observations and analysis on everything under the Iraqi sun, by Ayad Rahim (ayadrahim@hotmail.com), host of program on the war we're in: http://wjcu.org/media

Monday, May 31, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 30, 2004

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

I went out, wearing shorts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 29, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 28, 2004

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

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

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

Hello Ayad,

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

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

How long do you plan to remain there?

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

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

God bless and keep you safe.


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

Hi, Rita,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 27, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi, Ed,

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

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

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

All right -- take care. Adios.

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

Okay -- see you, Ed.

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

Hi, Ed,

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

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

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

All the best,


* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, where does that leave me?

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 24, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Hi, David,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 23, 2004

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

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

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

Thanks for listening,

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

Hello, Rita,

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

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

I'm pretty optimistic.

All the best, and thank you.

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

Hello, Rita,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless and keep you safe.


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

Hi Ayad!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The big news today is the withdrawal from Kerbela of military forces. Young cleric Muqtada as-Sadir said his militia force (Jaysh il-Mehdi, Savior's Army) would leave the city if American forces left. So, they both left. This came a day after the latest round of Friday sermons, in which most Shi'a preachers, the overwhelming majority of whom support Grand Ayatollah Ali il-Sistani, called for demilitarizing the two holy cities. The clear implication was that Sadir had drawn in the American and allied militaries by using the cities, its holy places and cemeteries as staging grounds and weapons depots for attacking foreign troops.
This camper ain't havin' any fun

I'm drained, spent, running out of fuel, exhausted -- burned out -- that's the word I was looking for. My dear reader -- I've given you, all I have, and I ain't got no more. No juice left, no recharger, no refuelling station, here. I'm plain-old "done" -- and I need a rest. My flower has withered, and I ain't feeling much freshness, here. I've been at it, since the day after I got here, and I haven't stopped for a day, since then -- and it's been seven weeks, to the day, since I got here.

Moreover, there's little to do, for fun, here -- no movie theaters, no parks, no amusement parks, no theaters. There's not much, to give people a break, a rest. I don't know how they do it -- how they survive, on so little enjoyment, pleasure. In Saddam times, people used to say, they had to leave the country, to breathe. Going abroad, if they could afford it, was an outlet -- for their voices, their minds, their sanity. Well, I can breathe -- I'm not strangulated -- but I do need a breather.

Plus, my dating game -- which was a source of joy -- looks like it's over. Without going into detail, it doesn't seem, we meet each other's requirements -- there are some basic incompatibilities -- and I'm bummed out about it. She's a wonderful person -- really one of the nicest and most amazing people I've ever befriended -- so I'm sorry that it's not happening.

Well, my aunt who's married to a Lebanese man, is headed home in four days -- along with her daughter and new son-in-law -- so I might join them, for a week or so -- see if that'll recharge my batteries, for the stretch-run, here.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

I spent Wednesday morning in Iraqi bureaucracy

I went, to get an Iraqi ID. I need it, to get around the city and country more easily and safely. Kidnappings are a risk, and, looking like a foreigner makes me an attractive target and raises my price. Iraqi police and army, for their part, have checkpoints around the country, looking for outside Arab troublemakers. Then there are the hotheads who want no "outside" influence in the country. So, I need some "protection."

The best ID to have is called aHwaal madaniyya (civil affairs), which comes in a card that fits into a shirt pocket that people carry with them at all times. Without major intervention, that ID takes weeks to get. A cousin's son said the quickest to obtain would be a citizenship, and he knew somebody who could speed up the process. He had a break in his morning schedule, so he led me and a cousin to the person he knew at the interior ministry's citizenship bureau. That person wasn't in, but we managed to get things started.

The citizenship building, in the Karrada part of Baghdad, was dark and dingy -- old and decrepit. Think of the movie "Midnight Express." Think, any Iranian movie, and you get the idea. Dusty floors everywhere, broken and missing floor-tiles, paint peeling, cracked ceilings, no lights. Very crowded, mostly men, a lot of them, smoking, and at least three-quarters of the women had their hair covered. In the ante-room to the office we went to, on the top, maybe fifth, floor, there were four or five upright metal barrels, for who-knows-what. Quite a few window panes were broken, the remaining shards of the panes, smoothed down. Looking out, there were satellite dishes on practically every rooftop.

I'd been told that most of the bureaucrats were the same ones who operated in Saddam's time, many of them, from Falluja and Ramadi, and that their dealings with people were still the same -- rough and churlish. Only the top two or three layers in each ministry or bureau had been purged. Bribes were still common, to grease the wheels. I was also warned not to speak English, for that would raise the price of the lubricant. Being an American would make it worse. In fact, the less I spoke, the better. I had, with me, a dozen passport-sized photos I'd just taken, my father's original, tattered citizenship certificate, from 1951, and a fax of my "census registry," from 1967. The '67 record might raise questions: "Don't you have anything else?," "Where have you been all this time?" Better put that one away. Pull it out, only if they ask for more. If it comes to it, I could say I'd been in Iran, or Sudan. That'll bring the price of the bribe down. My complexion, though, doesn't look like I'd spent much time under the Saharan sun.

We started, with my cousin and cousin's son doing all the talking -- they knew how to handle these guys -- but that just looked silly -- "What's wrong with him? Can't he talk?," especially when the application's for me. The man in the top-floor office asked us to get some forms from a ground-floor office. He gave me an official Interior Ministry Citizenship Bureau white cardboard folder to put things in. Downstairs, at a kiosk next to the canteen, we got a couple of blue forms with 100-dinar stamps of the lion of Ur on them, and one of my photos was stapled onto the top-left of one of the forms. My father's citizenship paper was photocopied, and stapled to the inside of the folder. That cost us 1500 dinars, I think (about a dollar). My cousin was coughing pretty severely, so we had some tea from the canteen, and we sat on the wood benches in the courtyard, next to what looked like a dozen abandoned safes -- as tall as school lockers and twice as wide.

Back up the stairs, to the first office. The man looked things over, and said we needed to get my census registry verified, before he could issue the citizenship ID. So, we had to go to the office in A'dhamiyya where I was registered in 1967. After we left the citizenship building, we stopped at a stationery store next door, which had a newspaper rack outside, including the previous day's International Herald Tribune. I picked up a copy (1500 dinars), which had an insert of the Lebanese Daily Star. My cousin got a card for internet dial-up for his home computer. He wanted a 200-hour card. They didn't have those, so he got a 25-hour card, for about $15.

Off we went. I'd been warned by an uncle not to pay him a visit in A'dhamiyya until I got an ID. My uncle, though, is a top doctor, and has been traveling to and from work in a two-car armed convoy, to combat kidnappers. Moreover, A'dhamiyya is known as a Sunni stronghold, with many Saddam backers. During the standoff at Falluja, the main mosque in A'dhamiyya, Abu Hanifa, the top Sunni mosque in Iraq, became a focal point for protests and contributions of food and blood to Fallujans. We were on our way, anyways. Actually, I'd already been through A'dhamiyya a couple of times, and visited my uncle in his hospital there.

It was a bit of a trek, with heavy traffic all along the way, including a few American military vehicles. The next government building was a flight of steps up from a corner shop -- much cleaner than the previous building and sparsely peopled, with a fresh coat of paint, well-lit and air-conditioned. We were sent by the man at the front desk to the director's office, a bare room with five people around his desk, pleading their cases. The clean-cut young man behind the desk looked at my papers, and asked for the man at the front desk. My cousin went and hailed him. He was asked to fetch the register that contained my 1967 entry. He brought that back, the young man opened up the book -- larger than a photo album -- and found the two facing pages for my family. There we were -- my father, mother, two sisters (at the end), brother, me, my aunt and a servant. Next to our names, though, in red, it said, "frozen." A note at the bottom of the book said that our citizenships had been "frozen" in March 1987. So, the young man called on an older man, who turned out to be the director of this section. The dirctor said he couldn't do anything for me, as our citizenships were frozen. I thought, let me call my friend the interior minister, so we could clear this up quickly -- so he could tell these guys that I was all right, and didn't need to have my citizenship suspended. When I mentioned "interior minister" and asked my cousin for his cell phone, the young man asked if this was the current minister. I said, yes. The older man said, there was no need for the interior minister, that he could clear it up, no problem. He signed and stamped one of my papers, and sent us to a side office.

The clerk in the side office took out two blue forms, inserted carbon paper between them and stuck a sewing pin into the corners to fasten the papers together. He started copying the information from the registry for me and my father. I wanted to read everything written about us. My date of birth was off by two months. The servant listed with us, whom I didn't know, was from Dohuk, a Kurdish city, and had a Kurdish name. There were metal cabinets against the walls with shelves full of these giant registry albums. The clerk finished copying the necessary information, wrote, in red, "frozen," next to my and my father's names, then crossed those out. At the bottom he wrote, in red, that the suspension had been removed, with elaboration. He offered questioningly, by way of explanation, that we'd lived abroad for a long time, and that was why our citizenships had been frozen. When he finished -- just in time for the noon quitting hour -- he asked, "What about me?" My cousin said something about lunch fare. I pulled out of my pocket the 25,000-dinar note I had (about $20), and asked what kind of restaurant it'd be -- if it would be a fancy restaurant. My cousin signaled for me to put the note back. He pulled out a 5000-dinar note, and displayed it. The clerk smiled, to ask for more. My cousin upped the price to 10,000. That did it. The clerk broke my 25,000-dinar note. The clerk offered to help me and my cousin with the new civil affairs IDs, when those would be issued. When he was done, I got up to shake his hand. I must've leaned too far, for he offered me his cheek, and we exchanged kisses. He then sent us back to the director, who signed the bottom of one of the forms. The director then sent us back to the clerk, who stamped it.

We were then told we'd have to produce proof of residency and a copy of a passport. I told them there was no passport, or that maybe it was abroad. Outside, my cousin said he had a friend at the municipality where we lived, and could do the proof-of-residency in the afternoon. We could then come back, the next day, to complete the operation -- get the citizenship ID. My cousin also told me that all the Rahims had had their citizenships frozen, as one of our grandfather's brothers lived in Qom, in Iran, so all his relatives were considered taba'iyya (of Iranian descent).

My cousin's friend at the municipality would not issue me proof of residency, as I was here temporarily. Others say I won't need it -- that all I would have to do, is return to the citizenship bureau, and with a bit of money, be able to get the ID. We were supposed to go, this morning, but my cousin and his wife had some personal business, so my brush with bureaucracy is to continue, Monday morning.

Friday, May 21, 2004

The culture behind Arab world's "mentality of violence"

I recently read a speech given by Tarek Heggy last October. Its title is "The Future of the Moslem Mind." It, first, looks at the changes that have taken place in the Arab world over the last 100 years, which reveal "how much more widespread the ‘mentality of violence’ has become in today’s societies."
But the real danger lies less in the mentality of violence that has come to permeate many, if not all, sectors of Islamic and Arab societies than in the spread of the culture that is conducive to its growth and development. This culture is what spawns militants who promote the mentality of violence and the general climate that allows it to take hold. I believe five factors are responsible for the phenomenon: political oppression (at the hands of autocratic forms of government marked by a lack of democracy); the rise of the Wahhabi brand of Islam (along with the retreat of the tolerant model which had prevailed for centuries); the spread of tribal values which came with the spread of the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam; educational systems that are completely divorced from the age; and, finally, widespread corruption, which is the inevitable result of political oppression.
The speech, given at Merton College (Oxford University), is available in Arabic and English.
Forced to fly the body

Izzid-Deen Saleem, the Governing Council president who was killed in a suicide bombing on Monday, was, contrary to custom, flown from Baghdad to Najaf for burial on Tuesday, rather than taken overland. That was for security reasons, as officials feared a potential attack on the funeral procession convoy.
Slain president had 110 relatives killed by Saddam

Izzid-Deen Saleem (who also went by Abdul-Zahraa Othman), the president of the Iraqi Governing Council who was killed in a suicide bombing on Monday, had, according to some, 110 relatives killed by the Saddam regime.
Counter-media campaign, illicit walk, Iraqi humor, religion

The electricity was off when I arrived at the office this morning, and as I was alone -- it's Friday, the sabbath -- the generator wasn't turned on. It would be a couple of hours till the electricity would come on, again. Luckily, a cousin's son came by, to drop off a proposal he's prepared, working with a local ad agency, for a media campaign to counter the anti-Iraqi, anti-American Jazeera and Arabiyya satellite channels. So, he dropped me off at an internet cafe nearby. There, I wrote my earlier post -- a follow-up, on the case of Ahmad Chalabi. To get back to the office, I decided to walk -- another illicit solo sojourn on my part. I'd already made one phone call, for a charge, and it was a short distance to the office, with few people in the streets. Near the internet cafe, I stopped at a small eatery, to get some sandwiches -- for me and one of the guards at the office. I walked in, and was invited to join the people at the back for a home-cooked meal. Turns out, they didn't take me for a local. After I put in my order -- for three falafil sandwiches -- one of the men said, laughingly, "I thought he was a foreigner -- we would've assassinated him." Iraqi humor, I guess.

On my walk to the office, I passed by the monstrosity with 30-plus domes whose construction was halted when Saddam was ousted. Loudspeakers bellowed out the Friday sermon. I couldn't get a steady stream of words, but the man was, clearly, angry. There was something about sovereignty, a story about the traffic police, and a mention of the governing council. In hearing this man, going on, at the top of his voice, I thought, once again, this is a man of the cloth? a man of religion? a man of peace? and of a religion that calls itself "religion of peace"?

Last night, at my uncle's house, I got a bit of an earful about religion. My uncle's three daughters were there, and one of them vowed to make it her mission to make me a believer. She's going to get me some books about Muhammad and the miracles of God. It can get a bit exasperating, and I find all the talk and arguments of persuasion such a bore.
More on Chalabi

I've refined yesterday's premature political obituary of Ahmad Chalabi. I also have some addendums.

Two Iraqi Governing Council members have threatened to resign, if the U.S. does not apologize to Chalabi for its behavior. The two are long-time Chalabi ally Muhammad Bahril-Uloom and Salama al-Khafaji. Council president Ghazi il-Yawer called for an urgent meeting of the council, today, to discuss the raids.

In addition to the wars between the State and Defense departments, the charges of misspent funds (by Chalabi and in the U.N.'s oil-for-food program) and criminal actions, and Iraqi political maneuverings, there is also the role of U.N. envoy to Iraq, Lakhdhar Brahimi. Two weeks ago, Brahimi refused to meet with Chalabi. The U.S. government is apparently ceding more input to Brahimi and the U.N., which displeases those opposed to a tilt back to old-style Arab politics-as-usual, including the return of some former regime elements and/or Ba'this to power. Chalabi is among those who feel that Brahimi and the U.N. represent such a tendency. This week, Brahimi met with Chalabi.

An Iraqi judge, yesterday morning, named eight people against whom arrest warrants were issued. One of them, Aras Habib, has been working with Ahmad Chalabi since the early '90s. The judge, Hussain al-Moathin, said the eight Iraqis detained, kidnapped and tortured other Iraqis, and in one case killed a person -- "for personal purposes" -- and took over government facilities. A senior coalition official said several Chalabi aides were arrested and that there are arrest warrants for as many as 15 people on allegations of "fraud, kidnapping and associated matters."

Inside Chalabi's home, reporters saw a portrait of Chalabi with a bullet hole through the forehead.

The monthly U.S. payments to Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress were $340,000, not $134,000, as I reported yesterday.

Finally, the U.S. accuses Chalabi of interfering with its and the U.N.'s investigations into the U.N. oil-for-food program. Chalabi has undertaken an investigation of his own, seeing the U.N. and U.S. investigations as biased and liable to cover up politically sensitive transgressions.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

A "dark shadow of aggression" has been lifted

Thanks to David Levey, here's a paragraph from President Bush's speech Tuesday before the annual gathering of the American Israel Political Affairs Committee:
And for the sake of peace and security, we ended the regime of Saddam Hussein. That regime cast a shadow, a dark shadow of aggression over the Middle East for decades. They invaded both Iran and Kuwait. The regime built and used weapons of mass destruction against its neighbors, and its own people. The regime sponsored terror; it paid rewards of up to $25,000 to the families of Palestinian homicide bombers. That regime filled mass graves with innocent men, innocent women, and innocent children. That regime defied the demands of the free world, and America, for more than a decade. And America is more secure, and the world is better off, because that regime is no more.
The life and times of Ahmad Chalabi

Now, the conclusion of my premature political obituary of Ahmad Chalabi. Ahmad, as he's commonly known, left Iraq with his family in the wake of the 1958 anti-monarchy revolution (some call it a military coup), when he was 13 years old. He then lived in England and Lebanon and studied mathematics at M.I.T. and the University of Chicago, where his doctoral thesis was a theorem that bears his name. He went into one of the the family businesses, banking. In Iraq, the Chalabi name has many faces. The family is among the elite of the country -- in politics and commerce -- yet also carries the taint of elitism.

In 1989, Petra Bank, which Chalabi ran with his brothers and Palestinian partners, went bankrupt. A Jordanian military court issued a warrant for Ahmad's arrest, on the charge of embezzlement. Chalabi escaped the country, and has denied the charges, asserting that Saddam pressured King Hussein because he (Chalabi) was active against Saddam, while Jordan was economically dependent on Iraq. Chalabi supported Iraqi oppositionists and activities, as well as Shi'a movements in Lebanon. The bank's collapse cost many people their life savings, and many have held Ahmad and his family personally responsible. A Jordanian military court sentenced Chalabi in absentia to 22 years in prison.

In the meantime, Ahmad cultivated influential contacts in academic, business, political and social circles. A voracious reader, he supported many cultural and literary projects. The invasion of Kuwait brought the issue of Iraq to the fore, and, with it, Ahmad Chalabi's appearance on the American political stage. He steadfastly lobbied and enlisted people from the media, politics and academe to the vision of a pluralist Iraq governed by "the rule of law."

This ran counter to the accepted notion of Iraq, which held that the only way to keep the formerly three Ottoman provinces together was through a strongman, in particular, a Sunni Arab nationalist military officer, and from the town of Tikrit, to boot. Tikritis have a millinnia-long history of banditry and thuggery, and were employed by the Ottomans to rule the region. This "Sunni elite school" for Iraq was popular with State Department Arabists and CIA Middle East analysts. Ahmad had a rough row to hoe. He managed, though, to create a major split in the U.S. bureaucracy, between the two schools of thought, a split that rages on, in the form of the on-going feud between State and Defense over the shape and substance of a future Iraq.

The attacks today, appear to be part of that battle, as the State-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) hands over the reins of state to Iraqis, with the next round of fighting to be conducted directly between the U.S. military on the ground and State Department's embassy in Baghdad, which is to be the largest U.S. embassy in the world, with 2,000-plus staffers.

As for Chalabi, he met great resistance in the U.S. bureaucracy, in his effort to offer an alternate vision for Iraq. Until after the liberation of Kuwait, State Department officials were prohibited from openly meeting Iraqis not representing Saddam. So, Chalabi had to establish facts on the ground. He organized a broad-based Iraqi umbrella group, called the Iraqi National Congress (INC), which held its first conference in Vienna, June 1992, and thus received recognition from the U.S. government. As an assistant to author Kanan Makiya, I was a guest at the INC's next meeting, on free Iraqi territory, in October '92, in Salahuddin, Kurdistan. It was a very dramatic scene, the first open political gathering in Iraq in a quarter-century, and Ahmad Chalabi was its chief catalyst, architect and organizer. However, many of us attending the conference noticed that Ahmad managed things autocratically and did not draw in, more talented people, of which there were many, nor delegate more power and responsibilities to them.

Nevertheless, he was able to negotiate -- and through his troops, enforce -- a truce between the two Kurdish parties, which fell into open warfare in 1994. Through many defectors and informants, Chalabi also developed wide information-gathering and propaganda networks inside Saddam territory and inside the regime. He, thus, tipped off the U.S. government on an Iraqi military move on Kuwait in October '94, a coup that embarrassed the U.S. intelligence community. In March '95, along with his two main Kurdish partners, he decided to establish more facts on the ground, by implementing what was called a rollback strategy against Saddam. The INC, operating jointly with other parties, gobbled up small amounts of territory, and, as expected, took in entire units of surrendering Iraqi soldiers. However, the anticipated U.S. air cover did not materialize, causing one of the two main Kurdish parties, Masoud Barazani's Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), to abandon ship. Iraqis displayed a letter from Vice President Al Gore promising support. Clinton administration officials have said no such promise was made. The March '95 episode was another in a series of disappointing setbacks for Iraqis, many, seeing them as betrayals.

While the Kurdish parties fought over income from smuggling and customs -- what came to be called "Umm il-Gamaarig" (The Mother of all Customs) -- the KDP took up Saddam's offer of help, thus driving the INC out of northern Iraq in August 1996, and the public execution of nearly 100 INC foot soldiers. In the spring of '97, I was asked by Ahmad Chalabi to organize the legal defense of 26 Iraqis detained by the U.S. government in California. These were among the activists in political groups operating in northern Iraq against Saddam who'd been forced out of Iraq the previous summer, and subsequently flown to a U.S. military base in the Pacific island of Guam for processing to settle in America (I worked briefly as an I.N.S. interpreter there). The detentions, and the transfer to remote Guam prior to the '96 elections, among other actions, were viewed by many as part of the Clinton administration's anti-Chalabi campaign.

Moreover, with the Clinton administration's focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict -- for, as William Safire put it, entirely Nobel motives -- the old State-CIA view of Iraq ascended, with the offensive against Ahmad and his INC accompanied by a reversion to the hopes and promises of military coups and the machinations of neighboring countries, three of which (Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia) hosted and financed Iraqi oppositionists, and all of which had a major stake in the Iraqi game -- their own dog in the fight. Chalabi thus abandoned his reliance on the administration and covert backing, and went public. This resulted in the 1998 passage by Congress of the Iraq Liberation Act, and Clinton's begrudging signature. The act made the official policy of the United States the toppling of Saddam's regime, and its replacement with a democratic system. This, again, was nearly single-handedly pulled off by Ahmad.

I'll fast-forward past the ascendance of the neoconservatives, 9/11 and the toppling of Saddam, about which much has been written, and is still fresh in most minds. Some say that the toppling of Saddam would not have been possible without Ahmad Chalabi's efforts; others say that it required 9/11, combined with the influence of neoconservatives in the Bush administration.

However, once his mission to topple Saddam came to be, Chalabi's fortunes waned. His signal achievement since then has been the de-Ba'thification campaign (a la de-Nazification in post-World War II Germany), which he has spearheaded and been the chief advocate of. In Iraq, he is said to have surrounded himself with many thugs and thiefs. They have, according to many, forcibly evicted people from homes, horded electricity, and harassed people. For example, the night after Saddam's capture was announced, two of my cousins' sons out for a walk were picked up by INC guards, and manhandled, detained and interrogated for a couple of hours. One of them, whose father worked closely with Chalabi abroad, later confronted Ahmad about his guards' behavior. Ahmad attributed it to current conditions.

Over the past few days, Chalabi has strongly criticized American plans for transfer of sovereignty, calling it incomplete sovereignty. He has said that the security portfolios ought to be turned over to Iraqis, as the Americans and their appointees have failed in the effort. He has also called for the U.S. administration to vacate the Green Zone and the palaces it's used. Finally, in the oil-for-food scandal, Chalabi has undertaken his own investigation, through the accounting firm KPMG, suspecting the U.S. and U.N. investigations of partiality and coverups, with the United States desiring U.N. assistance in Iraq. Chalabi asked the U.S. government for $5 million from the frozen Saddam (Iraqi) assets to pay for the audit. CPA administrator Paul Bremer reportedly refused.

Against Chalabi, there are charges of misspent money. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been talk of halting the U.S. subsidy to the INC. That was made official, two days ago. The Iraqi police entering Chalabi's home and party headquarters came with arrest warrants for four aides. They carted off boxes of papers and computers. Ahmad's nephew Salim Chalabi, who heads the war crimes tribunal that's to try former regime leaders, related that a gun was put to his uncle's head.

Five months and a week to the day since the capture of the man he pursued, including a face-to-face meeting with the former dictator, Ahmad Chalabi is now, himself, surrounded. In the meantime, as much as it might be desired by some, and despite widespread vilification and scapegoating for a range of ills, reports of Ahmad Chalabi's demise would be grossly exaggerated.
A bit more, on the Chalabi raid

Continuing, with the offensive against Ahmad Chalabi. Over lunch, a phone call informed us that his house was besieged by American forces. It, too, is near here. His party headquarters, around the corner from here, have been under siege from this morning. A couple of weeks ago, reports began circulating that Ahmad Chalabi's funds from the U.S. government were to be cut off. The amount of the U.S. subsidy, I believe, was $134,000 a month.

Soon after liberation, Chalabi's reputation began to suffer.

We just felt another explosion. These could be noise bombs, commonly called concussion bombs.

I'll post this, and continue, later.
Big explosion(s), around the corner

A few minutes ago, there was a big explosion, or, more likely, a series of explosions. Here, at the Iraq Foundation's offices, in Mansour, the windows shook, for some five to 10 seconds. Nobody, yet, knows where the explosions were, but they're believed to be very close to here. A couple of people saw an American patrol stationed around the corner, at a major intersection. Yesterday afternoon, as I was driving back to the office with my cousin, part of the roundabout near here was being closed off by American forces. One person had to return to the office because streets were blocked. Two people just reported that the guards outside the offices of Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, near here, were up against a wall, being frisked. This may all be part of a State Department campaign to undercut, and, finally, eliminate Ahmad Chalabi from the Iraqi political scene. There are, reportedly, outstanding arrest warrants from a CPA-appointed Iraqi judge on four aides to Chalabi.

Lunch is served, and I'll return to this topic, ASAP.
Identifying RabiHa Nu'aymi

Yesterday, I reported on two Ba'ath Party members who used their positions to serve Iraqis. I failed to mention that the first, Rabiha Mousa Yaseen al-Nu'aymi, was a member of the women's committee for the party's Kerbela branch.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Iraqi judges, meet the world

For the first time in more than 30 years, Iraqi judges attended an international conference. Twenty eight judges from across the country attended a “Rule of Law” conference in The Hague, last week.
30 Iraqi athletes in Olympics

As a result of last week's 3-1 upset victory over the Saudi soccer team, Iraq will send about 30 athletes to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. At the 2000 games in Sydney, Iraq was represented by four athletes.
Posthumous conversions

Responding to my aunt's claim that Jews and Christians are, really, Muslims, and the Mormon post-mortem conversions of Jews:
Date: 5/19/2004 12:40:03 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "David Levey"

Isn't that what your aunt is doing...converting Moses, a lifelong Jew, post-mortem, to Mohamedism/ Islam?


* * *

Date: 5/19/2004 6:42:08 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Yup! Of course. Like you said, you can't have that, either. There's never any rest -- for the weary.
A pair of good Ba'this

A few days ago, a friend of Dr. Mishkat el-Moumin came to the office with a personal problem. The friend's mother had received threatening letters, because she was a high-ranking member of the Ba'ath Party in Hilla. I'll turn things over, now, to Dr. Moumin, a Baghdad University law professor who directs the Iraq Foundation's women and legal sections.
I did -- and still do -- whenever I hear the word 'Ba'thi,' I get afraid, and my heart tightens. I have a lot of painful memories from them, their trying to get me to become a member. Despite that, I managed to meet two Ba'ath members who did a good job for Iraqis. One of them is Rabiha Mousa Yaseen al-Nu'aymi, my friend's mother. The other is Saad Znaad Darwash. As far as Mrs. Nu'aymi, first of all, her star as a Ba'thi rose after the dust of the Kuwait war had settled -- after it committed its largest crimes, and its more repressive measures had loosened. She managed to use her power to help people and support them. She managed to save many people from the Da'wa Party [from death sentences]. The biggest people wouldn't do that, then. She also mananged to restore [to their rightful owners] the properties of those deported [forcibly from the country]. She managed to get jobs for people, which was very difficult in the '90s -- people not related to her. One time, she was given 100,000 dinars, as a makrama [a bonus, in the form of a religious beneficience, from Saddam]. She bought fabric, had clothes sewn from them, and distributed them to the poor. I had the feeling, that if she'd done these things in the '70s, Saddam would have had her executed. He kept quiet, because she was Sunni, and she was operating in Hilla [which is nearly 100% Shi'i]. He would rather have a Sunni in a Shi'a area, and it would have been difficult to find a replacement. [As an illustration of how little it takes to have someone executed, top-ranking Ba'thi] Abdul-Khaliq al-Samara'i was exectued in 1979 because he ate a kebab with his driver. This, according to Hasan al-Alawi's book Dawlat al-Isti'ara al-Qawmiyya (approximately "The Country of Hijacked Nationalism"), on the charge of treason.

With me, she stood by me, when the mukhabarat (intelligence services) were to interrogate me because I applied for a job in the university. I called her, talked to her. She encouraged me, allayed my fears, and promised she'd do anything she could to help me. [At the mukhabarat,] you have to prove that you're not opposed to the regime, something you have to prove 24 hours a day. Actually, you have to prove you're loyal -- "not opposed" is not enough. Going to the mukhabarat was like hell, because Iraqis had the idea that whoever goes in, doesn't get out, and they used to target Shi'a, for no reason at all. She told me, 'If you need anything, here's my phone number, and call me at the party office, and tell them "I'm related to so-and-so."' Another person would have avoided doing any such thing -- they're not obligated to do anything.
Nu'aymi, who was a member of the party's women's committee-Kerbela branch, is in hiding. Her daughter and other family members are holed up in the house, hoping to ride out the storm. The letters they received were from a group calling itself the Islamic Daw'aah Party, possibly a misspelling of the more-well-known Hizb il-Daw'a il-Islamiyya (Islamic Call Party), whose members Nu'aymi saved. Moumin added, "If they're after Rabiha, why are they threatening the whole family, even other relatives." Three letters threatening Nu'aymi and her relatives have been left at the homes of three close relatives. Moumin, and others, are gathering names and details -- of those Nu'aymi rescued and her other good deeds. I'll publish those, as soon as I have them.
Saad Znad Darwash was academic adviser at Saddam University in the nineties. He was protecting Shi'as at the university -- supported them, defended them. He stopped Sunnis from hurting them. Sunnis were in leadership and decision-making positions. The dean of the Saddam law school was Sunni -- he was an honest man. The president of the univeristy was Sunni -- he was an honest man, too. The university belonged to the presidential office. When Saad Znad Darwash entered a school, all the Shi'a teachers would surround him, telling him their problems, what they needed. He was a gentleman -- well-educated. Everybody knew he was protecting Shi'a, which was a very difficult thing to do. I was surprised that he was left alone. He was so smart -- he'd support Shi'a on one hand, while he recruited and elevated people in the party. Nobody could protect Shi'a. The hammer was a little lighter in the nineties. He [Saddam] had fallen -- militarily, in the media, among Arabs. He wasn't in control, like in the 80s. He looked upon the '80s as his golden age. In my opinion, because of people like Rabiha and Saad -- able to be in positions of power, and not hurt, but support, people -- they were able to keep a lot of people's heads on their shoulders. They could've abused their power, mistreat people, but didn't. I'm not saying that, to say that the Ba'ath were good people, but there were people who thought about us, who tried to help ordinary people, while nobody did that. Who helped us in the '80s, in the '90s? Did Dawa, did Wifaq il-Islami [a recent Islamic party], did Ahmad Chalabi? Darwash must've had a backup, just as I did with Israel and sanctions [When teaching about human rights violations, transgressions of the constitution and democracy, Moumin would cite examples from Iraq, without mentioning Iraq, then locate the event elsewhere]. His backup was that he'd brought in a number of Ba'this to the party, elevated so many.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Gelernter article

Yesterday, I pasted the words of David Gelernter from a friend's e-mail. The quote came from an article by Gelernter in The Weekly Standard called "It's America's War."
Safety after June 30, traveling outside Baghdad and writing about Jewish topics
Subj: My visit 2 Iraq/private again
Date: 5/17/2004 8:39:54 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

Dear Ayad:
This was precisely what I told my brother: it will get worse after 30/6 because these criminals are determined to stop the establishment of a democratic government in Iraq exactly as the Ba'this-Qawmis did in 1958. The only hope I have is the naming of a new government soon and the reactions to it. But everyone I talked to told me not to go....

Regardless of the ID, do not take unnecessary risks by going to Hilla unless u r sure about the safety of roads. I guess ur name on the ID will be Ayad al-Tikriti. Haha!

I am by the way concerned about what you put on Jewish issues on your blog. I had asked you before u left for Iraq not to expose your sympathies on this issues. Be careful.


* * *

Date: 5/17/2004 11:09:55 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hello, Alaa,

I agree -- about the post-30/6 period. Still, I think, based on what others are saying, travel outside Baghdad should be safe enough. I'll always be going with somebody, of course -- somebody local -- from the area I'm visiting, or somebody familiar with the area, route, etc.

As far as Jewish/Israeli stuff, I have to write everything -- it's in personal encounters that I have to hold my tongue. I remember very well what you wrote me, but I thought you were talking about conversations, too. That's what I remember.

All right, man. Take care.
You know you're in Baghdad when....

I just got this forwarded to me. It was written by a woman from Australia:
As I head home, I want to give you an idea about what every day life in Baghdad has been like these past six months. The crazy, the comical, the everyday, the tragic.

You know you’re in Baghdad when…

- One of the hazards of walking down the street is getting your skirt caught in razor wire.

- When you hear the fourth loud explosion during the night, the response is to roll over and go back to sleep as you mutter:… “Mmmm … that sounded like an R.P.G on The Palestine Hotel….”

- You start using acronyms such as R.P.G (Rocket Propelled Grenade) in everyday conversation with friends, and in your sleep!

You know you’re in Baghdad when…

- Mosques and churches live side-by-side in harmony.

- Most young people (under 30) I meet have a Masters Degree and are working on their Phd. (I’ve heard that Iraq has the highest ratio of Phd's per population in the world.)

- Hot water systems are called ‘giesers’.

- The smiles of children are wide, warm and cheeky.

- A glass of tea is tiny, strong and is served black with at least 5 sugars! Coffee is smaller, stronger and served with 10 sugars!

You know you’re in Baghdad when…

- You are body searched at three separate checkpoints and forced to walk through a concrete jungle, razor-wire labyrinth just to attend a meeting at the building of the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority, the polite name for the occupying force). I think someone is paranoid…

- Queues at petrol stations can stretch up to 2 kilometres long, often meaning 8-hour waits. In an oil-rich country? I don’t get it!

- Black market petrol is sold by the side of the road in plastic jerry cans with a 7-up bottle cut in half and a rubber hose used to siphon fuel into cars. I really don’t get it!

- Fancy hotels or any building that houses foreign contractors or media are barricaded with at least 100 metres of massive grey concrete blocks topped with rows of ugly razor wire that make the surrounding neighbourhood look like the plains of
Mordor leading to Mount Doom. Not real subtle if you ask me!

You know you’re in Baghdad when…

- You plan your day’s activities according to electricity cuts.

- Children’s Amusement Parks are now military bases.

- There are demonstrations every day.

- University Professors, Lawyers and Engineers are taxi drivers.

- Rumours say mobile phones are bugged, but generally they don’t work because (ironically) the world’s largest capitalist system gave the contract to a corrupt, inefficient monopoly. One of the company director’s must have a relative in the White House?

You know you’re in Baghdad when…

- Crisps are bought by the kilo. They are stored in huge clear-plastic sacks displayed on the footpath outside the shops, the site makes you want to dive into one and eat your way out!

- It's the men who flock to ‘salons’ to be preened and get their eyebrows plucked.

- The tall, tall, palm trees sway with grace in front of the large red sunset when the evening breeze comes.

- Like my country, everyone is crazy about sport, especially the blokes, and especially about football, (what I call soccer!) Which is played around Baghdad on dusty fields without nets.

- Green-grocers take pride in their produce – fat bunches of Bananas are arranged on ropes that surround the fruit shops, oranges and apples sit in colourful neat rows.

You know you're in Baghdad when…

- The screeching roar of generators sitting on the footpaths makes you feel like you're at a lawnmower expo when walking down the street.

- Major roads, highways and bridges are randomly blocked without notice for the convenience of the military, causing traffic jams that make New York peak hour look like a country lane on a slow day.

- A trip that should take 10 minutes can take three hours because of said traffic jams.

- Wild excuses for being late for an appointment such as “five American tanks cut off the bridge near my house” are plausible and must be accepted.

- Successful businesses have closed or struggle to survive because the US has permanently blocked several major inner-city roads. Customers no longer have access to the shops, but there is no compensation for loss of livelihood.

- Cars drive on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic, across medium strips, the wrong direction at roundabouts, basically anywhere really. Why? Because they can. “This is my freedom!”, the young boys cry from a battered old pajero that should’ve gone to the wreckers 20 years ago.

- Said freedom and resultant chaos, means traffic lights, stop signs, and all road rules have long been abandoned so that every trip in a car becomes a ‘demolition derby’ experience and you just pray that your taxi driver comes out on top!

- Said freedom, and resultant chaos, means that crossing the road involves a ritual of making peace with your maker, taking a deep breathe, stepping into oncoming traffic and hoping the drivers care enough about their car to stop. I’ve been hit twice.

You know you're in Baghdad when…

- The thunderous sound of military helicopters ‘coming and going’ drowns out the conversations in your living room.

- Watching Black Hawks swoop as you eat your lunch makes you feel like you’re on the set of a Russell Crow movie, or was it Tom Cruise?

- You make bets about ‘which variety of bomb or gunshot was that?’ with your friends.

- Every household has a gun. Women carry guns on the street.

- Large reconstruction contracts are always granted to foreign companies rather than local ones.

- Parents are so fearful of lack of security, many don’t allow their children to go to school.

- A by-product of freedom has meant an influx of pornography, hard drugs, prostitution, and a dramatic rise in armed robbery, kidnapping and rape.

And you know you’re in Baghdad when….

- The ancient River Tigris flows with a confident dignity despite its years of neglect.

- You can buy one egg at the shop. But not less than 2 kilos of rice.

- Locals say ‘chicken’ when they mean to say “kitchen’, and vice versa.

- Locals say “hallo!” when they mean ‘goodbye’

- I start saying ‘hallo!” when I mean ‘goodbye’!

- You can get all the latest computer software for free, because there are no laws – anyone need anything?

- Juicy barbecue chickens rotate over hot coals in glass cabinets outside restaurants with tables and chairs set up on the footpath!

- Hommous is always good. So is falafel.

- The domes of mosques shine with beauty and pride.

- Piles of rotting rubbish grow on street corners and encourage the spread of disease because there is no local council to come and pick it up.

- Everyone you meet is exhausted about having to cope daily with the above conditions and wonder how on earth they will cope another day.
About writing on "Jewish matters" and the road to Hilla

I, along with Alaaddin, the author of the following e-mail, were supposed to meet in Baghdad and head to Hilla, near ancient Baybylon, to see 15-year-old Fatima, who has the blood disorder thalassimia, requiring a bone-marrow transplant:
Subj: Jewish matters
Date: 5/18/2004 3:24:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

Dear Ayad,
It is not difficult to conclude where your sympathies lie. The topic keep popping up on your blog. Most Iraqis see Jews in different light whether it is based on Quranic statements or due to the Paestinian-Israeli conflict. Just stay away from the topic in these hot days.

Pay attention to these places and inquire about them: Al-Yusfiyah, Al-Mahmudiya, Al-Latifiyah and Al-Haswa. There were attacks on journalists and US forces plus suicide bombings on civilians in all of these places. I used this highway 2 or 3 times and it was OK but I would now inquire first. With a good ID you pretty look like a solid Iraqi especially if you dress in a dishdasha!! Haha.


* * *

Date: 5/18/2004 8:19:26 AM Eastern Daylight Time

I know what you mean, Alaa, but I just can't -- as you know, I don't want to censor my blog -- not to mention my writings and thoughts. It's best, too, if it's free-wheeling, without pulling any punches, without blocks, etc.

As for those towns, I've heard about the attacks on Mahmudiyya, Yusufiyya and Lateefiyya -- one of the people here lives in Mahmudiyya. I asked her about Haswa. She said there are two, one on the edge of Baghdad. When I read the rest of your e-mail, about the attacks, she knew it was the one in their area. I guess you're telling me, for when I go to Hilla, huh?

All right, man -- see you.
And you thought you were Jewish?!

In response to my aunt's claim that Jews and Christians, all the way back to Abraham, were -- are -- Muslims:
Date: 5/17/2004 11:19:22 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "David Levey"

Ah, even taking that away from us... kinda hard to be a Muslim when there was no Mohamed, but then they say religion is based on faith, not provable reality. Maybe we are all Muslims and we don't know it yet. Kind of like all the Jews that died in the holocaust were Mormons and didn't know it (I don't know if you are familiar with their attempts to do "post mortem" conversions). Hey, if the Muslims can get to love the Jews the way the Mormons do and stop fucking persecuting us, I'm all for Muslims believing whatever they want. Until then, I'll just settle for laughing at the idea your aunt has and its implications. Maybe they are some kind of "honorary Jew"- too good to be Jewish, so they must have been Muslims in their hearts.


* * *

Date: 5/18/2004 6:20:58 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, David,

Yeah -- I know about the Mormon post-mortem converting (?), saving souls. Pretty sleazy, really -- slimey. Sneaky. More like stealing souls, than saving 'em.
Suicice bombers or homicide bombers?
Date: 5/17/2004 11:19:23 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "David Levey"

By the way, Israelis (well, at least American supporters of Israel) are calling suicide bombers "homicide bombers." After all, these people are trying to kill others and their own deaths are incidental. Call them what they are... homicidal killers....they don't deserve dignity in death as they kill innocent people...that is their legacy.

My reply:
Date: 5/18/2004 6:16:06 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, David,

I had a discussion about that, with my cousin, for a piece he was writing for the Wall Street Journal about "suicide bombings." I'm not gonna go to the mat, one way or the other -- although I don't think they're getting any dignity, from calling them "suicide bombers." Plus, it's more accurate than "homicide bombers," since a homicide bomber might not be killing himself. Who cares, really? They're bums, no matter which way you slice it.

With my cousin, I thought it diverted from his message, to get into the tangetial argument, about what they should be called, when he was discussing the issue, and the justifying of it, by Arabs using the word "martyr."
Billboard vandals

The police billboards that were defaced, and replaced -- have been defaced, again. On one side, above a close-up of a policeman pointing at the onlooker, are the words, "I put my life at risk every day to help rebuild my country, and establish safety and security for the citizens of Baghdad." Below, he asks citizens to ask themselves what they can do for their country. On the other said, are a list of about 10 requisites, to enter the police force -- such as age (21), ability to read and write Arabic, high school diploma, not having committed human rights violations, and not being of top-three-tier Ba'thi. The past couple of days, there's been black paint splattered on both sides, as there was, for the first couple of weeks of my six-week stay.
Slain Iraqi president being buried today

Today, the slain president of the Iraqi Governing Council is being flown from Baghdad to Najaf, to Shi'ism's traditional burial place, Wadi il-Salam (Valley of Peace) cemetery. Izzid-Deen Saleem, along with his driver and an aide, were killed by a suicide bomber yesterday morning, as they were about to enter the headquarters of the Governing Council. In Islam, the dead must be buried as quickly as possible, within 24 hours, at most.
About Abraham, and Jews and Christians being Muslim

Yesterday, I related a story and a view from my aunt. I have a couple of corrections and some amendments. Abraham, according to the Qur'an, went to Becca, not Mecca; later, it became called Mecca. Also, the idols he destroyed were not in Becca/Mecca, but more likely in Ur, his birthplace. Further, Abraham didn't destroy all the idols worshipped by the locals -- he left the largest intact. When the locals arrived, to see their idols, fallen and broken, they inquired as to who had done the deed. Abraham replied, "Why don't you ask the surviving idol?" The worshippers scoffed, that the idols couldn't do anything. "Then why do you worship he who can't hear or speak or do anything?" Abraham asked. His heretical answer, sentenced him to death.

As to why Jews and Christians, and all 24 prophets who preceded Muhammad, are Muslims -- that is because they have as'limo -- submitted themselves to the will of God, the definition of Islam -- submission to God. Thus, all the prophets, from Abraham on down, were, in the view of Muslims, Muslims, too.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Sarin found in artillery shell

In the last hour, the U.S. military announced the discovery of the nerve agent sarin in an artillery shell that exploded in Iraq.
Subj: Words of Wisdom
Date: 5/17/2004 10:47:32 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Ed Ponce"

David Gelernter, from his "It's America's War," in the newest
Weekly Standard, on Abu Ghraib:
These are times when President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld could probably use some encouragement. They should ponder a short note by Anthony Eden to Winston Churchill. It was May 1941 and World War II was going badly. Churchill was Britain's Bush and Rumsfeld, prime minister and minister of defence. Eden was his foreign secretary and friend. There had been disasters in Greece and Crete, a discouraging naval battle with the warship Bismarck and hard fighting in Iraq, where the British were battling Nazi-backed Rashid Ali and Luftwaffe bombers that were helping him out. "My dear Winston," Eden wrote, "This is a bad day; but tomorrow Baghdad will be entered, Bismarck sunk. On some day the war will be won, and you will have done more than any other man in history to win it."

By "tomorrow" he meant "soon"; his predictions all came true. But for now, it is indeed a bad day.

Too many Democrats and some Republicans are acting as if Abu Ghraib means that the Bush administration is in trouble. They are wrong. It means that America is in trouble. And when America is in trouble, every public official is required to help.

The bestial murder of Nicholas Berg has nothing to do with Abu Ghraib. Absolute evil is self-seeding; nothing causes it any more than we cause rats to spawn or the black plague to blossom. But certain conditions help it thrive--such as the worldwide seething toxic stink of America Hatred, or the ongoing struggle by so many thinkers (especially Europeans) to legitimize terrorism (all those torn-to-pieces Israeli innocents dismissed with a shrug or a smirk). Perhaps the murder of Berg--9/11 compressed into one single act, a black hole of infinite wickedness--will at last bring American moral showboating to an end. We all love to tell the world how much we care. It's so easy, so cheap. Perhaps we will now get serious.

Because of Abu Ghraib, America is (temporarily!) down and out and getting kicked in the head by every two-bit moralizing moron in the universe, while her thoughtful Euro-friends twist the knife by informing us that hundreds of dead American soldiers might just as well have stayed home; America's rule is no better than Saddam's. We need to hear from America's political leaders, loud and clear: Yes we abominate the Abu Ghraib crimes but will not accept your forgetting what America has paid to liberate Iraq, will not allow foreign nations to slander the United States, will not permit you to forget what we and the British have accomplished: a world without Saddam Hussein; a vastly safer, profoundly better world. And no one will be allowed to dishonor American soldiers and this nation by telling us 'you're just as bad as Saddam'; that lie will never go unchallenged.
Pow-wow of Iraqi firefighting chiefs

Over the past two days, about 70 firefighting chiefs from around the country met in Baghdad for the first-ever leadership forum. They met with Interior Minister Samir Sumaida'ie, civil defense chief Dr. Ali Sadoon and CPA officials, to form plans and goals for the ministry's civil defense directorate.

The U.S. government has committed, in the span of two and a half years, $182 million to equip firefighters, renovate 125 fire stations, build 27 new ones, and train 4000 new firefighters to join the 8000 existing firemen -- no word on women. In the Saddam era, firefighters only contained fires, receiving little or no training, and nothing about rescuing people from burning buildings.
Three American soldiers to be arraigned this week

In the first round of charges in the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse case, a coalition press statement said, a military judge will arraign three American soldiers on May 20 -- Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick, II, Sgt. Javal S. Davis, and Spec. Charles A. Graner. An arraignment is a public hearing in which the charges are read, the accused is advised of his rights and is asked to enter a plea. All three soldiers face trial by general court-martial, and all are charged with conspiracy to maltreat subordinates (detainees); dereliction of duty for willfully failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty and maltreatment; maltreatment of detainees; and assaulting detainees. In addition, Frederick and Garner are charged with committing indecent acts, Davis is charged with providing a false official statement to a criminal investigator, and Graner, with adultery, and with obstruction of justice.
From Holland, under pressure
Subj: My visit 2 Iraq
Date: 5/17/2004 5:13:21 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

Dear ayad:
I talked to a number of friends and family. All were against it. I intended to cancel the trip but decided to wait 2 or 3 weeks. That is around mid-June. By then I hope some of the security problems will be solved and will be able to attend the transfer of power. I am torn by the conflicting fears of my family and my burning desire to go.

As it happened, on my way to the office this morning I met a former Kurdish student of mine. His father lives in Amman and he is well connected in the north. He too advised me not to go and informed me that his cousin cancelled a trip through the northern route because his family there told him not to come.



* * *

Date: 5/17/2004 8:19:22 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hey, Alaa,

I'm sure you know, it's not gonna get much better, if at all better, after June 30. They're gonna test Iraqis, all the way through -- all the way to the end -- for a long time.

All right, man -- thanks for your message. It looks like I'll be going to Hilla by myself -- once I get the ID. Soon, I hope.

President killed

You've probably heard the news -- that this month's president of the Iraqi Governing Council was killed today. I was sitting in the kitchen, when we felt the huge blast, this morning. A few minutes ago, we heard who the target of the bomb was. His name is Izzid-Deen Saleem (also went by Abdul-Zahraa Othman), he's a member of the Da'wa Party (Shi'a Islamist), and was a writer, newspaper editor and philosopher from Basra. The bomb went off in a car beside Saleem's, as his five-car convoy waited to enter the grounds of the governing council. Saleem's driver, his assistant, another Iraqi and the suicide bomber died as well. Last September, one of the three female members of the governing council, Aquila al-Hashimi, was assassinated.
We're talkin' baseball -- and bagels -- more bagels
Date: 5/16/2004 12:22:10 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: marc jaffe

Hi Ayad,

Just now getting to yesterday and today's blog. The round breads with all the sesame seeds are a staple in Israel although I remember them mostly being sold by the Arabs in East Jerusalem with a scrap of newspaper filled with
za'tar and we would dip them in the zatar. There they were called "Bageleh"s, which sounds like it was Yiddish for Bagel, but at least in those days (20 years ago) you couldn't get a decent bagel in Israel. What kind of Jewish country is that? I last had one at the bus station in Damascus. I was too cautious to call it a "Bageleh" there, I just pointed and said "Wahad".[one]

Finally, the Tribe is starting to win a few games. Maybe it's just that we're playing Tampa Bay. The bullpen still sucks though.

Stay safe,


* * *

Date: 5/17/2004 6:29:56 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Still got those suicide bombers comin' out of the bullpen? Man, how long is this going to go on, when are they going to get things settled out there? That's what people say here, after every explosion, act of destruction.

I had those big round bagels, too -- in Jerusalem. Those were a late-night staple -- a midnight snack -- from the bakeries. They were huge, though, as wide as a basketball, with a whole as wide as a softball. Sounds like another horseshoe toy. The bagels (
Smeed) here, are the same diameter as our bagels, but very thin -- almost flat. I don't remember the "Bageleh" name, though -- all I can think of, now, is that they were called za'tar, for the thyme that came with the bread -- which was sometimes hot, I recall. And the inside of those big bagels, would get picked out, tossed away, to make room for the dry za'tar. I haven't seen any of those big bagels here. Za'tar is not an Iraqi thing, either -- only in the Levant, I think -- although my aunt brought some with her, from Lebanon. It is found here, but not such a big...staple, not eaten commonly. I have it, every now and then, with "labneh" (strained yogurt) and olive oil -- you know, dipping bread into it -- a great dip. I'm a great dip.

All right -- see you, Marc.
I just read a script Marc wrote called "Holy Water Fight," about a war that breaks out in a resort water park west of Cleveland patronized on Christmas day by Jews and Palestinians. It's hilarious, action-packed, and politically relevant, and very incorrect.
Following my post about Iraqi bagels and Jewish presence in Mesopotamia, a correction:
Date: 5/17/2004 3:41:06 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "David Levey"

Jews have been in Iraq longer than even you, my friend, suggest. Abraham,
the first Jew, was born in Ur and lived amongst the Chaldeans about 4000
years ago- about 1900 bce. Although he died in Caanan, Ur was his home.

There were some incredible excavations of Ur done and the jewels and gems
from those graves were in exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art about two
years ago...

* * *
Date: 5/17/2004 5:54:46 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Thanks, David. Yes, of course, you're right. "I saw that exhibit, that exhibit was my friend, and...." My aunt often uses a phrase that goes back to Abraham -- well, a story in the Qur'an about Abraham. The phrase sounded a little funny, so she explained it to me. She'll ask God to favor Iraq, restore it, "berdenn wa salaaman." "Berd" means cold, and its verb form is sometimes applied to the heart -- meaning, easing one's burdens. The story has to do with Abraham destroying the idols the people of Mecca were worshipping. So he was to be killed, and was, thus, catapulted into a large fire outside the city. After a while, his punishers went to check on him, to see the ashes that were left of him, in the embers of the fire. They found, instead, Abraham living lavishly in a palace, in the middle of a beautiful oasis. God had favored him, "berdenn wa salaamenn."

I'm pretty sure I wrote, before, about one of my colleagues here, who conducted teacher-training courses around the country, going to Ur, and seeing the actual remains of Abraham's home, a stone's-throw from Nasiriyya. I'll see if I can get a picture or two onto a web-site. Iraq.net has offered me some space to do that.


Date: 5/17/2004 5:57:42 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Speaking of Abraham, and my aunt -- she says that all of those prophets who preceded Mohammed, from Abraham, all the way through to Moses and Jesus and the 21 others, whom I don't know -- that they're all Muslims, because they had accepted...some message, word from God. I don't know what it is, exactly -- I'll have to ask her, and others, what the theological explanation is.
I'm to appear on Cleveland's Channel 8 (Fox) at 6:40, this morning (Monday). That's 2:40 in the afternoon, Baghdad time. Channel 8 had me on, the day I was supposed to leave America (March 31), and has had me on, about once a week since then, via telephone, and last week started showing some of the pictures I've taken. This morning, we're to talk about the Iraqi team's soccer win that qualified them for the Olympics (plus the shootings of celebration that followed), the winding down of the Sadir confrontation, the reentry of U.S. forces into Falluja, and the capture of kidnapping rings -- all that, in three minutes, flat. They're to show pictures from my visit, a couple of weeks ago, to the Amal (Hope) school for deaf-mute children. A few are on the web-site of Cleveland's public radion station, WCPN 90.3, which had me on a week ago and on March 29.

On another media front, Iraq.net, the first and, probably, still-best web-site for bringing Iraqis together, has added my blog to their list of 32 Iraqi blogs. They've also got, on the site, an interactive poll on whether U.S. forces should leave Iraq. After 3721 votes -- mine being the 3721st -- 1398 (37%) say the U.S. should leave "after it stabilizes"; 1272 (34%) say "now"; 550 (14%) say "never"; 379 (10%) say "immediately after June 30" (the date sovereignty is transfered); and the rest (3%) are "not sure." If we add the "nevers" and the "after it stabilizes," we get 51%; the, essentially, "right aways" add up to 44%. The poll closes at 4 p.m. (presumbly EST), May 19.
A bomb-making factory was discovered in a home in the Waziriyya part of Baghdad. A bomb exploded there yesterday, taking the life of the bombmaker and leading to the factory's discovery. The Iraqis in the house had purportedly adopted Wahabbism as their faith. Doubtless, there are many such factories around the city and country.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

I'm feeling pretty lazy today -- I think I need a break -- Sunday's not a day-off here, and Friday's not a day-off, there -- and I'm not taking Saturday off, either, nor any other day. I've been at it, almost non-stop, since I got here, six weeks ago, today. And there's little in the way of leisure and pleasure.

In the latest installment of the dating game, Layla and I are embarking on a book project, to write her life story -- of a person living her whole life under the Saddam regime. Layla was born the same year Saddam became vice president and took charge of internal security. Layla's father, who's an avid reader and taught Arabic language at the art institute, thinks the topic of Saddam's Iraq is passe, that it's been written to death. He says writing about life under Saddam would be viewed as an effort to divert attention from the prisoner-abuse scandal, which, he said, Europeans are up in arms about -- view as something horrific -- but is nothing to Iraqis.

His words reminded me of the charge levied against me -- that I said "it's nothing" -- about the prisoner-abuse case. I don't remember writing that -- but, as Casey Stengel said, "you can look it up" -- unless I was doing it in the context of atrocities perpetrated by Saddam's regime.
In looking for a particular Saddam-era government document, I came across another one, admitting, indirectly, to the use of chemical weapons. Yesterday, I listed some of the charges to be levied against prisoner 00000001, in the upcoming trials of top regime leaders. The charges included use of chemical weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Iran.

The above document comes from the web-site of the Iraq Memory Foundation, a center that will evolve into a holocaust museum. The center will include the government documents, oral histories and other means of documenting the events of the past -- from all perspectives. On the web-site is another set of documents for a military unit called 5013, which appears to have been a special unit charged with the delivery and deployment of chemical weapons. The documents report on and request the delivery of "Kurdish saboteurs" to complete "experiments." Pay close attention on the web-site, for the person who wrote the summary report.
Big news today is that two kidnapping rings have been busted in Baghdad. The spate of kidnappings have been an ongoing concern, not only for the individual targets of the kidnappings -- mostly, prominent doctors and industrialists -- but for the society at large. (More on Iraqis being targeted. Also, about relatives who've been kidnapped, how others have been affected, and the commerce involved. More, still.) Of the three kidnappers picked up in the Yarmouk part of the city, one was a brigadier general in Saddam's army and another was a high-ranking officer in the new police force. That ring was tracked down because the hostage, while he was held, discovered the phone number of the house he was held in. The hostage was the son of a top Iraqi filmmaker, who is in the United Arab Emirates. The kidnappers asked for half a million dollars, and released the hostage upon payment of $45,000. The second ring, in the Amiriyya part of Baghdad, was tracked down because the hostage suspected a friend of a friend to be one of the kidnappers. He followed up his hunch (which turned out to be true) and brought in the police. One of the kidnappers told his hostage that the ransom money was going to "the resistance." The kidnappers face life in prison, but many Iraqis feel they should be executed, to be made an example of. Over the past week, a pair of child-kidnapping rings have been broken in Mosul and Baghdad's Sadir City (previously called al-Thawra and Saddam City). Not only have the kidnappings created unease among Iraqis, the wave of kidnappings of foreigners have discouraged outsiders from investing and sending personnel, while driving up insurance costs. (More on the kidnapping of foreigners.)

Saturday, May 15, 2004

A follow-up to the post-game celebratory shootings of Wednesday:

I've seen one figure for fatalities and injuries from the shootings that followed Iraq's victory over Saudi Arabia, Wednesday night. The victory, whose final score was 3-1, not 2-1, as I reported before, qualifies the Iraqi team for the Olympics, in Athens, this summer. On the front pages of today's papers, there's only one story about the shootings. There were no papers, yesterday, and the Thursday papers did not include news of the match, let alone the post-game celebrations. I guess the concept of covering news-as-it-happens is still a little new. Most people, including the "new" journalists, might still be used to pre-packaged news.

The one story on the front pages of today's papers says that 20 people checked into the emergency room of Yarmouk Hospital (where my father worked, before leaving clandestinely for America, in 1970). Their wounds are said to be light. Of course, there are many other hospitals in Baghdad, not to mention the rest of the country.

People have told me that tens will have died from the shooting, which went on for hours. The next day, a woman who came into the office told of being terrified that something happened to her son, because the next day, she saw a hole through the roof of their car, and he'd been out the night before. The uncle whose house we visited that night, had his rear windshield shattered by a bullet after we left.

As for me, one of the guards at the office reminded me, that I've probably never heard that much shooting at one time. The next day, there was also celebratory shooting for students finishing their end-of-year exams.

My uncle continued his argument, that it was not Ba'this who were doing the firing. He'd gotten angry at his brother and cousin for arguing that it was only Ba'this. He said that Ba'this would not be happy about the current Iraqi team, representing the new regime, winning. In Saddam times, most people would be unhappy when the team representing Iraq, which Saddam's son Uday made his own, won.
Yesterday, 68 families returned to the town of Topzawa, in a large celebration. The Kirkuk-province villagers were removed in 1987 and sent to the cities Arbil, Falluja and Ramadi. Topzawa was one of thousands of villages and towns wiped out in the 1987-88 campaign to cleanse rural Iraqi Kurdistan of its population, which many describe as genocide. The families are now in tents, and officials promise to help rehouse them.

Ali Hasan al-Majid, Saddam's cousin who headed those operations to purify the region, is now a prisoner. The front page of today's Al-Mu'tamar (organ of Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress) reports that Majid admitted to Iraqi Governing Council member Mahmoud Othman in 1991 that he was responsible for killing 116,000 Iraqis. This was revealed by Salim Chalabi (Ahmad Chalabi's nephew), who is heading the special criminal court that is to try former regime leaders. Chalabi said that the designation of prisoner of war will be withdrawn, once the prisoners are turned over to Iraqi custody, and that prisoner number 00000001 will face 12 charges, including: the bombing of Halabcha with chemical weapons; the Anfal campaign of 1988; the ethnic cleansing of Kirkuk; the killing of 5000 members of the Barazani clan; the suppression of the March 1991 uprisings; the attack on Ahwaz, Iran, with chemical weapons; the killing of clerics; and the attacks on Kuwait, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Yesterday, I went out to lunch with a colleague from the office. We went to a nearby restaurant called Fils. A fils is the equivalent of a cent or a penny. It doesn't exist anymore. There were 1000 fils in a dinar, which used to be worth three and a third dollars; now it takes nearly 1500 dinars to get a dollar. Saddam wanted to have a restaurant called Fils, to appeal to the masses. There used to be stores called dirhim stores, dirhim being a 50-fils coin -- everything in the store cost a dirhim. This is a long way to say, as I sat there, I thought, how amazing it is, I'm sitting in Baghdad, free to talk, say anything, while Saddam is in prison. My companion, an Iraqi Californian, said the thought occurs to him, all the time.
More from David, on the necessity for a forum, or more, to discuss inter-religious issues in Iraq:
Date: 5/14/2004 11:44:01 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "David Levey"

This is a top down issue... if the leaders and intelligencia in Baghdad and
other cities have a place to be heard and to hear and interact with others
who can make things happen or provide insight and vision to their own
ideas... places where they can float trial balloons etc... both in formal
ways (legislatures, etc) and informal ways (salons, organizations) then the
"others" will be more compliant and will listen and perhaps participate.
Don't expect that this will be a bottom up thing- the "crowd" is only
interested in "ideas" that impact their existence, expressed by/through
those they respect and said in a way they understand. It must be led by
Baghdad but not run completely from there. These salons or talking clubs
must exist in a number of different types of forums in every major
city...and be committed to "talking" not organizing violence...

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld paid us a surprise visit. He landed at Baghdad airport, Thursday, and immediately boarded a helicopter for Abu Ghraib, accompanied by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Meyers. Two hours later, the announcement came that 315 Iraqi detainees would be released. All but 22 were released, yesterday, with the rest, along with 475 others, to be released, May 21.

L. Paul Bremer, administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), said in a meeting with the governor and police chief of Diyala province that the American army would leave Iraq after the June 30 transfer of power if it is not wanted by the people of Iraq. He said, "We cannot stay where we are not wanted," although he expected a close partnership with the coming Iraqi government.

The ministry of planning and development was turned over to Iraqi sovereignty, yesterday, making it the 11th, of 25, ministries now under Iraqi control. The minister of planning, economist Mehdi il-Hafudh, is expected to be the new government's first prime minister.

Hafudh's political boss, Adnan Pachachi, who's expected to be the president of the post-June 30 government, is getting some competition. Heir to the throne Sharif Ali and Shaykh Ghazi il-Yawer, from Mosul, both affiliated with Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, are throwing their hats into the ring.
The squeeze on Muqtada Sadir is on. Ayatollah Ali il-Sistani, the high pontiff of Shi'ism, issued a fatwa opposing the killing of American soldiers, "for they're the ones who freed our lands from Saddam." Attacks on occupation forces, particularly Americans, and those working with them, have been the raison d'etre of Sadir's Jaysh il-Mehdi (Savior's Army). Fighting in Najaf and Kerbela caused Friday prayers in the major shrines of the cities to be called off.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director for coalition operations, denied that American forces created a hole in the gold dome of the Ali mosque, and asked why Sadir is "using this shrine to store weapons? ....as a place to set up firing positions? ....as a location to shoot mortar rounds at coalition forces and Iraqi forces...inside...police stations? What gives you the right to violate the Shi'a religion? What gives you the right to use this to protect yourself and your troops? ....Do not hold it [Najaf] hostage, do not hold the Shi'a religion hostage, and do not allow the sites to be held hostage to your seditious ways." Kimmitt said American forces were staying away from the holy sites yet retained the right to respond to attacks, although did not return fire into a Najaf cemetery used by Sadir's militia.

Sadir has turned south, briefly taking over the governor's building in Nasiriyya. He is calling on his followers from Baghdad to join the battle, and is blaming the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) for his failure. I recommend Fouad Ajami's latest article for context to all of this.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Just read this e-mail, from last month:
Subj: [IC] The Silent Iraqi Majority: Thank God for the Coalition Forces!
Date: 4/18/2004 4:50:35 AM Eastern Daylight Time
To: iraqicommunity@yahoogroups.com

The Silent Iraqi Majority is fed up with foreign terrorists using
Falluja as a spring-board for their bloody attacks on Baghdad. The
Silent Iraqi Majority is also fed up with Muqtada's attempt to hijack
the Al-Sadr Movement [started by the Grand Marji Muhammed Baqir Al-
Sadr] in order to promote his own dictatorial agenda. The Silent
Iraqi Majority is fed up with these two groups using Islam (both
Sunni and Shia factions) to promote their narrow political agendas in

No Iraqi political or military force would dare confront the thugs in
Falluja and Koufa. Since law and order hardly exists, everyone has
been terrorized by the murderous nature of these thugs, including the
Grand Marji Al-Sayid Ali Al-Sistani. His eminence has been very
careful not to offend the 23 year old `cleric-wannabe' and has been
urging both sides to negotiate their differences instead of military

Coalition forces led by US/UK are doing Iraq a great big favor. By
challenging the ex-Mukhabarat Officers, Saddam's Fedayeen and Wahabi
Zealots in Falluja; by cornering Muqtada and the handful of
supporters around him in Koufa, Iraq would be free of these Anti-
Democracy forces. Both groups are using Saddam-like tactics of
hiding behind the innocent inhabitants of Falluja and Koufa as human
shields for their cowardly fight.

The fear that both groups have is Democracy. In Falluja, ex-
Mukhabarat officers and the Fedayeen know that once democracy is
established, it will render them useless. Muqtada also fears that he
has no chance in a free and democratic election (Iraq's interim
constitution bars convicts from running for office). Wahabi Zealots,
financed and supported by Syrians, Saudis, Yemenis and Egyptians are
the operational arm for those respective governments which equally
fears Democracy in neighboring Iraq.

The closer we get to July 1st, the more potent these Anti-Democracy
groups get. The terrorist tactics they are using was handed to them
by the likes of the PLO and Hamas [Arafat was offered Gaza, the West
Bank and was negotiating for a quarter of Jerusalem, where today he
is happy to get a quarter of Gaza]. The events of the last year has
clarified to these groups what a "New Iraq" really means. It means
Shia and Sunni share power. It means that Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians
and Turkomans are all first class citizens. It means the will of the
majority without oppressing the minority. It means introducing a new
Iraqi army based on competencies, not family affiliations. It means
freedom of speech and freedom of worship. Unfortunately, these
groups only thrive on chaos, lawlessness and the law of the jungle.

These groups have recently discovered kidnappings, a much more
profitable cycle than highway robberies. They indulge themselves in
a win-win cycle. They kidnap foreign nationals, they parade their
sickening videos on satellite channels, they negotiate a small
fortune for their release and then they claim political credit for
releasing them in front of a staged Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya

Once again, thank God for the Coalition Forces for dealing with these
two groups prior to returning sovereignty back to Free Iraqis on July

Free Iraqis.
About Sadir, word today is that the smear campaign has begun. At mosques today, leaflets have been distributed, speaking about his mental deficiencies and mogolism in the family.

No word, about the quarter-million-man march Ayatollah Qubbanchi called for in Najaf, today. Tomorrow, we're supposed to have a million-man march in Najaf -- called for by Sistani. Both are against Sadir -- ostensibly for peace and security in Najaf and holy sites of the region.
More of Alaa and me, about the effects of Abu Ghraib:
Date: 5/14/2004 9:04:59 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

This is not a debate among us but a debate with the insane (if we could communicate with them). I am talking about fundamentalists etc.... I believe the Abu Ghraib situation gave them the upper hand, at least for now. By the time things get cleared, there will be 1000 incidents that will take the debate into another 1000 turns.
* * *
Date: 5/14/2004 9:57:31 AM Eastern Daylight Time

As far as the debate, I agree -- you can't have a debate with the lunatics -- but we're not going to debate them, and we can't beat them -- can't play their game. The debate is with the normal people -- the majority of each society. And as things improve, as they -- the majority of people -- see there's hope in life, there's some progress, they'll come around, too.

All right, buddy -- I'm gonna go. See you.
More back and forth, about the implications of Abu Ghraib on the debate over liberal democracy:
Date: 5/14/2004 6:40:09 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

I agree with you if only this fight and this debate is being conducted between rational people. I wish we succeed but the signs are real bad.

I am also under considerable pressure to postpone for a 3rd time my trip to Iraq. Both my family in Iraq and Liesbeth are against it. I want to go if for no other reason that I planned this, cancelled my teaching and have nothing else but playling with my balls (as the Iraqi saying goes).

* * *
Date: 5/14/2004 8:32:46 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Alaa,

As you know, I was under a lot of pressure not to make the trip, and am, still, to return, ASAP. But I made a promise to myself, that I'd be here, for April 9. That's not to say that you should, or shouldn't.

The thing is, Alaa -- about the conduct of the debate -- you just can't expect one side to be perfect -- expecting your side not to make a mistake, or else, the battle is lost. That'll never happen.

Okay -- see you.
A few tidbits, odds-and-ends, on this slow newsday -- no "Sunday paper," yet, in this land.

Wednesday, the foreign ministry was turned over to Iraqi sovereignty, making it 10 out of 25.

I had a couple of bagels, Tuesday morning -- Iraqi bagels. Who knows, maybe they were Jewish, to begin with. Don't forget, Jews have been in Iraq longer than anybody else. Let me rephrase that, to make it exactly correct. I've often said, Iraq is more Jewish than anything else, which may, indeed, be true. Well, the fact is, there have been Jews in Iraq since 586 BCE, when Nebukhednessar, the Babylonian, brought back from Israel the leaders he'd captured, and maybe as far back as 700 BCE, when Senasherib, the Assyrian, conquered Israel. Lots more could be said about the Jewish influence in "the land between the rivers." As for the bagels, my uncle and I were headed to a bureau -- a store -- for international calling and faxes. It's run by Kurds, who, having had experience in semi-independent Iraqi Kurdistan from 1991 to 2003, set up this place two weeks after the fall of Saddam, and others like it, all over the city. As we were stalled in traffic, a man walked among the cars, holding aloft a tray full of Smeed -- that's the Iraqi word for these round breads with the big hole in the middle. Actually, the hole is very big in a Smeed, such that they would work very well in horseshoes or a carnival game. The bready part is pretty thin (less than an inch in diameter), and they're a little hard on the outside, but soft on the inside -- with lots of sesame seeds. They're eaten in the morning, with tea. I'm told they're more popular in Egypt, and go by the same name. I also saw a similar bread outside a train station in Bucharest a few years ago.

Colleagues in the office have been telling me about Soug Mraydi, a part of Baghdad's Thawra area (later called Saddam City, since renamed, Sadir City) where, for a couple dozen years, a person could get anything, most importantly, counterfeit documents of every kind. I'd told the guards that I needed to get an Iraqi ID made. In Soug Mraydi, they and others have said, you could get a passport, a militry-service book, other forms of ID, academic records, a driver's license, a license plate -- all, with the proper paperwork, certification stamps and signatures. Such paperwork was essential, for a citizen to move about the city and country, conduct government business and be provided essential government services -- let alone to leave the country or get out of jail or out of a "wanted" status. Before the Kuwait war, one could obtain such things, but with much greater difficulty. Subsequently, Soug Mraydi became a land-onto-itself, beyond the authorities' reach. The agents there provided a necessary service, when often the government would not, as during the prohibition on the issuing of academic records -- and all, at a reasonable price. One agent told a customer, "We know about a new dean of a college before he reports to work the next day." In addition to official documents, Soug Mraydi has also dealt in guns, drugs, stolen cars, car parts and other electronic and smuggled goods.

All right -- I'm headed to lunch -- no in-house cook, today. Maybe I'll see you later.
I have a P.S., to what Alaaddin wrote yesterday, about the damage being done by the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal:
Date: 5/13/2004 7:25:15 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

It is really hurting our cause. Demagogues are taking pictures from porno websites of US soldiers and are publicizing it as Americans raping Iraqi women. These false pictures are now on "Alif Yaa" website of Saad al-Bazzaz and they have been used in some Egyptian papers. The damage is great and is irreparable. The sky is the limit for misuse of the situation.

Last summer my brothers were telling me of some stuff that I dismissed as something that could not be done by American soldiers. Now I've got to bite the bullet if they make similar accusations.

I replied, then:
Date: 5/13/2004 8:22:23 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Alaa,

I wrote about that -- the pictures from porno sites, getting into Egyptian papers and a magazine. The Iraqi papers mentioned it, and the U.S. response to it.

Hey -- anybody can do anything. You know, I wonder, if this land makes anybody that comes here, brutal. It's, maybe, a good lesson in our ability to be inhuman.

Also, Alaa -- the other side, if you will, is not going to give up. They believe what they believe, and they'll use everything at their disposal, including lying, to buttress their case. Well, I guess that goes for both sides.

See you.
Before writing my P.S., I decided to open the e-mail, thinking there might be something relevant from Alaa, and, indeed:
Subj: Abu Ghraib again
Date: 5/13/2004 9:31:58 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

The problem dear Ayad is this: The behaviour at Abu Ghraib opened Pandora's box. Without any need for this, the demagogues turn the white into black. Now they have this ugly story and they are exploiting it to the full and beyond. But this is what we expect them to do, don't we? What we didn't expect is the American soldiers doing what they did IN THE FIRST PLACE! Then they went and documented it in digital images!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This will haunt the Americans for generations and generations. Chronicles and chronicles will be written against liberal democracy. This is truly tragic for the cause of democracy in Iraq. But again, we should not take lightly what happened to the victims, their humiliation and suffering.

I replied:
Date: 5/14/2004 3:26:13 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hello, Alaa,

I was about to post a P.S., to what you wrote, about things being irreparable, as a result of Abu Ghraib.

I don't agree -- not by any stretch of the imagination -- not at all.

Plus, let them write treatises against liberal democracies -- that's what we want, isn't it -- a debate about liberal democracy -- we'd like that -- an engagement about the merits of democracy -- better an argument in words than a fight with swords. Further, I'd like to see a more realistic exposition of what democracy, and reality, is. Because, as you know, so many people had -- have had -- unrealistic expectations of what America can do -- and how they could sit back and do nothing -- let America do it all for them - turn them into a modern, fully-functioning, properous democracy -- overnight. And, back to Abu Ghraib -- to expect -- understand -- that bad things happen -- crimes happen, mistakes happen, violations of human rights happen. The thing about democracy is, that there is accountability, there is recourse to corrective steps, that it's an on-going process -- of trial-and-error, a never-ending journey...I'm going into cliche-land here -- a never-ending journey of discovery and evolution.

All right -- let me post this -- all of this.

See you.
And now -- drumroll, please -- my P.S. -- my long-awaited P.S. All right, P.S., you're up -- you better make it good -- you've had a big buildup.

This is P.S., speaking. I'm really nervous, and I don't have much to say. I just had this little thought, and this guy kept mentioning me, yet kept me off-stage, and, maybe, led you all to believe I was something special. All I wanted to say was, that nothing is irreparable -- except, maybe, death, a demolished building, and a Saddam or Hitler -- although, some might not agree with that. Remember what Bill Clinton said about Saddam, on the eve of his first inauguration: "I'm a Southern Baptist -- I believe in death-bed conversions."
A couple more items for my top-ten list:

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You start wondering, how can these people drink all those Pepsis, Cokes and orange sodas? -- and does anybody have a real drink around here?

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You start thinking, God, let me just leave these people to their old hatreds, prejudices and petty squabbles.
Yesterday, my friend Alaaddin, from Holland, brought up the book Sweet Tea With Cardamom: A Journey Through Iraqi Kurdistan, by Teresa Thornhill. Here's a link to a citation for the 1997 book that explores life under and after Saddam through the stories of girls and women.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Another gem from the master (the web version requires a subscription to the on-line Wall Street Journal). However, I'm duplicating it, here, in its entirety. Only for Fouad Ajami, would I do that, without hesitation.
The Curse of Pan-Arabia

May 12, 2004; Page A14

Consider a tale of three cities: In Fallujah, there are the beginnings of wisdom, a recognition, after the bravado, that the insurgents cannot win in the face of a great military power. In Najaf, the clerical establishment and the shopkeepers have called on the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr to quit their city, and to "pursue another way." It is in Washington where the lines are breaking, and where the faith in the gains that coalition soldiers have secured in Iraq at such a terrible price appears to have cracked. We have been doing Iraq by improvisation, we are now "dumping stock," just as our fortunes in that hard land may be taking a turn for the better. We pledged to give Iraqis a chance at a new political life. We now appear to be consigning them yet again to the same Arab malignancies that drove us to Iraq in the first place.

We have stumbled in Abu Ghraib. But the logic of Abu Ghraib isn't the logic of the Iraq war. We should be able to know the Arab world as it is. We should see through the motives of those in Cairo and Amman and Ramallah and Jeddah, now outraged by Abu Ghraib, who looked away from the terrors of Iraq under the Baathists. Our account is with the Iraqi people: It is their country we liberated, and it is their trust that a few depraved men and women, on the margins of a noble military expedition, have violated. We ought to give the Iraqis the best thing we can do now, reeling as we are under the impact of Abu Ghraib -- give them the example of our courts and the transparency of our public life. What we should not be doing is to seek absolution in other Arab lands.

Take this scene from last week, which smacks of the confusion -- and panic -- of our policies in the aftermath of a cruel April: President Bush apologizing to King Abdullah II of Jordan for the scandal at Abu Ghraib. Peculiar, that apology -- owed to Iraq's people, yet forwarded to Jordan. We are still held captive by Pan-Arab politics. We struck into Iraq to free that country from the curse of the Arabism that played havoc with its politics from its very inception as a nation-state. We had thought, or implied, or let Iraqis think, that a new political order would emerge, that the Pan-Arab vocation that had been Iraq's poison would be no more.

The Arabs had let down Iraq, averted their gaze from the mass graves and the terrors inflicted on Kurdistan and the south, and on the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala and their seminarians and scholars. Jordan in particular had shown no great sensitivity toward Iraq's suffering. This was a dark spot in the record of a Hashemite dynasty otherwise known for its prudence and mercy. It was a concession that the Hashemite court gave to Jordan's "street," to the Palestinians in refugee camps and to the swanky districts of Amman alike. Jordan in the 1980s was the one country where Saddam Hussein was a mythic hero: the crowd identified itself with his Pan-Arab dreams, and thrilled to his cruelty and historical revisionism. This is why the late king, Hussein, broke with his American ties -- as well as with his fellow Arab monarchs -- after the invasion of Kuwait. His son did better in this war; he noted the price that Jordan paid in the intervening decade. He took America's side, and let the crowd know that a price would be paid for riding with Saddam. But no apology was owed to him for Abu Ghraib. He was no more due an apology for what took place than were the rulers in Kathmandu.

But this was of a piece with our broader retreat of late. We have dispatched the way of Iraqis an envoy of the U.N., Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian of Pan-Arab orientation, with past service in the League of Arab States. It stood to reason (American reason, uninformed as to the terrible complications of Arab life) that Mr. Brahimi, "an Arab," would better understand Iraq's ways than Paul Bremer. But nothing in Mr. Brahimi's curriculum vitae gives him the tools, or the sympathy, to understand the life of Iraq's Shiite seminaries; nothing he did in his years of service in the Arab league exhibited concern for the cruelties visited on the Kurds in the 1980s. Mr. Brahimi hails from the very same political class that has wrecked the Arab world. He has partaken of the ways of that class: populism, anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, and a preference for the centralized state. He came from the apex of the Algerian system of power that turned that country into a charnel house, inflicted on it a long-running war between the secular powers-that-be and the Islamists, and a tradition of hostility by the Arab power-holders toward the country's Berbers. No messenger more inappropriate could have been found if the aim was to introduce Iraqis to the ways of pluralism.

Mr. Brahimi owes us no loyalty. His prescription of a "technocratic government" for Iraq -- which the Bush administration embraced only to retreat from, by latest accounts -- is a cunning assault on the independent political life of Iraq. The Algerian seeks to return Iraq to the Pan-Arab councils of power. His entire policy seeks nothing less than a rout of the gains which the Kurds and the Shiites have secured after the fall of the Tikriti-Baathist edifice. The Shiites have seen through his scheme. A history of disinheritance has given them the knowledge they need to recognize those who bear them ill will. American power may not be obligated -- and should not be -- to deliver the Shiites a new dominion in Iraq. But we can't once more consign them to the mercy of their enemies in the Arab world. At any rate, it is too late in the hour for such a policy, for the genie is out of the bottle and the Shiites will fight back. Gone is their old timidity and quietism. Their rejection of Mr. Brahimi's diplomacy is now laid out for everyone to see.

For his part, Mr. Brahimi knew that the Americans were eager to dump, and he rightly bet on the innocence (other, less charitable terms could be used) of those in the Bush administration now calling the shots on Iraq. They were unburdened by any deep knowledge of the country, and Mr. Brahimi offered the false promise of pacifying Iraq in the run-up to our presidential elections. His technocracy is, in truth, but a cover for the restoration of the old edifice of power. Fallujah gave him running room; its fight for a lost, unjust dominion, was his diplomatic tool. His prescription, he let it be known, would calm the tempest in that sullen place. The Marines were fighting to bring that town to order. The Marines were not Mr. Brahimi's people: Their fight, and their sacrifices, he dismissed as a "collective punishment" of a civilian population. Mr. Brahimi should know a thing or two about collective punishment. His native Algeria has provided enough lessons in what really constitutes the indiscriminate punishment of populations that come in the way of military power.

In the scales of military power, the Arabs have not been brilliant in modern times. But there is cunning aplenty in their world, and an unerring eye for the follies of great foreign powers. The Arabs can read through President Bush's stepping back from his support for Ariel Sharon's plan for withdrawal from Gaza. There are amends to be made for Abu Ghraib, and those are owed the people of Iraq. Yet here we are paying the Palestinians with Iraqi coin. The Palestinians will not be grateful for our concessions; and they are to be forgiven the only conclusion they will draw. Those concessions have already been taken as the compromises of an America now in the throes of self-flagellation.

We can't have this peculiar mix of imperial reach, coupled with such obtuseness. It is odd, and defective in the extreme, that President Bush chose the official daily of the Egyptian regime, Al-Ahram, for yet another interview, another expression of contrition over Abu Ghraib. In the anti-Americanism of Egypt (of Al-Ahram itself), the protestations of our virtue are of no value. In our uncertainty, we now walk into the selective rage of the Egyptians, a popular hostility tethered to the policies of a regime eager to see us fail in Iraq -- a regime afraid that the Iraqis may yet steal a march on Egypt into modernity. Cairo has no standing in Iraq. Why not take representatives of a budding Iraqi publication into the sanctuary of the Oval Office and offer a statement of contrition by our leader?

Our goals in Iraq are being diluted by the day. There has been naivete on our part, to be sure, and no small measure of hubris. We haven't always read Iraq right, but if we abdicate the burden and the responsibility -- and the possibilities -- that came with this war, our entire effort will come to grief. In Najaf on May 7, in a Friday sermon made from the shrine of Imam Ali -- Shiism's most revered pulpit -- Sheikh Sadr-al-din Qabanji, a respected cleric with ties to Ayatollah Ali Sistani, called on the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr to quit the city. "Listen to the advice of the ulema," he said, using the term for the recognized men of religion. "Come, let us together find another way, go back to your homes and provinces." The defense of Najaf, he said, belonged to its people, and the bands of young "Sadrists" were told to return to the slums of Baghdad. We haven't stilled Iraq's furies, and our gains there have been made with heartbreaking losses. But in the midst of our anguish over Abu Ghraib, and in our eagerness to placate an Arab world that has managed to convince us of its rage over the scandal, we should stay true to what took us into Iraq, and to the gains that may yet be salvaged.

Mr. Ajami, of Johns Hopkins, is the author of "The Dream Palace of the Arabs" (Vintage, 1999).
In cleaning up some old posts on my blog -- reformatting them -- I came across something I wrote, almost four weeks ago. I've gotta pat myself on the back here, in light of the Abu Ghraib scandal. The topic, then, was Falluja.

It's always something, when you've got a bull's-eye painted on your shirt. Quoth the master, "Heavy lies the head that wears the crown."

Doug had asked me about particular American actions. I wrote, on 4/18/04 8:12:46 AM Central Daylight Time:
[I]t is, certainly, possible that we're using snipers, to pick off the bad guys. It's also possible, I suppose, that ambulances, or whatever, are being prevented, because they're being used to transfer weapons, explosives, etc.
The latter, it turns out, was true.

On 4/18/2004 7:46:58 PM Eastern Daylight Time, Doug wrote:
Thanks ayad. I'm confident we're just picking off "the bad guys". Maybe we are firing at ambulances, but I hope not. That would belie the image we want to project, regardless of their contents.
Keep up the good job of keeping us updated.

Keep safe too:-)
I wrote back (4/19/2004 12:21:45 PM Eastern Daylight Time):
Hey, Doug,
Hey -- we don't have to do anything, and we get a bad rep. God help us, if we really did a bad thing; then, the whole world might collapse -- all hell would break loose. No, this project -- what we're doing in Iraq -- is way too big, way too important -- trying to create a model for the Arab world -- and we're gonna do it, in the right way -- in as good a way as possible.
Came Doug's reply (4/19/2004 7:49:53 PM Eastern Daylight Time):
Hi ayad,
You and I know that. I just don't understand why some would accuse us of what are literally, war crimes. You and I know that our guys over there really do want the Iraqi people to do well because that's going to be their legacy to their descendents, as far as they know.
War is Hell, and can bring out both the best and the worst in almost everybody. So far, I think our guys are trying to exhibit the best. I just hope it doesn't go on too much longer, but not less than necessary to enable the Iraqi citizenry to rise to their greatest possible potential, and opportunity, as both a people, and a member of the international community.

On the main page of blogger.com, which is the service I use for my blog, there's an announcement, that Salam Pax, the pseudonym for the Baghdad-based blogger who received worldwide attention for his clandestine missives before and during Operation Iraqi Freedom, has signed a movie deal, based on the book that came out of his blog, Where is Ra'ed. He has been, since a year ago, a fortnightly columnist for the London Guardian.
A great web-site, for all things Iraqi. Iraq.net, which was started by Sam Kareem, from Michigan, more than 10 years ago -- and he's back at the helm -- was the first to bring Iraqis together from around the world, and a launching pad for many endeavors.
Date: 5/13/2004 7:25:15 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

It is really hurting our cause. Demagogues are taking pictures from porno websites of US soldiers and are publicizing it as Americans raping Iraqi women. These false pictures are now on "Alif Yaa" website of Saad al-Bazzaz and they have been used in some Egyptian papers. The damage is great and is irreparable. The sky is the limit for misuse of the situation.

Last summer my brothers were telling me of some stuff that I dismissed as something that could not be done by American soldiers. Now I've got to bite the bullet if they make similar accusations.

* * *
Date: 5/13/2004 8:22:23 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Alaa,

I wrote about that -- the pictures from porno sites, getting into Egyptian papers and a magazine. The Iraqi papers mentioned it, and the U.S. response to it.

Hey -- anybody can do anything. You know, I wonder, if this land makes anybody that comes here, brutal. It's, maybe, a good lesson in our ability to be inhuman.

Also, Alaa -- the other side, if you will, is not going to give up. They believe what they believe, and they'll use everything at their disposal, including lying, to buttress their case. Well, I guess that goes for both sides.

See you.
Subj: Laila/Abu Ghraib
Date: 5/13/2004 6:30:08 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

Dear Ayad:
Thank you for posting my message on Abu Ghraib. Please pass my thanks to Teresa for her kind words. Wasn't she the one who wrote "Sweet Tea With Cardamom"?
[ed: Yes, she is the author of the book about Iraqi Kurdish women.]

I again find you taking the debate on Abu Ghraib in the wrong direction when you wrote the following on your blog:
"My uncle the past few days has been saying, based on his close inspection of the pictures from Abu Ghraib, that this was not a case of torture, but an orgy. He said some of the photographed detainees were not Iraqi but American -- he could tell, from the lightness of their skin -- and that they were joined, willingly or unwillingly, by some Iraqis. The soldiers photographed themselves, 'having fun,' for their viewing pleasure."
As you know, many Iraqis have fair skin. Furthermore, no one in the US army or government is talking about a sexual orgy among US soldiers with some Iraqis taking part in it. Nor is this a matter of having fun. If this were the case, no one would have given the matter any merit.

Indeed the American press, army and government are speaking of unacceptable violations of human rights and the Geneve Convention. Hardly any prisoner anywhere in the world would take part in an orgy with his guards out of his/her free will. This is torture plain and simple (and must be condemnd unequivocally) and there is no other way of describing it. Please remind your uncle of the Arabic saying "the excuse is worse than the deed." Beyond the hurt and pain done to the prisoners, these violations will be "Qamees Othmaan" [the shroud of Othmaan] for anti-democratic forces in the Arab/Muslim world. [PS. The assassination of the 3rd Muslim Caliph Othmaan has been used to justify many wrongs. This is referred to in Arabic as "Qamees Othmaan"]. Why do you keep burrying the issue when George Bush, his defence secretary, his top military and the US Congress are apologizing for these violations?

So far I have refrained from giving an opinion or your outings with Laila. Somehow I feel compelled to say something on this. Although the situation in Iraq is different, I always made it clear what is "not" the end game (something I followed when I moved to the west). Drinking "the Sharbat" is a ceremony as you have noted with certain obligations. Breaking the vow to marriage will put Laila in even more difficult situation. Since she is divorced (PS to our western friends on this blog: in the Arab/Muslim world divorce is a worse taboo than it ever was in the west), you put Laila in a far worse situation than she is already in. In particular when the game is taking place in public. In a situation like this I always put the interests and the reputation of the girl (and in your case her son as well) above any physical pleasure I could gain from the relationship. I believe you were very close to take the right and honorable decision. Believe me, you will hurt the lady considering the prevailing norms in Iraq. These things may be hard to explain to westerners (considering Karen's response) but one must take local and personal considerations into account.

Needless to say, I wish this message to be on your blog. Take care.

* * *
Date: 5/13/2004 7:11:46 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Thanks, Alaa,

.... You know, as far as Abu Ghraib -- I put everything on there -- what others say, write, what I hear, see, without much censorship. I'm not trying, very hard, to take the issue in any direction.

And thanks, too, for your advice -- your words of wisdom, re Layla, etc. It's a tough balancing act.

See you.
I guess this is as good a time as any to say a few words about Abu Ghraib. I've seen a few pictures in the newspapers, but little else -- I haven't much time, beyond the seven, eight hours I spend each day, writing, to do anything else, like watch TV, read extra articles. I find it interesting, the reading into what I post, as if that expresses my views and positions. I'm a recorder here, picking up things, and transferring them, for your listening and viewing pleasure. The thing is, there hasn't been too much fuss, over here, about what happened at Abu Ghraib. I don't hear it. I see a couple of dozen people each day, most of them, the same. One person brought up the treatment of the prisoners, a couple of weeks ago, and asked if that was common practice, but I'm not seeing people worked up about it. There has been some interest, fascination in the attention, examination by Congress and in the U.S. over the issue.

People here are very cynical. It'll take a long time for them to believe in justice being done, in wrongs being addressed and the guilty being punished. This might serve to be a first step in that process -- but I'm not holding my breath. It'll be a very long process -- years and years in the making.
An e-mail about the existence of an organization in Iraq where people of different faiths can discuss and resolve disputes:
Date: 5/13/2004 5:17:35 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "David Levey"

It would be an interesting idea to create such an organization... friendship and unity... a place to debate and discuss not only current issues but those religious matters they have in common. You would know better than I, but Ali as the successor to Muhammad has got to be only a small part of the holy texts. I understand bloodlines are important in Islam, but can't the quality of the minds working over sharia law and the Koran be lifted above blood and have discussions based on the power of thought and ideas beyond the differences?

Maybe not... but there are Christian organizations that transcend the different protestant faiths...

* * *
Date: 5/13/2004 5:44:09 AM Eastern Daylight Time

You know, that reminds me, in the 10th to 12th centuries, in what is now Iraq, or southern Iraq, there used to be these debating societies, where people of all faiths, and there were many, then -- in addition to Jewish, Christian and Muslim, Zoroastrian, animists, non-theists, philosophers, too -- they'd gather, debate religion, philosophy, theology -- it was, supposedly, a wide-open, free-wheeling discussion.

Those were the days, I guess. Let's see if there's a chance for a replay.
In light of the videotaped killing by decapitation of Nick Berg, and our follow-up exchange, my friend Doug sent me this e-mail:
Subj: Re: Be Careful
Date: 5/12/2004 6:53:45 PM Eastern Daylight Time

There are too many people who know that you`re there, and probably are aware of your pro-American leanings. You are not in a good place.

Watch your back, and take nothing for granted.

Date: 5/12/2004 5:34:03 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "David Levey"

I hope the elders in both the Sunni and Shiite communities are "red lining" mosques and holy sites by which CPA and other militias can know they are "off limits" to those that are not there to pray. No storing weapons. No militias holding out there. It disturbs me greatly that the army has destroyed half of a mosque in Najaf and that Sadir is using a mosque to hide out in. This could easily lead to a horrible situation for everyone if fighters see nothing as off limits, the religious leaders don't enforce their peaceful sanctuaries and anyone is seen destroying such holy places.

By the way, is there some kind of a place where Sunnis and Shiites talk...like an Islamic Council of some kind where these common problems and issues can be resolved?

* * *
Date: 5/13/2004 4:44:21 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hey, David,

Well -- they do, and they don't -- that is, enforce the sanctity of mosques, etc. The trouble is, anyone with a turban can pretty much do whatever he likes -- he's sort of got license. Now, I'm not..."in" with these crowds, so I don't know the ins and outs of it all. The top leaders -- religious leaders -- have been saying, of late, that Sadir's people, by weaponizing the holy cities, have caused the Americans to come in, "desecrate" them.

As for the other question, I don't know. I imagine there must be -- they do meet, visit each other, but I don't know if there's any formal structure -- for religious leaders of both sects, other faiths. There certainly wasn't a chance to create anything under Saddam. It's a good question -- I'll keep an eye out for it.

Of course, there are the political parties, the trade unions, other private organizations, where people of different faiths, ethnicities gather.

See ya.
I wrote David that I was surprised at his assertion that Donald Rumsfeld's position was threatened over the prisoner-abuse scandal. David's reply:
Date: 5/12/2004 11:35:47 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "David Levey"

That he was vulnerable. Wolfowitz won't be back for a second term and Perle is gone. Bush would never fire Rumsfeld under pressure from the outside, but a few months might pass and he might have left just after the election. Still might. But the Berg thing took away any sympathy the Iraqi prisoners had, allowed hard-liners to feel emboldened, took the abuse scandal off the front pages and cowered the press a bit (ie these guys are being forced to masturbate or made scared to believe that they will be electrocuted if they fall off a box. Not just Saddam in the past but these Baathist freaks today actually cut guys' balls off, cut ears off... cut heads off... there is a difference!).

This reminds me. In David's earlier e-mail, he quoted the late Abba Eban as saying that the Palestinians "never lost an opportunity to miss an opportunity." In my collection of quotes, I have it as: "Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."
Yesterday, in summing up the news from Najaf -- from the papers -- I mistransliterated (mispronounced) the name of the leader of the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) in the city. His name is pronounced Qubbanchi, not Qabanji. He has been anticipating the departure of Muqtada Sadir's forces from the city this week, and called for a quarter-million-man march, tomorrow.

Sadir does look like he's on his way out. Yesterday, he said in a press conference that he'd leave his fate to Grand Ayatollah Ali il-Sistani, the Shi'a pontiff. That's a face-saving way for him to disarm his militia, leave the city, and maybe even turn himself into the authorities, on charges of complicity in the murder last year of Abdul-Majeed al-Khoie and an aide in the Shrine of Ali.
It was a lovely night. We sat on the front porch, much of the local clan. The only one missing from my father’s siblings, was my father -- but, as I’m starting to look like him, and have been sounding like him for years, I stood in. A nice breeze floated through, every now and then. A few of the cousins and spouses were there. One of my father’s cousins, a lovely man, who said he last saw me in the sixties -- we also saw each other in 1989 -- arrived, too. We’re fond of each other -- he’s very good-natured. He noted the major economic developments since Saddam’s fall -- satellite dishes, cars, cell phones, electronics and a near 100-fold increase in salaries that permitted people from all levels to buy these machines and gadgets. We could also add computers, accessories, internet connections, air conditioners and travel agencies.

Then the shooting started. There was a spray of red flares, from across the street. I stood up, to follow their trace behind our house, thinking maybe they could be fireworks, like those after ballgames. There was also some gunfire, from what seemed like next door, and from blocks around. It stopped for a while, but, soon, it restarted, and continued, non-stop. The shooting went on, for more than half an hour. I suspected, from the outset, that it had to do with the soccer match. On our way to my uncle’s house -- this is another uncle -- we’d stopped by a cousin’s apartment. She said that her husband wouldn’t join us for dinner because there was an important match on TV that evening. I asked another cousin, who was playing. He said, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, in the Asian Cup rounds. The Saudis have been a superior team, for a couple of decades. So, I deduced that the first round of firing must’ve been for a goal scored by the Iraqi team, but they were unlikely to win. When the non-stop firing went on, that had to mean an Iraqi victory. As the firing persisted, most everybody left the porch and ran inside. I stayed outside, with a third uncle. We didn’t see any danger. But then, the shots even seemed to be moving in a horizontal direction. That’s when we decided to split the scene. I ran in, putting my hand, cell phone and pad of paper to the side of my head.

We saw on TV, that Iraq did, indeed, win, 2-1. Not only that, the tie they needed from another match, to advance, transpired. After the shooting stopped, the arguing began -- about who the shooters were. It lasted just as long, and was just as noisy and intense. My dad’s cousin, who lived down the street, said that this habit of celebratory shooting was a custom introduced by the Ba’ath, and that a lot of the people in this area -- Mansour’s Dragh neighborhood -- worked as security people for Saddam, and were now getting their frustrations out, having been displaced from power and privilege -- they were getting their fill. The uncle I’m staying with, said that it’s not the Ba’this, that it’s all Iraqis, expressing joy -- and that there weren't many Ba'this, many true believers, anywhere. He said this habit of shooting goes back centuries. The first person said that a lot of people would be killed and hurt from this night of celebrating. On it went.

On our drive home, we passed cars honking their horns, and a truck loaded with some 40-50 people, hooting and hollering.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Date: 5/11/2004 6:22:02 PM Eastern Daylight Time

.... By the way, Philadelphia is way too close to Cleveland for me to quit worrying about your welfare. (I assume you've seen the video of the beheading.)
Watch your back.

* * *
Date: 5/12/2004 10:30:38 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hey, Doug,

My mother told me about it, this morning -- she was watching Nightline, Tuesday night, and called me. She also said, the sooner I get out, the better. We went on to talk about Layla.

I came into the office, looked up the story, but didn't click to see the video -- bad enough imagining it.

Thanks for worrying, though -- I appreciate it.

See you.
Date: 5/11/2004 4:34:37 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Karen"

Hello Ayad-

Well, you've made a quick journey from first date, to 'when's the wedding', to 'I don't think so' :)

Sounds like dating isn't as fun over there. Too much pressure! I suppose it can be torture here too though, now that I think about it. Different, but still torture! I think I would be happy to be an old maid if I had to involve my family in my personal life like that. I love them all, but........
* * *
Date: 5/12/2004 10:05:49 AM Eastern Daylight Time

No, dating isn't fun here -- no kissing allowed -- that's the worst part. Can barely hold hands -- a little touch of the skin, every now and then....
Onto more important matters.

Today, I told Layla that I didn't want to do "the sherbet," the informal engagement -- which, actually, isn't too informal. In it, the intention of the man (to marry) is made explicit -- through the male elders of the two tribes -- and it allows the couple to go out in public, without raising suspicions. Layla said she felt the same way. I told her it was too quick, that this isn't the way to do it, and that I didn't want to damage her reputation, if we broke it off, after "drinking the sherbet." She thanked me, agreed, and suggested we keep seeing each other and get to know each other some more.

I'd wanted to cut the whole thing off, but my mother persuaded me to keep the door open -- not to shut it tight.

How are we to meet, though -- spend time together? Layla suggested working together on a writing project, so I'd get to go to her house -- sounds like high school. Then there's always the phone, too -- more high school.
Date: 5/11/2004 7:51:39 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "David Levey"

Abba Eban once said that the Palestinians "never lost an opportunity to miss an opportunity." That means whenever there was a chance for their leadership to make progress, they always managed to squander it.

I guess the opposition to the American presence in Iraq finds themselves again in a common fate if not a common cause with them. Just when they might have really gotten some traction and sympathy in the west for the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners, what do they do? They take a video camera and produce a video showing them cutting off the head of an American civilian with a dull knife. That dull knife ended any sympathetic hearing they may have gotten in the US and in Europe. It confirmed that the US is dealing with people who have no more sense of dignity and pride than the jailers in Abu Garib. And they went one worse. While Blair and Bush are apologizing and vowing to punish those responsible for abuses, the tape showing Berg being killed indicates that this horrible act was committed by their leader. Congratulations. You just saved Donald Rumsfeld's job.

Those associated with these killers if they have any sense should be distancing themselves from them, at least from this American perspective. What is the reaction of thoughtful Iraqis to this?

Subj: Abu Ghraib
Date: 5/11/2004 3:41:23 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Teresa Thornhill"

Hi Ayad
I've just looked at your blog for the first time in a couple of weeks. I read the e.mail from Alaadin criticising your 'appallingly relaxed attitude' to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib. I then read your comments about Abu Ghraib, in which you claim that 'its nothing'. I have to say that I totally support what Alaadin said. I find it shocking and deeply disappointing that as an Iraqi American who claims to support democratic principles and human rights, you can dismiss the treatment of those prisoners as 'nothing'. How can you insult those people in that way? At least one Iraqi woman was raped by an American. How will she feel if she gets to read your comments? Or does she not count for some reason? And have you no capacity for imagination and compassion? How would you feel if it were you, standing naked in front of armed soldiers and dogs, having pictures taken of you?
I find it inexplicable that you don't seem to see the enormous damage that the maltreatment of Iraqi detainees is doing to the cause of democracy and human rights, not only in Iraq but right across the Arab world As Alaadin said, it can only strengthen the hand of the Islamic fundamentalists.
Please paste this message on your blog, I want to register a loud protest at your complacency.
I responded to Teresa, that I've got to look up where I said "it's nothing."
In overnight news, a videotape was released showing 26-year-old Nick Berg, from the Philadelphia suburb West Chester, being beheaded by a group identifying itself as Abu-Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's. One of the five masked men on the tape said they were avenging, and would continue to avenge, with blood, the maltreatment of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib prison. Berg was in Iraq, on and off, since December, working privately on communication antennas. He disappeared, April 9. The video is dated May 8, the same day his remains were found near a highway overpass in Baghdad.

A convoy of 11 cars was struck on the road from Amman to Baghdad. Most of those utilizing the highway are civilians making the trip from Jordan. For the past couple of weeks, the highway that runs by Falluja and Ramadi has been without incident.

* * *

I've been periodically reviewing the front pages of the Arabic-language dailies we receive at the office. I will do that when time permits, or on a more regular basis, if it's of interest, or time permits. So, from today's and yesterday's 10 papers (listed at the end of this digest) -- as Garrett Morris used to blare out on "Saturday Night Live," for the hard-of-hearing, "OUR TOP STORY TONIGHT":

Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer announced that the first trials of soldiers accused of mistreating Iraqi detainees would begin on May 19. He said he shared Iraqis' anger and that the military courts would be open to the press.

For the third day in a row, hundreds of supporters of the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) demonstrated in Najaf yesterday, demanding the departure from the city of Muqtada al-Sadir's militia, Jaysh il-Mehdi (the Savior's Army) and asking for the city to be left to its residents and police. Militia members called on the protesters to disperse. When they didn't, a militia member fired into the air. Members of SCIRI's Badir Brigades fired back. No one was shot, protesters scattered, and shops near the Ali Shrine of the pilgrim-dependent city closed. A SCIRI leader in the city, Ayatollah Sadr-il-Deen al-Qabanji, expected the departure of Sadir's forces from Najaf this week and called for a quarter-million-man march, this Friday. Qabanji also said, in a press conference, "There are treasonous operations in the name of resistance to the occupation," describing Ba'this and Wahhabis as being behind the treason -- implying Sadir's supporters. A spokesman for Ayatollah Ali il-Sistani said that the Shi'a pontiff called for a million marchers Saturday in support of peace and security. Sadir, through aides, called for widening his fight against American forces to the entire country. Sadir issued a statement the next day offering to stop his military attacks on U.S. forces if the Americans publicly declared their willingness to negotiate with him. Sadir also criticized Sistani for keeping silent rather than supporting him and opposing U.S. occupation outright. The new governor of Najaf said that the prosecution of Sadir, for the murder last year of cleric Abdul-Majeed al-Khoie and an aide, might be suspended if Sadir disarms his militia. He also announced the recruitment of 4000 new civil defense forces for the city. A Spanish general said that the multinational forces for the area (headed by Poland and including Spain) refused an American request to capture Sadir in early April, because they were not in the business of offensive operations, only of supporting construction.

The people of Falluja welcomed the U.S. military's first entry into the city in more than a month. The 10-vehicle U.S. Marines convoy patrolled the city Monday morning with Iraqi police and civil defense forces. General James Mattis met with the mayor and tribal chiefs, and the joint force was met by and exited to cheering children, celebratory gunfire, horn-tooting and flag-waving (the old flag). For a week, American and Iraqi forces had manned checkpoints at the entrances to the city, and the joint patrol in the city was a first test of the peace. Pictures in Tuesday's Ta'akhi and Al-Mada showed scores of people atop cars, waving their arms and guns high, and flashing the Victory sign. Five hundred million dollars in building projects have been allocated by the CPA for Anbar province, which includes the larger city of Ramadi as well.

The Iraqi in charge of prosecuting Saddam said the former dictator and more than 100 top regime figures held by the coalition will be turned over to Iraqis before the June 30 transfer of sovereignty. Salim Chalabi, appointed by the Iraqi Governing Council to lead the trial, said the first trials should take place early next year, and that Saddam would not be first on the docket. The accused, he said, would face the death penalty. Meanwhile, one of Saddam's two French lawyers asked the U.N. and the U.S. government to pay for his labors, stating that Saddam's "family funds are extremely tight," those in banks abroad were frozen, and defense attorneys were due payment. Emmanuel Loudou also objected to having Saddam tried before an Iraqi court -- that he should, instead, be tried before an international court arranged by the United Nations and Iraqis, with prosecutors appointed by the United Nations, to ensure impartiality. Twenty lawyers comprise Saddam's defense team, most of them, Arab, and include Loudou and one American. A member of the Iraqi Governing Council's legal committee, Ahmed al-Barrak, said that no non-Iraqi can represent a dedendant in an Iraqi court unless he is joined by an Iraqi partner or has membership in the Iraqi lawyers union.

Yesterday, the ministry of industry and minerals became the ninth ministry turned over to Iraqi sovereignty. Monday, the ministry of water resources was turned over. On Saturday, it was the ministry dealing with deportees and immigrants. The health ministry was the first, followed by culture, agriculture, public works and municipalities, education, and science and technology. Consultants from the coalition continue working with the Iraqi ministries, but the final decisions in these ministries now rest with the Iraqis. There are a total of 25 ministries.

* * *

The newspapers, all Arabic-language dailies:

Al-Ta'akhi (Brotherhood, in Kurdish), belonging to Masoud Barazani's Kurdish Democratic Party, edited by poet Falak al-Deen al-Kaka'i, altaakhi.com.

Al-Mada (The Expanse), independent Iraqi, edited by former communist Fakhri Kareem, has done groundbreaking work with Iraqi government documents uncovering the endemic corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program, almadahouse.com.

Al-Sabah al-Jadeed (The New Morning), independent Iraqi, published its eighth issue today, edited by Isma'il al-Zayir, who previously edited the CPA paper Al-Sabah.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat (The Middle East), independent Saudi, aawsat.com.

Baghdad, belonging to Ayad Allawi's Ba'thist splinter group Iraqi National Accord.

Ad-Dustour (The Constitution), belonging to Constitutional Monarchy Movement and edited by Basim al-Shaykh.

Al-Sabah (The Morning), CPA paper, part of Iraqi Media Network, which will celebrate its first anniversary, Sunday, alsabaah.com.

Az-Zaman (The Time), independent, edited by Saad al-Bazzaz, who worked with Saddam media until Kuwait war. Bazzaz recently left Iraq, upon broadcast of pictures of him lounging with Saddam's son Uday. He's since returned. azzaman.com.

Al-Nahdhah (The Rising), belonging to Adnan Pachachi, who is expected to be president on transfer of sovereignty, June 30. al-nahdhah.com.

Al-Mu'tamar (The Congress), belonging to Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. At top left of each issue is a countdown to transfer of sovereignty, which today is at #50.

Al-Mashriq (The East), independent, edited by businessman Ghandi Muhammad Abdul-Kareem, son of head of Kaznazaniyya Kurdish Sufi movement. Most of staff worked in Saddam state papers.

Al-Ittihad (The Union), belonging to Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
A twist and an angle, on the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse story -- and this is not gonna get me out of any hot water that I or others have put me in.

My uncle the past few days has been saying, based on his close inspection of the pictures from Abu Ghraib, that this was not a case of torture, but an orgy. He said some of the photographed detainees were not Iraqi but American -- he could tell, from the lightness of their skin -- and that they were joined, willingly or unwillingly, by some Iraqis. The soldiers photographed themselves, "having fun," for their viewing pleasure.

Dr. Mishkat el-Moumin, head of the Iraq Foundation's women's and legal activities, says that's what you get when you put the military in charge of administering civil affairs such as the care and handling of prisoners and public utilities -- that they’re not equipped to handle such functions. It's an inherent flaw, the Baghdad University law professor says, particularly when America is so unwilling to establish for itself a regime of colonial rule.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Subj: Jews in the mind
Date: 5/10/2004 10:18:24 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "David"

Read your blog today. Hey, you know, your uncle is half right...which means he is wrong. Most good lies have some truth to them, I have found. Jews do control an awful lot of things in this world. I don't know why, but proportionally, Jews have done terribly great things in this world. Einstein. Salk. Freud. Mendelssohn, Pissaro. Copland... going back a bit further, Maimonides, Moses, Abraham and Jesus. And Jews have done awful things too.

The two questions are 1) why is this so and 2) is there a "conspiracy."

The answer to the first question has at least two parts. One, Jews have always valued education. It was the one thing, when everything else was taken away that no one can take away - your mind. So, Jews became expert in small portable valuables and professions they could participate in: jewels, money lending and the like. Jews also entered fields where their skill was based on their ability to think: doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. We live in a society today where information and communication are at the core of modern society. So Jews have prospered in those fields along with others. Second, Jews were and to some degree today remain defined by others. Jews restricted from certain professions (why don't you think there are so few Jewish farmers, for example). We were sort of the perpetual immigrants and sojourners, always needing to survive by our wits, spurred on by those who said we couldn't, shouldn't or wouldn't be able to do something. If someone tells you you can't do something, that incites you to prove them wrong. Israel is in part so dynamic because they are under siege, if that makes sense.

Second part: is there a conspiracy? Answer: there is an old saying: if you have two Jews in a room they will have three opinions among them. Jews conspire only when threatened. If someone credible threatens to kill every Iraqi, every Iraqi will band together to battle that threat. So if you believe there is an organized conspiracy to battle people who hate Jews, well, there is: the anti-defamation league. I'm a member and anyone who thinks we ought to be killed because we are Jewish is my sworn enemy. On other issues, besides the survival of Jews and hatred of those that want to kill us, is there a conspiracy? No way. Pick an issue and there are masses of Jews on all sides if the issue. Do Jews conspire to take over the world? Hardly.

Interestingly enough, even in places where there aren't Jews, such as Iraq (I think there are like 50 Jews left in the country) or Poland (where a million Jews were exterminated and I think there are like 5,000 Jews today) there is still anti-Semitism. I guess we are just a great scapegoat. It makes it easy to blame others (Jews, Kurds, Christians, Hutus, Catholics or other "thems") for their own inadequacies and deficiencies. I get the impression that the Israel-Palestinian struggle has prevented a lot of Muslim countries from focusing on their own problems and solving the basic needs of their own people. It is a pity, really, for everyone concerned.

Your uncle, when faced with this argument will probably say "well, what do you expect him to say." Of course, there is nothing that I could say that would change his mind. Only maybe by getting to know Jewish people would he maybe then perhaps think that some Jews are not all that bad. But unfortunately that won't happen since all the Jews were forced out of his country a long time ago, probably never to return. So he will live with the conspiracy of the Jews in his own mind, giving him a crutch to rest upon for all the maladies that befall him and Iraq. Again, a pity for him. A pity for the world, for he is not alone.

Part of my answer:
By the way -- funny thing is, my uncle's father (my grandfather) had a Jewish business partner, and many of their friends were Jewish. My father went to a Jewish kindergarten. Oh, well -- pretty sad.
Subj: Abu Ghraib
Date: 5/10/2004 10:07:29 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

Dear Ayad:
I just took a look at your blog and I am quite appalled by your relaxed attitude to what took place in Abu Ghraib. It is not that we think the US is perfect or that any thing is perfect. What took place is a serious violation of human rights. You and I stood against such violations by Saddam's. You and I should stand against the violations committed by US forces in Iraq or elsewhere. What is wrong remains wrong regardless of the number who are interested in (protesting) it. To make my point clear: not many Arabs were protesting Saddam's torture chambers. Would this make such chambers acceptible or less wrong? Such American violations will even execuse Saddam's as some may rightly claim that Saddam was a thug. If highly civilized Americans do such things, no wonder that Saddam did the same or worse.

I just can't imagine that the American interrogators were so stupid and so criminal to have done what they did in Abu Ghraib. Most incredible: Rumsfeld and the Pentagon's top brass failed to see the ramifications of such acts. Even worse: the cause of establishing liberal democracy in Iraq is now damaged. Indeed this will advance the cause of those Islamist-moralists who want to force their system on Iraqis by the sword. They can now cry "This is democrcay-western style". The only thing they need is to display these horrible pictures. It is the cause of people like you and I that is weakened by these violations, not to speak of the victims.

Iraq is in for a rough ride and I expect the situation to become far worse than the conflicts bewteen Ba'this-Qawmis and communists in 1959. Abu Ghraib's violations will make things worse and add fuel to the fire. Just think of the 1959 executions of Tabaqchali and his officers (who were convicted for their violent and bloody attempt to overthrow the the government). Even today, some of their supporters still cry victims!! How about gross violations of the order that took place in Abu Ghraib? We wanted an end to such violations not an extension. As a US citizen I expect you to be far ahead in condeming these acts and without any reservation.

The sight of Arab League Secretary-General Amru Mousa on TV yesterday morning recalled the comments officemates made about him the day before. After I related that I'd heard a man on the sidewalk call a restaurant he'd just left, "a mass grave," Dr. Mishkat el-Moumin, head of the Iraq Foundation's women's and legal sections, said that Mousa declared last year, "We didn't know anything about the mass graves." She and Dr. Azzam Alwash, head of the foundation's Eden Again project (to restore the Mesopotamian marshes), scoffed at Mousa's assertion. The whole term "mass grave" was something new to Iraqis.

I then shared how Kanan Makiya interviewed a little boy who was the only person from his village to survive a mass grave. Taimour Abdallah Ahmad's account of what happened to him and his family comprised the core of Chapter Four of Kanan's book Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the Arab World, on which I assisted Kanan (I just came across this review by US Air Force Capt. Donald G. Rose). As part of the 1988 Anfal campaign to wipe out life in rural Kurdistan, all the residents of Qulacho, Taimour's village, were rounded up. The men were separated from the rest, and soon, executed, in a manner "uncannily reminiscent of...the activities of the Einsatzkommandos, or mobile killing units, in the Nazi-occupied lands of Eastern Europe" (from a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report).

Taimour and the other children, women and elderly were shuffled from forts to prisons for several months. In August, about 20 trucks carried Taimour and the others away -- 100 hundred per each East-German EVAs truck. They were now in the fourth phase of the Anfal campaign -- Khatimett al-Anfal (the Final Anfal). They left their last stopping point at six in the morning, and reached the Saudi border near nightfall. With nothing to eat or drink, and high temperatures inside the metal-encased vehicles, three children with Taimour died. The truck settled next to a large pit. Taimour, who was around nine years old, snuck a peak from behind his blindfold and saw many such holes. The blindfolded "contents" of each truck were forced into the holes. There were many soldiers around his pit, with two firing kalashnikovs from the corners into the bodies below. One bullet grazed Taimour's left shoulder. Taimour clambered out of the hole, towards the soldier who shot him, and grabbed his hand. The soldier was ordered by a superior to throw the boy back into the hole. Taimour said he looked into the soldier's eyes and saw him about to cry. The soldier pushed Taimour back in, and shot him in the lower back.

After the sporadic shooting stopped, the soldiers went off to talk, waiting for the bulldozers to cover the holes. Taimour played dead for a few minutes, then climbed out. He looked back into the hole and saw a girl move. She was next to him in the hole, and was shot in the hand. He said to her, "Get up, let's go." She said, "I'm afraid of the soldiers, I can't come." He also saw his mother, Sara, his three sisters, Gaylas, Leyla and Serwa, and three of his aunts, including Hafsa, who had no children, and Ma'souma, who had eight. He heard no noise from inside the pit. When the soldiers weren't looking, he ran to an empty pit and hid there for a while. He watched as the bulldozers covered the full pits. At one point, he fell asleep or unconscious. After waking, and making sure there was no one around, he walked into the desert. After two hours, he reached a Bedouin encampment. After three days there, the family took Taimour to their relatives in Samawa, where he stayed for two years, until a relative was tracked down in Iraqi Kurdistan to retrieve him. The relative, though, was afraid Taimour might be targeted, so the boy ended up with Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, becoming a symbol of Kurdish survival and resistance.

From the web-site Gendercide:
According to HRW, "at least fifty thousand rural Kurds...died in Anfal alone, and very possibly the real figure was twice that number.... All told, the total number of Kurds killed over the decade since the Barzani men were taken from their homes is well into six figures." "On the basis of extensive interviews in Kurdistan and perusal of extant Iraqi documents, Shoresh Resoul, a meticulous Kurdish researcher...conservatively estimated that 'between 60,000 and 110,000' died during [Saddam's cousin Ali Hasan al-]Majid's Kurdish mandate," i.e., beginning shortly before Anfal and ending shortly afterwards. (Randal, After Such Knowledge..., p. 214.) Other Kurdish estimates are even higher. "When Kurdish leaders met with Iraqi government officials in the wake of the spring 1991 uprising, they raised the question of the Anfal dead and mentioned a figure of 182,000 -- a rough extrapolation based on the number of destroyed villages. Majid reportedly jumped to his feet in a rage when the discussion took this turn. 'What is this exaggerated figure of 182,000?' he is said to have asked. 'It couldn't have been more than 100,000' -- as if this somehow mitigated the catastrophe that he and his subordinates had visited on the Iraqi Kurds." (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 14, 230.)

It is impossible to state with certainty what proportion of the victims of Anfal were adult men and adolescent boys. The most detailed investigation, conducted by HRW, tabulated the number of "disappeared" from the various stages of Anfal, based on field interviews with some 350 survivors. The organization gathered the names of 1,255 men, 184 women, and 359 children -- "only a fraction of the numbers lost during Anfal." This would suggest that some 87 percent of the adults "disappeared," all of whom were apparently executed, were male; and that about 70 percent of all those who "disappeared" were "battle-age" males. (See
Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 266-68.) These calculations do not, however, include the large number of Kurdish civilians killed indiscriminately in chemical attacks and other generalized assaults.
My uncle said he learned about mass graves in 1963. Ten days after the Ba'ath had been overthrown, in November 1963, a friend who'd grown disenchanted with the brutality of their nine-month reign, took my uncle and another friend west of Baghdad. They got out of their car in the Abu Ghraib area, before Falluja. They walked some 10 minutes to the south, and the ex-Ba'thi pointed towards a mound of dirt about 30 meters long. He said that's where nationalists and communists executed after the Ba'ath took over, in February, were buried.

Monday, May 10, 2004

First court-martial in Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse allegations to begin next week
Jack Valenti would not be too happy with me

I just bought three pirated movies -- if that's the right term. On the way back to the office -- after my interview and taking calls from listeners on Cleveland's public radio station, WCPN -- I stopped for dinner -- bought a falafil sandwich. Next door, was what looked like a music store. My mother recently recommended a song by Wadi' Saafi, "Allah Yirdha Alayk" (May God please you), for my dating story -- a song my father's mother sang to him, to encourage him to marry my mother-to-be. I went in, but the place turned out to be a video store -- not video tapes, but compact discs or digital videos. Almost half were American movies, and most of those were action movies. I got "Malena," a movie I've seen, by the director of my all-time favorite movie, "Cinema Paradiso," Guiseppe Tornatore; and a pair of movies I haven't seen, but have heard are good: "Ocean's Eleven" and "American Wedding." I'll review them for you, as soon as I see 'em. There are two discs per movie, so each movie went for 1500 dinars, a little more than a dollar.
Look ma -- they're interviewing me, they're interviewing me

This afternoon, I did a pair of live, on-air interviews -- with Cleveland Channel 8's (Fox) Morning Show and WCPN (public radio), taking phone calls on the latter, for almost an hour. The host of the WCPN morning program, Dave Pignanelli, said they'd put some of my pictures on their web-site. That's something I've wanted to do -- put my pictures on this blog, but...haven't. It requires a pair of external programs, and...I'm not that computer-literate, and too lazy, to do it.

I just went to the CPN web-site, and, indeed, they've got a few pictures on there, from my visit to the Amal (Hope) organization's school for deaf and mute children, in Baghdad.
Some perspective on my "dating" experience

A friend in Cleveland wrote me, a week ago:
Date: 5/3/2004 2:12:26 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "David”

I have some thoughts about this dating game thing:

1) Does she realize how different the west is from her set of experiences? Do you realize what a change it will be for her? Do you want someone who will be totally dependent on you? That is what you are going to get, no matter how bright, attractive and nice a person she may be.
2) Do I get the impression that she has a daughter? If so, is she considered "damaged goods" in some way in her society? It reminds me of a story about an American company in Japan. They were able to hire the brightest women in the country to work for them because no Japanese company would hire them. When they were working for the American company, they never complained or asked for promotions or for salary increases. They would get them, of course, but the fact is that they had so much more opportunity than they would elsewhere. Perhaps what they might consider "damaged goods" is a diamond in the rough... a woman shunned in Iraq but someone who is in the west "a great catch." I don't know.
3) Do you think that your family thought that the main purpose for your coming to Baghdad was to find a wife? Did you? If this is not the case, maybe you need to make it clear to them...

My reply:
Date: 5/4/2004 8:08:10 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Thanks, David,

Good points, all -- especially, for me, the parts about dependency. Well, the marriage thing, as far as a family goes -- that comes with the territory -- they're always trying to get you married. They've really got nothing to do -- here -- other than that. It's a main source of amusement, entertainment.

I certainly wasn't looking to get married here -- to meet anybody here. I'd sort of cancelled the possibility, with an Iraqi or Arab woman, but.... We'll see. I'm putting on the brakes, as a good friend suggested -- taking it slow(er). And, I think, she's encouraging that, too. Again, we'll see.

She does have an 8-year-old boy, and, yes, she is "damaged goods" -- very undesirable -- heavy baggage -- been damaged, soiled. I mean, these things have changed, and she certainly brings other advantages, other commodities, features, to the package, which even Iraqis could see. That's such a complicated world, picture -- this mating business.

Thanks for your interest, and concern, David. I very much appreciate it.
A couple of postscripts: With Iraqi companies, and, what is more common, for Iraqi employment, the state bureaucracy, there isn't a stigma for employment in being a divorcee. The stigma plays out when it comes to her marriage prospects, and the way she's viewed by others in society -- with pity. Invariably, she lives with her parents, and is, pretty much, relegated to the status of an old maid. This affects the children, too, who get picked on and abused for being fatherless -- they get called names like "bastards." I've also learned, since writing my response to David, that, in fact, Layla has been proposed to, a few times, despite her previous marriage and child.
In the dating game -- and I won't get too personal about the latest developments and details -- I'll keep my remarks broad and socially relevant -- I'm being pressed to "drink the sherbet." This is an informal engagement for marriage, wherein the male elders of the man go to the woman's family -- men and women -- and ask, on behalf of the man, for the intended's hand; the man's there, too -- that's me. It's a first step toward marriage. It doesn't guarantee marriage -- there are two more steps, to that -- an actual engagement, then the marriage, both of which can have a celebratory party. The "sherbet" gathering (sherbet is a fruit drink, served after the woman's family has assented) can include female relatives ululating, to celebrate the...match. What the "sherbet" does do, however, is legitimate the relationship, which allows the couple to "go out" -- alone -- and spend time together -- to get to know each other further -- without arousing anybody's suspicions. It allows them legitimacy in the eyes of society, that there is, now, an intention to marry -- that that has been proclaimed -- that the guy has made his intentions known, and is not "playing around." My parents, and other relatives, say I must do this, to protect Layla's reputation -- that a "girl" of proper upbringing, from Layla's kind of family, cannot continue, cannot afford, seeing a guy in public without an "approach," a declaration of intention, of this kind -- that doing so, without that social legitimation can do grave harm to her reputation.

The Catch-22, though, is that if the engagement is broken off, at any step along the way, the woman -- not much risk to the man -- can have her reputation affected. As Layla told me, there would be a question mark over her -- "What is wrong with her?" people might ask. In the case of Layla, people might wonder, "Her first marriage failed, then this one was broken off."

In the meantime, Layla and I have been in discussions -- negotiating the shape of the table.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

An addendum, and correction, to the story of my cousin's son Salman:

My aunt, who was poisoned by Saddam's regime in 1980, did not die within two weeks. No signs of deterioration showed, until after two weeks of her release from detention. She died, 50 days after her release. Towards the end, her situation improved, having undergone blood transfusions. From America, after the cause of her condition was determined to be thallium poisoning, some medicine was about to be sent. Not long before she died, as her doctor left her hospital room, he warned her sister and daughter that the incoming doctor was a Ba’thi. The family suspects that some additional poison was then injected into her system. In the ‘80s, a number of Iraqis were killed by thallium poisoning.

As to her grandson Salman, frequently, he packed his bags, ready to leave his relatives, for who-knows-where. He hasn't wanted to hear from his father, as he hasn't been in touch for 20+ years. Of Salman's several fatherless friends, one's father disappeared in 1980. His family waited and searched for him and his whereabouts until last year, when, after Saddam’s ouster from power, they learned, via a Saddam-era document, that he was executed in 1983.
A little scuttlebutt I picked up recently, about one of the members of the Iraqi Governing Council (GC) -- although, it might not be a big surprise. I mentioned Adil Abdul-Mehdi a week ago, as reportedly the first prime minister of the Iraqi government that's to take over, June 30. In December 2002, at a meeting of Iraqis in England, Mehdi and the late Sami Abdil-Rahman (who was killed in the February 1st bombings of the two Kurdish party headquarters in Arbil) co-moderated a working group on the future constitution. When Munthir al-Fadhul, an attorney from Sweden, proposed adopting the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, Mehdi replied: "What, so we're now supposed to have equality of man and woman! Next, they'll bring in the rights of gays and lesbians." This, according to one of the 40 participants in the group. Mehdi, who was an editor and publisher in France, and a former communist, is an alternate member of the GC, representing the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. His name, for the post of prime minister, has been supplanted by economist Mehdi il-Hafudh.
A friend asked me the other day, about reaction here to the prisoner-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison. Here's my reply:
Date: 5/7/2004 2:15:45 PM Eastern Daylight Time


As far as Abu Ghraib, most people don't seem to be too bothered about it. I mean, if you consider it, in the great scheme of things, it's nothing -- compared with what Iraqis have seen. Yes, there was a demo of a couple of hundred people, the other day (at Abu Ghraib), and you get some people saying, where's the democracy, where's the human rights. But, this, too, shall pass. I mean, if people expect perfection, look for the slightest fault -- they'll always fall short. It's just another way to beat up America, look for a scapegoat, somebody to blame, to exonerate themselves from responsibility -- and Iraqis and Arabs are plenty good at that.
A few days ago, my friend David and I had an exchange about American "crimes," and putting things in perspective.
"Mass grave" gains currency, and women-only windows

A couple of days ago, my old office-mate Ali and I went to get some falafil sandwiches -- for him and the guards at the office. At the falafil joint, there was a sign on an outside window, that it was reserved for women, from which to make and pick up orders. I asked about that. Ali said it was because men congregated inside, and sometimes made a ruckus, which would make it unsuitable for women. A woman I asked, said that, when a small place was busy, men would harass the women in line.

When I stepped out of the falafil place, a man came out of the restaurant next door, motioned back behind him, and told his buddies on the sidewalk, "A mass grave." I had to find out what that was about. The guy who said it, was getting into a taxi, but Ali advised me against asking him. Since then, I've asked around, and although no one has heard the phrase used -- that the whole notion of a "mass grave" was a new concept to them -- I've had two explanations. One, that the food in the restaurant was terrible, or, even, actually poisonous. The second, that the restaurant served pacha, a popular dish featuring a sheep's head, which reminded the man of the skulls from the mass graves that keep surfacing, the latest, a couple of weeks ago.
An addition to my top-ten list

You know you’ve been in the Arab world too long, when:

Seeing only men around in public places is nothing unusual.

This, after my time at internet cafes the last two nights.
And it was an original

In personal news, I've lost my digital camera. It must've dropped out of the side pocket of my shoulder bag a few nights ago, maybe as I transferred the bag from inside the car to the trunk, just before my uncle and I crossed the street, to buy some nuts from a roaster. Which brings up a funny feature of local shopping. There's been an explosion of electronics and appliances, most of them, Chinese and Korean, which locals say are not aSliyya ("original" or "real"). The originals, are made in Japan and America. Then, there are gradations of the non-original, such as grade-one to grade-four Chinese digital cameras, and they come in all prices. Well, my digital camera was an "original." How about that, for an advertising slogan.
News of the day: it's all Sadir

Sadir's forces took over two positions in Basra yesterday, and British forces engaged them, killing one Sadirite and arresting a number of others. The head of Sadir's office in Baghdad's Sadir City (named after Muqtada Sadir's father -- used to be called a-Thawra, renamed Saddam City), along with four assistants, were detained.
"Jews, Persians and flies" -- Masons, too

I opened an old e-mail last night from an Iraq "list" I'm subscribed to -- a pretty Arab nationalist list. The message had to do with white supremacists in Israel -- Russians who'd migrated to Israel under the pretense they were Jews. The militia-type person who wrote the missive, cc'd it to the e-mail address persians-jews-flies@xxxxxx.xxx. Those are the main words of the title of a book by Saddam's uncle, Khairallah Tulfah: "Three Whom God Should not Have Created: Persians, Jews and Flies." Lovely company, I'm keeping.

Good timing, though, because it allows me to recount a nice dose of anti-Semitism I got a couple of nights ago. It wasn't the first, and I'm sure it won't be the last. I just hope I'm well-enough inoculated. A couple of weeks ago, my uncle ("God love him," as the Irish say -- I love him, too -- he's been my main window to Iraqi society -- a great picture window -- "Bless his heart," as they say in the South) said that Jews were behind Saddam's rise to power. I don't remember the details of what he said -- and there may not have been any details, as often, there aren't -- but it had something to do with Saddam's being selected, and groomed, in the '60s, by higher-ups in the U.S. government -- Jews, of course -- to be Iraq's future leader. That was pretty much the end of that -- anti-Semitic session.

Two nights ago, it went on, and on -- and he was joined by his sister. Jews were behind pornography, behind destructive cults (as they prey on Muslims, to get them away from their religion), in charge of American media -- sorry, that's a given -- needn't be uttered. Not only that, though, a Muslim preacher in southern Egypt who riled up people to terrorism, turned out to be Jewish. A high-ranking figure in the PLO in Lebanon who encouraged Arafat to strike at Israel, thus incurring Israel's response -- turned out to be a Jew, and switched sides as soon as Israel entered Lebanon. Why, even the crazy guy who stood outside an army club in Beirut -- he turned out to be a colonel in the Israeli army, with an epaulet and all. There were Jewish spies working within the Syrian and Egyptian governments. Why, they're all over -- implanting themselves, wherever needed. If you go to the Cote d'Azure, three-quarters of the topless women are Jews -- for Jewish women, especially, have no honor, would "give themselves" to anybody -- presumably, to serve the needs of the "worldwide Jewish movement," which was out to destroy all that was good in the world. What else? Well, I guess, anything bad, you can attribute to Jews -- it's as simple as that. Drugs, corruption of youth, you-name-it. The list is endless -- but...enough of that. My uncle did say, later, that...love was all -- that he's instructed to love, even, his enemy, and prays to God to benefit them.

That brings up the issue of Masons. A couple of days ago, a local newspaper's top story had the subheadline that the designer of the new Iraqi flag, architect Rif'at Chadirchi, had been imprisoned by the previous regime on the charge that he was a Mason. I didn't read the story, but the headline also mentioned denials. This was a common accusation, in the early days of the Ba'ath regime, along with being a Zionist and/or imperialist spy. There seems to be something particular to architects and the charge of being a Mason. Muhammad Makiya, the country's other top architect from the '50s-on, had to stay abroad when he heard he'd been similarly charged. His wife, an Englishwoman who was teaching literature at Baghdad University, sent word to her husband (not to return), and gradually shipped their belongings abroad. Their eldest, Kanan, went on to author, among other books, Republic of Fear (the seminal work on modern Iraq, under the pseudonym Samir al-Khalil), and, with my help, Cruelty and Silence.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Rubin's fuller article on effects of sanctions, and a summary

The last couple of days, I cited an article by Michael Rubin on the effects of international sanctions on Iraq, wherein he compares the region under Saddam with Iraqi Kurdistan, which was outside Saddam's full control. However, what I linked to, was notes of a talk he gave, without much substantive supporting evidence. Here, is a lot of supporting evidence -- maybe too much. Here, is a shorter version -- much shorter -- a summary, really.
Bowling for bin Laden's dollars
Am I pin-worthy?

From Peoria, Illinois, this news item:
  Subj:    Be Careful
  Date:    5/8/2004 6:33:27 AM Eastern Daylight Time

  OK, here's some news from your friend: Today on the FOX NEWS ticker, I read that Usama has put a $12,000 (in gold) reward out for the killing of any US or British citizens in Iraq. If I recall correctly, it's $120,000 for Bremer, and a little less for any member of the Provisional Governing body. 
  I don't know what $12,000 is worth there, but if I were you, I'd be a little nervous, and very cautious regarding my movements. I'm not trying to make you paranoid, but I worry about your safety.
  Thanks again for all the info, and updates. I read them daily. (As a matter of fact, I just sent a link to your blog, and a short bio to our local newspaper's managing editor. If I hear back from her, I'll let you know.)
Keep safe, and keep writing,
I wrote back:
  Date:    5/8/2004 6:46:56 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hey, Doug,

Thanks for the...tip (?). Yeah -- I heard about that -- the bin Laden bounty money, gold. Go for the gold! Well, I'm not big fish, as far as they're concerned -- I don't bring in the bucks.
News: Not "limited fighting"; Najafis to Sadir: disarm and leave; CPA plan and governor for Najaf; Sadir to Baku?; Sadir to Bush; Saddam with Sadir?; two journalists, four police killed; rape pix in Egyptian press; anti-Ba'ath protest; pro-Japanese demo

First, the "limited fighting" I mentioned yesterday that took place in Kerbela, Najaf and Kufa, Thursday, was not limited. Coalition military authorities announced that 41 of Muqtada Sadir's fighters were killed in eastern Najaf. In Thursday's fighting, coalition soldiers surrounded Sadir's backers, then took over his offices in the city, including the governor's headquarters in the Ghadeer district, one and a half kilometers from the shrine of Ali, in the process, kicking out Sadir's militiamen. Sadir took these over last month. In Kerbela, eyewitnesses report the destruction of Sadir offices by coalition forces, who then withdrew from the city. Najaf was calm yesterday, and checkpoints were removed from the roads. Sadir is wanted for complicity in the murder, last year, of religious leader Abdul-Majeed al-Khoie and an aide, in the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf. The latest round of fighting began when Sadir's forces attacked Polish forces on the outskirts of Kerbela with mortars and small arms.

In the Ali mosque on Friday, prayer leader Sadr il-Deen al-Qabanji [Correction: Qubbanchi] called on the armed supporters of Sadir to leave the city. The comments of Qabanji, who is close to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the top Shi'i party, were the most severe to date against Sadir. He said in his sermon, "Listen to the advice of the scholars. You're our sons and our youth.... Come, let's take another path. Return to your areas, and defend them and expel the occupation and the Ba'this." He added, "Najafis are responsible for the defense of Najaf."

Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer appointed a new governor for Najaf, Adnan al-Sharifi, who called on Sadir's backers to turn in their weapons. Sharifi is a Najafi lawyer who took part in the March 1991 uprisings against Saddam and was imprisoned for years. Sharifi entered the governor's quarters, and praised the city's religious and community leaders for settling affairs in the city.

Ambassador Ross, an assistant to Bremer, said the appointment of Najaf's new governor was part of a five-point strategy to calm the region, which has seen disturbances for the past month, in the wake Sadir's seeking refuge there. The five-point plan aims to return civilian rule, police and the civil defense force to Najaf and to reinforce them in Kerbela; most importantly, encouraging community leaders to find a peaceful resolution to the dispute with Sadir, including his being turned over to a court of law and disarming his militia. fighting at eastern gates of Kufa. all part of increasing pressure on sadir. Sources in the Iraqi police said that the American moves would reduce the attacks by Sadir's followers.

The new head of the intelligence services (the Mukhabarat), Muhammad al-Shahwani, was leading negotiations with Sadir. Approximately 150 Shi'a leaders in Najaf signed a statement calling on the departure of armed men from the city, for holy places not to be used to store weapons, for the police and civil defense to be allowed to do their job, and for foreign forces not to enter the holy city. Religious institutions in the city are planning to publicly demand that Sadir disarm and withdraw from the city. Najaf is heavily dependent on religous tourists for its livelihood, and many innocent bystanders have been killed.

News agencies report that European diplomats and the Bush administration are looking into temporarily exiling Sadir and some of his followers to Baku, Azerbaijan, which abuts Iran -- until after elections, when he will have to appear in court.

Also on Friday, 15,000 men, mostly supporters of Sadir, prayed in Iraq's top Sunni mosque, Abu Hanifa, in the A'dhamiyya section of Baghdad. A top Sadir aide, Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji, sermonized: "We came here to prove that the forces of evil will not be able to rip asunder Islamic unity." Sadir, himself, along with hundreds of his militiamen, evaded American forces and checkpoints, and made their way from Najaf to Kufa, where he delivered a sermon attacking President Bush for the violations carried out by American soldiers against Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib prison. He said Bush and the soldiers should be tried in the same place, with the same tactics, used against them.

A document has surfaced purporting to show that Sadir's spokesman, Qays al-Khaz'ali, was an agent in Saddam's security services. The document turned up in the Najaf security office. The news was announced by Radio Sawa (Together), the U.S. Arabic service. The document reportedly says that Khaz'ali got his security job via his uncle, a high-ranking Ba'ath Party official, who now runs Sadir's offices in the city of Diwaniyya. Many political and religious figures have accused Sadir of embracing former regime elements, including Feda'iyyeen Saddam (Saddam's Commandoes/Avengers), who make up most of Sadir's Jaysh il-Mehdi (Savior's Army). Sadir and his aides deny these charges. Today's Al-Ittihad (belonging to Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) reports -- from the web-site Iraq il-Ghad (the Future Iraq) and other news agencies -- that Saddam's half-brother Sab'awi Ibrahim al-Hasan, is leading terrorist operations in Iraq from Syria, under the nom de guerre Abu Tammuz. In the document, he advises former Ba'this to enter Jaysh il-Mehdi and to support Sadir, in an effort for the Ba'ath to regain power.

Just north of Najaf yesterday, two journalists -- a Pole and an Algerian -- were killed by unknown gunmen in Lateefiyya. The pair worked either for a Polish television station. Their photographer was wounded, and taken to hospital by a passing car.

In the northern city of Mosul, four police officers were killed and a fifth, wounded, yesterday afternoon, when a hand grenade blew up their patrol car.

Three Egyptian publications printed photographs this week of American soldiers raping an Iraqi woman. The U.S. embassy in Cairo, having discovered that the photos came from a pornography web-site in New York and were performed by actors, asked the two newspapers and one magazine on Thursday to issue an admission of error. The embassy supplied the address of the issuing web-site. One photo appeared on the front page of Tuesday's Al-Wafd, a liberal opposition paper; two photos appeared in the private newspaper Al-Isboo' and in the government magazine Al-MuSawwir. This episode is reminiscent of similar stories in the Turkish press, which led one man to blow up a British bank in Istanbul last December, killing himself and a dozen other people.

In the southern city Nasiriyya, thousands demonstrated yesterday against the return of Ba'this to positions in government and to political life. In nearby Samawa, locals held a procession Thursday in solidarity with the Japanese self-defense forces guarding the city. They marched from the center of town to the Japanese's military base outside the city, denouncing terrorism (the base has been subjected to mortar rounds) and supporting construction. On May 5, the Japanese forces and the local League for Japanese Friendship joined in celebrating the traditional Japanese Day of the Child. In the traditional Japanese manner, the soldiers and civilians hung different-colored flying carp in the streets of Samawa and on its corniche along the Euphrates.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Glancing blows in trying to tackle big questions

I'll turn now to David's reaction to our exchange about putting U.S. and Saddam "crimes" into perspective.

Taking David's points and questions, in order, yes, there are many Iraqis who do blame America for the failure of the March '91 uprisings, saying that President George H.W. Bush encouraged people to rise up against Saddam but, then, allowed him to brutally suppress those uprisings. Some see all of that as pre-planned -- that the U.S. intentionally got people to rise up, thus exposing them to be slaughtered by Saddam. Many people say that not only did the U.S. not help the rebels, but, in fact, assisted Saddam in crushing the rebellions. They cite the permission General Norman Schwartzkopf gave, in the cease-fire agreement, for the Iraqi military to use their helicopers, which were used to strafe columns of civilians leaving the cities of southern Iraq and to drop cement powder over populations in northern Iraq, to make people think it was chemical weapons. Also, Iraqi rebels report seeing American planes flying above the Iraqi helicopters, and not interfering with their activities against civilians and rebels. As a result of that...failure, disappointment, which many people feel is a betrayal, there is a lingering grave suspicion of U.S. motives.

Beyond that, many also charge that Saddam and his Ba'ath Party were brought to power by the U.S., first by the CIA's supplying the names of Communist Party activists to Ba'ath activists in the early '60s, to be eliminated, then, during the Ba'ath's interregnum (November '63-July '68), by grooming Saddam for power while he was in exile in Egypt, citing reports of visits by Saddam to the U.S. embassy in Cairo, as well as other secret contacts.

As to David's question about Iraqis realizing that a premature U.S. departure would mean disaster, the answer is yes, most people do realize that. There is, first of all, a major love-hate relationship with America. A recent Indian interlocutor summed up the international sentiment, to Secretary Powell: "Yankee, go home -- but take me with you." When Iraqis reflect on the issue, they know, deep down inside -- and express it, when drawn out -- that they need help, and America is at the top of the list of countries to be trusted to offer that help. Actually, it's more accurate to say, America is the country least mistrusted. Which brings up the issue of trust. Iraqis, over the past decades of dictatorship, have come to evolve a strong case of cynicism and mistrust. This was borne of a regime of lies, to the point that nearly any statement or policy by the government is taken as false and disbelived. This was further groomed by the fear and mistrust deeply implanted in all Iraqis -- of each other -- through the regimen of ubiquitous informants backed by violence.

Then David asked: "Why can't the intelligencia try to come up with a solution that goes a little beyond their own self-interest: work to create a government that is not a dictatorship, not a theocracy and doesn't result in one ethnic group lording over another?"

Well, that's the idea. Many people are trying, but, again, that fear and mistrust -- of each other, and of U.S. intentions -- gets in the way. It'll be a long climb -- "a hard slog."

Which brings me to David's next questions:
"Isn't there a saying that 'freedom goes to those who are willing to defend it' or something like that? If those who want a freer society so they can go about their business without fear and repression are not willing to speak up, then perhaps they don't deserve freedom, but their fate. Then again, I didn't live under Saddam for 25 years either. Maybe that will is no longer there...and a new generation will have to come up who knows not the horrors of the past."
That's what we're about to find out -- whether Iraqis step up, make this fight for freedom, their fight -- whether they have it in them -- whether they have any fight left in 'em -- after the meatgrinder they've been through -- beaten down, as they have been, by the brutality of internal repression and the endless wars Saddam's dragged them into. It is, in many ways, an exhausted people -- not to mention incredibly brutalized. Thus, many feel that this generation -- the generations that have come of age in Saddam's time -- are hopeless, a lost cause -- that their values, minds and behaviors have been totally corroded and corrupted by the habits and ideas of the past several dozen years -- that hope lies in the youngest Iraqis. So far, though, Iraqis have been stepping up. They haven't been dragged into civil war, as many predicted and as the opponents of democracy are trying to provoke.

Next, David proposed an academic study:
"Maybe if you compared Iraq to another more-stable, civilized country in a chart of some kind...like compare Iraq with Turkey. I know the Turks put down the Kurds harshly, it's a bigger country and its prisons are no model. But to compare Iraq to what it should have been, take a date - 1970 or 1980 - and compare it with today. Where would Iraq be without Saddam and his killers?"
Interesting question, but, other than economic, and maybe demographic, models, I can't think of a way to project what might have been. Sounds like the realm of science fiction, or just plain old fiction. I'll leave that to them -- unless anybody brighter than me has any ideas.
No news,....

Pardon all the self-referential material, earlier, but...no news, today. Limited fighting, yesterday, between American troops and Jaysh il-Mehdi (Muqtada Sadir's forces) -- in Najaf, Kerbela and Kufa.
Michael Rubin, revisited

In passing on Michael Rubin's article about U.S. planning for post-Saddam Iraq by the Defense and State departments, I'll make a couple of amendments. His article was not a "shot across the bow" in the continuing skirmishes between Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon -- no sideswipe, there -- but a full-scale, full-fledged, full-barrelled, full-throttled fusillade -- a direct hit. I also cited, yesterday, a previous article by Rubin, comparing the effect of sanctions in Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraqi Arabistan. I said the information "debunk[ed], with statistics and facts on the ground, the arguments of anti-sanctions activists (i.e., Saddam-apologists)." Well, that's a little strong. I'll qualify that: "Saddam apologists, even though they didn't mean to be -- willing dupes, as it were."
Ghosts and dungeons
Salman and Salwa, revisited

In telling the story of a cousin’s son, Salman, I wrote about what happens when an Iraqi, especially an adult male, is found without an ID. Iraqis say that, at the least, “They throw you below” (Yithibbook jawwa). The words convey the image of being put in an underground dungeon. What it also implies, is that you’ve probably disappeared -- it will not only be difficult for anyone to track your whereabouts, you may as well be gone for good.

In addition to seeing Salman, a ghost from my family's past, for the first time Wednesday evening, I also saw, for the first time, another cousin's daughter, named after Salman's grandmother, my mother's older sister, Salwa, who was poisoned to death. Little Salwa is a beautiful six-year-old girl, who, I'm told, has a vivid imagination and a knack for telling stories featuring ghosts. I hope I get to hear them.
Major correction

In yesterday's recap of the news, I reported that 12 U.S. soldiers were killed in a morning car bombing at the main gate to the Green Zone in Baghdad (the area reserved for coalition personnel). I was wrong. It appears that one American soldier was killed, from a total of 12 people, the remainder, Iraqis, employed by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).

Thursday, May 06, 2004

46 new oil wells to be drilled; electricity outlook up

A source in the oil ministry revealed that Iraq signed an agreement with a number of Saudi companies to drill 46 oil wells in southern Iraq. The electricity minister announced that, if current progress continues, energy output by the beginning of June should reach 6000 megawatts, from its present output of 4300. A pair of provinces getting electricity 24 hours a day will be reduced by one hour, so that other provinces will have electricity for 23 hours.
David: responsibility, fighting for freedom, pair of ideas
me: another way to count those killed

In response to the exchange we had yesterday, about putting the "crimes" of the U.S. and Saddam in perspective, here's David's latest missive:
Date: 5/5/2004 11:14:21 AM Eastern Daylight Time

... and of course, what happened in the south is all our fault, as if we put the bullet into people.

Do you think most people...I get the impression your family does, but do most people realize the abyss that they will fall into if the Americans do leave and leave a power vacuum in its place? Why can't the intelligentsia try to come up with a solution that goes a little beyond their own self-interest: work to create a government that is not a dictatorship, not a theocracy and doesn't result in one ethnic group lording over another? Perhaps the kind of religious-based hate everyone-in-power-kind-of-behavior is understandable by those who live in hardscrabble poverty and have no exposure to the west. But the small merchants, the educators, physicians and others...there is no excuse. It isn't in their best interest.

Isn't there a saying that "freedom goes to those who are willing to defend it" or something like that? If those who want a freer society so they can go about their business without fear and repression are not willing to speak up, then perhaps they don't deserve freedom, but their fate. Then again, I didn't live under Saddam for 25 years either. Maybe that will is no longer there...and a new generation will have to come up who knows not the horrors of the past.

Maybe if you compared Iraq to another more stable, civilized country in a chart of some kind... like compare Iraq with Turkey. I know the Turks put down the Kurds harshly, is a bigger country and its prisons are no model. But to compare Iraq to what it should have been, take a date - 1970 or 1980 - and compare it with today. Where would Iraq be without Saddam and his killers?

Take something like that, add a few interviews, streamline your line of thought below and maybe you have a story you can sell. The timing is just right now with all the "torture" stories in the news.

I am too tired now to respond -- I've gotten up too early in the morning for a couple of days and not slept enough -- but one point of addition, to the calculations I made yesterday in the numbers of people killed. In the same period, 1980-to-present, Saudi Arabia's population -- although such a statistic is secret, presumbly because of national security -- is believed to have nearly tripled, while Iraq's has expanded by about 50 percent. I'll have to check those figures, but....
Michael Rubin articles: State-Defense war over Iraq, Iraq sanctions

Another shot across the bow -- a howitzer -- in the ongoing State-Defense wars, this by a rising star in the Iraq-experts constellation. Michael Rubin has worked with the U.S. government on Iraq. Before that, he taught for a year at a univeristy in Kurdistan. He produced some outstanding work, of which I single out his comparison of economic and health conditions in Iraqi Kurdistan, and, as my father calls it, Iraqi Arabistan (i.e., the part of Iraq controlled by Saddam), during sanctions, in the process, debunking, with statistics and facts on the ground, the arguments of anti-sanctions activists (i.e., Saddam-apologists).
Policewoman and Islamists enforcing will on campus

One of the doctoral law students walked into the office this morning, troubled. She'd been to college, and saw a female police officer get mistreated by the assistant dean and another administrator. The officer used to work at the law college's information desk, and had come to collect her paycheck. The college staff, in a commonly used tactic to encumber an employee, asked for more paperwork. While the veiled officer worked at the college, she was repeatedly harassed by Islamist students and administrators, because of her service in the new police force. Members of the Da'wa Party and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, both Shi'a Islamist parties, are trying to impose their will on campuses around the country. The female officer was frequently thwarted in her efforts to receive her pay, maternity leave and other benefits. The mother of three now works at the headquarters of the Iraqi Governing Council.
News: car-bomb, airport road, Sadir fighting, Abu Ghraib and flag protests

In the latest news, a car exploded this morning, at 7:30, as it was being searched at the entrance of the Green Zone. The radio reported 12 American soldiers killed. This caused streets to be closed in the area, heavy congestion in the Karrada district of Baghdad and intensified military presence on the roads and in the skies.

A helicopter was shot down near the Baghdad airport this morning. An officemate at the Iraq Foundation was on his way to the airport, to pick up Dr. Azzam Alwash, head of the foundation's marshes-restoration project, Eden Again. Dr. Alwash was in America to see his family and attend a U.N. conference on sustainable development. The airport road was closed for 15-30 minutes.

There was fighting yesterday in Kerbela and Najaf between Muqtada Sadir's Jaysh il-Mehdi and American troops, killing 11 Sadirites and one American. Americans took over Sadir's HQs in the southern city of Diwaniyya. Many people claim that documents show that as many as 75-90 percent of Sadir's followers are former security and intelligence officers from Saddam's regime.

Hundreds protested yesterday outside Abu Ghraib prison, at maltreatment of Iraqi detainees there. A top American general apologized to Iraqis. President Bush was interviewed on two Arab satellite stations last night, saying the actions of the abusers "don't represent us." The military authorities announced they will halve the population of the prison and stop using bag to cover detainees' heads.

In the last couple of days, hundreds demonstrated in Mosul and nearly 100, in Ba'guba, against the new flag and in favor of the old. Last week, a thousand students at Mosul University rallied around the old flag, parading under a very long banner of the red-black-and-white. Iraqi Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi, who is expected to be president after the transfer of sovereignty, on June 30, said yesterday that the new flag was not Arab enough. Many have criticized the flag, for resembling Israel's. Today's papers report that the new flag's designer, architect Rif'at Chadirchi, was detained by the previous regime for being a Mason; denials accompany the reports.
Blog-mission, aborted

Yesterday, I created a second blog, for my personal/private stories, such as my dating and family/social encounters. I did that to keep this blog of interest to those looking for "news" from Iraq. Well, I can't do it -- not now, not yet. I still feel that I can post everything that comes my way, and although I might not be able to tie baseball into the broader Iraqi picture, I'll still try to do that with other things. And if you come across a topic not of interest to you, just skip to the next item or next paragraph. So, I'm bringing the other room back into this house. The one-day experiment is aborted.
I saw a ghost last night, a real-life ghost

Twenty-three years ago, my cousin fled to Iran. As soon as he heard he was wanted for questioning, he went into hiding. He was wanted because he was sighted in a car that passed by the scene of the shooting of a top Ba'thi official. He knew that could only mean trouble. Meanwhile, his mother, my aunt, was taken in for questioning, and during her couple days in detention, was given a yogurt drink. Within two weeks, she withered and died. Some of her hair was smuggled out of the country, sent to my parents in Cleveland, who then sent it to an Amnesty International lab in Philadelphia. The lab tested her hair for thallium poisoning, making it the first documented case of "rat poison" on a human. They determined she was given enough "rat poison" to kill an elephant. The hair was so toxic, it ripped through plastic bags and other containers, and was, a few years ago, thrown away.

When my cousin and his wife left Iraq, they left behind a year-old boy. My cousin's been in Iran since then, imprisoned and enslaved by a destructive cult, masquerading as researchers in medieval Islamic medicine. The boy in Iraq was first raised by an aunt, but government threats against her daughter forced her to send him to other relatives. The other relatives kept him out of school, fearing contact with the authorities. He grew up without an ID, an essential for practically all public activity in Iraq, including schooling, employment, food rations, utilities, travel and all dealings with the government. Public transportation and pedestrians, especially young men, are frequently stopped and searched for IDs, especially as relates to military service. If you're stopped without an ID, at the least, you're "thrown below," as Iraqis put it -- into a cell -- for an undetermined period, while your family searches for you.

When relatives secreted my cousin's boy out of the house, he was concealed under women's cloaks. Other relatives were warned against seeing him. They nevertheless did manage meetings, and he made it to school, eventually becoming a doctor, taking after his father (who was ranked top medical student in the country), and his father's father, who was one of Iraq's most beloved pediatricians, before his life ended in a car accident in 1969. The boy was named Salman, after his late grandfather. Relatives were also able to sneak Salman out of the country, and he completed medical school in Syria. After completing his studies, he returned to Iraq, last August.

Last night, there he was, before my eyes -- the embodiment of a spectre from a legend in the family cellar. He's a lovely young man, doing his rounds at a nearby hospital, the same hospital my father worked in, just before he clandestinely left the country, in 1970. Salman's working in the hospital's burns unit, which is pretty gruelling. We didn't have much of a chance to talk, while at an aunt's home, but from what I saw and heard -- he was cheerful and thoughtful -- I look forward to getting to know him better.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The pull-and-tug of communitarianism, and law-and-freedom

It's been another quiet day in Lake Wobegon. I don't want to jinx this, certainly.

One aspect that's troubling people about the deployment in Falluja of Fallujan soldiers, is that you could get people from Arbil saying, only locals can patrol the streets there -- or only Kurds. Likewise, people from Najaf might say only Najafis, or only southerners or only Shi'as. It's a first step to dividing the country, balkanizing it. There has to be an integration of the country's various communities into a unified army, police force, etc.

At the same time, though, this reaction of people is also very understandable. The previous regime, through fear and terror, shattered nearly all social links that bound people together, save for the bonds of family, clan and tribe. In response, people instinctively fell further back onto those primordial links, to assure their safety. This process, will take time -- for people to, once again, regain a sense of national identity, an attachment to the country as a whole, rather than only to their insular, narrow tribal ties.

Last night, my uncle described a similar process of pull-and-tug taking place, as we -- he, his wife and I -- went out for a bite. We stopped at a shop on a nearby main street, got some falafil sandwiches and bottles of soda. Across the street, a pair of police cars arrived, to drag some young guys out of their car. I couldn't tell, exactly, what the cause of the confronatation was -- it took place in front of a large chumber (one of those makeshift kiosks I described 10 days ago (April 25)) -- but my uncle -- in response to that incident, and other passing encounters we've had with the police -- said that, now, people wanted the police to crack down on crime and criminals. In the first few months after the fall of Saddam, he said, people wanted to be free to do, pretty much, as they pleased, without another oppressive force keeping them under locks -- immediately after the strangulating boot had been lifted from their necks after decades. Now that people may have had their fill of complete autonomy -- I resist saying "anarchy" -- and consequent disorganization, lawlessness -- I resist saying "chaos" -- they want the police to begin to exercise their power and impose some order. They've also grown sympathetic to the police, seeing them trying to do their job, yet getting ignored and abused in the process.
Abu Ghraib developments

A news article on the prisoner-abuse issue, and actions taken by the Defense Department.
Some perspective, on Abu Ghraib; think of all the dead

An e-mail from a friend in Cleveland:
Date: 5/5/2004 12:00:24 AM Eastern Daylight Time

One thing that distresses me terribly about the media is the lack of perspective that oftentimes is put on events. Ayad, give me some numbers: how many Iraqi prisoners were abused by Americans? How many Iraqis did Saddam torture and kill? I heard a figure that a million- 1,000,000 people- the equivalent to everyone in a fairly large city- died for nothing in the Iran-Iraq war.

Fortunately, Saddam did not have much opportunity to abuse American prisoners during the brief war, however, there was plenty of opportunity to abuse Kuwaitis, Kurds and Shias, not to mention Persians. So, what are we talking about? 75 prisoners who were abused by Americans? 100? And those involved will be punished. And our top leadership is offended by this behavior and vows it will not happen again. But come on, correct me if I'm wrong, but telling a guy to masturbate or whatever is not the equivalent of cutting off peoples ears randomly, or killing them with poison gas or throwing people down wells.

Get some damn perspective!

My response:
Date: 5/5/2004 5:44:43 AM Eastern Daylight Time

I totally agree with you, David. I think what this is about, is people demanding perfection, and, when we fall short, they say, ahah!, we knew it, we told you -- it's true, you see -- you are bad, you are terrible, you are evil -- which is what we've been saying about you, all along. It's really nothing more than a scapegoating, a blaming-America, a wish to find fault, and, as you know, if you're looking for fault, you'll find it -- in this world.

As to your questions -- you know, I've been thinking about something for years -- trying to settle on a number -- which is -- how many people were executed each day -- on the average day in Iraq. For years, I thought it was a 100 people a day. Then, when the prisons were opened up, in October 2002, and after Saddam's ouster, and the stories that started pouring out -- about the prisons, and executions, I revised my estimate, to about 200 a day. Although, even that looks like a conservative estimate. Of course, these are all arbitrary executions, by our standards. I mean, they go through the motions of a court procedure -- sometimes -- with legal charges against the person -- but there's not the slightest resemblance to a fair trial, let alone proper charges, legitimate charges, or any recourse to defense, appeal, rules of evidence, etc. -- the pour soul doesn't have a chance. These, basically, were people executed for political reasons.

That figure, that I arrived at, is an estimate, and one of the things I'd like to do, while I'm here, is to gather more statistics, as far as the number of prisons, the number of days they executed people in each prison, and the number per execution session -- to arrive at a better, more substantive estimate, a figure we can say, with some reliability -- as far as we can manage -- is the number of prisoners -- innocent people -- that Saddam executed on an average day. The way I figured it, was they had anywhere from one to four days of executions per week at each prison -- this according to other prisoners, and former guards. The execution sessions, depending on the prison, took the lives of four to 40 prisoners, at each session. Of course, this is not gonna get me a scientifically accurate figure -- and I can hear the humane voices out there, moaning at my...empiricism -- handling with numbers -- a matter of human life. For example, Abu Ghraib prison, according to some, had only one day a week of executions -- you know, these were clean-up operations, to make room for more pirsoners -- in which they brought out 40 people at a time. Then, within each of the 18 provinces, you had at least six kinds of prisons -- for Istikhbarat il-Askariyya (military intelligence), mukhabarat (intelligence -- basically, terrorism), Amn il-Aam (General Security service), Amn il-KhaaS (Special Security service) -- the latter two are the secret police -- lightweight and heavy duty; then you've got the police and the army. They all had their own prisons. There was also, within the army, something called IndhibaT, to search all over, for army deserters or any gaps in your service, etc. In addition, there were random prisons, unaffiliated with any state institution, permanent organ of state security, such as Saddam's son Uday's prison in the Olympics headquarters. Each of these executed people -- at whim, or in an organized, scheduled way.

Before Saddam's ouster, I basically multiplied 18, the number of provinces, by five, a ballpark figure of the number executed in each province per day -- which yielded 90 a day across Iraq. Since his ouster, and learning more about the number of prisons, it looks like that was a very low figure. Now, I've got some more numbers to work with -- I was gonna say, "more numbers to play with." We've got the.... Oh, it's just too morbid, and I've gone on long enough. I'll take a break from it, and pick it up, some other time, as I gather more figures, etc.

A colleague just suggested another approach to estimating the number killed in the course of Saddam's presidency. After he and I multiplied 100 prisoners killed per day by 365 days and 24 years of Saddam's presidency, we came up with 876,000, which seemed pretty low to us -- very easy (for him to do). He took another tack at the figure. When Saddam came to power -- that is, took over the presidency, in 1979 -- that's on top of controlling internal security since 1969, when he assumed the vice presidency -- in 1979, the population of Iraq was 17 or 18 million. We thought that by normal population growth, the number of Iraqis today should have doubled, giving us 34-36 million. The population is, according to estimates, 25 million -- no proper census since 1970. That's a 10-million-soul gap, as my friend here put it.

Then you've got the non-routine killings -- not the institutional variety, in prisons, but in the field.

I told the story before, about the suppression of the March '91 uprisings. Again, we don't have accurate figures -- most times, people say that thousands, or tens of thousands were killed in the crushing of those rebellions. We have the word of a regime official, relayed by an Iraqi Kurdish politician, a physician, in fact, who was with my father in medical school. He's probably my favorite Iraqi politician. His name is Mahmoud Othman, and he was one of the Kurds negotiating with the Iraqi government in April 1991. The uprisings had been crushed, and the cities of Kurdistan were virtually emptied -- an exodus of Biblical proportions -- nearly three and a half million people, the largest movement of refugees since World War II. These people were in the mountains, freezing to death. I arrived in May, to the Turkey-Iraq border, and saw, daily, families burying their dead. Before then, in the peak of the cold, and before international assistance arrived, estimates were, that 1000 people were dying a day in the mountains on the borders of Iraq with Turkey and Iran. So, the Kurds had to find a solution to their plight. This was, you'll recall, before the save haven in northern Iraq was created. They, in turn, were created, because of the images that reached our TV screens, which put pressure on the governments, first of France and Britain (Mitterand and Major), and then the Bush administration. You might remember Secretary of State Baker, helicoptered in, for eight or nine minutes, to a point in the mountains. You might remember, too, the food, tents and blankets being dropped down on people, some, crushing people to death. So, the Kurds went down to Baghdad, to negotiate with Saddam. Their people couldn't go on like this. In those negotiations, one of Saddam's officials told the Kurds, "It's a good things you guys fled, coz we would've done to you what we did in the South, and we killed 300,000 people in the South." Now, this might've been bluster on their part -- we've yet to determine. But they did some unspeakable things in the South, tying people to their tanks, with the words "La Shi'a ba'd al-yawm" (No Shi'as after today); smashing babies against walls and tossing them over walls; gang-raping daughters in front of their fathers.

In 1988, we had the Anfal campaign, whose purpose was to empty the Kurdish countryside and northern and northeastern border regions. You can read a lot more about this campaign, but it contained four phases -- of emptying villages, separating men from their families, first killing the men, and then killing the women, elderly and children, too -- by emptying trucks of 100 people each, into holes, quite likely on the Saudi-Iraqi border, then spraying them with gunfire. Estimates for that nine-month campaign -- which, by the way, is named after a verse in the Qur'an, a campaign that was publicly hailed, meaning religiously kosher booty (from your enemy in war, including their womenfolk) -- estimates from that campaign range from 80,000 and 182,000 killed, and hundreds of thousands displaced, cordoned off in concrete garrisons. The campaign was aborted, it ought to be recalled, because George Shultz, as secretary of state in 1988, denounced the use of chemical weapons.

As for chemical weapons, most people know about Halabcha, which used to be a decent-sized town, of some 100,000 people -- I guess the size of Youngstown. That was over the course of three days, March 16-18, 1988. They began using them in the spring of 1987 and practiced with them in more than 50 towns and villages. I say "practice," because military doctors were sent into the places bombed, to chart the deaths, the physical damage, to determine the potency of each element used in the cocktail of poisons and chemicals.

You brought up the Iran-Iraq war. There, estimates range from 600,000 to two million killed in that war -- which, we mustn't forget, Saddam started. And the economic and other-physical toll is, I imagine, inestimable -- in terms of lost limbs, shattered lives, towns and cities destroyed, birth defects, cancers, leukemia, damage to soil and water, which are still occurring and will continue to occur -- all of which, the anti-Americans blame on the use of depleted uranium -- I'm talking about, in Iraq.

And I haven't touched on the "abuse," torture that went on, day in, day out -- the use of drills on people's bodies, the rape rooms and trailers, the branding irons, the electric rods, etc., the cutting-off of tongues, the crushing of babies' feet, you-name-it.

Well, I think you get the picture -- I'm sure you already did -- I kept on writing, David, not for your sake, bur for the sake of other readers, of the blog.

All right -- see you.
On seeing David's e-mail here, I cringed, again, as I do, any time I think of what they've done to some of the American soldiers, and others, they've gotten their hands on.
Keep the personal, personal

On the urging of friends, I've started a second blog, for my personal and social stories, as distinct from public news events. I'm told that this would make this blog more professional and, thus, more presentable to news people. I haven't, thus far, made any effort to separate public events -- news, political developments -- from my personal comings and goings. Instead, I've put everything together -- "news," impressions, thoughts, family stories, personal life -- trying, when possible, to use my personal experiences and dialy-life encounters to make broader social points and observations about Iraqi life and history. If I've failed, dear reader, my apologies. In the meantime, I'll try this bifurcated approach, with links (hyperlinks) from one blog to the other -- if, that is, I'm able, know how, to do that. I do this, with much reluctance and great tentativeness, as my inclination is to write-away -- everything -- and let the chips fall where they may -- to integrate all parts of me -- my thoughts, my observations, life, personal experiences and encounters, along with the "news of the day," all with whatever thoughts, analyses and reactions I gather and coalesce, blend together. We'll see how it goes.

Once the second blog is ready, presentable enough, I'll let you know its location -- I'll let you into that room, too -- that private room.
Let me remind you why I'm here

Having been reproached for not “covering,” or examining, the events in Falluja, or other “news” from Iraq -- in particular, American transgressions -- maybe this is a good time to remind my listening audience of my desires before I made this trip.

Ten days before I left Ameriky (that’s my affected East European accent), I wrote, in this space, the following:

As to my plans, intentions, for my trip, what follows, is mostly my letter to the people I've dealt with at the Wall Street Journal.

I plan to spend at least a month or two in Iraq, during which I'll explore, among other things:

-- the first anniversary of the liberation of Iraq, asking people for a longer view of their country -- one year on, and into the future;

-- people's attitudes towards America (any gratitude), Israel (see if there is any receptivity), Jews, Palestinians and Arabs (no love lost, there), France, Iraqi exiles -- hopefully, with more frankness than is offered to "outsiders";

-- their conceptions of democracy, what democracy means (I'd like to tease things out, a bit); participation in civic life, taking initiative, making decisions, blaming others; expectations (of America, of "leaders," who are supposed to do everything for the populace); expressing thoughts and ideas; whether they see this as their opportunity to build their country, fight for their country; the grip of fear and its internalization, how that works on the human level; conspiracy theories and how the country operated on rumors -- see if any changes have begun to take effect;

-- the upcoming trial of Saddam, and how Iraqis are dealing with their past, or not (are victims beginning to tell their stories?);

-- political alignments -- across ethnic and sectarian groups, across the political spectrum -- where things are falling out;

-- living through interminable wars, conscripted into the army for decades, the Iran-Iraq war;

-- a survey of the media, its news content and leanings. I know a number of journalists and editors;

-- the intellectual scene and universities, including the recent arrival in America of 25 Fullbrighters -- what they've been through, what they're confronted with, what they're doing, producing, and currents they're passing through;

-- the arts, literature, filmmaking, popular culture, including a boy band, and theater. Years ago in London, I met a member of the underground Brecht school, which was able to operate, clandestinely, and sometimes get things past the censors in Saddam times; I'll look for them;

-- I'll revisit the orchestra, and this time, write about them, and their music and ballet school, too, which is supposed to be the only one of its kind (K-12) in the Middle East. I've been corresponding with the orchestra's principal flutist, who's also an embryologist and is trying to start an in-vitro fertilization center at the medical school in Baghdad -- he spent a year at the Cleveland Clinic, several years ago;

-- young people, dating, hopes and dreams -- under Saddam and now. I expect that I, as a Westerner, will be asked by my cousins, and others, about sex -- by way of curiousity and repulsiveness, condemnation, that sort of thing;

-- subcultures such as gays (renowned in the Arab world), prostitutes (long, the subject of poetry and lore), Yazidis, Mandeans, silversmiths, the centuries-old coppersmith market, what's left of the nearly 3000-year-old Jewish community and what they've faced, seminaries, drugs, dervishes/Sufis, religious magicians, gypsies;

-- I'd also like to track down some people who've trekked around the world -- as refugees, and...returned to Iraq;

-- and that person who dug a hole under his mother's kitchen, and lived there for 21+ years, to escape Saddam.

In addition, I've got a lot of contacts I'll be able to tap into:

-- I know several members of the Governing Council, and a number of their aides;

-- many relatives and acquaintances have returned to Iraq to start businesses, get involved in reconstruction projects, including electronics, telecommunications, electricity, media. Some relatives are opening a private bank. A friend was opening a law firm, and his business partner is an Israeli American. Several friends are opening and managing hotels, for pilgrims;

-- the cousin I'm to stay with, was a top scientist in the nuclear commission, so I expect to hear details about WMDs and the nuclear program; he also revived baseball on a minor scale after the Kuwait war, a leftover from the days of the American Jesuit schools, closed by the Ba'ath Party in '69;

-- a friend, an Iraqi American engineer from California, is a leader in the effort to restore the Mesopotamian marshes -- a large wetlands, half the size of Massachusetts, drained by Saddam in the 1990s. It was home to 500,000 people who lived a watery existence, mostly unchanged since the time of the Sumerians. The friend also is trying to produce potable water from flared gas energy;

-- a good friend is involved in law-school reform;

-- my best friend from elementary school in Baghdad is deputy minister of culture. She and several other women I know, are active in women's groups and issues. I intend to explore their activities, fears, hopes, travails;

-- two relatives treated Saddam, until their sister was poisoned to death -- although the regime frequently called on them, in times of need. They've got some intimate stories;

-- a good friend, author Kanan Makiya (Republic of Fear; Cruelty and Silence; among others), with whom I worked for six years, is director of the Iraq Memory Foundation, whose prospective holocaust museum would comprise the archives of government documents and oral histories.

All right -- that's a glimpse of what I'll be looking into -- what I'd like to look into -- and I'm always open to other ideas, and...the possibilities.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Odyssey for a bite, second life

From Alaaddin, in Holland:
Subj: Getting married again!
Date: 5/4/2004 5:31:53 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

Dear Ayad:
As you may know, I am not a fan of al-Jazeera Channel but I do like some of its non-news program such as "A Special Visit". In this episode (transcripts in Arabic are on this website, take a look just to see a picture of the hapless man), a ninety-year-old Lebanese man recounts his story. As a young man in Morocco, he escapes poverty and his father's abuse by joining the French army during World War II. While taking part in the North African battles, he was captured by the Germans and transferred to Italy. He then escapes from captivity in Italy and lives in the mountains for a year before rejoining the French army in France proper. He then loses his leg during a battle in the Alsace. After the war he works as a cab driver in some poor African countries before returning to Lebanon where he now lives. He has 9 children and more than 24 grandchildren. At the end of the program, he was asked what was his wish now after having such an adventurous life. He replied with a big laughter "I wish to marry [again]".

This past weekend, a colleague and his wife came to see us. The colleague, actually the former associate dean, has just taken early retirement and almost simultaneously became for the first time a granddaddy. In this context, I told him of the story of this old Lebanese man and his desire to marry again. The colleague replied, "this means he must have enjoyed his first marriage."

P.S. This message has no relation to your Iraqi "dating game" nor its eventual outcome!

* * *

Date: 5/4/2004 11:10:37 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hello, Alaa,

That's an amazing story. You know, it reminds me of something I'd like to do here, of a similar nature -- to find a person or two, or more, who've traveled around the world, as refugees, and, now, are back here. If you hear about anybody, with such an odyssey, a special Iraqi odyssey, please pass it along.
Over lunch today and yesterday, members of the Iraq Foundation’s scientific team dealing with the Marshes have been sharing their experiences from their 6-day expedition, which ended two days ago. One of the complicating developments, from Saddam’s drying of the Marshes in the '90s, is that a new breed of people have stepped in, to occupy and utilize the dried lands -- previously, wetlands. In place of fishing, water buffaloes and bird-hunting, the new dwellers are growing wheat and barley. The scientists, when they make their forays into the marsh regions, have not told the farmers the end-goal of their work, telling them they are only gathering information, which is true. They leave further queries to the representatives of the water resources and environment ministries who join the scientists on their expeditions. They, in turn, offer clean water and health and educational services. The farmers deploy members of their tribes to guard against encroachers, and anybody threatening their newly adopted way of life. This will be another of the many disputes -- political and property -- that the new Iraqi government will have to settle.
On a personal note -- with regard to a news item -- today's Taakhi newspaper, the organ of the Kurdish Democratic Party, of Masoud Barazani, related that the Arabiyya satellite station reported the kidnapping of Maysoon Damaluji, the deputy minister of culture, but more imporantly, my best friend from elementary school. I told my officemates the news, and when Dr. Moumin returned from her law school class, she called Maysoon, who answered the phone, and refuted the news item. It was a mix-up, on the part of the television station. Another deputy culture minister, along with his guards, was kidnapped three days before, and later released. Damaluji, an architect who returned to Iraq after 20 years in England, has been one of the most prominent women in the new Iraqi government.
My uncle told me this morning, about going out to lunch with Layla, "You know, Layla's an honorable girl, she's from an honorable family. She can't go out with you -- it's not like America -- especially since she's a divorced woman. Then people will say she can do anything." I reminded him, that the invitation was his idea. This adds fuel to my conception that marrying within the tribe entails a duty to protect and honor the woman, that you've been entrusted with her proper upkeep -- that she is, a fragile, delicate object of veneration that must be treated with the utmost respect and delicacy.
The photo in yesterday's Al-Mu'tamar showing the skeleton of a giant in southwestern Saudi Arabia, was not on the back page of Al-Mu'tamar, but on page eight -- for those of you who picked up a copy and searched in vain for the picture.
The latest:

The Fallujan former Republican Guard brigadier general in charge of Iraqi troops in Falluja has been superseded by another brigadier general, who was imprisoned by Saddam. He's one of eight former imprisoned officers who've been returned to military service, and put in positions of responsibility over Iraqi troops around the country. This is a process likely to be replicated, as the vetting of 1100 former army officers continues, seeking to weed out those who led operations in which gross violations of human rights were committed. The new general in Falluja, Muhammad Abdul-Lateef, was the only one named, and he's been put above the Republican Guard general there, Muhammad Jasim SaliH Muhammadi, who was greeted by Fallujans with a hero's welcome on his entry into the city. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zeybari stated that the Governing Council asked the Coalition Provisional Authority not to appoint Muhammadi as commander of the troops in Falluja, because he'd taken part in suppressing the March 1991 uprisings.

In the meantime, Australia has sent a team to train members of the new Iraqi army, while training programs for Iraqi diplomats are being conducted by Turkey and Egypt.

I was taken to task a couple of days ago by a close friend for not reading a pair of lengthy reports she sent me about American transgressions in Iraq, and for not investigating those in Falluja. I wish I had the time to read everything -- not to mention enough of other people's time to post everything -- but the reports were way too long -- I only get to new personal correspondence, and then, try to catch up on old news -- that's my modus operandi. Nor can I vouch for the accuracy of the accounts. What this gets down to, though, is whether I will turn this blog into a diatribe of anti-Americanism, which is what a lot of the "reports" and critiques are really about -- a venting of anger and resentment (at America), and a search for purity and perfection -- or, rather, a search for a flaw or an imperfection (in America), to prove that America is not perfect, or is acting improperly or in bad faith/with bad intentions.

To the second report, I responded:
Date: 4/29/2004 6:30:14 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, T,

I can't read this one, either -- way too long. But from the title of the "list" -- DU -- it's not only an America-bashing group/organ, but it's wrong, too. We can go into the whole depleted-uranium business, but, I'll keep it short. The latency period for cancer is four years, and Iraq began reporting increased cancer rates and birth defects in 1992. The same occurrences and increased rates -- birth defects, leukemia and cancers -- appeared in Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran, which had nothing to do with the Kuwait war. These were all results of Saddam's use of chemicals in Iran, southern Iraq, especially Basra, and Kurdistan. This is all just part of America-bashing.

As for Falluja, I'm not a military strategist -- I'll leave that to military strategists. But I'm certainly not sympathetic to the people doing what they're doing in Falluja -- they're mostly Saddam leftovers, joined by Saudis, Syrians, Yemenis and other fellow-travelers -- basically, people intent on destruction -- anything they can do to disrupt building, progress, etc. They've got no widespread support -- anywhere. They offer nothing but destruction, murder and mayhem.
I will quote parts of my friend's letters, summarizing one of the reports, and describing her position vis a vis other Britons.
Date: 5/2/2004 3:32:08 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Teresa"

Hi Ayad
I'm very disappointed that you can't find time to read at least one of these reports. The one I would most like you to read is the first one, the one on Falluja. Please put aside (as I did) your views about the organisation Jo...may be attached to. The point is, she describes from her own first hand experience, trying to evacuate wounded adults and children in an ambulance which is being fired on repeatedly by US personnel. It is utterly shocking. I was very distressed when I read it, because I had hoped that the US army would not behave like that. What she says was confirmed for me in a piece in The Guardian last Thursday by a freelance journalist. He was in Falluja where the US have closed access to the only hospital and, because the child would have died otherwise, he personally evacuated a four year old boy who due to a wound in the groin had already had a leg amputated. When they got to hospital in Baghdad he had to have one arm amputated. It may be that a number of people in Falluja supported Saddam. That does not warrant the indiscriminate use of force by US snipers on rooftops shooting at anyone who appears on the streets. A number of the wounded, according to Jo and the press here, were simply standing at the gates of their houses when they were shot by snipers. A sniper on a rooftop can no doubt tell if their target is a woman, a teenage boy, a child, an old woman. You are an American, ostensibly in Iraq to find out what's going on, or 'peel the onion' as you put it. You are also a humane person. Surely you can spare a few minutes to read Jo's report. If you find it hard to believe, perhaps you could try to talk to some of the other foreigners in Baghdad who have been into Falluja. This is an extremely important issue. People in England who think like me (and we are few and far between, I can assure you), ie who did not go on anti-war marches because we felt Iraq needed to be rid of Saddam and that the whole issue was more complicated than the anti-war movement would accept, are now having very serious doubts about what the Americans are doing. I am seriously considering going on the next anti-war march, because of the disgusting tactics the Americans appear to be using. You may try to tell me that I should ignore reports like Jo's because of her anti-war credentials, but where else am I to get information from? And what she says is supported by a number of well-respected journalists. Since you are in Iraq, could you not spare the time (twenty minutes is all it will take) to read Jo's report? You may then of course want to go and ask people who have been to Falluja what they say about her description of events.
My response:
Date: 5/2/2004 7:44:14 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, T,
Thanks for filling me in.... I'll keep what you said, in mind, and ask around. I hear things, here and there -- about Falluja, about other things going on, around the country. I'm always open, but not to knee-jerk anti-Americanism, which is what a lot of this is -- trying to find fault in America, what America is doing, what Americans do -- which, if you do -- if that's what you're looking for, and only that -- you will (find it).
Part of Teresa's response:
Date: 5/2/2004 5:07:02 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi ayad

When I read
[your blog] I do so firstly because I want to know you're safe, and secondly because I desperately want some accurate, 'inside' information about what is really happening in Iraq. The news we read here is extremely distressing. We are told that many people are dying or being injured every day, Iraqis, Americans and some British. I would like to hear more about that, and your take on it. In the present circumstances, and by comparison, dating rates as trivia. Many people in the UK are very upset about the news we hear from Iraq. We feel we have blood on our hands. We are hungry for accurate information. Of course, as you are leading a very restricted life there you may not be in the best position to provide that - but you could at least tell us what Iraqis you meet - and you - think about the suffering that is going on.
* * *

I've heard about at least two relatives in America who will not come to Iraq, while America's in charge. One of them just flew to Jordan, to bring his mother, from Iraq, back to America, but would not continue the trip, to see his native land.

The photos of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners are getting some play here. Some people react with outrage and feelings of humiliation, saying, where are the human rights promised by America, and demanding retribution. Others have questioned the veracity of the pictures, suspecting they might be doctored. Some say that, for all we know, the Iraqis being maltreated might have been the torturers, rapists and executioners employed by Saddam, and...who cares -- they deserve every abuse coming to them. In the same vein, some say, where was the outrage when Saddam was killing people en masse, and using the most obscene forms of torture imaginable. As one Iraqi group's press release put it:
[W]hy those Arab politicians are not questioning their own Kings, Sultans, Sheikhs, Emperors and Presidents about the well-being of prisoners in their own countries....

Coincidentally, those same politicians were very quiet when more outrageous torture took place in that same Abu Ghraib pirson 14 months ago and beyond. As a matter of fact, the entire country of Iraq was one big torture-filled prison, which for some reason, escaped the minds of those politicians. It was not a few snapshots that showed torture in Iraq during Saddam's regime, but lengthy videos showing thousands of Halabchans suffocated on the streets and hour long documentaries showing how the 1991 uprising was brutally crushed. None of those horrific footage mattered to the Arab League and their spokesmen such as Amru Mousa and Lakhdhar Brahimi. Their silence during those days was deafening.

In case the last two paragraphs were not clear enough to the politicians in Iraq's neighboring countries. We, Iraqis know what we want. We seek nothing less than freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law and we know how we will achieve it. Your help in this matter is simply not appreciated. Please back-off!
A top American general is reportedly preparing to dismiss seven officers charged with abusing Iraqis detained in Abu Ghraib prison.

Monday, May 03, 2004

As I was searching, in vain, for Al-Mu'tamar's web-site, I came across a wonderful article in Slate about poet Fawzi Karim and the role of intellectuals in totalitarian regimes -- their responsibility in contributing to their making, and in the period after their fall. The essay is by old friend Elena Lappin, for whom I did a long piece 10 years ago on Iraqi Jewry, when she edited the London-based magazine Jewish Quarterly.
Now for something completely different -- I mean, completely different. Talk in the office today is of a picture that appears on the back page of Al-Mu'tamar, the newspaper of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmad Chalabi's group. The picture shows an archeologist standing beside a skeleton, the man, barely the size of the skull. This, according to the caption, confirms the story in the Qur'an of the giants who lived in Al-Rub' il-Khaali (The Empty Quarter), in southwestern Saudi Arabia, thousands of years ago.
We return, now, to the dating game.

I talked "process" with Layla. My uncle and aunt had said that if I asked her about marriage, then I've pretty much committed myself. So, I asked Layla about that, about opening that door, and, what happens if it's opened. She didn't respond. I told her that my uncle thought of inviting her for lunch the other day -- along with her father and son -- but said, the next day, that inviting her would mean I had decided to propose marriage. So, he/we decided not to do it -- not yet -- too early. Crazy game, we're playing -- but it's not a game.

It was so tricky for me, talking with Layla -- I felt awkward, like I was walking on eggshells. She said I could ask anything. I told her that the end goal, the goal-line, was marriage, and that I'd try to be frank. I told her I had two issues, which might be silly. I started with my first issue -- alcohol -- that I'd like to have wine when we go out to dinner, and celebrate anniversaries and New Year's with champagne. She said a Christian friend had invited her to drink wine at church, and she didn't like it. So, it's not for religious reasons, Layla said, that she doesn't drink wine, but that she didn't like it -- that one time. I asked Layla, in the past, if she's a Believer, and she said she was. I told her, today, that another person being religious was none of my business. I later told her, I didn't want to press the issue of drinking (by going into the hundreds, thousands of wines), or any other issue, for that matter, and we agreed that we'd have to take each other, as is -- no hopes, wishes or expectations for the other to change.

It felt like a job interview. In fact, she first asked me what I'd done in my life, then, for the toughest situation I've faced. I've lived a pretty pampered life, save a car accident that almost took my sister's life, but I couldn't come up with anything, and I told her how it felt, to be asked such questions. She, on the other hand, has probably faced a million such tests. That might be a barometer for her. She also asked me what I did when I got angry.

I hinted at my other issue. After complimenting her kindness, I said that I wanted some naughtiness, too. She asked for elaboration. I couldn't. She said I could say whatever I was comfortable saying to her. I wasn't comfortable saying anything to her about that. She suggested we leave it for another day. I asked her if we could go out to lunch sometime. She said it would be difficult, because the repeated outings could damage her reputation. She then invited me to coffee at her home -- where she, her father and son live. In the meantime, we've started communicating by e-mail, opening up some side-windows.

Which brings me back to something I wrote about yesterday -- how this dating, within the tribe, feels like "kissing your sister," which isn't far afield from the tradition of marrying your first cousin. I realized, after my post from yesterday, another step in this insurance policy that families take out in such a match. I was reminded of what my aunt said about Layla: "We know her." When I pressed her, she said that she, and other members of her family, knew Layla's mother's and father's families -- that they were good people, and that she (Layla), therefore, was of good stock. In the case of first cousins marrying, if there's trouble in the marriage, you don't have to go very far to mend fences between the husband's and wife's families -- for they might be one in the same family. To rephrase what my aunt said, not only do you know the different sides of the family, at least a couple of the sides are the same family.

Now, some sound advice for my heart:
Date: 5/2/2004 6:02:09 PM Eastern Daylight Time

"I offered to pay. He then said, if we invite them, that means you're going to propose. We can't invite them, if you're not going to go through with it."

Once again it seems that your uncle is trying to explain the rules of the culture you have only just begun to immerse yourself in. To make things even more complicated, that culture is probably on the verge of a huge metamorphosis.
I sense that you have reservations about things going this fast. I think that you should. You are in the driver's seat right now. There's nothing wrong with using the brake pedal, no matter what anybody else wants:-) Take your time. You know that's the best way to develop lasting relationships. Don't let anybody do something that could cause you to do something you may regret later. Go with your gut on this, and you'll choose correctly 90% of the time. Go against it, and there`s a 90% chance that you'll regret it. Whatever though. . . . . . .it's your call in the end.

Good luck,
An e-mail from my friend Sandy in Cleveland:
Subj: FW: Cpl. Jason L. Dunham
Date: 5/2/2004 1:47:36 PM Eastern Daylight Time

How long will this go on, Ayad?

From a friend of mine:
-----Original Message-----
Sent: Sunday, May 02, 2004 1:32 PM
Subject: Cpl. Jason L. Dunham

Folks, this from my neighbor-friend's daughter Peggy in CA, whose husband, Fran, is currently in that Fallujah area flying Marine choppers. Your continued prayers for him and all of our people in harm's way, for their safe, speedy and healthy return home are absolutely appreciated. (65 addressees)


A story from the front lines in Iraq. Feel free to pass along. . .

The Sgt. Major Bell in the article was the Sgt. Major of Fran's last active duty squadron, HMM268.

Marines & Sailors,
Please take a few moments to read.
SSgt Simone

-----Original Message-----
From: Perdue SSgt Donna C Sent: Saturday, May 01, 2004 3:20 PM
To: Simone SSgt Kimberly D Subject: Good Reading.....

CAMP AL QAIM, Iraq (April 29, 2004) -- Recruits at the Corps' two recruit training depots will know Cpl. Jason L. Dunham. They will know that the 22-year-old Marine lived up to the Corps' largest legends and laid down his own life to save those of his Marines.

Dunham, a machine gunner for Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment was memorialized by his battalion April 29th here. A crowd of more than 500 Marines, sailors and soldiers gathered under a dark and cloudy sky for a memorial service to pay their last respects to a brave hero.

Dunham, from Scio, N.Y., died from his wounds April 24. Ten days earlier, the Marine dove on top of a grenade, absorbing nearly all the blast with his own body to save his fellow Marines.

"His was a selfless act of courage to save his fellow Marines," said Sgt. Maj. Daniel A. Huff, sergeant major for 3rd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment. "This generation of Marines is as good as any generation we've ever had in the Corps."

Dunham was manning a vehicle checkpoint near Husaybah after a convoy was ambushed April 14. He observed a car pull up and a man jump from the vehicle, sprinting away. Dunham - in full combat gear - chased the man down, tackling him to the ground.

Other Marines came to assist in the apprehension when the terrorist pulled a pin from a hand grenade. Dunham dove onto the grenade, taking the blast into his own body, saving the lives of his Marines. Dunham suffered serious wounds, along with two other Marines. But were it not for his actions, all three might have died.

"He new what he was doing," said Lance Cpl. Jason A. Sanders, 21, from McAllester, Okla., and a mortar man with Company K. "He wanted to save Marines' lives from that grenade."

Another mortar man with the company, Lance Cpl. Mark E. Dean, 22, from Owasso, Okla., described Dunham as an unselfish Marine. Dunham's enlistment was to end in June, but he voluntarily extended his contract to join his Marines.

"We told him he was crazy for coming out here," Dean explained. "He decided to come out here and fight with us. All he wanted was to make sure his boys made it back home."

"The only way to honor him is in his own way," said Capt. Trent A. Gibson, commanding officer for Company K. "We must continue to do our duty, take care of our Marines, lead by example and take the fight to the enemy."

Dunham dreamed of joining the Los Angeles Police Department after his tour.

He was born Nov. 10, 1981 and joined the Marine Corps July 31, 2000. The Marine completed recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina. He joined 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in September 2003, serving with 4th Platoon as a machine gunner.

Huff said commanders with the battalion are still awaiting eyewitness statements from Marines before determining at what level they will recommend Dunham for a decoration.

"What Corporal Dunham did equates to what a lot of heroes of our past have done to earn the nation's highest honor," explained Sgt. Maj. Wayne R. Bell, 1st Marine Division's sergeant major. "If it were up to me, he'd be put in for the Medal of Honor. From bits and pieces of what I'm hearing, it very well could be.

"He'll be in the history books, like many of our Marines here," Bell added.

Dunham survived his wounds for ten days when his parents, Daniel K. Dunham and Natalie J. Sherwood made the decision to end life support for the Marine. According to Bell, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Michael W. Hagee and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. John L. Estrada were at Dunham's bedside with his parents at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland when he died.

"That in itself speaks volumes knowing that no matter who it is - general officer or a corporal - his act alone warrants a visit from the Commandant," Bell said. "I know that the Marines who are alive today, because of what Corporal Dunham did, will never forget that Marine as long as they live.

"Corporal Dunham is everybody's hero," Bell added. "He sacrificed his life so his Marines could continue the mission."

"God made something special when he made Jason," Dean said, "It was a privilege and honor to know him. It's sad he is gone but he is living it up in heaven and I'm happy for that."
My reply:
Date: 5/3/2004 4:32:16 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Sandy,

I don't know. My guess, and I guess you don't like to hear this, is that it will go on a long time. We're in a world war, and it will be a very long war. The war will have its ups and downs, will move to different places, at various times, but it will not end -- not for a long time -- a la the Cold War. These people, unlike the Communists of the Cold War, mean to destroy us -- no two ways about it.
Yesterday, I relayed Dr. Jamal Abaychi's account of the Iraq Foundation's latest scientific expedition to the Marshes of southern Iraq. The marshes were dried by Saddam in the nineties, in an effort to eliminate them as a refuge for rebels and to open the region for oil development. I wrote of the foundation's ongoing search for experts to work in the marshes. I failed to include a web-link for the foundation and a contact name. Those interested in participating in the foundation's work on the marshes, may contact the co-head of last week's expediton, Dr. Ali Douabul, a chemist, ecologist and water specialist, who, like Dr. Abaychi, studied in Liverpool. Dr. Douabul's e-mail address is: adouabul@hotmail.com.
Eleven Americans were killed yesterday, according to news reports this morning -- the bloodiest day in a long time. The killings occurred in various parts of the country. The day's papers report five and seven American soldiers killed -- in Baghdad and the southeastern city Amara.

Another American, Thomas Hamill, escaped his captors in Tikrit yesterday, according to today's papers. Hamill, from Mississippi, was working as a truck driver for Kellogg Brown and Root, when his convoy was ambushed by masked men on April 9, killing a number of American soldiers and civilians. According to General Mark Kimmett, deputy head of the U.S. military in Iraq, Hamill was able to get out of a building where he was held, a U.S. military patrol came upon him, and he showed them his ID. Kimmett said Hamill is ready to return to work.

The force of Iraqi soldiers that's in Falluja, is made up of 1000 Fallujans from the former Republican Guard. Some people say that former Republican Guard officers and soldiers should not be allowed back into the army -- that they were Saddam's elite protective force and perpetrated massive crimes against Iraqis. Others say that employing them in this way is a smart move, should be replicated elsewhere, and is a price worth paying, for settling the situation in Falluja.

In Najaf, some civilians have turned on Muqtada al-Sadir, the cleric who's called for immediate withdrawal of American troops and is wanted in the murders, last year, of cleric Abdul-Majeed al-Khoei and an aide. Many Najafis are upset at Sadir, for disrupting life in the tourism-dependent city. A group of citizens attacked and killed some of Sadir's followers, several days ago. The American army has cut off the main road between Najaf and Kufa, where Sadir's armed backers are mainly based.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

You knew it was going to happen. A couple of weeks ago, the guards here asked me what this internet was about -- they wanted to know if it's possible to find weapons there. So, a couple of times, I punched in "Russian weapons," "Czech guns" and "American weapons," and we looked at a few web-sites of gun dealers -- saw some pistols and machine guns. They liked those. Almost every day, they've asked me if I have time, to surf around the internet for them. In Arabic, they call it "paging" (nuSaffuH, the guys say). A few days ago, they asked for songs -- Arabic -- and pictures of one singer, Nancy Ajram. We managed to find some things, and I let them loose, on another computer. A day or two ago, as we looked for songs and movies, they asked if it's possible to meet people on the internet. So, we navigated to the chat rooms -- in Arabic -- they specified Lebanon -- but the guys didn't have e-mail addresses, so..."can't get there, from he'e." Today, they asked me to join 'em for lunch -- no cook, so they prepared something -- and asked me about life in America, settling in on the topic of...girls. Later, they wanted to see some...what-shall-I-call-them...beauties. In the web-site I was looking at, of the Kuwaiti Iraqi Society, there were some pictures of Halle Berry, Cameron Diaz (she looks anorexic -- yuck!) and Angelina Jolie. They wanted more revealing stuff. Where to go? Playboy. To make a long story, short, we spent some time there, linking around, to find "better stuff." I tried Hustler and Penthouse. As we got closer to their target, the three guys pulled their chairs closer. One of them wanted a way into the computer. Their appetite was pretty insatiable. They wanted action, moving pictures. I couldn't do it -- came close, but not the full cigar.

I've been here four weeks, and you can feel the stagnation, the dullness. I'm not bored stiff, but I can see how somebody can get deadly dull here -- and that's in less than a month. These poor people, have been living this way for decades. God help 'em.
A pair of good analytical articles. The first, "Rumsfeld’s War, Powell’s Occupation," by Barbara Lerner, analyzes the planners involved in post-Saddam Iraq. The second, "Too Few Troops," by Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, takes the military planners to task.
An addition to my top-ten list

You know you’ve been in the Arab world too long, when:

Seeing only men around in public places is nothing unusual.

This, after my time at internet cafes the last two nights.
From a press release issued by three members of the Iraqi Governing Council, regarding the use of Republican Guard troops in Fallluja:
....the return to service of Saddam's Republican Guard in Fallujah to the military and political arena is a military initiative of the American Marines and has nothing to do with the new Iraqi Army. We do not bear the responsibility.

We stand strongly against this move because it seriously threatens the security and future of Iraq. The command of the brigade and many of its members repressed the people in the uprising of March 1991 and supported Saddam's regime throughout his dictatorial rule.

Defense Minister Ali Allawi said, "The Fallujah Force is not part of the new Iraqi Army. There is no place in the new Iraqi Army for senior officers of Saddam's Republican Guards or those who have committed crimes against the Iraqi people."
The press release was issued, yesterday, by Ahmad Chalabi, Mohammed Bahrul-Ulum and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the latter, an alternate member of the council.
I just came across a very interesting, provocative and well-done web-site, called Al-Jeeran (The neighbors). It belongs to a group called The Kuwaiti Iraqi Society, which features a list of prominent individuals in its membership, most of them, Kuwaiti or Iraqi intellectuals. The lead article, today, by Abdul-Lateef al-Du'ayj, asks if America has really failed in Iraq, and resonds to the charges "the religious and nationalist Arabs" make against America and its motives. Along with the latest on Halle Berry, Madonna and Angelina Jolie, there's an article about Yemen's press attache in Paris, who attacks the veil, describing it "as a tent and against Islam, because it wipes out a woman's personality." They've also got poetry, art and some nice pictures from Kuwait and Iraq at the top of each page.

I found this site, via the one I received in the mail the other day, 9Neesan.com (April 9), which calls itself "a yellow pages of Iraqi sites."
A bit of an add-on, to my "dating"/marriage story:

When you marry in the tribe, it feels a bit like "kissing your sister." I suppose that's where the tradition of marrying your first cousin comes from -- that if you mistreat her, or, I suppose, either misteats the other, then the "family" -- which, in that case, would be as simple as brothers and sisters could easily intervene, to smooth things over -- keep the marriage going. Well, it feels like, even if you go beyond a first cousin, well beyond first cousin, even if you're not related, it's still..."kissing your sister." And, hence, the...how shall I say it...the sexual...obstacle(s)/hangups involved.
An e-mail from my friend Rania, in England:
Subj: news from my dad & more...
Date: 5/1/2004 5:08:14 PM Eastern Daylight Time

hey ayad,

i've just gotten off the phone with my dad and he's corrected me, he says: "akhbarich 'ateegah"
[your news is old] and apparently he's been reading your blog everyday and "huwaye mitwanis 'alahai" [he's enjoying it a lot] and wishes you all the best, hopes you stay safe, and is looking forward to seeing you again....he said that there's a saying that goes "hathak aswad ib kulshii, bas ebyath bil reagee" [your luck's black with everything, but white with watermelon] regarding your 'white' watermelon story today....

well, going back to the flag, i can see why they did it, for the the Olympics and everything..and yeah i see your point about not having any attachment to it yet, that's probably why i dont like it...but this is something my dad also mentioned, that if they were going to be truly inclusive then we should include everyone, turcomen, christians etc etc...im hoping for something more inspired in the design next time round, maybe a stripe of colour for all the communities, all looping together in the middle against a background of white, or something...

anyway...im studying both arabic and hindi now..even though arabic is tough im glad im doing it, im enjoying trying to talk in palestinian and egyptian dialects (our lecturers speak those dialects) all those missing 'g's and 'k's...! actually, as part of my degree i have to spend my third year abroad, half in india and half in an arabic-speaking country, which i want to be iraq, so by next summer ill hopefully be in iraq, and even more hopefully working with kanaan on the memory museum, that would be just amazing.

ok ill let you go now, take care, as always, and speak to you soon.

I was just briefed by one of the leaders of the latest expidition to the Marshes, Dr. Jamal Abaychi, an environmental chemist who studied in Liverpool. The team of 13 returned yesterday, after six days of scientific exploration, where they were joined by two officials from the environment and water resources ministries. They focused on two areas, Hor il-Karmashiyya (Karmashiyya Marsh, between Nasiriyya and Hor il-Hammar) and Abu Zurug (just east of Nasiriyya). He reported great progress -- in their work, and in life and many species of birds coming back. New tributaries are forming, including one river, 22 meters wide, whose waters were surging so rapidly, they had to tie a rope across the river to keep their boat from being carried downriver. This river evolved in a matter of a week or two. In one newly resurgent area, standing in the four-foot-deep water, they could see clearly to the bottom. Fish were abundant, but less than a foot long, and shrimp, too, of which Dr. Abaychi brought back a bagful, which his family enjoyed last night. On one body of water, one or both of the boats' propellors kept getting clogged by growth from the surface, so the operator got out and pushed it for a kilometer or two through the thick.

For anyone interested in working on the Marshes, they're looking for a few good chemists, biologists, toxologists, ecologists, fish biologists, and specialists in invertebrates, soil, water and other fields related to wetlands. At this time, because of safety concerns, they're taking only Iraqis to the Marshes, and they must speak good English. The next monthly expidition is planned for mid- to late-May.

The team of 13 stayed at a hotel in Nasiriyya, which, Dr. Abaychi related, was extremely safe and experiencing normal life, although the city was quite dirty and neglected, from the past tens of years. The city's handsome riverside was abandoned, such that a smith had set up shop on the corniche. The internet cafe attached to their hotel was very busy during the day, with children and people in ragged clothes and slippers looking at pictures and occupying chat rooms.
Streets are busy -- today's an off day -- Muhammad's birthday -- that's Islam's prophet. This is celebrated more by Sunnis than by Shi'a, which adds to the view by Sunnis that Shi'a practice saint-worship.
In other news -- I know, not as important as mine -- but it looks like the Falluja stand-off has eased. That brigadier general who led the Iraqi troops into Falluja, Jasim SaliH il-Muhammadi, was with the Republican Guard.
Talk of marriage is in the air.

Hey, maybe that's what my dream was about -- learning to swim, not being afraid to take the plunge.... I don't know. I did very well, in the dream, after some very strong fears, at the outset.

Well, my aunt, uncle and I were talking about it this morning. They're pushing me to open up the big door -- to broach the subject. But, once that big door is opened, it can't be closed -- I can't walk back out that door. But, I need to open the big door, to be able to get into some other rooms, to see what's there, be able to ask her about some other things, get to know her some more. Does any of this make any sense, to anyone but myself and my aunt and uncle? She's not very open with me, but my aunt and uncle say she can't be, unless I open up the big door -- but that's a Catch-22, isn't it?

It all started with a lunch invitation. My uncle suggested, last night, that he invite Layla and her father and son to lunch today -- at the Hunt Club. Then, this morning, he retracted -- he said he doesn't have the money on him, although I offered to pay. He then said, if we invite them, that means you're going to propose. We can't invite them, if you're not going to go through with it. I've been telling my aunt I want her -- Layla, or anybody else, for that matter -- to be a little naughty as well as so very nice. She's just too nice. All right -- I'll come straight out with it: what it really comes down to, for me, is: sex and alcohol. Those are at the core of my big reservations. She's got everything else going for her, but I just feel that the sex is too suppressed with women here, and that she wouldn't drink wine over dinner, and champagne on anniversaries and New Year's, which would be a major shame -- I wouldn't like that -- it would take a lot out of life for me. And those bugaboos really do cancel out almost all Iraqi women.

Well -- I've written to a cousin who's worked with Layla, knows her. I've got to write to some other cousins, my sister and friends, for further consultations. It's just sooo tricky -- isn't it? Or is it not? Do I, or don't I? That is the question.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

I've got another Middle East baseball team. Actually, it might be better suited for hockey, of an especially slippery sort:

The oil barons.
Yesterday, I quoted a deadpan comedian's line -- "You can't have everything -- where would you put it?" -- but I got the comedian's name wrong. You can count on another comedian, to set the record straight. For our next act, here's Marc Jaffe:
Subj: oops
Date: 4/30/2004 1:56:09 PM Eastern Daylight Time


That comedian is Steven Wright not Richard Wright. Us comedians are sensitive about getting proper credit.

Just in case you haven't been checking up - one thing you aren't missing here is any decent baseball by the Tribe. (Is the Tribe part of the Clan of baseball? or is there a subset of the Tribe that would be a clan, like the pitching staff?) They have blown so many games with two outs in the ninth it's agony. I am suspicious that our bullpen is filled with Al Qaeda masquerading as major leaguers and self-destructing in our bullpen while taking decent Americans like Omar Vizquel down with them.
[Somebody stop those suicide bombers comin' out of the bullpen.]

Just got a "funny but not for them" rejection from Danny DeVito's company on
Holy Water Fight. Want to make it the first film out of the new Iraq?

I brought with me, a screenplay by Marc, called Holy Water Fight -- I helped with the title, thank you. It's about a water park/lodge west of Cleveland, patronized over the Christmas holiday by Jews and Muslims. As soon as I get to it, I'll fill you in on the details. Not too much details -- don't worry, Marc.

Next up -- thanks, Marc, and Gregg, wherever you are -- are the teams of the Iraqi and Middle East baseball league, and their stadiums -- political correctness, not allowed. The league is still in formation, so applications are being accepted.

the Tikrit Suicide Bombers
the Martyrs Brigade
the Holy Warriors
the Decapitators
the Rapists
the Rapiers
the Raptors
the Torturers
the Mass Murderers
the Gravediggers

The Nazis would've had the Blitzkrieg

New additions:

the Falluja Fulminators, and
the Sadir Gang

They play at the Nest of Spies Arena and the Great Satan Coliseum.
Last night, after a few hours in the office, my uncle picked me up, and we went shopping. Actually, he gave the orders, and I carried them out -- he was dressed in his dishdasha (nightgown), so, didn't want to get out of the car. Close to the office, I saw a man crossing Shaari' al-Ameerat (Princesses Street) wearing shorts -- hallellujah! -- and I'd thought I wouldn't be able to wear shorts -- although, I've already got a couple of strikes against me. A colleague in the office says that, yes, sometimes boys in their early teens wear shorts -- but this was a man -- tall -- looked like an adult, in his twenties, at least; it was dark, though. When I first arrived in Baghdad, and saw my cousins' boys, wearing shorts in the house, I was startled by their pale legs. That's something I'd forgotten.

My uncle wanted to get cheese, 7-Up, strained yogurt, fruits and pizza -- yes, pizza -- to take home. First stop, a little grocery. My uncle'd told me to make sure they don't give me cheese sitting outside, but from the back, because the cheese sitting outside gets dry and yellow. I got the 7-Up, a one-and-a-half-liter bottle. I asked for a kilo of cheese -- jibin Arab -- and the man went for the rounds sitting on top of the counter. I asked him for some from the back. He said that's all he had -- there wasn't much of a "back," just the fridge at the back of the small shop. He said the cheese was fine, that I'd heard about jibin Arab but didn't know anything about it. So, I took a kilo, but made sure it wasn't yellow. He didn't have labna, and I grabbed a Kit-Kat bar -- a longer, narrower variety -- it was a little melted -- hey, not much to report -- or, "we give you all the details -- we report; you decide."

Then we stopped at Four Seasons, a mostly pizza place with a gyros stand outside, in the Haarthiyya part of the city. There were groups of men sitting at tables outside. My uncle told me to get a large vegetable pizza, for five people. I asked for a large vegetable pizza, paid the 10,000 dinars (about seven dollars), and took my receipt from the cashier, who said it would take 20 minutes.

Next, we hit a fruit-and-vegetable store. My uncle said a watermelon would be best; if not, then a kilo of apples and a kilo of oranges. I asked him if I could get a taste of the watermelon, and if the seller would open it up for me. He said, no, that they only sell them whole. Not true. I asked the man how the watermelon was. He said they were sweet and red. "Could you open it up for me?" He looked through the pile of watermelon, picked out one, brought it back to his counter, cut out a section and said, "That's not gonna work for you." He went back, picked through the pile for another one, took it back, cut it open, and concluded, "Forget it." So, I turned to the apples. I asked if I could select the apples -- yes. There were small yellow apples, supposedly from Lebanon, and larger yellow and red apples -- possibly from Morocco, too. I took some of each, and also some nice looking navel oranges. I also saw some ingi-dinya (loquats or kumquats -- I don't know which), the little orange fruit, which, on Easter, I thought was sitting on my desk -- turned out to be a painted egg, from the cook, Huda, who's Christian -- half Assyrian, half Chaldean. I took a few from the stall, then some more, as a new crate of fresher-looking ingi-dinya was being unloaded from the truck. I felt some drops of water -- thought it must be from an overhang. As I was standing by the counter, getting my fruit weighed, I noticed an odd sight -- a copy of Atlantic Monthly magazine (July/August 2003) sitting on the counter. I wanted to ask the seller where it came from, then thought, that might raise suspicions, then thought, it could easily be an innocent question. Meanwhile, he told another customer -- a female -- that mishmish (apricots) "comes down tomorrow." My uncle had said, on the first of May, starts the apricot season. So I said to the seller, "right on time." He smiled. During my time in the shop, four women passed through, along with a few men. One of the women was veiled, and an older woman was with, what I assumed to be, her husband.

I went to a little grocery next door, and got the labna (strained yogurt). The brand name is Cannon, and its logo looks like Dannon's. I wonder if there's any infringement, there. There are numerous Pepsis and Cokes on the market, and many of them are off-shoots, the recipes stolen from proper Coke or Pepsi representatives in Jordan or elsewhere, and replicated here. On my way back to the car, it rained a bit. It rains for a few minutes, and lightly at that. When it rains, though, it causes a mess, with whatever dust that blows over, sticking to everything, leaving a coat of beige over cars, floors, carpets, desks, computers, you name it -- and in the air, too -- everything smells dusty, sandy. It gets indoors, and inside you, too -- into your lungs, eyes and nostrils. One of the guards just told me about the more-severe duststorms, such as last year's, when the American march to Baghdad was halted for a couple of days, and the whole world was orange. He said it becomes hard to breathe, and visibility is less than half a meter. When these hit, people generally don't go outside, and try to seal their homes -- usually, to no effect.

When I told my uncle about the arrival of apricots, he recalled the May 1, 1941, pro-Nazi coup, and his mother hearing a neighbor call out to another, "Hizqayl, nizel il-mishmish" (The apricots have descended; Hizqayl was a common Jewish name). The other neighbor responded, "But it'll be over in 40 days," the usual duration of the apricot season. Indeed, the coup the neighbors were referring to, lasted 40 days, with British troops ousting Abdul-Aali il-Gaylani, after which there were pogroms in Baghdad and Basra, with anywhere from 40 to 400 Jews killed in May 1941. My grandfather was one of the top officers in that coup, and he was exiled to Iran, then to Rhodesia and/or Madagascar. His second daughter, my mother, was born six months after his eviction, and she didn't see him till she was three or four years old. While in Rhodesia, he had okra seeds sent to him, and introduced the plant to the country.

That's the great thing about my uncle -- every little thing reminds him of something, and out comes a story. While he waited in the car, he looked at my copy of Salah Omar al-Ali's newspaper, Al-Wifaq al-DimuqraTi, about which I wrote yesterday. My uncle recalled Ali, after the Ba'ath took power in 1968, visiting the hospital in Basra run by my aunt's (my uncle's older sister's) husband. That visit caused the husband to be transferred to Baghdad, which displeased him immensely. My uncle then recalled where each of his sister's offspring was born, and how he, at the age of 17, in 1952, had to drive his sister to the hospital at 4 a.m., for one of the births, almost getting robbed along the way. The product of that drive, now lives in Cleveland, and she sent with me some extra-strength denture cream for our uncle.

When we got back to the pizza place, I hadn't ordered the right way -- Pizza Nazi. I was supposed to take the receipt to the counter next to the cashier, for the cooks to make the pizza. So, we had to reorder, and waited in the car, for another 10, 15 minutes. It was lightning, for the first time during my stay. The pizza was huge -- round and about two feet in diameter. It was bland, and we added some steak sauce.

Before I went to sleep last night, I spoke with the man whose home museum we visited, two weeks ago. He'd just been to his plantation, in Shaamiyya, near Diwaniyyah, in southern Iraq. On the 250 donums he owns, they harvest wheat, barley, dates and shilib (a rice). His teenage son, Shaheen, who lives with his mother (divorced) and sister in Arbil, in northern Iraq, joined him, and the father was very upbeat. He encouraged me to join him, to get out of the office -- to take some chances; that was the only way to see the real Iraq, real life, he said. I agreed, but declined -- until I get my Iraqi ID. He said the roads were very safe, the people, very friendly and helpful, and that I wasn't adventurous. Now, I'm getting it from the other end. My uncle then promised to take me to Kerbala and Najaf -- as soon as I get the ID.
The military officer leading Iraqi troops in Falluja is Jasim SaliH il-Muhammadi. He's a liwaa rukun, which is, more likely, a brigadier general, rather than, head of a division, as I wrote yesterday. He's heading a force of 1100 soldiers, according to news reports this morning, and he and his troops have been welcomed by people in Falluja, where he met with local leaders in a mosque.

In the other news of the day, the new prime minister looks like it'll be Mehdi al-Hafudh, and not Adil Abdul-Mehdi, as I reported a couple of days ago. Hafudh is an economist who writes a daily column in Adnan Pachachi's newspaper, Al-Nahdha. Hafudh is highly regarded. His was one of eight names reportedly submitted by the U.N.'s Iraq envoy, Lakhdhar Brahimi, to his superiors. No other names have been revealed. Brahimi's political inclinations and intentions have elicited some suspicions. His background is of an Arab nationalist bent, which he is, apparently, trying to promote in the Iraqi government being shaped. I recently read an article in which his role on behalf of Saddam in his war with Iran was noted. At the time, he represented the League of Arab States.

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