post of assembly leader -- Mish'aan a-Juburi, a Sunni Arab who soon after liberation declared himself mayor of Mosul. A conference of 200-300 Sunni Arabs was held, Wednesday, and, according to an attendee, the choice of the conferees for parliament speaker was Juburi. I have a little history with Juburi. At the 1992 anti-Saddam conference in Salahuddine, Juburi attended at least one meeting of the liberal democratic bloc – at the urinals, he'd told me that he worked in Saddam's press office, writing speeches and press statements. During one of our sessions, I noticed a bulge in the back of his magenta suit, and told my colleague Zuhayr al-Humadi, who later hailed security. They forced Juburi to remove the pistol, which he said he needed, for his own protection. When I later interviewed Juburi in London, he was certain that the tape of the interview would find its way to Ahmad Chalabi, because I was "counted" as belonging to Chalabi.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Self-immolation is the last resort for women trapped in unbearable lives, and it seems to be on the increase.

By Azeez Mahmood in Sulaimaniyah
March 17, 2005

Whenever 23-year-old Suhair starts to speak, she pulls a veil over her face to cover the disfiguring burns.

She set herself on fire last year after having failed to conceive three years into her marriage.

"My husband is demanding a child from me, and I'm infertile," she said.

More and more women are choosing this desperate measure, setting themselves on fire in the hope of committing suicide.

The survivors are left with terrible scarring.

Sulaimaniyah Emergency Hospital sees a lot of the cases in this northern part of Iraq, and the statistics indicate an alarming rise in the numbers.

The Kurdistan Women's Union has launched an awareness campaign to try to persuade women not to take this drastic step.

"We've run a number of adverts to show women that no circumstances in life can justify a woman setting herself alight," said Payman Izzadin, a spokesperson for the woman's union.

Wazira, 37, lies in hospital, recovering from burns that cover most of her body. She has no fingers or nose, and all her hair has been burnt off. She constantly wails, "Oh, what did I do to myself? Why did I burn myself?"

A nurse at the Sulaimaniyah hospital who gave her name as Dilsoz said survivors are often ashamed to admit what they have done.

"We know that some of the women who come here have set themselves on fire, because we can smell the kerosene. And it is obvious they did it themselves from the nature of their injuries, particularly those whose burns go from top downwards."

Samira, an 18-year-old nomadic woman who sustained burns over almost all her body, is a typical case where doctors suspect a suicide attempt. Her mother said it was an accident involving a lantern.

"Women are frightened of their families and relatives, so they're unable to admit they set themselves alight," explained Izzadin. "Maybe they feel anger towards their husbands and want to conceal it."

Most of the burn victims whom IWPR talked to blamed their husbands.

Mhabad, 30, told how hard-hearted her husband was.

"My husband asked me not to burn myself inside his house, but to do it outside," she said.

As she went into the backyard and set herself alight, her young son watched from the window, crying.

"I poured kerosene over myself to burn myself out of despair, because he doesn't love me," said Mhabad.

Now she has left hospital and returned to her husband. "He is bad to me, just like before."

Haseeba, 22, suffered large-scale burns after a suicide attempt last year. Her face was rebuilt in six months of plastic surgery.

"My husband is not good to me and people look at me differently," she said. But I don't want to set myself on fire again. I regret it now.

"I just wanted to have a different life from the one I had in the past."

Azeez Mahmood is an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah. The names of victims have been changed to protect their identities.
This Institute for War and Peace Reporting article is also available in Kurdish and Arabic.
We're on

The president pro tempore of the Iraqi National Assembly, its eldest member, Shaykh Dhaair il-Fayyaadh, has called for the assembly to assemble for the second time, Tuesday morning, at eleven o'clock. Fayyaadh's summons says that at the top of the assembly's duties will be "the selection and naming of the president and two vice-presidents for the elected national assembly." Some expect that the assembly might also select a president and two vice-presidents for the republic, whose first task is to choose a prime minister, who will then put together the cabinet.

Although popular sentiment among Arabs has turned against the bargaining position of the Kurdish bloc, it is unlikely that the presidential troika will be chosen Tuesday, as that would take away the leverage Kurds have in the general assembly. The assembly requires a two-thirds vote for the choice of president and vice presidents, and a simple majority to give a vote of confidence to the prime minister's cabinet.

Soon after the election results were announced, in mid-February, the top candidate for prime minister has been Dr. Ibrahim a-Ja'fari, leader of the Da'wa Party and the second-ranking member of the winning United Iraqi Alliance. There has been consternation among the public, though, over Ja'fari's inability to form a government. Since the elections, the two top vote-getting lists, the UIA and the Unified Kurdistani Coalition, have been negotiating over their positions vis a vis federalism, the status of Kerkook, the peshmarga militia and government posts. Lately, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's third-place finishing Iraqi List has become a party to the negotiations, as have others, particularly members of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, whose representation in the national assembly is less than the group's percentage of the population. Most politicians, including Ja'fari and the Kurdish leaders, have been insistent that all segments of Iraqi society be included in the government. Monday's Al-Nahdhah, the organ of Adnan Pachachi's Independent Democratic Gathering, quotes Jalal Talabani as attributing the tardiness in forming the government to the effort to bring Allawi's bloc into the discussions. Talabani, who's expected to become the country's first Kurdish president, said he considers Tuesday's session a continuation of the first session. Some have said that the multiplicity of parties, the efforts to include all and the newness of the process have caused the delay.

Monday's Al-Mu'tamar, the organ of Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, has a banner headline across its front page, declaring Fawwaz al-Jarba the first president of the national assembly. The four-line heading goes on to name three Arab Sunni candidates for one of the country's two vice presidents -- interim President Ghazi il-Yawer, Da'wa's nominee; Sherif Ali bin Husayn, cousin of the last king, the choice of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq; and Mudhar Showket, of the INC, to whom "the other forces are committed." Yawer was reported this evening to have declined the post of assembly president. On al-Arabiyya's "Min el-Iraq," this evening, deputy prime minister Barham Salih, a top Kurdish negotiator, asked Iraqis to "be patient. We've been waiting for 35 years of tyranny…. We are creating a state, for all Iraqis."

Monday, March 28, 2005

26-year-old Cleveland lance-corporal was killed in Babil, last month
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Feb 28, 2005

DoD Identifies Marine Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Lance Cpl. Andrew W. Nowacki, 24, of South Euclid, Ohio, died Feb. 26 from wounds received as a result of hostile action in Babil Province, Iraq. He was assigned to Marine Forces Reserve’s 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Erie, Pa.
Playing Both Sides in Jordan

By Jim Hoagland
Washington Post
March 27, 2005

Pop quiz: Which Arab ruler is to George W. Bush as Yasser Arafat was to Bill Clinton?

Congratulations if you said King Abdullah of Jordan. And a tip of the hat to all those Iraqis who came up with the answer so fast. You know your neighborhood, and your neighbor.

Abdullah emulates Arafat in possessing special, drop-in-anytime visiting rights to the White House and in merchandising that access to puff up his influence at home and with other Arab leaders. The Jordanian monarch seizes every opportunity to see and be seen with the U.S. president and his senior aides. Rather than attend an Arab summit to support his unconvincing, warmed-over version of a "peace plan" with Israel, Abdullah was again stateside last week, basking in the glow of meetings with Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

And, as Arafat did, Abdullah works against U.S. interests in Iraq and elsewhere while pretending otherwise. The youthful Jordanian autocrat pulls the wool over the eyes of a Republican president as the deceased Palestinian revolutionary did with Bush's Democratic predecessor.

If there is a difference in the comparative equation, it is likely that Clinton distrusted Arafat more. In Abdullah's case, Bush again displays a disturbing tendency to overinvest in the swagger and guile of people who run or who are close to spy agencies. (See Tenet, George, and Putin, Vladimir, for details.)

I stipulate the obvious: Bush is obliged by realpolitik to work with Abdullah and with Jordan. One of only two Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel, Jordan has long been an important link in the Middle East peace process as well as a platform for U.S. covert and military activities.

But a few senior U.S. officials, less impressed with Abdullah's Special Operations background and his deep connections to the CIA, fear that the president's lavish embrace is overdone. They point to the nasty public row between Iraq and Jordan over a suicide bombing and to the apparently protected presence in Jordan of key operatives in the Iraqi insurgency. These are troubling signs being ignored by Bush.

Iraqis have not forgotten that Jordan supported Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and afterward. Iraqi resources were drained by the massive breaking of sanctions and other corrupt dealings that enriched the Jordanian establishment at the expense of the Iraqi people.

Abdullah's meddling in Iraqi affairs since the overthrow of the Baathists has rekindled those resentments. The king has exacerbated tensions with his aggressive championing of his co-religionists, Iraq's Sunni minority, who provided the base of past Baathist power and of the present insurgency.

Abdullah publicly warned against the coming to power of Iraq's Shiite majority as he sought to get Bush to postpone the Jan. 30 elections. He has portrayed Iraq on the edge of a religious war. He has channeled support to CIA favorites among Iraqi factions.

So when Iraqis heard on March 14 that the Jordanian family of Raed Banna had thrown a huge party to celebrate their relative's "martyrdom" -- which consisted of killing himself and 125 Iraqis in the Shiite town of Hilla -- they said "enough."

Angry crowds sacked the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad and forced it to close. "Iraqis are feeling very bitter over what happened," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said. Shiite leader Abdul Aziz Hakim called on Jordan to acknowledge "the meanness and lowliness of people who celebrate the killing of honorable Iraqis" and "to stop the incitement, recruitment and mobilization of Jordanian terrorists to Iraq."

Hakim should not hold his breath. Former Baathist lieutenants who are now key operatives in the Iraqi insurgency still move themselves and money around Jordan without interference. In an incident that Bush should probe, U.S. officials a few months ago identified two such Iraqis and asked that they be questioned.

But the king waved the Americans off, saying that the two were minor figures who did not have blood on their hands. "We came to know that wasn't true, as he no doubt knew back then," one U.S. official told me.

Abdullah has publicly suggested that Syria should consider Bush's demand for a withdrawal from Lebanon while privately sharing with other Arab leaders his fears that such a move would be destabilizing. And he has been more supportive of the president's push for democracy in the Arab world in Washington meetings than he has been at home.

This does not win Abdullah the world-class laurels for duplicity and deception garnered by Arafat. But then the king is still young.


We are in urgent need for a media that counters the propaganda directed against Iraq

-- presumptive prime minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari,
March 26, 2005

Radical Iraqi cleric's follower calls for million-strong anti-US demo

Fri Mar 25,11:23 AM ET

KUFA, Iraq (AFP) - A follower of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr called for a million-strong demonstration in Iraq to demand a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops.

"Passing laws that contradict Islam will be tantamount to treason to the marajaiya (religious authority) and not insisting on a timetable for an end to the occupation is even greater treason," said Sheikh Nasser al-Saedi in his sermon at the Grand Mosque in Kufa, south of Baghdad.

"Last Friday I called for a million-strong demonstration to demand a timetable for the end of the occupation and I repeat this demand again and I call on all political forces to take part in this demonstration."

The spiritual leader of Iraq's majority Shiites Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani put his weight behind the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which swept the January elections.

Sadr, who led a rebellion last year against US forces that ended with the bloody siege of Najaf, has stayed away from the political process. But some of his sympathisers have joined the UIA.

Clinton khosh Clinton, laakin Bush yu'wezzin bee

-- Clinton's a good Clinton, but Bush keeps prodding him,
chant by Iraqi-government demonstrations during Bill Clinton's presidency

Breaking News


Scolds Iraqis in Televised Tongue-lashing

In a televised interview today, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that Iraq's nascent democracy was entering "a crucial stage" and warned the Iraqi people, "Don't do anything stupid without calling me first."

Mr. Rumsfeld, appearing on the Fox News Channel, looked directly into the camera to address the Iraqi people in a surprisingly stern tone of voice: "Listen up, you Iraqis, because I am only going to say this once."

The Defense Secretary then warned the Iraqi people against any "horsing around" or "monkey business" when it comes to choosing members of their first democratic government.

"I have personally busted my hump to bring democracy to that infernal country of yours and I don't want to see you putting any Tom, Dick or Harry in charge," he said.

Leaving little doubt that he intended to back up his words with action, Mr. Rumsfeld added, "I gave democracy to you and I can take it away - and don't think I wouldn't dare."

He then recited his home phone number for Iraqis to call "before you do anything stupid," adding, "If I'm not there, leave a message with Mrs. Rumsfeld."

Turning to other matters, Rumsfeld had harsh words for the nation of Turkey, who in March of 2003 refused to let the U.S. invade Iraq from the north: "They don't call your country 'Jive-ass Turkey' for nothing."
That's from the March 21, 2005, (Andy) Borowitz Report.

It's as if we didn't go vote

-- my cousin,
March 26, 2005,
to the possibility of Ayad Allawi staying on as prime minister

There Are Signs the Tide May Be Turning on Iraq's Street of Fear

The New York Times
March 21, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Nearly two years after American troops captured Baghdad, Haifa Street is like an arrow at the city's heart. A little more than two miles long, it runs south through a canyon of mostly abandoned high-rises and majestic date palms almost to the Assassin's Gate, the imperial-style arch that is the main portal to the Green Zone compound, the principal seat of American power.

When most roads in central Baghdad are choked with traffic, there is rarely more than a trickle of vehicles on Haifa Street. At the day's height, a handful of pedestrians scurry down empty sidewalks, ducking into covered walkways that serve as sanctuaries from gunfire - and as blinds for insurgent attacks in one of Iraq's most bitterly contested battle zones.

American soldiers call the street Purple Heart Boulevard: the First Battalion of the Ninth Cavalry, patrolling here for the past year before its recent rotation back to base at Fort Hood, Tex., received more than 160 Purple Hearts. Many patrols were on foot, to gather intelligence on neighborhoods that American officers say have been the base for brutal car bombings, kidnappings and assassinations across Baghdad.

In the first 18 months of the fighting, the insurgents mostly outmaneuvered the Americans along Haifa Street, showing they could carry the war to the capital's core with something approaching impunity.

But American officers say there have been signs that the tide may be shifting. On Haifa Street, at least, insurgents are attacking in smaller numbers, and with less intensity; mortar attacks into the Green Zone have diminished sharply; major raids have uncovered large weapons caches; and some rebel leaders have been arrested or killed.

American military engineers, frustrated elsewhere by insurgent attacks, are moving ahead along Haifa Street with a $20 million program to improve electricity, sewer and other utilities. So far, none of the work sites have been attacked, although a local Shiite leader who vocally supported the American projects was assassinated on his doorstep in January.

But the change American commanders see as more promising than any other here is the deployment of large numbers of Iraqi troops. American commanders are eager to shift the fighting in Iraq to the country's own troops, allowing American units to pull back from the cities and, eventually, to begin drawing down their 150,000 troops. Haifa Street has become an early test of that strategy.

Last month, an Iraqi brigade with two battalions garrisoned along Haifa Street became the first homegrown unit to take operational responsibility for any combat zone in Iraq. The two battalions can muster more than 2,000 soldiers, twice the size of the American cavalry battalion that has led most fighting along the street. So far, American officers say, the Iraqis have done well, withstanding insurgent attacks and conducting aggressive patrols and raids, without deserting in large numbers or hunkering down in their garrisons.

If Haifa Street is brought under control, it will be a major step toward restoring order in this city of five million, and will send a wider message: that the insurgents can be matched, and beaten back.

Still, American commanders are wary, saying the changes are a long way from a victory. They note that the insurgents match each tactical change by the Americans and Iraqi government forces with their own.

"We know that we face a learning enemy, just as we learn from him," said Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, who left Baghdad recently after a year commanding the First Cavalry Division, responsible for overall security in Baghdad and for the 800-member task force dedicated to Haifa Street. "But I believe we are gaining the upper hand," he said.

A Downturn in Rebel Fire

For now, the days when rebels could gather in groups as large as 150, pinning down American troops for as long as six hours at a time, have tapered off. American officers say only three Haifa Street mortars have hit the Green Zone in the past six months; in the last two weeks of September alone, 11 Haifa Street mortars hit the sprawling zone.

In recent weeks, with the new Iraqi units on hand, the Americans have sent up to 1,500 men at a time on sweeps, uncovering insurgent weapons caches and arresting insurgent leaders like Ali Mama, the name taken by a gangster who was once a favored hit man for Saddam Hussein.

He is now in Abu Ghraib; others who have become local legends with attacks on the Americans have been killed, including one who used the nom-de-guerre Ra'id the Hunter, American intelligence officers say.

The two Iraqi battalions, backed by a new battalion from the Third Infantry Division, will now bear the main burden of establishing order in the sprawling district around Haifa Street - three miles deep and about half as wide, encompassing about 170,000 people, the city's main railway yards, current and former government buildings, and the Mansour Melia Hotel, favored by many Westerners based in Baghdad.

By any measure, it is a tough patch. When Mr. Hussein ordered Baghdad's old walled city bulldozed in the 1980's, he gave the street at its heart a new name, Haifa, to honor the Israeli port city that many Arabs hope will become part of a Palestinian state. In the forest of new high-rises, Mr. Hussein housed thousands of loyalists: Baath Party stalwarts, middle-class professionals from his favored Sunni minority, migrants from his hometown, Tikrit, and fugitives from other Arab countries, including Egypt, Syria and Sudan.

After Baghdad fell on April 9, 2003, the area was primed to become an insurgent redoubt. Mr. Hussein established his first hide-out somewhere along the alleyways of Sheik Marouf, a neighborhood that is still a rebel stronghold.

In some ways, Haifa Street is a microcosm of Iraq. Behind the apartment blocks lie a patchwork of Shiite communities where residents, repressed like other Shiites under Mr. Hussein, are mostly friendly to the Americans.

Interlaced with these are predominantly Sunni neighborhoods that have been insurgent bases, like Al Sadr; Fahama; Sheik Ali, a district of Sheik Marouf; and the area along the Tigris that Mr. Hussein named for himself, Saddamiya, where he attended school in the 1950's.

The Sunni neighborhoods, along with the area's Arab migrants, proved a bountiful recruiting pool for the two principal groups that form the resistance - pro-Hussein loyalists who believe they can somehow restore Baath Party rule; and militants loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born militant who has spawned a web of terrorist groups and attracted a $25 million bounty as America's most-wanted man in Iraq.

From their Haifa Street hide-outs, the rebels have been remorseless. American units report having found headless bodies in garbage dumps and floating in the river. Twelve-year-old boys have thrown grenades. Six-year-olds have approached American patrols with whispers of insurgent hideouts, then lured them into ambushes. A missing Iraqi soldier's bloodied uniform turned up hanging from a wire near the river, with a sign in Arabic pinned to it saying, "Let this be a warning for spies."

A year ago, the American cavalry division took a major risk in shifting to foot patrols from drive-throughs in Bradley armored troop carriers. The change took its toll: the division's Haifa Street force lost five soldiers, and 25 were seriously wounded, the core of a wider group of injured men who received those Purple Hearts. But the unit estimates that it killed 100 to 200 enemy fighters, and the yield in intelligence was rich.

With the foot patrols, the Americans made friends in the Shiite communities, particularly in Showaka, a poor area where back streets are dotted with carved, Ottoman-era balconies. Ties improved with a special $2 million reconstruction program - part of the wider reconstruction in the district - that has brought 12,500 Showaka families their first indoor toilets, buried sewage pipes and modernized the electricity grid. Gone, for these people, are the centuries when sewage ran down open channels in the alleys into the Tigris.

American morale, for the moment, is high. Lt. Col. Thomas D. Macdonald, the cavalry division officer who commanded the Haifa Street task force, believes that the Iraqis, with an affinity for their own people, can push the rebels farther back.

"I've got the enemy to the point where he can't do large-scale operations anymore, only the small-scale stuff," he said recently, during one of his last patrols, at the head of a company of 120 soldiers. "If we put in more Iraqi garrisons like this, that will be the final nail in the coffin."

Iraqi Units With 'Heart'

When Iraqi units began to serve in combat zones, desertion rates were high. During the first offensive in Falluja, last April, some soldiers refused to fight. But over the past nine months, a $5 billion American-financed effort has bought Iraqi units more than 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 100,000 flak jackets, 110,000 pistols, 6,000 cars and pickup trucks, and 230 million rounds of ammunition. In place of the single Iraqi battalion trained last June, there are more than 90 battalions now, totaling about 60,000 army and special police troops. No one is certain how many insurgents they face; the number, including foot soldiers, safe-house operators, organizers and financiers, is estimated to be 12,000 to 20,000.

Iraqi units still complain about unequal equipment, particularly the lack of the heavy armor the Americans use, like Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks. But the complaints among American officers about "tiny heart syndrome" - a caustic reference to some Iraqi units' unwillingness to expose themselves to combat - have diminished.

"Now, they're ready to fight," said Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American officer overseeing the retraining effort, in a recent interview at his Green Zone headquarters.

Lethal intimidation of recruits - the suicide bombing of army barracks, police stations and recruiting lines, with scores of volunteers killed - remains the single biggest problem in building the Iraqi forces, the general acknowledged. But an overwhelming majority of new recruits have refused to buckle, he said, and they understand that they are fighting, not for the Americans, but for their own country. "Guys who get blown up in the morning get themselves bandaged up, and they're back in the afternoon," he said.

The uncompromising image is one that Gen. Muhammad al-Samraa, 39, the commander of the Iraqi 303rd Battalion, based on Haifa Street, is eager to push. "My aim is 100 percent clear: all the terrorists living here, they go now," he said, in halting English. He was a major in Mr. Hussein's air defense force, and spent a year as a bodyguard and driver for a Shiite tribal leader in Baghdad before signing up for the new army.

A Shiite himself, commanding a unit composed mostly of Shiites, General Samraa has made his headquarters in the old Sajida Palace, on the riverbank at Haifa Street's northern end, a sad, looted, sandbagged relic of the pleasure dome it was for Mr. Hussein's first wife, Sajida. But the general insisted the new Iraqi forces had history on their side. "Saddam, we've seen the movie, and it's finished," he said. "He's broken. Now is the new Iraq."

Among Shiites, Good Will

In the Shiite neighborhoods of Haifa Street, the good will for Americans is pervasive. A fruit seller, Majid Hussein Hassan, 40, rose from his stall to ask Colonel Macdonald for help getting hospital treatment for an infant nephew with a heart deformity. From a balcony, an old woman appealed for better garbage removal. "We're counting on you Americans," she said. "Iraqi officials do nothing!"

In Showaka and other Shiite neighborhoods, residents clustered around the Americans, offering slivers of information about insurgents. A man in the black cloak of a Shiite religious student gave the names of a brother and sister from a Sunni street who had left in haste after a bombing on the eve of the Jan. 30 elections that killed 17 people, including 6 children, in a Shiite district of Sheik Marouf.

The Sunni neighborhoods are another matter. There, American and Iraqi troops face continuing attacks from a mix of insurgents: the Hussein loyalists, Baath Party irreconcilables dreaming of restoring Sunni rule, Islamic militants under Mr. Zarqawi, and criminal gangs that thrived under Mr. Hussein.

For an overview of the area, Colonel Macdonald led a platoon to the roof of an apartment block roof overlooking Tala'i Square, notorious for a Dec. 19 attack when masked insurgents ambushed Iraqi election officials, hauling them from their car and shooting them in the head.

With helicopters armed with missiles circling overhead, the colonel offered what sounded like a valedictory for the Haifa Street insurgents. "We've gotten to the point where the bad guys really aren't fighting us here anymore," he said. "The battle is all in the back alleys now."

Still, on the streets of Sheik Ali, the insurgents leave plenty of traces. When an American patrol of 120 men passed through the nearly deserted streets at noon, the few residents who glanced through half-opened doors and curtains offered furtive smiles and waves.

But on the walls, the message was one of defiance. "Death to the Americans!" the slogans said, freshly painted after older ones were spray painted over by Iraqi troops. "Victory to the mujahedeen!"
In the world

There was talk, over the past few days, that the national assembly would meet today, for its second session. Didn't happen. Since Saturday, top politicians have been saying, the next assembly session will definitely take place, Tuesday, during which, they say, the posts of assembly leader, his deputies, president of the republic and, very likely, the two vice presidents, will be selected.

A Shi'a woman MP was cited on television Friday, as naming the likely holders of the top posts in government and the state. I didn't have a pen, to write down her name or of the politicians she reportedly named -- but one of the interesting names was Ahmad Chalabi, as deputy prime minister. Two names she was cited as mentioning for the post of speaker of the assembly, were current president Ghazi il-Yawer and Shaykh Fawwaz al-Jarba, who's an assembly member from the winning United Iraqi Alliance and, possibly, a member of Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. Both are Sunni Arabs. Chalabi's Mu'tamar newspaper, in addition to naming Jarba as a top candidate for that post, names INC member Mudhar Showket and the Iraqi Islamic Party's Haachim al-Hasani, who's current minister of minerals and industry. Both are also Sunni Arab.

Chalabi's name has also been circulating as one of the top three candidates for one of the two vice-presidential posts, the others being Finance Minister Adil abdil-Mehdi and Dr. Nadeem al-Jaabiri, about whom I know nothing. My uncle said many of the Jaabiris were deported by Saddam, that they are a good family, and that Dr. Jaabiri is with the UIA. All three are Shi'a Arabs, and returned to Iraq after the fall of Saddam.

Presumptive prime minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari has refused to name a date for when the formation of the government would be announced. The UIA has been publicly holding Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqi List responsible for causing the delay in the formation of the government. The UIA's Abbas al-Bayyati, for example, said his list has been kept waiting for an answer from Allawi's list, in regards to joining the government.

Hsayn Sha'lan, of Allawi's list, expressed surprise: "We responded within 48 hours – in writing. They were the ones who took time – one and a half months – and then they came to us."

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, Sunday announced his main condition for joining the government -- assurances from the mainly Shi'a and Kurdish lists that the government would not be influenced by clerics.

The Thee Qar Brigade of the special maghaaweer police (commandoes) announced, Saturday, the capture of 130 or 131 suspected terrorists in a camp near Jaruf Sakhar, in Babil Province, halfway between Baghdad and Kerbela. The force said they seized documents telling of plots to assassinate and attack visitors to Kerbela, this week, on the occasion of the marking of 40 days after the slaying of Husayn, in 680. Police said they surrounded the terrorist base, at which they found more than five tons of TNT, 624 rifles, 193 missiles, 56 loaded Katyusha rockets, 130 mortar rounds and three car bombs, ready to be detonated. Locals said they were "happy," having been "imprisoned" by the terrorists, who said they belonged to Ansaar el-Sunna.

A senior police officer, appearing on television news Saturday, with his face blurred over, said some of the terrorists have started turning themselves in, "asking for forgiveness." He said that they were "sending people to say they wanted to return to the ranks of the Iraqis." Asked to give names, he said he couldn't. Shown on television were two of 35 people captured by the officer's unit who had crossed the Iraq border illegally. Another source said that 53 suspected terrorists who arrived from Afghanistan had been captured. One Afghani, Muhammad Shereen, spoke in Arabic. Another Afghani, with Oriental features, spoke in another language.

Two terrorists blew themselves up in Anbar province, Saturday, when their car was surrounded by members of the police's commando unit (maghaaweer).

I called my two doctor uncles, Saturday afternoon, to ask about how I could get precise figures on the number of people killed in the Hilla massacre (I've heard everything from 100 killed, to more than 175), and also to ask their advice about going to Kurdistan. In addition to answering my questions, they told me that a roadside bomb had blown up that day, down the road from their hospital, in A'dhamiyyeh. One uncle said it was 50 meters from the hospital, maybe targeting a newspaper office. The other said, it happens all the time. In the news, the target was said to be the Turkish embassy, which the uncle I live with says is about half a kilometer from the hospital. One of the doctor uncles also said there are 10,000 terrorists in Iraq from Muslim countries.

As for the Hilla massacre, one uncle said the number killed was 135, plus 150 injured. He said I should call the director of Hilla's Morjaan General Hospital, to verify. His brother suggested the health ministry's statistics division. I've yet to do either. The uncle I'm staying with, said he knows the deputy health minister, and would get in touch with him. As for going to Kurdistan, one doctor uncle advised against it – that the highways are dangerous and there's a 10 percent risk of something happening. I countered, one in a million. He stuck to 10 percent. His brother said, if I'm going with Kurds from the area, who know a safe way, then it's okay.

Easter passed peacefully, today. Services were held at churches across Iraq. One service shown on television, was at Baghdad's Church of the Virgin Mary, which was, along with a half a dozen other churches in Iraq, bombed last year. This church was full, as was another, shown in another television report. Christmas services were not held, last year, for fear of attacks.

For Thursday's "Arba'een" (40), to mark the 40th day after the death of Husayn, people have started walking towards Kerbela – from throughout Iraq - I don't think the authorities are permitting foreigners into the country for the occasion. Police have been saying they are taking special measures, around Kerbela and Najaf, to ensure the safety of pilgrims/visitors, in preparation for the big day. A woman making her way to Kerbela on foot, expressed her pleasure to a TV correspondent, this evening, "When did the police and army ever say, Hellah-aw-marHaba?" (Welcome and hello). As a result of this week's trek to Kerbela, the market was light, Sunday, according to a cousin, especially northern Baghdad's Jemeeleh district, the main distribution point for imported products.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Mortar round kills 22-year-old soldier from Minnesota in Baghdad
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 25, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Spc. Travis R. Bruce, 22, of Byron, Minn., died March 23 in Baghdad, Iraq, when an enemy mortar round detonated near his guard position. Bruce was assigned to the Army's 170th Military Police Company, 504th Military Police Battalion, Fort Lewis, Wash.
Neocons May Get the Last Laugh

By Max Boot
Los Angeles Times, March 03, 2005

In 2003, more than a month before the invasion of Iraq, I wrote in the Weekly Standard that the forthcoming fall of Baghdad "may turn out to be one of those hinge moments in history - events like the storming of the Bastille or the fall of the Berlin Wall - after which everything is different. If the occupation goes well (admittedly a big if), it may mark the moment when the powerful antibiotic known as democracy was introduced into the diseased environment of the Middle East, and began to transform the region for the better."

At the time, this kind of talk was dismissed by pretty much everyone not employed by the White House as neocon nuttiness. Democracy in the Middle East? Introduced by way of Iraq? You've got to be kidding! The only real debate in sophisticated circles was whether those who talked of democracy were simply naive fools or whether their risible rhetoric was meant to hide some sinister motive.

Well, who's the simpleton now? Those who dreamed of spreading democracy to the Arabs or those who denied that it could ever happen? Of course, the outcome is far from clear, and even in Iraq democracy is hardly well established. Yet some pretty extraordinary things have been happening in the last few weeks.

The most extraordinary event of all, of course, is Iraq's Jan. 30 election, when 8 million voters cast ballots despite insurgent bombs and bullets. Weeks earlier, Palestinian voters had trooped to the polls to elect a successor to Yasser Arafat. They chose Mahmoud Abbas, who proclaims his desire (sincerely or not) to end the armed struggle against Israel. Then, on Feb. 10, Saudi Arabia held its first-ever municipal elections. Only men could vote, but this was still a crack in the hitherto absolute authority of the royal family.

Now, in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak has suddenly pledged to hold a multi-candidate election for president this fall. Will he allow a genuine contest? That opposition leader Ayman Nour remains in jail is hardly encouraging. But something significant has happened when the pharaoh feels the need to proclaim, "Egypt needs more freedom and democracy."

Bashar Assad, the Syrian strongman, is also feeling the heat. The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a Feb. 14 bombing widely blamed on Syria has stirred worldwide outrage. Rivals from across the Lebanese political spectrum have united to demand the end of Syrian occupation. France and the United States, normally as divided as Lebanese Christians and Muslims, have joined to support a U.N. resolution calling for Syrian withdrawal. Washington already had made palpable its anger over Syrian backing of terrorism inside Iraq by passing the Syrian Accountability Act of 2003, which imposes sanctions on Damascus.

Assad is trying to deflect this growing backlash through token steps such as removing some troops from Lebanon and handing over Saddam Hussein's half brother along with 29 other Baathists to Iraqi custody. But the people of Lebanon will be satisfied with nothing less than true independence. If they succeed, the Baathist regime in Damascus, which has mulcted its richer neighbor for decades, could be a goner.

This week, tens of thousands of anti-Syrian demonstrators in Beirut forced the resignation of the pro-Syrian government of Prime Minister Omar Karami. Many are already starting to compare the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon to the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

It would be the height of hubris to claim that all these developments are due to U.S. action alone. Pressure has been building up in the Middle East pressure cooker for decades; the long-suffering people of the region do not need any outside prompting to list a long litany of grievances against their dysfunctional governments. But it was the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent democratic elections there that blew the lid off the region.

"It's strange for me to say it," says Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who would never be mistaken for a Bush backer, "but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq."

"Now with the new Bush administration," confirms former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel, "we feel a stronger determination in liberating Lebanon and in promoting democracy in the Middle East."

Maybe, just maybe, those neocons weren't so nutty after all.
Team picture

Since the beginning of the Muslim month MuHarram, Shi'as have been holding "qraayaat" (readings), in memory of Husayn. That's not Saddam Husayn, but Husayn, the grandson of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. That Husayn, Shi'as hold, was the rightful successor to Muhammad, and, in his effort to claim the throne, he was slain on the plains of Kufa, which became Kerbela. This was in the year 680, and his death, and abandonment, by followers, was the founding moment of Shi'ism, a tragedy, marked to this day.

My uncle's wife had a qraayeh, 11 days ago. Some 60 people attended, but not me. I wanted to listen in -- maybe even watch -- by hiding in the dining room, or at the top of the stairs – but, no – I was denied. It's women, only -- I offered to wear a wig, but.... My uncle had a qraayeh scheduled, for the end of the month, at which he promised to show me all the Rahims, some 100, in all. I suggested bringing a photographer. He liked the idea. A couple of days ago, he told me that after the Mosul massacre, he decided to call the whole thing off. The one in Mosul, he said, targeted people doing the same thing he was going to do -- he'd also have a tent and a large gathering, including some prominent people. In addition to the concentration of people – and Shi'i people, to boot -- being a good target, he also worried that a lot of people would be turned away, or discouraged, by the tight security on our street, with the Jordanian embassy, a few houses away.

A couple of days ago, I found out that my uncle hired a photographer to come to the house, Friday, to take pictures of the whole brood -- he's got four children; each child's got seven wives; each wife has seven kids; each kid has seven kids. Kids, kids, wives, guys – how many…ploom-ploom…did I pass, on my way to St. Ives? Actually, there are 21, in all – blackjack! – although, his son's wife just had another bun, popped in the oven, and, come next fall, the new baby's gonna burn the hand. So, yesterday morning, my uncle and I listed my "generation's"…kids – that is, his mother's grandkids – to see who "the blackjack kid" was. My grandmother -- En'neh, we called her -- passed away, a week before Saddam invaded Kuwait – oh, she so wanted to see the end of Saddam. Among my "generation" (of grandkids), I'm number nine, out of 26.

We all got dressed up. I'd gone to the barber's, had my beard trimmed, into a goatee. The photographer came. All the women, went uncovered -- my aunt had asked, what she should do, in the presence of "a stranger" -- the photographer. My uncle asked me to issue a fetwa. I asked her, what she wanted, and who the pictures would be for. I offered, for her grandkids, and that they ought to see all of her. She laughed -- that that would be, what I'd want. Ultimately, I said, it was her choice. My uncle had prepared a list of combinations, among the five nuclear families, and me – all together, each nuclear family, each family's kids, all the men, all the women, all the grandkids, all the boys, all the girls, grandparents with the grandkids, etc., etc. I brought out my digital camera, and clicked along, capturing the..."behind the scenes" -- the prepartions and positionings. Half way through, the photographer ran out of film – he'd brought one roll – thought he was just taking a couple of pictures – for one grand family portrait. I filled in the rest, and, when we finished the indoor shots -- in the living room -- everybody filtered out. I went on, and took some more in the garden, with the sea of little white-and-yellow flowers providing a foreground for the pictures of the grownups, on the patio, and a background for the children, on the grass. Then, we went back to my room, and looked at the pictures on the computer – some 70 of them. We had a good time. Before the shooting, they'd had a carp "mazgoofed," and most of the brood, made it, for lunch. It was a lovely day. I suggested we do it, every week. "That's what we call, a cheap thrill," I told my uncle.

Outside, the moon is full. Is it full, where you are?
Al-Ja’afari Premier Credentials Questioned

Growing Shia calls for their prime ministerial nominee to be replaced by a more moderate candidate.

By Kamran al-Karadaghi in London
Iraq Crisis Report, No. 118
Institute for War and Peace Reporting

Ibrahim Al-Ja’afari is under pressure from leading Shia to withdraw as their candidate for post of premier because of his slowing progress on forming a new government and concerns over his Islamist orientation.

Al-Ja’afari, the candidate of the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, UIA, is apparently struggling to deal with Kurdish demands for greater autonomy and a general resistance to the possible imposition of Islamic law, after more than a month of negotiations on the formation of a new government.

For the moment, the Kurdish delegation to the government talks have put all negotiations on hold while its members participate in the week-long New Year festival of Naroz, which began on March 21.

The Elaph web site - a reliable London-based Arabic news service - quoted sources close to the negotiations as confirming that influential UIA members are calling for the Islamist Al-Ja’afari to be replaced as prime ministerial candidate due to his failure to reach an agreement with the Kurds and other groups on a new government.

In another development, a spokesman for the Shia Political Council, SPC - which is part of the UIA - said that the UIA’s choice of an Islamist candidate for the post of prime minister had raised fears among all the groups in the alliance.

The SPC spokesman, council secretary Hussein Al-Musawi, warned that the UIA might fall apart if Al-Ja’afari, leader of the Al-Da’wa Islamic party, remained its favoured candidate.

Al-Musawi said that the council’s proposal – that the UIA elect a new candidate by secret ballot – had been rejected.

The SPC, an umbrella organisation representing some 20 parties and groups, claims it has mustered the support of almost 50 of the UIA’s 140 members elected to the 275-strong National Assembly.

Al-Musawi told the US-funded Arabic Radio Sawa that several groups are considering withdrawing from the UIA. He identified these as the SPC, the National Bloc - which is close to the young Shia firebrand clergyman Moqtada Al-Sadr - and the Sunni bloc.

Leading council member Dr Ahmad Chalabi - who heads the Iraqi National Congress, INC - had been one of four potential candidates for the post of premier, but he and two other contestants withdrew in favour of Al-Ja’afari. They later said that their decision had been dictated by their desire to preserve unity within the UIA.

But Kurdish sources confirmed that a week ago Ayatollah Hussein Al-Sadr, a leading Shia clergy and a member of The Iraqi List, hosted a meeting at his Baghdad house between the leader of the grouping Ayad Allawi and Chalabi.

Many press reports suggested that Chalabi was now considering linking up with Allawi and the Kurds to propose their own candidate for premier. This move coincides with reports leaked by the Kurds to the media indicating that they too are not happy with the UIA’s choice of candidate.

To strengthen his position within the UIA, Al-Ja’afari is now trying to persuade Allawi to take part in the cabinet. However, Allawi refused the offer - saying that his political programme and that of the Shia alliance were incompatible.

The Kurds insist that a new government should be formed by consensus with the participation of Allawi’s group and some Sunni Arab factions which did not take part in the elections.

If Al-Ja’afari withdraws, the contest will be between the three other original UIA candidates - Chalabi, SCIRI’s Adel Abdul Mahdi (the outgoing finance minister) and scientist Hussein Al-Shahristani, a close ally of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But it will also revive Allawi’s hopes.

Significantly, the Americans - who many observers feel favour Allawi - have until now refrained from interfering in the controversy.

Privately, Kurdish leaders would prefer either the secularist Allawi, or the moderate Islamist Abdul Mahdi for the top job. They have been working with the duo in exile for years and feel more comfortable with them than with the more liberal but unpredictable Chalabi.

However, Al-Ja’afari is still officially the UIA candidate and might well stay that way. The National Assembly’s next meeting is scheduled for March 26, and there are still contradicting reports regarding a possible announcement about the new government on that day.

Ordinary Iraqis cannot agree on who is responsible for the delay. Many pro-UIA Iraqis blame the Kurds - accusing them of putting their ethnic interests above those of the Iraqi people. Other Iraqi Arabs, while they may not necessarily agree with the Kurdish position, welcome the fact that it appears to have weakened the Shia hardliners’ demands for Sharia law.

Last week, a well-known Iraqi Arab commentator, Adnan Hussein, delighted the Kurds with his column in the Saudi-funded and London-based Asharq Al-Awsat daily newspaper. The title of his commentary - “Thank you to the Kurds” – speaks for itself.

He said that the Kurds deserve praise from all Iraqis for “vigorously defending a democratic future for Iraq and their tough stance against the dark forces of sectarianism who offer the Iraqi people no option … but to fall under a religious-sectarian autocracy modelled on the Islamic republic in Iran or the Taleban in Afghanistan”.

Kamran Al-Karadaghi is IWPR’s Iraq Editorial Advisor in London.
This Institute for War and Peace Reporting article is also available in Kurdish and Arabic. The author of the article, Kamran Karadaghi, is, arguably, the premier Iraqi journalist.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Sit a spell

A little after seven, Tuesday evening, my uncle went out, for a couple of errands. I wanted to join him, but his car was already fully booked. He returned, happy. He told me he'd parked his car in front of a pharmacy, on the main street of Baghdad's Mansour district, and let off his two grandsons. He got out of the car, and stood on the sidewalk, outside the pharmacy, surveying the scene, with a sideways glance. He started hearing a commotion – people calling out, "Hello" – in English -- and waving. He looked around, wondering if the calls were directed at him. He saw three men sitting at a restaurant's sidewalk table, smiling and gesturing, to invite people to join them – "It'fadh'dheloo." They were eating gyros sandwiches. Then he saw what the fuss was about – eight American soldiers had just passed by, on foot. It'd been, maybe, 18 months, since he saw American soldiers on foot patrol. Drivers and passengers from the congested street, waved and smiled at the soldiers. The armed men, weren't bunched together, they weren't walking in fear, or tense, my uncle felt – they were relaxed. One of the soldiers, took pictures of the scene with his digital camera. When my uncle's grandsons emerged from the pharmacy, they saw the action, looked down the sidewalk, and thought the soldiers were Iraqi national guard. My uncle corrected them – Americans are much bigger.

Soon, my cousin's husband got home. He said he was standing outside his money-change shop, on the cross street, around noon, when five American soldiers walked by. He said the soldiers greeted people, "Hi" -- "They wouldn't have done that, before." The first six, seven months of liberation, many have told me, American soldiers spent a lot of time with Iraqis on the streets, hanging out in their shops, playing with children, getting invited to food and drink. One cousin's neighbor, in Baghdad's Haarthiyyeh district -- a former Ba'thi teacher -- invited six soldiers into her house, in June '03, and served them lunch and tea. A pizza place down the street from the money-changer's, al-Furdaan, did a brisk business – "You know, Americans love pizza," my cousin explained -- "they couldn't keep up," and the soldiers filled up the place and sat on the outside benches. Since then, they've been ordering pizza, to go, he said. "In the beginning," my cousin said, "they used to come into the place [his shop], stand around for 15 minutes – we had fun with them." When the bombings started, in the summer of '03, people grew fearful, and soldiers started telling children to stay away, for their own safety.

These foot patrols, I've heard, may have been taking place in Baghdad's Sadir City (Thawra), for a few months.
Subject: At long last Iraq joins Kurdistan

From: Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)
Date: Wed, 23 Mar 2005 11:41:54 +0100

Just the other day I was accidentally watching al-Arabiya program "min Iraq." Ahmad Chalabi partially listed the Kurdish demands to join the new cabinet. Below are what I remember he said:

1. The Kurds should have 25% of oil revenues. This demand is based on their score in the election results.

2.The Kurdish regional government should have the right to give concessions/contracts to international companies/governments on natural resources (oil etc) without having to go back to the central government. This implicitly means the Kurds will pocket the income from these agreements.

3. The Iraqi army will not be allowed to enter "Kurdistan" without the permission from the Kurdish parliament.

4. The Iraqi government must pay all the expenses for the Peshmerga.

5. The Kurds must have the presidency, deputy prime-minister, at least 2 important ministries in addition to an appropriate number of cabinet posts.

6. If the Kurdish ministers resign, then the entire cabinet must resign.

7. Prime-ministerial decisions should be made only with the agreement of the Kurdish deputy-prime minister.

8. And of course, the federal scheme.

Chalabi did not list the rest of the Kurdish demands for lack of time and because he considered them less controversial. I presume one of these demands is the annexation of Kirkuk, parts of Mosul and Diyala provinces.

When I heard these "demands" I could not help but exclaim: At long last Iraq joins Kurdistan. But before I comment on these demands I want to make two points. The first is about the Kurdish intransigence. In any negotiation one starts with a negotiating position but must be willing to concede on some points to get an agreement. However, all the "Kurdish demands listed above" are impossible. Under any negotiation, they will be termed "non-starters." The second is about some Iraqi Arabs who formed committees to support the Kurdish right to self-determination. Indeed they go on Sat TV's and websites to make these points. One of those Piled High and Deep (Ph.D.) even said that borders "are not sacred, just a line on a map." Try to apply this to the world and see what will happen!! The most important fact missing in such a proposal is this: Iraq will disappear if the Kurds secede. Not only the region will be mired in endless wars to divide natural resources, water, arid land and borders but Iran will grab the south, Syria and Jordan will grab the west and the "most-beloved" Kurdistan will be part of Turkey. To those "altruistic" guys I say this: you are not idealists, YOU ARE IDIOTS. Furthermore, you are free to do what you like with what you had inherited from your parents (maal al-Khallifook) but not with Iraq. This wonderful country is a trust we pass from one generation to another.

Now back to the Kurdish demands.

Will the percentages of the election results be the same if the other 8 million Iraqis had voted in the elections? Will the Kurds accept 11% share of oil revenues if in the next election the Kurdish parties score this percentage in it? Is this how financial resources are divided in the US (among Democratic and Republican voters), UK, Germany and France? Will the Kurds spend part of the 25% on Kurds living in Baghdad, Hilla, Kut, Nasiriya and Basrah? Will they reduce my tax burden (as well as for many Europeans) by paying the expenses for the 200,000 Kurdish welfare beneficiaries who voted for them in Europe?

I have a better but no less ridiculous system of distributing the oil wealth. Let us divide it equally and give a share to each Iraqi, e.g. $1000 dollar per head. A family of five will receive for instance $5000. We will then ask Iraqis to find ways to finance: the defense of the country (hire mercenaries), police, the education system, the health system, judicial system, civil status offices, property registration office (Tappu), passport office, citizenship office (necessary to get $1000 per Iraqi) and the office which will take care of such oil-money distribution. So you get my point!!

The 2nd Kurdish demand will not only make the central government a scare-crow (khiraa3at Kuhdhra) but will make the economic disparities between Iraqi regions even greater. I.e. having a Bangladesh next to a Dubai.

As for the 3rd demand, I have this cynical comment: It must be amended to give the right to one Kurdish leader to invite the Iraqi army to support him against another Kurdish rival while giving the latter the right to invite the Iranian army to his support (remember 1996 and before).

I have no problem with the 4th demand provided that: a) the Peshmerga becomes part of the Iraqi army, b) sever all party contacts and loyalties to the Kurdish parties/leaderships, c) protect Iraqi borders instead of being smugglers and looters (7aamiha 7aaramiha) as they are now. But I doubt that this is what the Kurdish leaders have in mind!

As a matter of principle, I am opposed to posts being distributed along ethnic or denominational lines. But if the Kurds will feel part of Iraq by having these posts, give them all the posts they want. However, their candidate for the presidency not only propagates an ideology that calls for secession from Iraq but he threatens with secession every time he does get what he wants.

Most curiously is their demand of 2 important ministries while claiming 25% of all "central" things. I know of no more than 5 important ministries: foreign, defense, interior, exterior and finance. How does this rhyme with 24.5% of the election results? This is no way of building a new Iraq. This is a new way to fracture Iraq even more.

The 6th and 7th Kurdish demands make the cabinet and prime minister a hostage to Kurdish blackmail. I dealt with the federacy issue in a long article (most of you received it) last year and there is no need to repeat my views here.

Did you notice lately the Kurdish regional cabinet made Nawrooz holiday 8 days long and hence prolong the anxiety of Iraqis about the formation of a new cabinet? This is their way of getting their demands and I have one advice: Reject their demands outright and call their bluff for what it is: a bluff. If they decide to secede they will face the music: Turkish, Iranian, Arab, Muslim and even American. The only ally they will have is Ariel Sharon and with a friend like him who needs enemies!! The US cannot afford to have a 2nd Israel in the region. But even if the Kurdish leaders succeed in having a Kurdish state, its borders and air space will be closed. The water supplies will be cut off. They will have no access to export oil, not even a pack of cigarettes. As Henry Kissinger would have told them: "It is the geography, stupid."

Alaaddin al-Dhahir
In other news

I decided not to go to Basra, today. A good friend, here from abroad, invited me to join her in Basra, where she runs an office that's active in democracy and women's issues. Yasmine arrived in the country about a week ago, and called me a few days ago, saying she was going to be in Baghdad, Friday, and that I could join her to Basra, from here. Before then, she was going to Slaymanee, in Kurdistan, before heading here. I very much want to go to Basra -- I wanna go everywhere, see everything. I asked my uncle, for his opinion. I also told him about an invitation I have, to go to Kurdistan – about which more, in a minute. My uncle encouraged me to go to Basra -- that it's an important city, for me as a journalist -- there's lots to see – big city, an educated and aware populace, Shatt il-Arab, the nearby port, the Marshes, palm orchards -- and it's very safe. I haven't been to Basra, probably since I was seven or eight. My uncle's semi-condition, though – well, more like a strong preference -- was that I go by plane, and he thought Yasmine would be going by plane, too, as it's a long way from Baghdad to Basra – about eight-hour drive, the length of which, locals think, is too cumbersome -- not to mention, Yasmine's Slaymanee to Baghdad leg, which is another six hours' drive or so. This evening, Yasmine called, again, and said she'd stop in Mansour to pick me up, at ten, this morning, if I decided to go. The last-evening notice, caught me by surprise -- plus, I wanted to have the disks to restart my computer, before heading out of town. The disks, sent from Cleveland to Jordan, haven't reached me or my uncle in Baghdad, and I don't know when they will.

I asked Yasmine about the safety of the road to Basra. She said, "We just made the trip, a couple days ago" -- the "we," probably includes her guard and driver -- two relatives – whom I met in Baghdad, last summer, when Yasmine took me to the palace. I wasn't ready to decide. Yasmine said she'd call back, in a couple of hours. I asked my uncle, again. He was worried about the road – said if the trip wasn't essential, why take the risk. Either route there, he added – the eastern, via Koot and Amara, or the usual one, via Hilla, Diwaniyyeh and Nasiriyyeh – is not safe – the former, is quite safe, once you get past Koot. He said he, himself, would like to go to Kerbela, but it's not a safe bet – and he's from here. He'd like to take me to Kerbela, too. I called two other uncles in town. Both advised against it. They said the same thing -- that if it's not essential, why risk it. One said, no need to leave Baghdad – plus, it's a long trip, which would exposes me to more chances for danger – more opportunities, for the bad guys. I can't contradict them – "disobey" them. In addition, there's a big difference, between me and Yasmine. She's pretty bold and courageous – certainly, more than me; she has two locals with her; and she looks and sounds a lot more local than I – she's veiled, darker-skinned and left Iraq, as an adult. I hope I've still got a chance to make it to Basra – Yasmine said she'll be around, for another two months.

The invitation to Kurdistan, is from another friend, who's about to return to the country – actually, I've posted a few of his e-mails – his name is Layth. Layth has some good friends in Kurdistan, and he joins them, every now and then, for a little rest and relaxation – in the mountains. He invited me, last year, too, but…I don't remember, now, why I didn't go – oh, it was probably because I hadn't succeeded in obtaining an Iraqi ID, and we – well, I can't really include myself – I rarely worry – but family were worried I might get kidnapped, along the way. Before coming to Iraq, this time, I got an Iraqi passport – "don't leave home without it." Layth wrote me, a week ago, and said I should join him, this time around – two invitations, at once – out of the blue – the road not traveled – in Iraq. Again, I'd love to. My uncle thought, Basra would be more worthwhile – for me as a journalist. His wife and one of their daughters said Kurdistan -- with its natural beauty -- would be more relaxing. Plus, Basra is probably, already super-hot.

In other, other news, it's gone nippy, tonight. There was a decent, sporadic breeze, this morning, but still warm. After noon, I went to my cousin's husband's money-change shop, to print something. It was hot. I also wanted to buy a few things – for the houses, here. After I checked in, with my cousin's husband, I went to a store nearby that sells everything – sort of like the Chinese, or Korean, stores in American cities. I got a small lamp for my uncle's poorly lit study, which is my bedroom, and a roll of tape. I also wanted small spoons and pot-holders. They didn't have the latter, and their spoons, were too fancy and expensive – one of my cousins, on the property, needs some everyday teaspoons. Actually, the whole store, is over-priced. I asked one of the boys who helped me at the store, if there was another store in the area, where I could find these kitchen items. He suggested "Seyyid il-As'aar" (Mr. Prices), pointing down 14 Ramadhan Street. They've got a funny system here, where to purchase…I suppose, higher-priced items – maybe it's the ones, behind the counter, or…set up high, out of easy reach, etc.: you first take a receipt from the man behind the counter, where he keeps your item; then you pay the cashier – in this case, by the front door; the cashier stamps your receipt, which you take, back to the section of the store with your item; and then it's yours. They write the items and prices on the receipt, which is carbon-copied. The guy with your item, takes one of the sheets, and tears the sheet he hands back to you. When you reach the door, to leave, a man sitting on a stool, looks in your plastic bag, compares its contents with what's on the receipt, which, of course, must be ripped. I made it, through that little, smiling gauntlet – all men, of course.

I was sailing solo. I'd been dropped off by my uncle's handyman, who went on to Kadhumiyyeh, to deliver a letter. He'd be back, in about 45 minutes -- that was my guess – he said, half an hour. On the way to Seyyid il-As'aar, I stopped at a computer store, to check my "mouse" and a set of earphones -- one of the "ears" had gotten broken off by one of my uncle's 11 grandkids, and the mouse…must've gotten yanked too hard – by one of the kids -- and it'd been…sniffling, ever since. I'd become friendly with two of the workers at the store, as I went back and forth, to check my Mac. They've also got a reliable supply of the 25-hour Uruk internet access cards – there are also 10-hour cards. Uruk is the biggest internet service provider, here. For my mouse and ears, though, there was no hope. That surprises me a bit – they're very resourceful, here.

Next, was a little corner store – they're all pretty little, in fact -- where I bought a container of cappuccino mix and a carton of cranberry juice – I'd suggested the latter to my aunt, who's started another diet – I think she's been on diets, pretty steadily, for 20 years. I left the groceries at the store, and went on. The little cappuccino mix, cost almost three dollars – pretty expensive, for here. At Mr. Prices, a man at the door took my bag with the light and tape. Kitchen items were downstairs. I noticed a few couples, with more women, unveiled – also, along the way – always travel in packs of two, three or four – never alone – not even on Sunday. I guess that should be, "Never on Sunday." I found the spoons – plenty of spoons – not the perfect size, or kind – but I got two sets -- and I was shown to the potholders – there are plenty of boys, and men, to show you around -- and what prices! Why it's…Mister Prices! I got a much cheaper lamp, too – and it's more practical – the kind with the flexible neck. The first one I bought, was a funky one, with a yellow star-shaped shell for a shade, which I didn't think was suitable, for my uncle. I just went over, to feel the shade, and I punctured it, with my thumb, as I squeezed the rubbery-spongy-shelly surface.

All right -- I'm gonna wrap up this great adventure. I don't know if you people can handle any more of this excitement – "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE EXCITEMENT!" Back I went, towards the money-change shop, picking up the drinks, along the way. Oh – at Seyyid il-As'aar, they had a holding station and a cashier downstairs – between which, I went back and forth, to deposit, pay and collect my things. I assume, they've got the same set-up upstairs, where there was clothing, and maybe it was the towels that were upstairs, too.

All right – I'm going to stop, here. I imagine you've had your fill, with my thrills. Adios, amigos.

P.S. I thought of returning the first lamp – there are returns, here, although I don't know how extensive they are, nor what the policies and conditions – terms -- are. One of my cousin's boys, got a motorized scooter, a couple of days ago, and something was wrong with it – might've even broke -- and he came back, yesterday, with a silver one, instead of the yellow one. My lamp with the yellow star-shaped shade, I decided to offer as one of the choices to my uncle – he chose the one with the flexible neck – it's blue -- they also had it in red and, I think, white. Then I thought – hey, maybe my aunt would like the funky one, in the house, or I could use it, by my bedside, which is where it sits.

Stay tuned for more excitement, after these messages!
The Plight of Iraqi Christians

By Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli*
Middle East Media Research Institute
Inquiry and Analysis - Iraq
No. 213
March 22, 2005


The kidnapping of Archbishop Basil Georges Casmoussa on January 17, 2005 in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, and his subsequent release the following day, highlighted the plight of Iraqi Christians, like other Iraqi communities, facing threats from Islamist terrorists bent on plunging Iraq into ethnic conflict.

Deep Roots and Current Violence

The Iraqi daily Al-Mada recently carried a report about the ruins of what is believed to be the oldest Eastern Christian church, discovered in 1976 by an archeological team in the desert west of the holy Shi'ite city of Karbala. The church, known as Al-Qusair Church, was built in the 5th century, 120 years before the appearance of Islam and almost two centuries before the spread of Islam in what is known today as Iraq.

The church (53x13 feet) had fifteen arched doors. Inside archeologists found remnants of an altar and gammadion crosses. There were two small cemeteries, one within the church walls intended for the priests and one outside the walls for other church members.

During the Saddam regime, the eastern side of the church was converted into a training target for an artillery unit of the Iraqi army. A number of unexploded shells have been found within the church's perimeter. After the fall of Saddam, the tombs were desecrated by looters, who hoped to find gold buried with the dead. The Iraqi Department of Antiquities has recognized the historical significance of the church, and restoration and preservation are being considered.(1)

The Iraqi Christians

Iraqi Christians represent three percent of the Iraqi population (which is estimated at 26 million).(2) The overwhelming majority of Iraqi Christians belong to the Chaldean Catholic Church - the Iraqi branch of Roman Catholicism. Chaldean Catholics are also known as "Assyrians." The patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church has clarified that "Assyrian" is an ethnic identity and "Chaldean" is a religious one.(3) There are other churches in Iraq, including the Roman Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Nestorian and Armenian. However, the distinction between these churches is not really understood by most Iraqi Muslims, who look upon all Christians as "People of the Book," as they are referred to in the Koran.

Under the secular Ba'th regime, the Christians in Iraq, who presented no threat to Saddam, enjoyed considerable religious freedom. In an interview with the Arabic-language London daily Al-Hayat, the Latin Patriarch in Iraq, Jan Suleiman, said that whenever Saddam Hussein was approached regarding a problem affecting the Christian education system in Iraq, he would intervene to resolve it.(4)

Violence Against Individuals

The high level of violence in Iraq has affected every sector of the Iraqi population, and Christians are no exception. Christians, however, have been specifically targeted by Islamists, who either accuse them of collaborating with the "invading crusading army" or label them infidels. As Islamist pressures mounted in Iraq, following its occupation, Christian businesses were destroyed, Christian university students were harassed and Christian women were forced to wear the veil.(5)

Suspected of Collaboration

Most Christian children attend Christian schools, where the teaching of a foreign language, primarily English, is a high priority in the curriculum. It is therefore understandable that the multinational forces have tapped the Christian community for office and translation work. However, the Christians are concerned that a prolonged occupation of Iraq by the multinational forces under the command of the United States will only heighten the accusations that they are collaborating with an occupation "originating from a Christian country."(6)

Recently, the unidentified "Brigades for the Liquidation of Christian Agents and Spies" has threatened to liquidate those working with the multinational forces and to "pursue them in their homes and churches." In placards posted in Christian areas, the Brigades wrote:

"The Christian minority enjoys peace and security in the land of the Muslim and in our country in particular. Its members have held senior positions in the State. But their malevolence toward Muslims became evident when the occupier entered our country. He found great support among them in the form of translators and agents who acted as informers against Muslims. Their churches receive evangelist groups. They spread moral corruption and pornography in our streets. Muslims have been arrested, women raped and houses destroyed as a result of Christians being agents of the occupiers."(7)

Violence Against Churches

In August 2004, five churches, one in Baghdad and four in Mosul, were hit in one day, in a coordinated attack that killed 12 people. In October, five churches in Baghdad were hit on the first day of the Muslim month of Ramadan. In November, eight people were killed in two church bombings.(8) The August attack on churches was followed on September 10 by mortar attacks against the Assyrian town in Bakhdeda (also referred to as Qarqosh) in the Ninevah Governorate in northern Iraq.(9)

The Destruction of Businesses

With the public sector and the military all but closed to them, Christians have focused on the services sector of the economy and retail business. Because of Islamic restrictions on alcohol consumption, Iraqi governments have limited the liquor retail business to Christians, who, in turn, have been meeting an obviously high demand for alcoholic beverages among a large segment of the Iraqi Muslim population. In fact, a considerable amount of money under the "Oil for Food Program" was used by the Saddam regime for the import of the most expensive brands of alcoholic beverages for Saddam Hussein, his sons, and the high echelons of the secular Ba'th ruling party. At one time, the Coalition Provisional Authority was contemplating a public auction of high quality vintage wine and champagne found in the cellars of the palaces of Saddam, his sons, and their cronies.

Shortly after the fall of Saddam, Islamists, who took control of the streets of many Iraqi cities, began to target Christian owners of liquor stores. They first ordered the owners to close their businesses; if the owners failed to comply, the Islamists gutted the stores and often killed the owners. An example is liquor merchant Bashir Toma Alias, who was shot in the head in the center of a bazaar in Basra while on his way home to celebrate Christmas.(10)

Writing about the "deplorable attack against Chaldean Christians in Iraq," the Chaldean New Agency wrote on October 7, 2004:

"Not only did those heinous crimes result in the loss of innocent lives, but worse, they have created tremendous hardships for those Chaldean families whose very livelihood were attacked. With a lack of alternative jobs, many of them are currently living off the charitable contributions of the local Chaldean churches."(11)

The report goes on to warn that unless these "Islamic terrorists" are brought to justice, "Iraqi Chaldeans will continue to be an easy target for such criminals who are bent on imposing their distorted version of Islam by force."(12) It was reported that in the southern city of Basra, the second largest city in Iraq, armed Shi'ite groups with names such as "The Revenge of Allah," "Hizbullah," and "The Organization of Islamic Doctrines," roam the streets to mete out "Islamic punishment" on traders and users of alcohol, as well as on prostitutes. Four hundred Christian stores were closed. According to Faysal Abdullah, the head of the Organization of Islamic Doctrines, Islam "rewards those who seek martyrdom and who were designated by Allah to uproot vice."(13)

Often the police stand idly by in the face of crimes committed in their presence because they are afraid of the armed Islamists or because they sympathize with their aims.

The Christians complain that after they were driven out of the liquor business by Islamist groups, Muslims have taken over the business and continue to sell liquor publicly.(14)

The Islamists have also targeted barber shops run by Christians because the Islamists object to haircuts and to shaving.(15)

Harassment of Students

Christian students at Iraqi universities are also subjected to harassment and often to violence. At the University of Mosul, the second largest university in Iraq, 1,500 Christian students recently decided to suspend their studies because of threats to their lives by Islamists who have taken control of the university.(16) Because many of these students traveled to campus in buses from outside the city, they were afraid that their transportation would be bombed if they persisted in attending the university.(17)

A survey among Christian students carried out by the Iraqi daily Al-Mada has found similar sentiments among Christian students attending other institutions of higher learning in Iraq. They do not understand why they are being victimized. Anna Mirfit Boutrus, a 22-year-old student at the Technological University of Baghdad, expressed her distress:

"Why do the terrorists want to prevent us from performing our religious rites? Why do they bomb our churches? Why do they want to kill us.... What have we done to them? We are citizens of this land. This is our country. We will not give it up and we will not replace it with another."(18)

For female Christian students, there is incessant pressure to wear the veil or put their lives in jeopardy.(19)

Christmas Celebrations

Christians celebrated Christmas in their homes, for fear of attacks. Most churches avoided the traditional midnight Mass or large gatherings of church goers.(20) Indeed, the churches called upon their parishioners to avoid coming to churches on Christmas out of concern for their safety.(21) Asked to comment on the situation on the eve of Christmas, Patriarch Emanuel III, the Patriarch of Babylon, responded:

"As leaders of the Christian communities in Iraq, we are pained by what has happened to our country. There is destruction of our people, resources, buildings and churches. We grieve the tragic death of many of our children and the injuries and psychological shocks suffered by others. Many of our citizens were subject to humiliating kidnapping, thefts, and expulsion."(22)

Sister Warda of the Daughters of Mary Convent commented that the cancellation of Christmas celebrations must be viewed in perspective. She said: "We cannot celebrate in isolation of what our relatives and brothers are subjected to in our wounded country."(23)

Conversion to Islam

Chaldeans also complain about pressures to convert to Islam. When a parent converts to Islam all minors in the family are forcefully converted regardless of the wishes of the other parent.(24)

Leaving the Country

The plight of Iraqi Christians is part of a rapidly deteriorating situation that is forcing Christians throughout the Middle East to seek refuge in the West. A recent article by Majid Aziza in the Iraqi daily Al-Zaman, a newspaper with a long-standing liberal pedigree, highlights the plight of Christians in the Arab and Muslim world:

"Christian natives of Arab countries are escaping their countries of origin. Statistics show that a large number of them have emigrated to countries which offer them and their children greater security, such as the United States, Canada, Australia and some European countries. The reason is the harassment to which they are subjected in countries they have inhabited for thousands of years. Sometimes the harassment originates from the regime; at other times it comes from extremist groups."

Saddam and the Iraqi Christians

On the one hand, Saddam Hussein supported Christian education; on the other, he forced Christians out of their villages in the north as part of the Arabization of Kirkuk and its environs. Many other Christians opted to leave their villages in the north because of the unsettled conflict between the Kurds and Saddam's regime. Now harassment by Islamists is forcing these transplants to return to the villages of their ancestors in the north. In the words of one person who plans to relocate: "Some of the Muslims consider us infidels. We are being targeted. They will eat us alive."(25) For Christians who have left Iraq, Syria remains the preferred country for temporary residence for two reasons: first, no visa is required and second, it provides security at a low cost of living.(26) Jordan is another country populated by a large number of Iraqi Christians.

Voting in the Elections

In a meeting with a Christian delegation, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani denounced the attacks on the churches and called upon Christians to participate in the elections to ensure maximum participation.(27) Al-Sistani has also been quoted as saying that he would have no objection for a Christian to be elected president of Iraq if he met the appropriate qualifications.(28)

There were no fewer than eight Christian parties that competed in the January 30 elections. The Christians were determined to vote because they believed an elected government would provide them with a measure of security they now lacked. They also counted on massive participation of Iraqi Christians in the Diaspora to vote for their parties.(29) The low rate of participation in the elections of Iraqis in exile must have been disappointing to the Christians.

In the elections, one Christian party, the National Rafidain, received approximately 37,000 votes, entitling it to one seat in the 275-seat assembly.

The low turnout of the Christian voters was involuntary. Many of the Christians live in Sunni provinces, particularly in Ninevah and Salahudin in the so-called Sunni triangle. Tens of thousands of Christians who intended to vote discovered on election day that the Independent Elections Committee did not provide ballot boxes in these two provinces because of security concerns. Christians complained that tens of thousands of their community were in essence disenfranchised, particularly in the city of Mosul, for no fault of their own. Many others may have sought the security of their homes rather than risk violence while going out to vote.(30)

*Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst of MEMRI's Middle East Economic Studies Program.

(1) Al-Mada (Baghdad), December 30, 2004.
(2) Al-Zaman (Baghdad), September 22, 2004.
(3) Jonathan Eric Lewis, "Iraqi Assyrians: Barometer of Pluralism," The Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 10 (Summer 2003).
(4) Interview with Arfan Rashid, Al-Hayat (London), October 4, 2004.
(5) See MEMRI's Inquiry and Analysis No. 190, "Islamist Pressures in Iraq," September 29, 2004. http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=countries&Area=iraq&ID=IA19004
(6) The Iraqi daily Al-Zaman (September 22, 2003) quoted a Chaldean woman named Sanaa as claiming that she was repeatedly accused by Muslims of being a cousin of the Americans.
(7) www.elaph.com, October 21, 2004.
(8) Reuters, December 25, 2004.
(9) Assyrian International News Agency, September 13, 2004.
(10) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 31, 2004.
(11) www.chaldeansonline.net/chaldeanews/attack.html
(12) Loc. Cit.
(13) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 31, 2004.
(14) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 31, 2004.
(15) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 12, 2004.
(16) Al-Zaman (Baghdad), October 21, 2004.
(17) Al-Zaman (Baghdad), September 14, 2004.
(18) Al-Mada (Baghdad) January 2, 2005.
(19) Al-Zaman (Baghdad), December 24, 2004.
(20) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 26, 2004.
(21) Al-Mada (Baghdad), January 2, 2005.
(22) Al-Sabah (Baghdad), December 25, 2004.
(23) Ibid.
(24) www.chaldeansonline.net/chaldeanews/attack_ar.html
(25) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 12, 2004.
(26) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 17, 2004.
(27) Al-Sabah (Baghdad), October 30, 2004.
(28) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 17, 2004.
(29) Al-Hayat (Lebanon), December 11, 2004.
(30) Al-Mada (Baghdad), February 6, 2005.

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