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

Saturday, July 24, 2004


I think this is it.

Live from Baghdad is not in Baghdad, and, I think, it has served its purpose. So, I bid you farewell -- till somewhere else, some other time. It's been nice -- very nice -- really, a great ride. Thanks for being there with me -- I couldn't have done it without you -- without you -- somebody, imagining somebody, a particular person -- on the other end. It's quite a motivator, knowing that there's somebody at the other end, expecting a product -- every day. Thanks. Thanks, too, for exhausting me. I know you didn't mean to, but.... Ha! Ha! Well, I'll tell you, it's pretty addictive, so, it's quite likely, I'll need some outlet for my daily...oozings, and gushings.

I could go on with the blog, telling you about my upcoming trips to Washington and Boston, visiting my sister and cousin and having fun with their little ones. Then there's my postponed trip to London, and plays and people I see there. I could also tell you about the articles I write, the book(s) I hope to produce, from the material I've gathered, talks or media appearances, but, then, it would be more like Live from Ayad than Live from Baghdad -- unless somebody out there is interested in that.

About a book, one friend just wrote:
Date: 7/21/2004 5:28:31 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Rita

Welcome back to Civilization!

With regards to the blog -- have you ever thought of putting it into a book? Perhaps a history book which could lend itself to teaching Iraqis and the world about the difficulties presenting themselves today and the recent past.

You have so much in print it seems like a little organization and some effort in addition to stories you still have to tell would make an interesting read.

What do you think?


* * *

Date: 7/23/2004 12:01:30 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Rita,

That's interesting -- your idea. Hmmmm! Sounds like there's a lot there, to your idea, and I'd like to hear more.

I am planning to do a book or two, out of the material I've got -- written and unwritten. Your idea, though, is new to me. I keep reading your sentence, trying to take it in, figure it out. I think I'm just gonna have to save it, and keep it in my records, to think about some more. It's not clear to me, but I'm sure I can get there, on my own, or with your help. Sounds very intriguing, though -- like a good idea.

All right -- thanks for the welcome back. I'm getting readjusted here. I've got a long way to go.

All the best, and, again, thanks for the idea.

* * *

I could also continue the blog, be a clipping service, reading from the Iraqi press -- on-line -- and pass on the news -- with my commentary -- spin -- of course. My mother says she reads for four, five hours every day, from 40-50 web-sites. She's told me about the three missles just found in a tunnel near Tikrit -- missles capped with nuclear warheads. The tunnel was fortified by six meters of concrete, to evade detection of radioactive material. Plus, the man who led Iraqi authorities to the tunnel, Khidhir al-Douri, who was a top-ranking Ba'thi, had a forged death certificate made for himself after the fall of Saddam, but was...uncovered, along with his son, when they tried, by e-mail, to make arrangements for a rendezvous. She also told me about the 150 missiles just found buried near the Saudi-Iraqi border -- missiles topped with chemical warheads. The ground on top was covered with salt, to absorb the chemicals, I believe, and evade detection. That border area is going to be very fertile ground. It's all desert, but beneath the ground, there are bodies and bombs galore.

Then there are these items my mother told me, about Saddam's daughter Raghad -- her being sited in the mall I went to, in Amman; her reporting that she was attacked in the street and, thus, demanding more security; her wanting to sue for the money her father had with him when he was captured; and her desire to run for president of Iraq. She's quite a bold one, huh? Well, I guess she's following in the footsteps of some other fine daughters -- Benazir Bhutto, Aung San Suu Kyi, Indira Gandhi, I think. There are others, I know, but I can't remember them, right now.

That's not me, though -- it's not what I want to do -- maybe I should propose it to Mom -- she's certainly got all the "news." As for me, though, translating the news would lack freshness -- some people-...personal connection, liveliness. Plus, you could...get this from one of the fine services that are out there (IWPR, MEMRI), or directly from the sources, themselves, like my mother does. In English, there are the excellent warehouse Iraq.net, and one of the 30-plus Iraqi blogs listed there, such as Healing Iraq and Iraq the Model.

I do have more stories from Iraq, though -- but, for those,...you'll have to wait for the movie. So, until next time, it's "so long, and thanks for all the fish."

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Terra firma

At long last, I'm home.

It took a while, but I made it -- thanks to planes, buses and taxis.

I left Baghdad, Monday afternoon, via an airplane. I'd been advised to take a plane, instead of a taxi, the way I came into the country, because there was less of a chance of getting kidnapped in the air than there was, on the ground. It turned out, the plane was not without risk. Before taking off, the co-pilot/navigator told us -- the 16-seat two-propellor plane was almost full -- that we'd be making a spiral into the sky. He added, that this was, unfortunately, for our protection and not for our pleasure. So, after the plane took off, it made a tight turn to the left as it ascended, the seats vibrating, for part of the circle. The plane kept on turning to the left, the circle getting wider and wider, the higher we got. In all, the plane made some six turns, directly above the airport.

I saw, below, near the airport, two extensive artificial lakes, with several palaces, in and around each. I just learned, from my mother, that a friend from Cleveland, an Iraqi American woman, is working with, presumably, the American army, in one of those palaces. Back in the air, as we began to head west, the earth was verdant. Up ahead, though, immediately on the other side of a winding river, presumably, the Euphrates, the ground turned suddenly tan, and it continued that way, I think, till we crossed the border -- yet another demonstration of Jordan's advancement on Iraq.

I'm wondering, whether to share all the ins and outs of the rest of my journey -- trying to get a seat on a plane from Amman, the last-minute switch at the airport to a plane for New York, instead of Detroit, then my attempts to catch a plane from New York, eventually landing on a Greyhound bus. Well, I've pretty much done it, without all the details. It was funny, though -- I started, in Amman, about to upgrade my economy-class ticket to a business-class seat, of which there was an availability. That would've been nice, to conclude my trip, in comfort. The cost of the upgrade, though, turned out to be $1100, instead of $420, as I was originally told. Instead, I ended up on an overnight bus from Manhattan to Cleveland. C'est la vie.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Turning the tide, standing firm

In their joint article in today's Washington Post, U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl begin:
The successful handover of sovereignty to the Iraqi people last month offers fresh hope for stability and democracy in their country, but it could also mark a turning of the tide in the world war against terrorism. While the deposed tyrant and terrorist Saddam Hussein stands trial, the people of the great Muslim country he suppressed for so long are now standing proud and free, and taking control of their own destiny. And they are showing strong support for their new leadership and new optimism about their democratic future. According to a BBC/Oxford Research International poll released this month, 55 percent of Iraqis believe their lives today are quite good or very good, 56 percent believe their lives will get better in the next year, and 70 percent believe Iraq needs democracy.

These survey results are significant because they show we are making real progress in the war of values and ideas in Iraq, ideas that are at the heart of the larger war on terrorism. Iraq has become a proving ground for the freedom and security we are fighting for, and a tough test of our resolve in this fight. The terrorists in Iraq and beyond will never beat us militarily. But they can defeat us politically if they succeed in their strategy to terrorize, demoralize and divide America and its allies.

The liberation of Iraq has important implications for the region and for the broader war on terrorism. The leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties have so far stood firm in their commitment to finish the job in Iraq and to fight to victory the war on terrorism. But that bipartisan consensus is coming under growing public pressure and could fray in the months ahead. Although the tide is turning in the war on terrorism, a political undertow in this country could wash out our recent gains. We must not let this happen.
Iraq's newest presidential aspirant

Meet Sa'ad al-Janabi, who's modeling himself after Silvio Berlusconi and Rafeeq Hariri. Janabi says, "We need a business person in politics to rebuild Iraq like the Italian and Lebanese premiers. Stability and security are linked to the economy." For his presidential bid, he's started the Iraqi Republican Party and the Rashid television station.
He amassed his own wealth in the 1990s under his patron, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamil, from whom he acquired a near monopoly on cigarette distribution under United Nations sanctions. Mr Janabi earned the sobriquet of Iraq's "cigarette king". But when Qusay Hussein sought a share of the profits, he fled along with Mr Kamil to Jordan in 1995.
For the rest of the July 14 Financial Times article.

What a difference...a day makes

Iraq is a sad place, a veritable tragedy. Live from Baghdad is on location. Yesterday, I flew from Baghdad to Amman, and, oh, boy -- hard to describe the differences. Hard to even call them differences -- it's just a different world -- different planets -- can't even compare. In rereading this, I think I should amend this. Kurdistan, which I haven't been to, since 1992, is supposed to be miles ahead of Iraqi Arabistan -- so, there is hope, yet.

Descending on Amman, I saw patches of green below, and some organization to the homes and urban layout. At the airport -- a little airport in the city -- later called a military airport by the two men at hotel reception -- there were two aviation academies and one for aeronautics. The heat was very tolerable, and it seems there's always a breeze here -- and not just any old breeze, but a cool breeze, at that. In Baghdad, sometimes, as in a couple of days ago, the air -- wind, that is -- is hot, and heavy -- and I'm talking about at night -- driving in the car -- late at night, too. Last evening, the weather was beautiful, and today, it's just perfect -- lovely temperature, a bit of a breeze.

On leaving the airport, there were lines up and down the streets, with people driving between them, using turn signals to cross them. Traffic lights worked, and people obeyed them. It was especially nice -- most noticeable, I guess -- on left-hand turns -- everybody waiting their turn, in one or two turning lanes. The taxi driver yesterday said part of the penalty for driving the wrong-way on a one-way street was seven days in jail. I said that was severe. He replied, But you have to have order. There's attractive fencing and plants, some flowering, in the median strips.

Men walked around in business suits, comfortably. Women wore bright colors, fashionable clothes -- seemingly, very relaxed. Women -- alone -- sat in proper bus shelters, in close proximity to men, and crossed the roads at ease. Quite a few wore sleeveless shirts, with no apparent concern. An officemate in Baghdad told me in amazement a couple of days ago, about seeing a woman in Mansour wearing tight jeans that would need a "vacuum to suck them off." My eyes got locked on a woman there, way back, wearing a tight-fitting blouse or pants. Here, such sights seem to be part of the scenery. People seem concerned about their health and appearance, too -- they look fresher, more in shape. I've seen quite a few women, wearing running shoes, their bodies looking as if they might've just done some exercise.

In Baghdad airport, I met a passenger on the plane who paid twice for the same ticket and wanted to sort the situation out, so we drove around a lot, looking for the airline's offices, as well as a hotel to stay in. We hit about three hotels -- none had what we needed -- one night for him; two, for me. A receptionist at one hotel said he called seven others for us, to no avail. Then, he found something. Taxi drivers have told me that it's tourist season, and that a lot of exiles are here, for visits. On that first ride, from the airport, I saw banners for at least five "exhibitions" -- trade shows and festivals, for the famous annual music festival at the Roman ruins in Jerash, books, jewelry, traditional folkwares, or such.

As we drove through Amman's residential/business districts -- the city airport is near the heart of the city -- we passed a vegetable garden -- what seemed to be a plot of land for community use. I've seen others, since. I saw boxes attached to homes' outside walls, for newspapers. We passed a fenced-in neighborhood block that was devoted to a bird sanctuary -- right in the middle of the city. So many buildings were new and clean -- so unlike Baghdad. One building was the headquarters for the Ministry of Political Development and Parliamentary Affairs. One building had scrawled on it, in large Arabic letters, "I love you," so-and-so. The name was new to me, but it seemed to be a man's name. Wow! People here have been smiling back at me -- in the airport, at hotels, shops, offices. Many laugh with ease. In Tony Horwitz's 1992 book, Baghdad Without a Map, a diplomat's wife related how Baghdad might've been the only place where you couldn't "koochi-koochi-koo" with another's baby in the street. When I smiled or waved at children in Baghdad, they reacted with confusion, maybe fear, as if I'd wielded a strange, maybe dangerous, weapon. Well, I guess it is a new weapon.

Right after finding a hotel and putting my things down, I headed to the offices of Royal Jordanian Airlines. I have a ticket back to Detroit, but no seats are available for a couple of weeks. I managed to squeeze into the office, even though they'd just closed. The place was clean, well-lit and air-conditioned. They even use a system of numbered slips of paper, with numbers ticking off, on screens, to serve customers. Women behind the counters were spirited, as they've been elsewhere in my 24-plus hours in the city.

There are ATM machines around. Businesses take credit cards. Next to my hotel is a flower shop, and the place and flowers were attractive -- flowers, fresh and varied. I'd heard about a flower shop in Baghdad, but I didn't get to see it. I can only imagine, the sad flowers and weak variety. There are supermarkets. Mom -- there's a Maitland-Smith store.

I've been taking taxis back and forth, without a second thought -- not even a first. For my time in Baghdad, I'd been warned, starting with my father, before I left America, not to take a taxi off the street, and I didn't. Here, I walk around, ask for a place, make requests at stores and food shops, without any concern for using the wrong word or a different dialect -- foreigners are welcome here. I removed the last vestiges of my Baghdad disguise, this morning -- no need for this mustache anymore.

Speaking of which, I saw a tour bus yesterday with Hebrew printed on the back. I know there've been Israeli tourists here. I wondered if any Israelis have moved to Jordan, taken up residence here, set up shop, and if so, how they've managed. At the Royal Jordanian office, I saw in their timetables book that they have nine flights a week between Amman and Tel Aviv. I don't suppose any has been struck, or targeted -- planes, passengers or offices. Maybe that's going too far -- well, I don't remember hearing of any. In a related vein, last night, I caught the tail end of a Syrian television station's Hebrew news broadcast.

Even the beggars look classier here. A man in a wheelchair was sitting under the shade of a tree hanging over the wall in an up-scale neighborhood. I assumed he was a beggar, although he didn't do anything -- wasn't extending his hand, asking for anything. A man in front of C-Town, a large supermarket, sat out of the way, at the edge of the parking lot, with a tray of gum and sweets. There isn't the obtrusiveness of beggars in Baghdad, hanging all over the sidewalk, looking so pathetic, tugging at you with their children, or reading the Qur'an out loud.

As I walked around yesterday evening -- getting some food, trying to find an internet cafe -- I walked around leisurely, looked at signs on buildings, gazed up, at the sky, at upper floors, turned around, did a "360," to see all around me -- all, completely relaxed. That's civilization. Not a thought about having my throat slit, being noticed as a foreigner, to be targeted for kidnapping.

This afternoon, I went with my cousin and her five kids to the mall. Amazing! They've got a Benetton, a Tommy Hilfiger, a food court, a game room, a playground for little kids, bowling lanes and movie theaters. She said they go to this mall, called Mecca Mall, every day. There's another large, modern mall, and a few smaller, less attractive ones. My cousin's here, for a couple of months, since the end of the school year. She said, in Baghdad, they hadn't seen the outside of the house, for six months -- other than to and from school, no doubt. Now, they come to the mall, hang out for a few hours, play video games, have something to eat, maybe see a movie -- they show Egyptian and American movies. I wondered, though, if there was too much stimulation for them, just as I thought there might be for me, if I went to London, and walked around and caught a few plays -- all, after Baghdad. The children are having a great time, they said -- seeing how the rest of the world lives. My cousin also said she sees her father here more than she sees him in Baghdad.

In the mall, women in sleeveless shirts, bare shoulders, cleavages, men in traditional robes, women in all types of veils -- fashionable, conservative, the all-black cloaks, with just slits for the eyes and the toes and hands showing -- all seem to co-exist, without tension. In the hotel lobby this morning, there were four of the all-black women -- they looked like they were black figures, floating across the floor. I tried to think, what they looked like. All I could think of, was Yoda, from Star Wars. Two of them had eyeglasses sticking out of the only slits in the cloaks. In the mall, one of the women's clothing stores we went into, called Stradivarius, had a salesperson wearing a T-shirt that said, in English, "My boyfriend is out of the city this weekend." She and the manager wouldn't let me take a picture. Compared to Baghdad, Amman is like a fleshpot. It reminded me of a summer visit to New York City a few years ago, and the difference from Cleveland. Beyond the flesh, though, Amman is like Switzerland, compared to Baghdad. This, while Iraqis look down on Jordan. What's Jordan, they say -- no culture, no history, Amman didn't even exist, 50 years ago? While Iraq,.... Moreover, Jordan subsisted on Iraqi oil, for dozens of years. Then, after 1991, Iraqis became beggars in Jordan, Iraqi women became prostitutes, and artists and other professionals went door to door, plowing their trades and wares.

As for me, tonight, I'll go to a nice restaurant called Romero's, have some pasta and a bowl or two of their great chocolate mousse. Live from Baghdad will continue to be on location, for the foreseeable future, and, tomorrow, I might be off the air -- if I'm in the air. If I can get a bird to pick me up, I'll fly across a lake, a pond and a continent or two. After that, I'll have to think, what to do with this blog. I've got a lot more stories, about Iraq -- lots more to share. If anybody out there, has some ideas, let me know. Oops -- how do you find me? Hmmm. I guess I'll have to think about that, too.

Till next time -- asta la vista, baby!

Sunday, July 18, 2004

More power to him

So far, I've gotten two positive reactions and one leery one, to news of Allawi allegedly shooting six prisoners last month. My uncle brought in four newspapers this morning. I asked him if he'd heard the news about Allawi. He asked me what he'd said. I told him about the report that he'd shot six prisoners last month in the Aamiriyya central prison. My uncle asked me who they were. I said "terrorists." He answered, "He did good." Later, he said, "He did very good, very good."

None of the four newspapers my uncle brought -- Allawi's Baghdad, Pachachi's Al-Nahdhah, the private Al-Mada and Allawi's arch-rival, Ahmad Chalabi's Al-Mu'tamar -- mentioned the news item -- at least not on its front or back pages.

When I got to work, I shared the news with two co-workers. One of them, a fan of Allawi, said, "He did very good!" The other, pushed for a comment, said, "If it's true, then we've replaced one Saddam with another. If it's not true, then it's more of journalists trying to make Iraqis look bad, no matter what we do. What's the difference -- dictatorship, or democracy? I'm sick and tired of Iraqis getting their character assassinated."

One day before I'm to depart Iraq, my mom makes here debut on my blog:
Subj: from your mom
Date: 7/15/2004 3:52:46 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "bushra"
To: "Ayad Rahim"

Dear dodo
I want to give you some advice about your trip back.
My advice to you: come direct to the states and then with the voucher and couple of hundred bucks, you can fly to London.
you know if you travel from any where between middle east and europe you can take only 20 kilo but if you come to the states you can take 2 pieces of bags 70 pounds each and check it to cleveland with what you have to pay all that it will be too much for you believe me I traveled a lot and this would be a very tough trip. I read the web today and get the 28th of july reservation would be good and after rest you can go to London.
[Your uncle] is coming back to Amman on the 28th of july and also I do not trust the Jordanian reservation they are bad bad bad
love your MAMA

* * *

Date: 7/17/2004 3:07:19 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Thanks for the advice. I've been thinking about heading back, straight to America -- as I'm already tired -- I don't know. What's your experience with Jordanian travel agencies? This one's seemed good. That's important, though, about the 20 kilos. That's the limit from here to Amman, too, but they may be able to make an exception -- I hope so.

The other thing I need is a plane from Detroit to Cleveland -- or Akron, via Air Tran -- they're very cheap. Maybe I should start looking for a ticket, now.

Thanks for thinking about me, my return.

Hey -- you're calling me the same thing I called ZooZoo -- DooDoo.
[my first nephew/her first grandson]

All right -- bye.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

More on Allawi, his instincts and his past

An Eli Lake piece in The New Republic about Ayad Allawi (on-line version requires subscription to New Republic). A key paragraph:
Kenneth Katzman, an analyst at the Congressional Research Service (CRS) who has followed the Iraqi opposition since the end of the first Gulf War, sees many parallels between Allawi's security-first policies and that of a young Saddam Hussein. "Allawi was a Baathist, and his vision for Iraq almost seems like Saddam-light or neo-Saddam in the sense that he believes in a strong central government and a large army which would also perform internal security duties," said Katzman, who also was an Iraq analyst for the CIA before he joined the CRS. "He believes in strong domestic spying agencies. His whole outlook seems very similar to Saddam in his early career."
Then, the rest of the story:
Wrong Man
by Eli J. Lake
Only at TNR Online
Post date: 07.14.04

In some ways President Bush could not have asked for a better man than Iyad Allawi to lead Iraq. The former Baath party operative is a secular Shia who is trusted by Iraq's minority Sunni population. He has secured, for now, a slim majority of support from his countrymen--the latest International Republican Institute poll shows he has an approval rating of just over 51 percent. At the same time Allawi appears willing to take harsh steps to crush the insurgency that is based in Sunni-dominated parts of the country. He also enjoys well-established ties to Iraq's Arab neighbors Saudi Arabia and Jordan, likely to be a factor in getting those countries to forgive the debt of the ex-tyrant. King Abdullah practically nominated him for Prime Minister in May and has recently suggested he would send troops to Iraq if Allawi requested them.

All of this would appear to bode well for both Iraq and America. Since June 1, Iraq has seen an average of one car bombing per day, according to a recent Council on Foreign Relations fact sheet. Horrific images of kidnapped Americans, Koreans, and Turks pleading for their lives in homemade videos have become all too common. If the insurgency continues at this level, even the best-intentioned democrats could not possibly hope to meet the January 2005 deadline for national elections.

The problem is that many of Allawi's strengths could end up hindering President Bush's broader vision of democracy for Iraq, a country he has called free since Saddam's demise. To start, the perception that Allawi is favored by foreign leaders could backfire as his political opponents gin up a campaign to paint him as a stooge of other countries and the CIA. Allawi's efforts to include more former Baathists in the security services could alienate powerful Shia and Kurdish leaders whose participation in his government is already reluctant.

And Allawi himself could come to be seen as a pawn of the Americans. He has signed a letter inviting American soldiers to stay in Iraq through the election of a permanent government at the end of 2005; according to Iraq's new ambassador in Washington, Rend Rahim Francke, the letter, combined with the U.N. resolution recognizing the sovereignty of the new Iraqi government, renders moot the need for a status of forces agreement between Baghdad and Washington. Amy Hawthorne, who analyzes the prospects for Arab democracy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace put it this way: "As the situation unfolds and he faces more challenges, his past affiliations with the CIA may come to be more damaging in terms of his profile in Iraq. If he can't perform in his job, then those kinds of legitimacy questions will become more prominent down the road. People could really question, who is this guy?"

But what should trouble the White House most about the new Iraqi Prime Minister is that some of the people who know him best and have watched him most closely over the years say that he does not really believe Iraq can be the democracy President Bush has promised will be model for the Arab world. Tahsin Ma'alleh, a founder of Allawi's organization in exile known as the Iraqi National Accord, or the Wifaq, could not have been blunter in an interview last month when he said, "Allawi wants to control Iraq. He could be a new Saddam because he does not understand democracy." Like Allawi, Ma'alleh was a member of the Baath party until the late 1970s, but joined the opposition to Saddam on the grounds that the leader had abandoned the ideals of the party. Ma'alleh taught Allawi medicine in Baghdad, where he says the new prime minister was a poor student who cheated on his exams. The two later started working together against the regime after Baathist agents nearly hacked Allawi to death in an axe attack in 1978. To hear Ma'alleh talk about the evolution of the Baath party, you would think the ideology developed by the Syrian Christian Michel Aflaq was little more than exuberant anti-colonialism. In his home in Surrey, England, Ma'alleh spoke in wistful tones about the "Baath party's inherent democracy," and its final fall from grace in 1979 when Saddam killed many of the party's most loyal members. Ma'alleh didn't acknowledge the uglier sides of Baathism, such as its view that the Arab race is superior to all others and how, even in its early phases, the organization saw no place for opposition political parties. The problem, he said, was Saddam Hussein.

Another close associate of Allawi in exile, Dhirgham Kadhim, was very careful to distinguish the operational side of the party in the early 1960s, to which Saddam belonged, from the political wing of college students organizing in universities and neighborhoods. "There were really two Baath parties," he said. Indeed, the Wifaq, which comprised almost exclusively former party men, called its first CIA-supported radio station in 1992 "Radio Freedom." The name suggests that Allawi believed the ideological element of Baathism to be quite compatible with the west's rhetorical goal of a democratic Iraq.

Allawi has also asserted since the fall of Saddam Hussein that it is possible to be both democratic and Baathist. He will even be inviting current Baath party members to a meeting to plan an interim national assembly of some 1,000 notables scheduled for later this month. When his longtime rival, Ahmad Chalabi, was loudly barring former regime officials from the occupation government, Allawi's son-in-law, Nouri Badran--then the Minister of the Interior--was selecting some officials who had been purged for posts in the new military.

Allawi's vision of Baathism without Saddam is evident in the manner in which he tried to change the Iraqi regime when he was in exile. "We think that any uprising should have as its very center the armed forces," he told The Washington Post on June 23, 1996. "We don't preach civil war. On the contrary, we preach controlled, coordinated military uprising supported by the people that would not allow itself to go into acts of revenge or chaos." A commitment to public order is commendable, particularly considering the looting that ensued after the fall of Baghdad. But a military coup also would have had the distinct feature of keeping the violent pillars of the state intact but under new management.

Now Allawi has finally gotten his regime change and may have also gotten his coup. According to Paul Wolfowitz's testimony last month to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the new Prime Minister plans to not only reconstitute the military Paul Bremer dissolved last May, but will likely bring back the army's old command structure. He is also busy at work creating an all-Iraqi strike force capable of hunting insurgent leaders and terrorists. And he has hinted that he may impose martial law on sections of the country that oppose the authority of the new government.

Kenneth Katzman, an analyst at the Congressional Research Service (CRS) who has followed the Iraqi opposition since the end of the first Gulf War, sees many parallels between Allawi's security-first policies and that of a young Saddam Hussein. "Allawi was a Baathist, and his vision for Iraq almost seems like Saddam-light or neo-Saddam in the sense that he believes in a strong central government and a large army which would also perform internal security duties," said Katzman, who also was an Iraq analyst for the CIA before he joined the CRS. "He believes in strong domestic spying agencies. His whole outlook seems very similar to Saddam in his early career."

Even Frank Anderson, the Near East Division chief for the CIA's Clandestine Service in the early 1990s, when Allawi was referred to America from the British intelligence service, concedes, "Allawi does not have democratic instincts." But he adds that "it's clear to everybody that not just the United States, but the international community, will not accept the emergence of a tyranny in Iraq." Perhaps Anderson is correct that Allawi, even if he wanted, could not bring Iraq back to tyranny. But as recent history in the Middle East suggests, emergency laws are far easier to impose than to revoke. Under America's road map for Iraq, the country is supposed to have elections for a national assembly by January 2005. If Allawi pursues security and security alone, Iraq may be safe enough for elections it will never hold.

Eli J. Lake is the national security reporter for The New York Sun.
Stop the presses! PM Allawi accused of executing six prisoners, last month

A world exclusive:
Allawi shot inmates in cold blood, say witnesses
By Paul McGeough
Sidney Morning Herald

July 17, 2004

Iyad Allawi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, pulled a pistol and executed as many as six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station, just days before Washington handed control of the country to his interim government, according to two people who allege they witnessed the killings.

They say the prisoners - handcuffed and blindfolded - were lined up against a wall in a courtyard adjacent to the maximum-security cell block in which they were held at the Al-Amariyah security centre, in the city's south-western suburbs.

They say Dr Allawi told onlookers the victims had each killed as many as 50 Iraqis and they "deserved worse than death".

The Prime Minister's office has denied the entirety of the witness accounts in a written statement to the Herald, saying Dr Allawi had never visited the centre and he did not carry a gun.

But the informants told the Herald that Dr Allawi shot each young man in the head as about a dozen Iraqi policemen and four Americans from the Prime Minister's personal security team watched in stunned silence.

Iraq's Interior Minister, Falah al-Naqib, is said to have looked on and congratulated him when the job was done. Mr al-Naqib's office has issued a verbal denial.

The names of three of the alleged victims have been obtained by the Herald.

One of the witnesses claimed that before killing the prisoners Dr Allawi had told those around him that he wanted to send a clear message to the police on how to deal with insurgents.

"The prisoners were against the wall and we were standing in the courtyard when the Interior Minister said that he would like to kill them all on the spot. Allawi said that they deserved worse than death - but then he pulled the pistol from his belt and started shooting them."

Re-enacting the killings, one witness stood three to four metres in front of a wall and swung his outstretched arm in an even arc, left to right, jerking his wrist to mimic the recoil as each bullet was fired. Then he raised a hand to his brow, saying: "He was very close. Each was shot in the head."

The witnesses said seven prisoners had been brought out to the courtyard, but the last man in the line was only wounded - in the neck, said one witness; in the chest, said the other.

Given Dr Allawi's role as the leader of the US experiment in planting a model democracy in the Middle East, allegations of a return to the cold-blooded tactics of his predecessor are likely to stir a simmering debate on how well Washington knows its man in Baghdad, and precisely what he envisages for the new Iraq.

There is much debate and rumour in Baghdad about the Prime Minister's capacity for brutality, but this is the first time eyewitness accounts have been obtained.

A former CIA officer, Vincent Cannisatraro, recently told The New Yorker: "If you're asking me if Allawi has blood on his hands from his days in London, the answer is yes, he does. He was a paid Mukhabarat [intelligence] agent for the Iraqis, and he was involved in dirty stuff."

In Baghdad, varying accounts of the shootings are interpreted by observers as useful to a little-known politician who, after 33 years in exile, needs to prove his leadership credentials as a "strongman" in a war-ravaged country that has no experience of democracy.

Dr Allawi's statement dismissed the allegations as rumours instigated by enemies of his interim government.

But in a sharp reminder of the Iraqi hunger for security above all else, the witnesses did not perceive themselves as whistle-blowers. In interviews with the Herald they were enthusiastic about such killings, with one of them arguing: "These criminals were terrorists. They are the ones who plant the bombs."

Before the shootings, the 58-year-old Prime Minister is said to have told the policemen they must have courage in their work and that he would shield them from any repercussions if they killed insurgents in the course of their duty.

The witnesses said the Iraqi police observers were "shocked and surprised". But asked what message they might take from such an act, one said: "Any terrorists in Iraq should have the same destiny. This is the new Iraq.

"Allawi wanted to send a message to his policemen and soldiers not to be scared if they kill anyone - especially, they are not to worry about tribal revenge. He said there would be an order from him and the Interior Ministry that all would be fully protected.

"He told them: 'We must destroy anyone who wants to destroy Iraq and kill our people.'

"At first they were surprised. I was scared - but now the police seem to be very happy about this. There was no anger at all, because so many policemen have been killed by these criminals."

Dr Allawi had made a surprise visit to the complex, they said.

Neither witness could give a specific date for the killings. But their accounts narrowed the time frame to on or around the third weekend in June - about a week before the rushed handover of power in Iraq and more than three weeks after Dr Allawi was named as the interim Prime Minister.

They said that as many as five of the dead prisoners were Iraqis, two of whom came from Samarra, a volatile town to the north of the capital, where an attack by insurgents on the home of Mr Al-Naqib killed four of the Interior Minister's bodyguards on June 19.

The Herald has established the names of three of the prisoners alleged to have been killed. Two names connote ties to Syrian-based Arab tribes, suggesting they were foreign fighters: Ahmed Abdulah Ahsamey and Amer Lutfi Mohammed Ahmed al-Kutsia.

The third was Walid Mehdi Ahmed al-Samarrai. The last word of his name indicates that he was one of the two said to come from Samarra, which is in the Sunni Triangle.

The three names were provided to the Interior Ministry, where senior adviser Sabah Khadum undertook to provide a status report on each. He was asked if they were prisoners, were they alive or had they died in custody.

But the next day he cut short an interview by hanging up the phone, saying only: "I have no information - I don't want to comment on that specific matter."

All seven were described as young men. One of the witnesses spoke of the distinctive appearance of four as "Wahabbi", the colloquial Iraqi term for the foreign fundamentalist insurgency fighters and their Iraqi followers.

He said: "The Wahabbis had long beards, very short hair and they were wearing dishdashas [the caftan-like garment worn by Iraqi men]."

Raising the hem of his own dishdasha to reveal the cotton pantaloons usually worn beneath, he said: "The other three were just wearing these - they looked normal."

One witness justified the shootings as an unintended act of mercy: "They were happy to die because they had already been beaten by the police for two to eight hours a day to make them talk."

After the removal of the bodies, the officer in charge of the complex, General Raad Abdullah, is said to have called a meeting of the policemen and told them not to talk outside the station about what had happened. "He said it was a security issue," a witness said.

One of the Al-Amariyah witnesses said he watched as Iraqis among the Prime Minister's bodyguards piled the prisoners' bodies into the back of a Nissan utility and drove off. He did not know what became of them. But the other witness said the bodies were buried west of Baghdad, in open desert country near Abu Ghraib.

That would place their burial near the notorious prison, which was used by Saddam Hussein's security forces to torture and kill thousands of Iraqis. Subsequently it was revealed as the setting for the still-unfolding prisoner abuse scandal involving US troops in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad.

The Herald has established that as many as 30 people, including the victims, may have been in the courtyard. One of the witnesses said there were five or six civilian-clad American security men in a convoy of five or six late model four-wheel-drive vehicles that was shepherding Dr Allawi's entourage on the day. The US military and Dr Allawi's office refused to respond to questions about the composition of his security team. It is understood that the core of his protection unit is drawn from the US Special Forces units.

The security establishment where the killings are said to have happened is on open ground on the border of the Al-Amariyah and Al-Kudra neighbourhoods in Baghdad.

About 90 policemen are stationed at the complex, which processes insurgents and more hardened offenders among those captured in the struggle against a wave of murder, robbery and kidnapping in post-invasion Iraq.

The Interior Ministry denied permission for the Herald to enter the heavily fortified police complex.

The two witnesses were independently and separately found by the Herald. Neither approached the newspaper. They were interviewed on different days in a private home in Baghdad, without being told the other had spoken. A condition of the co-operation of each man was that no personal information would be published.

Both interviews lasted more than 90 minutes and were conducted through an interpreter, with another journalist present for one of the meetings. The witnesses were not paid for the interviews.

Dr Allawi's office has dismissed the allegations as rumours instigated by enemies of his interim government.

A statement in the name of spokesman Taha Hussein read: "We face these sorts of allegations on a regular basis. Numerous groups are attempting to hinder what the interim Iraqi government is on the verge of achieving, and occasionally they spread outrageous accusations hoping they will be believed and thus harm the honourable reputation of those who sacrifice so much to protect this glorious country and its now free and respectable people.

"Dr Allawi is turning this country into a free and democratic nation run by the rule of law; so if your sources are as credible as they say they are, then they are more than welcome to file a complaint in a court of law against the Prime Minister."

In response to a question asking if Dr Allawi carried a gun, the statement said: "[He] does not carry a pistol. He is the Prime Minister of Iraq, not a combatant in need of any weaponry."

Sabah Khadum, a senior adviser to Interior Minister Mr Naqib, whose portfolio covers police matters, also dismissed the accounts. Rejecting them as "ludicrous", Mr Khadum said of Dr Allawi: "He is a doctor and I know him. He was my neighbour in London. He just doesn't have it in him. Baghdad is a city of rumours. This is not worth discussing."

Mr Khadum added: "Do you think a man who is Prime Minister is going to disqualify himself for life like this? This is not a government of gangsters."

Asked if Dr Allawi had visited the Al-Amariyah complex - one of the most important counter-insurgency centres in Baghdad - Mr Khadum said he could not reveal the Prime Minister's movements. But he added: "Dr Allawi has made many visits to police stations ... he is heading the offensive."

US officials in Iraq have not made an outright denial of the allegations. An emailed response to questions from the Herald to the US ambassador, John Negroponte, said: "If we attempted to refute each [rumour], we would have no time for other business. As far as this embassy's press office is concerned, this case is closed."
The article is accompanied by an Allawi timeline. Two months ago, when Allawi was chosen prime minister, I wrote about my experience with him, five years ago.

Most Iraqis aren't bothered by this allegation. In fact, most feel that an example, with public executions, should be made of the terrorists -- that that is the only language Iraqis, not to mention the foreign terrorists, understand. Indeed, this could bolster Allawi's reputation of being a "tough guy." Thursday, Allawi, standing alongside Interior Minister Falah Naqeeb and Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan, announced at a press conference the creation of a national safety directorate, and vowed to wipe out armed elements from the country.

The justification given by Iraqis for their view, is that "we're not ready for such niceties as democracy and human rights, that, first, we've got to wipe out the terrorists, and that requires tough action -- a firm hand" -- that to save millions, you have to kill a few. It'll be very interesting to see what Iraqis, and, in particular, the Iraqi press, including papers belonging to opponents of Allawi, do with this -- the first scandal involving allegations of human rights violations in post-Saddam Iraq, and pointing directly at the top political figure in the country. I'm just imagining the next cabinet meeting, and how the other government ministers will react to Allawi. Many are the stories, of Saddam executing people, in the middle of cabinet meetings, and the rest, falling into place.

Another factor in all of this, is the ongoing American bureaucratic feud between the State Department and the CIA on one hand, and the Defense Department on the other. Allawi is seen as State-CIA's man, and the Arabists who dominate there. They have not been traditionally enthusiastic for shaking things up in the region, let alone disrupting the status quo, prefering, instead, an old-line Arab nationalist such as Allawi, who was backed by Syria for many years.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, Ba'thists are making inroads into government, including the national assembly being organized for the end of the month. Government officials have offered a few olive branches to former Ba'thists over the past couple of weeks. Many see this as a necessary pragmatic step, to split the "resistance"/insurgency/terrorists/opposition. Saddam backers have taken over Falluja, on and off, over the past couple of months, and recently, members of Saddam's Republican Guard, in uniform, claimed they controlled Samarra for 12 days. Today, on the 36th anniversary of the Ba'ath coming to power, the last time, they flexed their muscles, setting off as many as seven bombs, including a suicide car-bomb targeting the justice minister. He survived, uninjured. Here's hoping, it's their last big sendoff.

Stay tuned. This is only the beginning.
I'm back -- but not for long

I was invited to lunch yesterday -- had a nice time, good company. Then, after getting dropped off at home, I was about to head off to the internet café, when I decided I could use a rest. I woke up, four hours later, it was almost nine, and I was feeling none too energetic. I ate a bunch of figs -- the little green ones are especially sweet -- and went back to sleep -- or, at least, tried to. My stomach was upset, too -- still is -- must've been something I ate. It made me wonder, what would Miss Manners say about informing a dinner host if one gets sick from the food. Well, I think cultural considerations play a big part in it. I don't think it would be received well in Arab circles.

I've got less than 48 hours left in Iraq. My plane out of Baghdad departs at 1:30, Monday afternoon. I'm waiting to hear back from the travel agency in Amman I've been dealing with (by e-mail) -- whether there's a flight to London later in the day. The agent told me about a flight that leaves Amman at noon. For the trip to Baghdad airport, where there's a Burger King, anyone can drive me to the first U.S. checkpoint -- I don't know how far it is -- my impression, about half way there. I get out at the checkpoint, and wait for a bus to take me the rest of the way. The other option is for someone with a Department of Defense badge -- a subcontractor -- who can drive me all the way to the airport. I know one such person who's in town, the woman who took me to Saddam's Republican Palace. I've got to call her, and see if she's available. She's very busy, though, so that's unlikely. And that's about it -- for now. Back to the show.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The price of freedom

Jeff Jacoby's July 4 Boston Globe column, on the words of John Adams, where America was, 16 months after declaring its independence, and Iraq.

In Adams's letter to his wife, Abigail, he wrote:
You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction.
Jacoby concludes, with excerpts from "Iraq the Model," Baghdadi dentist Mohammed's blog, the day Iraq got its sovereignty:
It's a great day for all freedom lovers. No doubt is left now that we're winning, while the forces of darkness and evil are losing a key round in this war....

I can see only one bright road. I believe that going to the end is worth the sacrifices.... Today we were freed forever from the fear that a man and his family might once again control Iraq....

A big salute to the courageous and noble man, Mr. Bremer, who we said good bye to this morning.... He struggled together with his Iraqi brothers to overcome the hardships in a critical era for this country and the whole world. I'm going to miss his presence and so will many Iraqis, because we feel that [the man] who left today is one of Iraq's sons....

It's hard to [fully] appreciate the efforts of all those who helped us to get our freedom and rebuild our country. We will never forget them. We will keep them in our hearts.

God bless Iraq and her people. God bless America and her people. God bless the coalition forces who supported Operation Iraqi Freedom.

And may God bless the souls of all those who sacrificed their lives to free Iraq.
At the dentist's and on the streets

I went to the dentist's, this afternoon. He had a waiting room, right when you enter his third-floor office. There was one woman sitting there, reading a magazine. On the corner table, there were a couple of copies of the popular Sayyidati (My Lady), and one called Al-Rajul (The Man), with a picture on the cover of a man wearing the traditional Arab robes -- I didn't know the magazine and didn't recognize the man on the cover. The door to the right was open, and I peaked my head in -- there was a desk there. I thought there might be a secretary. No secretary/receptionist -- just the dentist, leaning over the patient in the chair. My uncle, who'd made the appintment for me yesterday -- appointments, apparently, are not typical -- said this guy went to school in Minnesota. Iraqi professionals -- doctors, engineers, architects, dentists and maybe even lawyers -- are very capable, talented and well-educated. After a few minutes, the doctor asked me in. When I entered, he was sitting behind the desk, smoking -- that's pretty typical. He's about 60, almost bald, bespectacled. He asked me to take a seat. There were dozens of little vials on the side counter, and the array of instruments. I first asked him how much a cleaning was, because I only had 20,000 dinars and a $100 bill. He said he needed to have a look first. He said my teeth were "practically clean." I said I needed a cleaning every couple of months, anyway. He said it would be 20,000. That's about $14, with the average monthly wage, about 300,000 dinars ($200). He did a pretty thorough job, using his finger to spread the polish, after he'd finished the scraping. No conversation during the operation, but afterwards, he said my teeth were good, that I took pretty good care of them. I said, "sort of" and thanked him. This, for a person who never flosses. Well, I guess it's all relative, standards vary. When my cousin dropped me off at the dentist's, he asked me what was wrong. I don't think people go to the dentist's, if there isn't an emergency, and it's certainly not because of cost. Taking care of yourself hasn't been a priority here, for who-knows-how-long -- and it shows.

Afterwards, I went to buy a phone card, changed the $100 bill and got my eyeglasses tightened. On the way, I saw a cart on the sidewalk with leblebi (chick-pea soup) and baagilla (boiled fava beans), two favorite street foods. I had a bowl of the leblebi, then another. It's more of a winter food, but, still, it was good to have it -- first time I've seen it, this trip. I added a little vinegar the first time, more, the second. When I got to the internet café, where I'd left my bag, immediately after I'd finished with the dentist, I was invited to have some sweets the guys had brought in for one of the workers' birthday. I had a couple of little pieces of baqlawa.

Yesterday morning, through my downtown jaunt, I had a couple of purposes -- to look for some books and make an inquiry for a stamp-collector friend. Before we got to the bookstore street, I asked a couple of the antiques dealers on River Street about the stamp item. They directed me to Soog Herej and al-Maydan. Most of the antiques places were displaying their Abdul-Kareem Qasim and monarchy wares, especially Kings Faisal II and Ghazi -- plates, tea pots, stamps, photographs. Remember, yesterday was July 14. I took pictures of a shop window, with my friend Alaaddin al-Dhahir in mind. Alaaddin, a mathematics professor, wrote a book on Qasim, although it perished in a fire at his university in Holland. On our way to the bookstore street, Shari' al-Mutannabi, we passed the stationers, who had posters of Qasim, along with those of Ali and the top clerics. I took another picture.

There's more to this story, but the hour is late, and my tank is running low. To be continued. There's the juice bar Haj i-Zibala, the Um Kalthoom Café, the barbers' market and Bab il-Shorja.

All right -- adios.
Jim Hoagland, on the significance of Iraq

Jim Hoagland, one of the best American commentators on foreign affairs, in his June 24 Washington Post column, "The Toll of 'No More Iraqs,'" writes about the importance of victory in Iraq and the widespread loss of perspective. Key excerpts:
The souring of America on intervention abroad has major strategic implications for the United States and for the world.

The threshold for preventive war, for example, will be raised significantly for the immediate future. Intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and the intentions of dictators or terrorist gangs that seem to possess them are unlikely to be sufficiently clear to meet the standards for action demanded by the post-facto doubts and recriminations on Iraq. Intelligence analysis will become even more cautious and ambiguously stated to policymakers. Vulnerability to surprise attack could grow again.

Widespread disillusionment will also seriously undercut idealistic rationales for deploying U.S. forces overseas.
Hoagland concludes:
Americans have lost sight of the mass graves of Iraqi Shiites, the genocide campaigns against the Kurds and the war crimes committed by the criminal Baathist regime that was overthrown a year ago. The benefits of fighting terrorist networks in the Middle East and thereby galvanizing the Saudi, Moroccan and other Arab regimes to take forceful action against their extremists are not described or seen clearly enough to counterbalance the abuses of Abu Ghraib or the problems of Fallujah.

Instead, Washington is in the grips of an overlapping series of blame games geared toward influencing the November elections, ruining the reputations of rivals, and obtaining or protecting jobs for the professionally ambitious and the ambitiously professional. Perspective on the future of America's role in Iraq, the Middle East and the world is quickly jettisoned in this psychological sourness. So are the once bright hopes of humanitarian intervention.
That giant dripping sound

"Bit by bit," more and more details on the U.N.'s oil-for-food program are leaking out, thanks, in great part, to The Wall Street Journal’s Claudia Rosett, who has been piecing together “the biggest jigsaw puzzle of graft, fraud and theft in the history of humanitarian relief.” In her latest exposé, she writes, among other things, of how the "U.N. to this day has refused to release any more detail to the public, first citing the need to protect the privacy of Saddam and his business partners."

"But bit by bit, the picture comes into sharper focus," and Rosett discovers, and reveals for us, the contracts, the companies and the dollars involved in the "U.N.-condoned influence peddling, the billions in graft and smuggling, that became the hallmarks of Oil for Food,...overpricing being a route for Saddam's regime to collect kickbacks from U.N.-approved suppliers."

Her continuing lament is, what if the “U.N. [had] chosen to run this program not as a private consulting arrangement with Saddam,” in which the U.N. "Secretariat...collected a $1.4 billion commission on Saddam's oil sales to run this program."
Petition to Iraqi government from Amara

A letter from Muhammad Hadi il-Laami, an engineer, on behalf of "the committees for construction and democracy in Maysan Province" (in Arabic). In the appeal, addressed to "the prime minister," Laami asks for greater resources to be spent in the southeastern province, whose residents have suffered tremendous neglect and destruction at the hands of the past regime, "despite the presence there of one-third of the oil possessed by Iraq." The writer also asks for a greater role at all levels of government, and speaks of the continuing hopes and continuing dreams of the people of Maysan.
Lining up my ducks for the ride across the pond

For the past few days, I've been making arrangements for my return trip to America. First step, of course, is to get out of Iraq. I came in, overland, in a private SUV taxi, from Amman. That cost $150. This time, I've been warned against taking the overland route, for fear of kidnappers. The highway from Baghdad to Amman passes very close to Falluja and Ramadi, two hotbeds of terrorist activity, including a lot of kidnappings. I'd like to say goodbye to Falluja, but...maybe not worth the risk. Plus, I really don't know anybody in Falluja. I know some people who hail from Falluja, but that's not good enough. I came into Iraq, four months and eleven days ago. I don't know if kidnappers were a lot less frequent then, but they certainly feel a lot more real, and personal, now. The kidnappers have made the circle of targets a lot closer to me, that's for sure. For the purpose of making my overland return, as well as making travel around the country safer, I've been trying to get an Iraqi ID. I've met some stumbling blocks, there, and have given up the effort. Lately, I've asked about getting a counterfeit ID. One of the guards here, who'd offered to help me, is now saying that's more difficult. Indeed, in a Tuesday newspaper account of the police raid in the KifaH part of Baghdad, in which 527 suspects were arrested on Monday, one of the illegal activities mentioned was counterfeiting documents, something, police say, they're trying to clamp down on.

Well, an alternative to going overland, is to fly -- if you can't make up the yardage on the ground, air it out -- Woody Hayes wouldn't like that. Royal Jordanian is the only commercial airline flying out of Baghdad, and their one-way ticket to Amman is around $600. I can get the money, but I'd rather not spend that much. Another option is AirServe, the $165-plane-ride for employees of non-governmental organizations working in Iraq. I asked about that, and I've done enough work for the Iraq Foundation to qualify. A director here put in a request for a seat. I'm supposed to get an answer today. The friend who put in the request for me, said that seats shouldn't be a problem, these days -- that those who wanted to get out, already have.

Meanwhile, I want to stop in London for a week. London's like a second home to me, and I have many friends, and much history, there, and always enjoy walking around and seeing plays. My return flight to America, though, is from Amman to Detroit, and it turns into a pumpkin on the second of August, the fourteenth anniversary of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. Travel agencies here can't do much, in the way of international flights, so I've had to look for Jordanian travel agencies, on-line, for the London flight. Once I get to Amman, I'll go straight to the Royal Jordanian ticket counter, and see what I can do about all my flights -- see if I can fly to America from London, see if I can extend my four-month ticket -- a good friend in England gets back in the country, the first of August. Oh -- in addition, because I was bumped off my original flight from Detroit to Amman, March 31, I got a $400 voucher from Royal Jordanian Airlines, which I'm trying to use for the London flight. So, here's the upshot: I'm trying to find a round-trip flight from Amman to London, and hoping to time it so that I can go straight from my Baghdad-Amman flight to an Amman-London flight, and then, when I return to Amman, make it to a flight to Detroit -- all, without having to stay overnight in Amman, which would mean having to make the long trip from the airport into the city, and the extra expense that all entails. Writing about it, now, it looks like that'll be impossible, not to mention, pretty hectic -- although, I think it'd be worth it -- not having another stop -- layover -- in another city -- and to make it straight home.

One final detail: the flights from Amman to Detroit are all booked up for the next couple of weeks. I've been "waitlisted" for July 28, which just gives me seven days in London. Otherwise, I have to go to the airport and "stand by." Well, with the flight connections I'll have to make -- I know the flight to London departs at noon -- it looks like I'll have to spend a night, or two, in Amman. An uncle who left Baghdad for Amman three weeks ago, stays in an apartment there, but he and his wife went to Paris a few days ago, to visit her sister. A cousin, the one I was expecting to stay with in Baghdad, who was a top engineer in the nuclear commission and who revived a mini-baseball league in Baghdad, is due into Amman any day now, on his way back from America -- he'll be staying with in-laws in Amman. Meanwhile, I'm also trying to find a place to stay in London. One of my best friends sold his house, and has moved into a small apartment above the salon his wife runs in the city. Their daughter, home from college, sleeps on the floor of the salon, before it opens. They've offered me the same -- I want to be able to lounge.

I know -- I'm trying to do too much. That's nothing new. Still, things are falling into place. I got one of my suitcases fixed -- the zipper wasn't working. At the Cleveland airport, the woman at the ticket counter and I taped the bag closed. Downtown yesterday, I bought maps of Baghdad and Iraq and a couple of books and a journal for a cousin in America who's working on a project on the latest Arab thought on democracy. On our way back, my uncle and I stopped at a particular sweets shop my mother told me about, and bought some manna (from heaven) -- it's made here. I'm going to the dentist today, for a much-postponed cleaning. For the rest of my trip, I'm getting $500 from my cousin's husband, who runs a money-change shop. I'll transfer the money to his brother in Canada, once I'm back in Cleveland. I'm taking a lot of pictures, of so many things I want to record, such as the scores of gaudy houses that have sprung up in Baghdad over the past dozen years -- they deserve a coffee-table book treatment. I'm copying pictures onto CDs for the guards and juice-bar workers. About all that's left is getting my eyeglasses tightened and picking up some medicine my parents delivered to a cousin in London, who's due to arrive here today. Finally, I've started announcing my imminent departure and begun saying my goodbyes.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

More benefits
Subj: letter from Ray Reynolds, a medic in the Iowa Army National Guard, serving in Iraq
Date: 7/13/2004 8:05:30 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Melissa Aleshaiker

My dear friends,

There are much more benefits.

Returning of water to Al-Ahwar
[the Mesopotamian marshes]

Building new houses

Returning the houses to the real owners

Having many newspapers

New free passports

Saddam is in the cage

I think we shall write a list of 100 good things that Bush gave Iraq and publish it.

Breaking News


Planned to Tell President on Birthday, Tenet Reveals

Outgoing CIA Director George Tenet told a Senate panel today that the spy agency knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the war but did not inform President Bush because “we wanted it to be a surprise.”

Mr. Tenet said that there was disagreement within the agency over whether to tell the president there were no WMD right away or “to save it for his birthday,” but that ultimately the decision to make it “a neat surprise” won out.

He vigorously defended the decision, calling the good news about WMD “the ultimate birthday present” for a president who was “extremely hard to shop for.”

“George W. Bush is fabulous wealthy, plus he’s President of the United States,” Mr. Tenet said. “It’s almost impossible to find something to give him for his birthday, short of putting out a CIA hit on Michael Moore.”

Given the mounting costs of the war in Iraq, however, Mr. Tenet said he now has second thoughts about withholding the WMD information from Mr. Bush: “Maybe we just should’ve gotten him something from The Sharper Image.”

In related news, President Bush said today that the 9/11 commission’s finding that there were no ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda is “conclusive proof” that there were ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

“In the section of the report where they say there is no link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, Iraq and al-Qaeda appear in the same sentence over and over again,” Mr. Bush said. “Hello! How much more proof do you need?”
That's Andy Borowitz, from Monday, July 12.
Kurdish forces capture militants in Iraq

Kurdish security forces have captured 15 militants in northern Iraq, including one man believed to be a senior leader of a local al-Qaida-linked group, an official in a pro-American Kurdish party said Tuesday.

Among those arrested late Monday evening was a man identified as Hemen Banishiri, reportedly the second-in-command for the radical Kurdish group, Ansar al-Islam, said Saadi Ahmed, a senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's political wing.

The arrests took place in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk and several other towns, Ahmed said.

Although Ahmed said U.S. forces participated in the arrests, confirmation from the American military was not immediately available....

Earlier this month, Kurdish authorities arrested six men believed linked to the group as suspected of carrying out a number attacks and assassination attempts on senior police officials and political leaders.
From yesterday's Associated Press news report.
Israeli on Arabiyya

It was funny watching Al-Arabiyya television last night. They were discussing the latest maneuverings in the Israeli government, and one of the two commentators was an Israeli. Actually, both were Israeli. One was a Palestinian Israeli, from Nazareth -- a member of the Labor Party and a former member of the Knesset. His name was SaliH Tareef. The other person was a Jewish Israeli, I'm pretty sure, but he spoke in Arabic. His name was Elie Neesan. He spoke Arabic with a bit of an accent, but he was very good. His Arabic was better than mine, but that's not saying much. He was "a political analyst," in Jerusalem. I'm sure Arabiyya and Jazeera have had on Israelis before, and I may have seen one before, myself, but it was still interesting to watch -- an Israeli, speaking Arabic, reporting and commenting on the Israeli political scene, to an Arabic television channel. He was fair, and gave some inside perspectives on the dealings and considerations of various parties and politicians.
March tomorrow, marking the past

A group associated with Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress issued the following press release:
In remembrance of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead and missing, victims of Saddam and his regime's many wars, genocide, torture and consistent human rights abuses, the Iraqi people will march on Thursday 15th July 2004. The march will start at 10 am local from Sahat al-Tahrir in Baghdad. The aim of the march is:
To commemorate lost victims with an annual memorial day, to demand rights and compensation for living victims.
To establish a national centre to archive, preserve and study the abuses of the Baath.
To integrate the legacy of the Baathists brutal regime in the educational curriculum.
To reaffirm decisions of the former Governing Council in preventing complicit and guilty Baathists from public service and political influence.
The group is called the Committee for Defending Victims of the Baath.

* * *

An article by Talar Nadir, editor of the women's newspaper Rewan, explores the issue of Kurdish women still missing from the 1988 Anfal campaign, many of whom were "given away as trophies by the Baath regime." The article, for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, includes a Saddam-era document which reads, in part:
"According to your orders, we have sent a number of these women to night-clubs in the Egyptian Arab Republic."
* * *

Another IWPR article gets reactions from Dujail residents to the trial of Saddam. The town was wiped out by Saddam, after an assassination attempt against him on the nearby highway in 1982.

Still another IWPR article speaks to survivors of the first chemical bombings -- of Sheikh Weesan and Balisan, in April 1987. Excerpts:
Aziz Ali, 53, lost the sight in both his eyes 17 years ago when Saddam Hussein's planes dropped poison gas on his village.

He seldom leaves the shade of his mud brick house - but now he wants to go to Baghdad.

"I want to stand against Saddam and tell him 'you are guilty'," said Ali, who is determined to attend the former president's trial in the capital....

Of their 2,000 Kurdish inhabitants, 400 were killed while dozens more suffered severe damage to their skin, nerves and eyes.

The July 1 appearance of Saddam Hussein in an Iraqi court reminded people in Sheikh Wasanan of a day of horror and death which still seems like only yesterday....

"We would like Saddam to be placed at our disposal and tried in our village," says Khajij Mustafa, 42, who lost four brothers, both parents and twelve of her nieces and nephews.
The IWPR articles are available in Kurdish, Arabic and English.

* * *

The residents of the more famous chemical-bombing target, Halabcha, want to host the trial of Ali Hasan al-Majeed, the man who ordered the poisoning of the town's 50,000+ residents. In this article, survivors vividly recall those three days in March 1988, and look forward to retribution. The beginning of the Knight Ridder article by Mark McDonald:
HALABJA, Iraq - Nobody’s sure what kind of nerve gas was in that first bomb, the one that flattened the House of Charity mosque. It collapsed the dome and toppled the minaret, and within minutes hundreds of people were twitching and blistering to death in the dust of Mokhtar Street.

About 5,000 people - more than half of them children - died in Halabja on that warm morning in the late winter of 1988. On that day, Saddam Hussein’s air force was nothing if not thorough.

The terrible clouds of cyanide, mustard gas and sarin caught up with 15,000 other Halabjans, unwiring their nervous systems or forever clouding their minds. Even today, this little Kurdish hill town is full of the slow, the blind, the lame, and the halt.

The chemical attack on Halabja, which stands as one of the great horrors in modern warfare, was one piece of evidence the U.S. administration cited for going to war in Iraq....

There is also widespread sentiment for sleepy little Halabja, a farming town in northeastern Iraq, to be host to the war-crimes trial of Ali Hassan al-Majid. The former general, a cousin of Hussein’s, is known to have ordered the attack on Halabja, earning himself the nickname "Chemical Ali."

Majid helped orchestrate the campaign of terror that killed an estimated 132,000 people in northern Iraq in 1988, almost all of them Kurds and Turkmen. Captured last August, Majid was the "king of spades" in the coalition’s deck of most-wanted cards.

Halabja, with a population of 53,000, is too small and remote to handle a full-scale trial for Hussein. But local officials think that with some preparations, it could hold the Majid trial. They have petitioned the Iraqi government to be the venue.
* * *

Some related items, from the local press:

Iraqis are adding to the list of accusations against former President Saddam Hussei. Some accused Saddam of losing 252 millions years, a figure that results from multiplying the total number of Iraqi people by the years Saddam ruled Iraq. Other Iraqis observed that the list of accusations against Saddam did not include the displacement of the Faili Kurds in 1980 by throwing them behind the borders after confiscating their properties, their sons and their lives. The Turkmen are astonished that the list does not include Saddam's crimes against them merely because of their national identity and their religious affiliation. Saddam executed more than 500 Turkmen during 1980-1991, and he destroyed their cities and villages. He should be convicted for fleeing from the battlefield as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
(July 5, Al-Sabah, an independent daily)

* * *


The team searching for Kuwaiti prisoners of war in Iraq said corpses of 11 Kuwaitis and one Saudi, who were captured during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, have been found in a mass grave. The Kuwaiti search team has been looking for more than 600 Kuwaiti POWs the mass graves since the fall of the regime last year. Spokesman of the POWs in Iraq Faiz al-Anzi said a DNA test confirmed the identities of the corpses found in the mass graves.
(July 6, Al-Ittihad, organ of Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan)

* * *


Director General of the Saddam trial Salim al-Chalabi said he interrogated the intelligence officer in charge of al-Radwaniya prison who told him that Saddam gave him an order to execute 3,000 persons detained there. Chalabi said the trial will investigate the ethnic cleansing in Kirkuk planned by the old regime's laws, adding that he will visit Iran within the coming ten days to review the accusations against Saddam for having war crimes during the Iraq-Iran war.
(July 12, Al-Mu'tamar, organ of the Iraqi National Congress)
Local press translations are from IWPR.
Large explosion in Green Zone

An car-bomb exploded just outside the Convention Center this morning, killing at least 10 people, including three Iraqi civil defense forces, and injuring 22 other people.
Speaking of the environment minister
Date: 7/13/2004 1:42:17 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Dear Ayad:

I hope I find you in good health.

Let me first begin by congratulating you on your very fine blog. I really admire your efforts and as an Iraqi I completely agree with everything you're doing. You have my complete support.

I'm employed by the U.S. EPA as the Iraq Program Manager. EPA and the State Dept have been working relentlessly for the past year to secure funds to implement capacity building at the newly created Min of Environment and to kick-start environmental work in Iraq.

EPA will shortly send a congratulatory letter to the new appointed minister, Mishkat El-Moumin, and extend an invitation to come to the US. I have the following email address, which I hope you can confirm:

Any chance you can ask the minister to send me her bio?....

Please continue doing the fine work and God bless you.

Mazin Enwiya
Iraq Program Manager
Iraq's first modern landfill

Yesterday morning, our old friend Dr. Mishkat el-Moumin, the environment minister, visited the country's first modern landfill, in southwest Baghdad. According to the government press release, the site is being developed by an Iraqi-owned construction firm, and will have the capacity to handle 2230 cubic meters of waste per day and serve the needs of two million Baghdadis. The $22 million project will meet international standards for waste management, a first in Iraq, and will include built-in leachate collection systems, drainage, gas and surface water controls to protect both the groundwater and environment around the site.

FluorAMEC, LLC, the design/build contractor will provide on-site training for landfill operators; institute a landfill and operation maintenance program; and develop a landfill closure plan. A second landfill facility north of Baghdad is being developed by USAID.

In the press release announcing the visit of Moumin and U.S. spending director Admiral (ret.) David Nash to the site, Moumin is not quoted.
To protect and to serve

In addition to the 700+ people reportedly picked up in the downtown neighborhood Bettaween over the past week, the security forces yesterday detained 527 people in the KifaH part of Baghdad and adjacent areas, in what they reported was their largest operation to date. Deputy interior minister General Hsayn Ali Kamal said 400 members of his ministry's forces took part in the raids, and detained members of kidnapping gangs, as well as murderers, thieves, smugglers and drug-dealers. A kidnapping ring in the Shu'la area was broken up, Kamal reported, releasing one hostage in the process.

The police operations undertaken since sovereignty was transfered to Iraqis, many people feel could not be undertaken by foreign forces, but only by Iraqis, who know the streets and neighborhoods, and could get cooperation from locals and neighbors. Today's Al-Mada quoted an area merchant who was happy with the police raids, and complained about the damage done to the area by criminals.

Two related reports from the local press:

Joint meetings between the ministries of health and interior are still underway to find the best solutions to stop the kidnapping of physicians. Some 1,150 physicians have left Iraq to live abroad after the kidnapping of 250 physicians. It has been recommended to have security procedures to protect public and private medical centres in Baghdad and other provinces by chasing the kidnappers. Widely spread checkpoints might participate in putting an end to this phenomena.
(July 7, Al-Adala, organ of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq)

* * *


Minister of Human Rights Baktiyar Ameen said there are 99 Arab and foreign detainees in Iraq, 77 of them in Um Qasr jail and the rest in Abu Ghraib prison. The minister revealed the names of the terrorists to give the public an idea about the identities of the outlaws, criminals, killers and terrorists who penetrated Iraq to destroy the country's infrastructure, security and stability. They aimed to disable the democratic process, he added. They are 26 Syrians, 12 Egyptians, 14 Iranians, 4 Palestinians, 14 Saudis, 9 Sudanese, 8 Jordanians, 5 Tunisians and 1 from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Morocco and west bank, he said.
(July 13, Al-Sabah, an independent paper)
Translations are from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, in Baghdad, whose members produced an article yesterday about Muqtada a-Sadir's militia members now working closely with police in Baghdad's Sadir City and the southern city Kut.
I was wrong about the king

The boy king was not mauled in the streets on July 14, 1958, as I wrote yesterday. He was not handled in the traditional Iraqi manner of killing the fallen ruler -- dragging him through the streets, as people did last year with the head of that big statue of Saddam that was brought down on April 9th. Young Faisal II was killed, with some mercy, but was not dragged through the streets. His regent, Abdul-Ilah, did get the customary treatment, and today, I went to the spot where his naked corpse was hung, 46 years ago today. I went into town with my uncle, for what's likely to be the last time. I went to Mutannabi Street, which is packed with bookstores, and also looked in the antiques market for an item a stamp collector friend requested. On the drive back, my uncle pointed out the building from which Abdul-Ilah was hung. It's on the street that was called Abdul-Ilah Street, on the Karkh side of the old bridge, the oldest steel bridge in Baghdad, built in 1936. In recent times, it's been called Jisr il-Shuhadaa' (Martyrs' Bridge).

Across the building from which Abdul-Ilah was hung is a building that was owned by my grandfather. My uncle, my dad and two of their brothers went down to their father's buiding, to watch the crowds. The body of Abdul-Ilah was brought to the street that bears his name. The mob first tried to hang his body from the building directly across from my grandfather's, which was owned by the grandfather of our old friend Dr. Mishkat el-Moumin, now the environment minister. Moumin refused. Next door was a building belonging to the Shawi family. I don't know if anybody there acceded, but the body was hung from their building, and people came by and beat the body with sticks, I expect, like a piñata, with the crowd whooping it up. My uncle said he was aghast at the inhumanity of people, and later, while walking on the other side of the river, feared he might be suspected of being a monarchist, because he wasn't hooting and hollering.

The street that was called Abdul-Ilah was renamed Shari' il-NaSir (Victory Street).

The frequent prime minister during the monarchy, Noori il-Sa'id, was hunted for three days, and when he was found, in the downtown Bettaween neighborhood, he shot himself.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Standing up for a good man
Melvyn Bragg: Stop kicking a good Prime Minister
It is curious how difficult we find it to take good news in this country.
Perhaps we can't believe our luck

It has been open season on Tony Blair for more than a year, but he has never been in worse trouble than now. He has been reviled, sneered at, patronised, accused of having "blood on his hands" and spoken and written of in lynching terms. His wife, an independent career woman who combines this with bringing up a family and taking an effective part in many charities, has been, and continues to be in certain tabloids, the perpetual target for idle and abusive torment. The effect of this on their immediate family has been ignored. We are, in part, a kicking culture in Portugal and in print.

We have heard rumours of Tony Blair's resignation, gloating warnings about further illness. We hear of his being overthrown, and there appear to be cults which mushroom in soggy wine bars competing to see who can vilify him most blackly. Most people handing out this venom could not take it for two minutes and yet there is in our culture the curious belief that a political leader has, by that definition, lost all humanity.

It's to Blair's credit, I think, that he has not lost his. It is an indication of his resilience and strength that he is still in the ring in which I hope he will stay to win another election, which I think he will....

But Iraq? Yes. We'll get to Iraq....

For this he gets a hammering much darker than the usual bruising which follows bad local election results. It has to be Iraq. Iraq is the subject which unifies the hangers and floggers of the Prime Minister. It is also a subject on which people of great integrity and decency feel that they have been mortally betrayed by someone they trusted and this cannot be sidestepped.

I was in favour of the invasion of Iraq as were the majority of the British at the time. There was legitimate authority at the United Nations to invade and Blair's attempt to secure extra authority was technically unnecessary, morally worth it and doomed by the realpolitik of Chirac, whom I find hard to respect.

So the coalition went in looking for WMD and found none. I was convinced they were there, not least because I understood that the West had sold them to the Iraqis some years before. I did not need them to be there to consider Saddam worth removing but they were made so much of that their non-appearance was a blow to many of those who went along with the coalition.

I presume that Blair is, correctly, waiting until Lord Butler makes his report before addressing the electorate on this.

I do not think he lied. It very much looks as if he was fed inaccurate information. It looks as if that information was worked in a way to whip up the public. In the preparation for war, the exaggeration of the enemy threat may be reprehensible but it seems sadly par for the course and, though never excusable, thought necessary to help steal resolve for an act which embarks on a dehumanising course.

But, like most Iraqis, I'm glad Saddam has gone. The real trouble in Iraq over the past few months has come from Iraqis and their terrorist allies and most of it has been directed against Iraqis who are trying to set up a democracy. The fundamentalist "weapon" has been the suicide attack which, more than anything else, destroys all before it.

And of course the coalition has done harm in Iraq. The proof of torture - though, dare one say it, nowhere near the scale of Saddam's torturers - is a terrible indictment and cannot be erased.

But the fact that Tony Blair will not turn his back on the decision which has now moved Iraq into a new situation could be compared to his decision to stand by the peace process in Northern Ireland.

If, as is not beyond possibility, Iraq does manage to succeed through elections, if it does defeat its internal terrorists, there could come a time when the toppling of Saddam might be seen as an important stage in the slow stabilisation of the Middle East. Time can turn the meaning of contemporary events inside out.

I think that Tony Blair is right not to run away from Iraq just as he was right to go in.

Another way of looking at this is that it is not cowardly of him to stand, almost alone it seems, and take the heavy flak over Iraq. In this way he shields the rest of his Government and lets them get on with the task of making the UK a better place to live in. This I believe was the chief reason that this tough complicated Christian man came into politics.

The author is a writer, broadcaster and Labour peer
From the June 21 issue of The Independent. Thanks to Abdulkhaliq Hussein, for bringing this opinion piece to my attention.
July 14

Tomorrow's a holiday here, to mark the 1958 revolution/coup against the British-backed monarchy. It will be especially marked by Communist Party members, who had a large say in the post-monarchy government, other leftover leftists, and backers of Abdul-Kareem Qasim, the first leader of the republic. He was overthrown in February 1963 by a Ba'thist-nationalist coup, and the next nine months witnessed a bloodbath of tens of thousands of communists by Saddam and his Ba'thi peers.

Many also see July 14, 1958, as the beginning of a cycle of political violence in Iraq, a cycle that may still not have ended, but the culmination of which was the bloody 35-year reign of the Ba'ath. Those who subscribe to this view, supporters of the monarchy or sympathizers with the boy king, who was mauled by mobs in the streets, will mark tomorrow with solemnity. [I was wrong about the king being dragged through the streets. My correction is posted on July 14.]

Tomorrow is also the first of the July anniversaries. July is a month of revolutions and coups in Iraq. On July 17, 1968, the Ba'ath Party came back to power, in a near bloodless coup, but the next two weeks saw a purge -- meaning, killings -- of the upper party echelons of almost all potential competitors, including those abroad. Saddam was instrumental in those purges, and was rewarded for his efforts with the vice presidency and the number two post in the party, quickly becoming the man controlling the levers of power inside the country.
Crackdown continues

The police crackdown is apparently ongoing, and in particular, in downtown Baghdad's Bettaween neighborhood. Word has it that upwards of 700 people have been picked up there -- all in the last week. Many have been subsequently released. Some also say that Jaysh il-Mehdi, Muqtada a-Sadir's militia, has been assisting police in tracking down criminals and suspects in their searches.

Police checkpoints were very numerous in Mansour yesterday afternoon.

A few press items on the topic.

If we submit to the theory of sociologists that "man's nature is the result of his environment", you can imagine the nature of the Iraqi personality, which has experienced wars, embargo, and crises. But none of this made the Iraqi personality deviate from its heritage and characteristics, apart from a few exceptions which exist in every community. However, we have never heard of the phenomena of kidnapping, drugs, or cutting off heads. According to Islamic teachings, to slaughter a bird you must use a sharp knife to prevent it suffering pain. So, we can imagine how man should be treated. The germs of these new phenomena came from outside Iraq. He, who thinks keeping borders uncontrolled is unintentional, is mistaken. Iraqis are the only victims of this. Foreigners will leave but these diseases do not easily heal. Sovereignty will be restored, but who will bring us back a safe, healthy society?
(From a June 24 editorial in Al-Mashriq, a private daily)
Then, three items from July 8's papers:

A poll made by the market researches and consumer safety centre of University of Baghdad revealed that 89% of Iraqis are willing to cooperate with the new government to rebuild Iraq. 84% said sovereignty could be achieved through an elected government. 54% agreed on imposing martial law and curfew to control security and stability, while 29% showed their conservatism about the law. The results of the poll, despite the opinion diversity, showed that 88% were with the government, and they would aid the law once it was in Iraqi hands.

* * *


Disagreements that postponed the declaration of the National Security Law are not between cabinet and presidency, nor between security and human rights apparatuses. They are between democracy and security and they evolved after the former regime's collapse and the lack of a post-war plan prepared by the occupiers. Security became more important than democracy and its contradiction because it is associated with chaos. Although I am convinced the state must have control to stop insecurity, martial law in the Arab and Islamic world lasts too long. In Iraq, many articles of the National Security Law were implemented, as in the Fallujah siege. But making the state of emergency into a law is another thing. The current chaos made people support the strengthening of the authorities. In the end, we need more work to balance security and democracy.
(Editorial by Zuhair al-Jazairi, Al-Mada, a private daily)

* * *


Most Iraqis were reluctant regarding issuance of the National Security Law because the state of emergency will inevitably be negative to a part of their freedom. Besides, we do not wish that such obligatory procedures be used in the new Iraq. However, Iraqis should not be liable to death while terrorists practice sabotage. As this is the case, the government has no choice but the emergency state. We have just one way leading to freedom and stability. If we do not walk it, there will be nothing but murder and ruin.
(Al-Adala editorial, organ of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq)
Then, yesterday:

Sources close to a member of the dissolved Governing Council said many Shia organisations have been formed to confront the terrorist groups of Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, and Saddam supporters who have returned to work under different names. The sources said the Shia organisations will practice killing and kidnapping the Arab lawyers who plan to defend Saddam. The Shia groups also will punish all those who target the police and Iraqi establishments. These organisations will be the alternate force of Iyad Allawi in this critical phase. Many Turkmen, Sunni and Faili Kurds forces have joined these organisations.
(Al-Bayyna, a weekly issued by the Hezbollah movement in Iraq)
Translations are from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
How have I served thee? Let me count the ways
As I head off to Baghdad for the final weeks of my stay in Iraq, I wanted to say thanks to all of you who did not believe the media. They have done a very poor job of covering everything that has happened. I am sorry that I have not been able to visit all of you during my two-week leave back home. And just so you can rest at night knowing something is happening in Iraq that is noteworthy, I thought I would pass this on to you. This is the list of things that has happened in Iraq recently: (Please share it with your friends and compare it to the version that your paper is producing.)

* Over 400,000 kids have up-to-date immunizations.
* School attendance is up 80% from levels before the war.
* Over 1,500 schools have been renovated and rid of the weapons stored there so education can occur.
* The port of Um Qasir was renovated so grain can be off-loaded from ships faster.
* The country had its first 2 billion barrel export of oil in August.
* Over 4.5 million people have clean drinking water for the first time ever in Iraq.
* The country now receives 2 times the electrical power it did before the war.
* 100% of the hospitals are open and fully staffed, compared to 35% before the war.
* Elections are taking place in every major city, and city councils are in place.
* Sewer and water lines are installed in every major city.
* Over 60,000 police are patrolling the streets.
* Over 100,000 Iraqi civil defense police are securing the country.
* Over 80,000 Iraqi soldiers are patrolling the streets side by side with US soldiers.
* Over 400,000 people have telephones for the first time ever.
* Students are taught field sanitation and hand washing techniques to prevent the spread of germs.
* An interim constitution has been signed.
* Girls are allowed to attend school.
* Textbooks that don't mention Saddam are in the schools for the first time in 30 years.

Don't believe for one second that these people do not want us there. I have met many, many people from Iraq that want us there, and in a bad way. They say they will never see the freedoms we talk about but they hope their children will. We are doing a good job in Iraq and I challenge anyone, anywhere to dispute me on these facts. So if you happen to run into John Kerry, be sure to give him my email address and send him to Denison, Iowa. This soldier will set him straight. If you are like me and very disgusted with how this period of rebuilding has been portrayed, email this to a friend and let them know there are good things happening.

Ray Reynolds, SFC
Iowa Army National Guard
234th Signal Battalion
Other figures, on the numbers of police and Iraqi security forces operating in the country. On June 27, Paul Bremer III, head of the Coalition Provisiional Authority that he would retire the next day, said at a farewell meeting with Baghdad's city, regional and provincial councils, that "more than 100,000 police officers were on duty across the country, but that there were not enough yet in Baghdad." The June 13 New York Times reported that Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, "during a recent tour of the Taji military base, ticked off the current Iraqi security staff: 92,000 police officers, 74,000 facility guards, 25,000 civil defense soldiers, 17,000 border guards and 7,000 army soldiers."
Subj: A Debate about Terrorists
Date: 7/1/2004 7:32:19 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Samir Mahmood"

I received a copy of a call circulated by Dr. Mohammed Al Rubai'e to organise support within the Iraqi communities outside Iraq for the democratic process taking place in Iraq.

It included a statement about the need to fight off terrorists, expressed as follows:
[The statement was in Arabic, and my computer could not read it. The writer of this e-mail wrote me that it was, essentially, a call for people to work together to defeat terrorists, and that, in any case, was not relevant to the ensuing discussion.]
Then soon after, I received, through a friend (Abu Shams), a comment on the circular which included the following:
I respect your point of view and I can see that you care. The problem is what is called terrorists. I do not know all these terrorists but I know some of them are dying because they love Iraq and hate the indignity of occupation. If Ayad Alawi, and his colleagues can find it in their heart to listen and talk to these so called terrorists, then I will join you and will be happy to do my bit for Iraq either here or in Iraq. If they decide to fight these terrorists with American help, then I do not want to know. The British government eventually decided to talk to the IRA. The South Africans eventually decided to talk to Nelson Mandela and the ANC after dismissing them for years as terrorists. We can save time if we talk to the people who are fighting in Iraq and convince them that they can have a voice in the new Iraq and not dismiss them all as terrorists. The Americans call the Palestinians Terrorists but surely we do not agree with them.
The new Iraqi minister of defence wants to cut their hands and heads, not a promising start for a new democratic Iraq. These people have at least as much right as the minister of defence and others who returned to Iraq on American tanks.
I am sure we all want a peaceful democratic Iraq and this means respecting and involving all the people of Iraq, not just the ones who agree with our views. If we label them as terrorists, and they label us as CIA agents, then we will not get anywhere. After all, that was what Saddam did, all who disagreed with him
were called traitors or reactionary. From now on we must respect all points of view and stop using arbitrary labels to discredit each other.

I look forward to hearing from you

Prof A E A Almaini
To which my response was:

Dear Abu Shams

I was shocked to read the message I received today addressed to Dr Mohamed Al Rumaie. At first I thought it was from you, which confused me and took me aback. But I soon realised it was from another gentleman in your circle of friends. I did not think it should be left to stand without challenge, because at best it is very poor and muddled thinking unworthy of a person with scientific training, and at worst an unacceptable defence of the undefensible, a defence of barbaric crimes disguised under a shabby cloak of sham patriotism.

The argument Prof. Almaini presents rests on the definition of "terrorists", so we need to look at this closely:

What do we call those who:
- Attack and kill dozens of Iraqi police, and Iraqi army recruits, when we all know that any society even one under occupation needs its police to protect it from crime. (Resistance fighters in France during Nazi occupation did not target their police)

- Attack and sabotage oil pipelines, electrical generating plant and transmission lines, bridges, water treatment installations, fuel convoys, railway lines and trains, telecommunications facilities especially telephone exchanges and other infrastructures of the state of Iraq

- Attack the United Nations HQ, diplomatic missions and aid agencies depriving Iraq of vital help and reconstruction resources.

- Assassinate academics and scholars

- Kidnap and murder engineers, technicians and workers both Iraqi and foreign who work in foreign companies repairing and rebuilding our infrastructure, such as GE, the Russian and Chinese companies working on Electrical grid. One Iraqi who was beheaded was my cousin, a young bright and promising engineer who had just been married.

- Murder Iraqi individuals trying as best they know how to serve their country through a political process and without violence such as Dr. Aqila Al-Hashimi, Izzuddin Saleem and Mohammed Baqir Al-Hakeem. ( I myself was targeted specifically in an assassination attempt which was foiled in time, but there could be more)

- Terrorize schools and teachers into closing when they are required to do so.

- Murder or attempt to murder foreigner volunteers in charitable work. I know more than one example.
These people are murderers, thugs and enemies of Iraq and its people. If someone explodes a 500 kg bomb in a crowded area knowing full well that many innocent people will be killed and many more maimed and scores of lives shattered, not counting the cost to the economy, stability and well-being of the country he must be considered not simply as a person who has a different point of view, but a terrorist. This is not a label in this case but an accurate description.

Dr Almaini says: "If Ayad Alawi, and his colleagues can find it in their heart to listen and talk to these so called terrorists (my emphasis), then I will join you and will be happy to do my bit for Iraq either here or in Iraq".

Yes, we must talk to these people but only through the judicial system, and bring them to account for their crimes- I repeat crimes not views. There are all kinds of differing views interacting in the political arena or in the media. Neither the Coalition nor Iraqi authorities have interfered with anyone for expressing dissent. It is a different matter when we are dealing with thugs and murderers trained by Saddam or deployed by foreign interests or international terrorist organisations.

Prof Almaini says "The British government eventually decided to talk to the IRA. The South Africans eventually decided to talk to Nelson Mandela and the ANC after dismissing them for years as terrorists".

The learned gentleman overlooks the fact that the British government did not start to talk with the political arm of the IRA until they abandoned the policy of targeting civilians in acts of violence, and also overlooks the fact that the ANC did not go around murdering its own people. Zarqawi and ex-Baathist murderers responsible for mass graves and striving to create more of them are no Nelson Mandela.

Prof Almaini says: "These people
have at least as much right as the minister of defence and others who returned to Iraq on American tanks".

I ask: have as much right for what? To bomb Iraq into submission to a Baath Mark II regime? or just to express their opinions peacefully and participate in the elections, for example. Because if it is the latter, there are few who will disagree.

And about this
American tank on which returnees are supposed to have come back to Iraq riding on. Are we not grateful to those who enabled us to return? Just before the war, all Iraqis but for the most ardent supporters of Saddam or the most blinded by anti-Americanism were wishing, hoping and praying that the Americans would not change their mind like they did in '91 and leave Saddam in place. Or have we forgotten that? And is it a good thing or a bad thing that millions of Iraqis who were outside Iraq felt free for the first time to return to stay or visit, and millions more inside Iraq are now free to travel outside the country. We owe this to the Americans and their allies. We do not approve of all they did or do, for sure, and have a patriotic duty to oppose them on anything that is not in the interest of our people, but we must face up to the fact that Saddam and his regime were stifling Iraq, and the Americans and their allies helped us to remove that nightmare and open the way to the future. As to the current nightmare, it is the creation of the types of people we are now being asked to appease!! As for me I did not get a ride on an American tank or an American bicycle even. I paid for my own ticket and have since exposed myself to all kinds of risk in the service of Iraq. I find it objectionable to be smeared by anyone from the comfort and safety of leafy England (which happens to be one of the Coalition partners).

Professor Almaini says at the beginning of his message: "I respect your point of view". Let me be quite precise: I respect his
right to have any view, but cannot respect the view he expresses here, as it is quite deplorable. I invite him to condemn all acts of murder of and violence to innocent Iraqis, sabotage of Iraqi infrastructure and economic assets and interests and reconstruction projects, and then we can talk about different ways of dealing with our problems.

I am sorry if my message is over long, but I felt it necessary, as I said, to stand up to this kind of talk, and to do it in detail. I make no apology for my strength of feeling because I have seen too many people hurt.

Best regards

Samir S Sumaidaie
Samir Sumaidaie is an architect, based in London. He was a member of the Iraqi Governing Council from its establishment in July 2003, and was briefly interior minister, until the appointment of the interim government, the first of June. According to this morning's Baghdad, the organ of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord, Sumaidaie has been selected to become Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations.
New-Iraq X-rated joke

Whenever a man and his wife wanted to have sex, they'd tell their children the Americans were coming. The children would run and hide, and the parents would have a few minutes to themselves.

One day, the man felt especially aroused, and he yelled to the kids, "The Americans are coming." He repeated it, again and again. Exasperated, the wife replied, "What am I -- Falluja or something?"

Monday, July 12, 2004

Where are they now?

For those wondering about our old pal Muqtada a-Sadir, the radical rabble-rousing rebel in religious garb, here are some press clippings from the past three weeks about the flying comet.

Radical Shia cleric orders his followers to leave holy city after confrontation with Coalition is defused.

By Wisam al-Jaff, June 21, Najaf

Najaf's main traffic circle is choked with vehicles full of men chanting "Muqtada, Muqtada" and "Our blood to protect you" and "Long live Sadr".

As some of the men depart, others wait to form convoys. While they wait, some passengers perform the celebratory "dubka" dance in the style of the southern Iraqi tribes.

All of them are followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, who were summoned to Najaf from across southern Iraq to defend the radical preacher in a showdown with Coalition military forces.

But on June 17, with the confrontation temporarily defused, Muqtada called on his followers to return to their homes, and most seem happy to do just that.

"I left my studies in medicine at Basra university to come to Najaf," said Naim Ahmed, 19.

Like other followers, Ahmed felt an obligation to protect Sadr that transcended his academic work.

"I must protect Muqtada because he is the last of the Sadr family," said Ahmed. "If he is killed, we won't have any scholars like him to respect."

Muqtada's father, Ayatollah Muhammed Sadiq al-Sadr, who presided over a Shia religious revival in the Nineties, was gunned down in 1999, reportedly by agents of the regime.

The young preacher distinguishes himself from other Shia clerics by his hostile stance against the Coalition. He has declared transitional governments to be illegitimate, and has called for armed resistance against foreign troops.

"We are now leaving to do what we need to do to stay alive and take care of our families," said Jaber Hillal, 40, who owns a Baghdad plastics factory and came to Najaf with his three younger brothers.

"We obeyed the clerics when they ordered us to put ourselves in front of the tanks. We've done it before. Now I am happy to return. I miss my wife and children," he said.

"When I phoned my family... my wife was crying and begged me to come back, because they believed I would be killed in Najaf after they saw the news and pictures on TV," said Hillal's brother Ismail, a 37-year old mechanic.

But some supporters like Hashem al-Kaabi, 65, from the east Baghdad slum of Madinat al-Sadr - Sadr City - said they have nothing to go back to.

"My wife died five years ago," he said. "I wanted to go to her. I hoped to see her in Paradise if I was killed here. But I'm still alive."

Kaabi saw his journey to Najaf as an attempt to achieve redemption, "I am in poor health. Maybe I will die in my bed. I wanted to end my life well," he said.

Wisam al-Jaff is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.
The above article is available in Kurdish and Arabic.


The head of the Iraqi National Congress Fouad Masoom said he respects the attitudes of the radical Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr in refusing participation in the preparatory committee of the national congress. Masoom added that "we respect all the stances and thoughts of the different currents. If the Sadr current apologises for not participating in the congress, we respect their views". Masoom is not disappointed by Sadr's refusal. He has called for different political and social activities to take part in the congress.
(June 24, London-based Asharq al-Awsat, a pro-Saudi independent daily.)
The Iraqi National Congress, mentioned above, is not to be confused with Ahmad Chalabi's party, of the same name. The congress mentioned above is the national assembly of 1000-1500 politicians and other citizens from around the country being organized for later this month.


Young clergyman Muqtada al-Sadr has threatened to resume his fight against the coalition forces until full sovereignty is obtained and impartial elections are held. In an announcement yesterday, Sadr attacked the interim government, which he described as illegitimate. He also refused to dissolve his al-Mahdi Army militia, and he called for supervision of the trial of former president Saddam Hussein by religious and popular elements.
(July 6, Al-Mashriq, daily of Al-Mashriq Institution for Media and Cultural Investments.)

* * *


Informed sources in Najaf report not seeing Muqtada al-Sadr for 20 days. Rumours say he has travelled to Lebanon to meet Hezbollah Leader Hasan Nasrullah. Last Friday marked the sixth occasion he was absent from prayers in the Kufa mosque where thousands of his follower long to see him. His disappearance was under the advice of his top assistants not to make any press meetings or showing himself to the public. Some people said he left Najaf to go to the Baghdad neighbourhood of Sadr City where millions of his supporters dwell. (July 7, Al-Mu'tamar, daily of Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.)

* * *


An Iraqi website run by the Muqtada al-Sadr opposition "Alnajafnews" claims that the young cleric survived an assassination attempt. The website reported, however, that Sadr was wounded by a knife in a brawl between him and some of his office members in Najaf in a disagreement over his authority. They criticised him for making connections with the political leaders and currents without referring to them. They stabbed him after he made connections with Iyad Allawi without getting their approval. The website said Sadr's injury was not too severe. (July 12, Al-Ta'akhi, daily of Mas'oud Barazani's Kurdish Democratic Party.)
The above press translations are from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, in Baghdad.
Taming Fallujah
It'll require more than "martial law" and airstrikes

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's new emergency powers are being greeted with harrumphs from so-called human rights advocates in the West. So the same people who opposed toppling Saddam Hussein are now upset with newly free Iraqis for trying to stop Saddam's remnants from reimposing his dictatorship. George Orwell, call your office.

Iraqis themselves, meanwhile, seem to be welcoming the move as a sign their newly sovereign government understands that its first responsibility is to improve security conditions, without which the promised elections will prove difficult to hold.

This is not dictatorial power, after all. The imposition of martial law and the like would require the agreement of other members of the interim government and would be limited to designated areas for limited periods of time. Suggestions that Iraq is already on the path back to authoritarian rule are silly, and are offered by cynical partisans who want Americans to believe that nothing good can happen there.

Even more encouraging was Mr. Allawi's readiness to take responsibility for Monday's airstrike at Islamic militants in Fallujah. He acknowledged without hesitation that Iraqi intelligence had been behind the attack. That shows a leader unafraid to make decisions that may be unpopular in some quarters of Iraqi society but which are obviously essential for the common good.
So begins Friday's lead editorial in The Wall Street Journal.
X-rated Old-Iraq joke

The new Iraqi government, with six female ministers, reminded somebody of when Saddam appointed a woman minister. The woman's husband stopped sleeping with her. Day after day, month after month, he refused to sleep with his wife, the new minister. So, the wife went to Tariq Aziz, and complained about the situation. Aziz was sympathetic. He called on the husband, and explained to him that it wasn't a slight to his manhood, that his wife had become a top government official. "We are a modern country, beyond such backwards notions. Please, sir, for the sake of the country, for the sake of the revolution, sleep with your wife, and carry out your marital duties. It is not a shame -- quite the opposite."

The man responded, "But we know what you do when a person screws a wazeer (a male minister). What would you do to a person who screws a wazeera?"
Tying up some loose ends

I've got so much thread lying around here, I'm liable to get all tangled up in it.

Three weeks ago, when I went on my jaunt around the neighborhood, taking pictures
, I stopped at the sidewalk book vendor. While standing there, trying to get a good angle on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, beside me were what looked like a woman and her mother. They were trying to get a better deal on some books by Ali il-Wardi. Wardi was Iraq's top sociologist of the century -- the last century. He got his master's at the University of Texas at Austin, and maybe a doctorate there, too. He wrote a six, seven-volume study of Iraqi society, which is very frank and critical. Among his specialities are the effects of al-baadiya ("the desert," nomadism/tribalism) on Iraqi society -- the confluence, intersection of the desert with urbanism. I wished I could talk to the women -- I thought, they must be interesting, to be interested in Wardi's writings. I was sorry I couldn't. As I picked up a book, to expose The Protocols, or see what was underneath the top book, I saw another book by Wardi, an abbreviated version of his tome on the Iraqi personality. I called it to the women's attention, as they were about to step away, adding that it doesn't look the original, in its entirety. They said they would probably like that, and bought the book.

The old friend I've bumped into at the juice bar a couple of times, with whom I've exchanged notes about keeping safe here, and who's warned me repeatedly about bringing attention to myself, especially being seen at the offices of the Iraq Foundation, later shared that whenever we've stood together, talking, we've not kept eye contact, instead, looking past each other. He laughed about that. I don't know what we're looking for -- I suppose, somebody dangerous, some sign of trouble. He also suggested I carry, and finger, worry beads, like him, to ward off trouble -- that they make you look like a local. I replied, that I wouldn't be fooling anybody with them. I've wondered if there's a little community of us Iraqi expats, unknown to each other, sort of like in the movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," where the last actual humans keep a lookout for each other but are unable to make contact with each other. Now that I think of it, they had to be extra vigilant, too -- couldn't let themselves fall asleep, let alone having to keep an eye out for the zombies the snatched humans had been turned into.

This old friend, whose brother had taken me out to dinner a month ago -- their father was a top Ba'thi, in fact, a hero of the '63 coup. My uncle says I should pay attention to what they say, to their admonitions about the dangers of life here -- that they know Iraqis well -- intimately.

The uncle I stayed with last week, mentioned, when we visited him a few weeks ago, that there had been an execution right in front of their house, on the main street. That's in Saddam's time. All he said was, "They executed people in front of our house."

He also talked about Hsayn Shahristani, the nuclear chemist who was mentioned as a candidate for prime minister in the run-up to the announcement of the new government. My uncle had seen Shahristani last December, at a conference in England of Iraqi scientists. He said he was very impressive. He was also very religious, stopping conference proceedings at prayer time. Shahristani related the story of his escape from Iraqi prison in 1991. He spent 10 years in isolation, for refusing to help Saddam build a nuclear bomb. He said that an army uniform had been smuggled to him, and a guard he'd befriended left the door open. This was during the Allied bombing of Iraq, and the situation in the prison, as well as in the rest of the country, was chaotic. He got out of his cell, ordered other guards around, in his senior-ranking uniform, and stepped outside, to a waiting car. My other uncle had heard that Iran negotiated Shahristani's release with Iraq, so he could help Iran build its nuclear bomb.

Now, some old news, some of it, really old. Again, though, I like old news -- to me, "no news, is old news."

In writing about Ahmad Chalabi in May, I mentioned the conference he organized in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1992. That was a dramatic affair, the first free political gathering on Iraqi soil in nearly a quarter century, with people who hadn’t set foot in Iraq in 34 years making the trip through the mountains for the meeting. It was certainly an in-gathering of the exiles, with people of all stripes and shapes coming together -- from across the spectrum politically, religiously, ethnically, and in dress and appearance. I was a hippie, then, and there are a few pictures of me, with my long hair, standing, conversing, with turban-topped clerics. Many people hadn't seen each other for decades. There were hugs and tears, everywhere. One of the most memorable scenes for me was seeing Ahmad Chalabi escorting his older, blind brother Hasan, a constitutional law professor, up the main path of our hotel in Salahuddine.

Back to the future. Soon after the May 20 raid of Chalabi's home and party headquarters in Baghdad, his party's offices in Ramadi were raided.

In late May, a mayor of Baghdad was sworn in. It was the first time in who-knows-how-many-years that the mayor was not appointed by the president. Alaa al-Timimi, a clean-shaven French and English-speaking engineer, was nominated by Da'wa Party head Dr. Ibrahim al-Ja'fari and voted mayor in April by the 55-member city council. Timimi, 52, taught at the military technical college from 1987 to 1993, then became a member of the nuclear power commission. He left Iraq for Abu Dhabi in 1996, and returned to Iraq two months before being sworn in as mayor. Timimi said he'll be working with a "very modest" $75 million budget to restore basic services, and will depend on grants and foreign aid to develop and modernize Baghdad.

Also in late May, a 15-year-old boy was captured before he attempted to assassinate top Najaf cleric Ayatollah Sadr-il Deen al-Qubbanchi after Friday prayers. The boy was shown on Al-Arabiyya television, confessing to the crime. He said he was from Falluja, and was offered 200,000 Iraqi dinars, the equivalent of $140, to kill Qubbanchi, to create dissension between Shi'as and Sunnis. What struck people was the amateurishness of the effort and that Arabiyya showed the boy only once -- typical of Arabiyya and Jazeera, most people say, to minimize news of such blatant efforts to wreak havoc in the country.

Arabiyya television does have a weekly program late Monday nights in which it shows an hour of videos from Saddam's archives of tortures by the regime. Tonight, they're supposed to have an especially gruesome display.

Arabiyya, as well as Iraqiyya television, also repeatedly play a moving advertisement in which Ilham al-Madfa'i, a popularizer of classical Iraqi songs, leads a group of music students in "MawTini," an old patriotic song. The ad starts, in the halls of a music school, a janitor mopping the floor. Then, we see Madfa'i, in a room with schoolchildren, all wearing white shirts. He says, "All right, now all of us, together." The students pick up their lutes and flutes. We see a pair of hands, start strumming on the traditional Qaanoon, a zither-like instrument. Then the singers join in. The singing doesn't last long. Madfa'i concludes the ad with a gentle, "Long live Iraq, long live Iraq, safe and secure."

Sunday, July 11, 2004

American retreat

In today's Washington Post, Lawrence Kaplan, on America's U-turn vis à vis Kanan Makiya's Memory Foundation, the project to preserve, catalogue and disseminate the archival records of the Ba'thi regime. I can add, to Kaplan's article, that word has it that Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zeybari, at a recent Arab summit meeting, was told by some of his counterparts, including the Saudi representative, that they would lend support to Iraq, and its efforts towards stabilization, but that one of their main conditions was that Makiya's project should be eliminated.

I worked with Makiya from 1991 to 1997 -- first on his book Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the Arab World, then on Crimes Against Humanity: The Transition From Dictatorship to Democracy, a report for the Iraqi National Congress submitted to the U.N. Security Council in May 1993, and then at Harvard, at the embryonic stages of the documentation project the above article deals with.
Welcome back

An article in today's Scotland on Sunday, about the reintegration of Ba'thists into Iraqi political life and government service.
Bush, Iraqi Americans, ginger ale, Numi Tea, anti-Semitism -- lots of anti-Semitism
Subj: God Bless America
Date: 7/10/2004 5:00:34 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "David Levey"
To: "Ayad Rahim"


It has been a long time since I wrote to you…

I’m going to the White House on Wednesday. A friend who has a private jet invited me to go with him on Tuesday and I’m planning on leaving on Thursday. Anything you want me to ask the high level folks at the committee to re-elect the president?

There are many, many Americans that wish we did not invade Iraq. What do most Iraqi-Americans think at this point? Will Iraqis who want a more open, western style of governance fight for this freedom? Will they ever be in a position to overwhelm and crush into submission those that strive on instability, despotism and religious fanaticism? By crush, I mean not only militarily, but crush in the sense of making the majority of those who want an alternative form of government to work within the “system” to make their voices heard rather than work outside the system using violence and terror to move forward their objectives?

Try making your own ginger beer if you ache for ginger ale…it tastes very similar, is naturally carbonated and does not have any or little alcohol created in the fermentation process. If you can’t find a recipe on line I’ll try and find a recipe in one of my cookbooks. One of my favorite combinations is half 7 up and half ginger ale. Try it… I think I’m going to use your sister's dry process lime tea to make some iced tea. How much honey and/or sugar do you need to make that wonderful Arabic/Bedouin sweet tea? Is it ever served cold or just hot?

Carla is not a particularly Jewish name. I’d say it is a derivation of Karl, a Germanic/ Austrian-Hungarian name.

I wish somehow a two hour video of some of the good things that Jews have contributed to thought and to art could be put together and given out to the intelligencia and to those who have never met a Jew. I mean to somehow counter this idea of a Jewish evil conspiracy, I wish they could hear Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland; see Paul Newman, Danny Kaye, Groucho Marx and Jerry Lewis; think of the great religious figures- Moses, Jesus, Abraham. Some of the great thinkers and their accomplishment- Salk, Einstein, Mendelssohn, Brandeis; composers and creators: Berlin, Gershwin, Bernstein, Spielberg. Set aside the suffering of Jews, the unfairness to Palestinians and even the theories of world domination and all that. Just something that says that as bad as you may think Jews are, they also do some great things. Most importantly, they- Jews- are not a monolithic group. That is the first step in the process of deconstructing these theories that Jews run the world. Like Iraqis, put two Jews in a room, you have three opinions. The thing that unites Jews more than anything else is YOUR (the audiences) hatred should be the message.

Maybe something useful you could do would be to translate the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights into Iraqi/Baghdadi Arabic. Just re-reading it on your blog… are these the complaints Iraqis have against occupation and tyranny in government? Are the words in the Bill of Rights and Constitution the kind of law they want to have. If it is, then those are areas of “common ground” that can be found between the US and Iraq. Areas of disagreement (We don’t want a separation of Mosque and state) are areas where there will be differences with the Americans. As those in opposition to the government: do you agree with this document as far as the rights of the Iraqi people?

Be well. Alechem Sallam...

* * *

Date: 7/11/2004 12:09:04 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, David,

I just wrote a bunch of stuff to you, and...I don't know where it went. I hate having to rewrite something.

Well -- that's awesome, your going to the White House -- super cool! Is is part of RJC?
[Republican Jewish Coalition]

Well, my main message, and it's something I wrote in an e-mail to the White House, is: Use us. The overwhelming percentage of Iraqi Americans supports Bush -- I'd say it's upwards of 95 percent. Certainly, more than that support the invasion/liberation of Iraq -- that would be 99 percent.

There's a guy here who's working for George Soros. Soros has a project going on, called something like Iraq Revenue Watch -- I know it's got an on-line component -- that might be the main venue. Well, ostensibly, it's to see how the money is spent, make sure it's not being wasted, etc. -- but, of course, Soros's purpose is to defeat Bush. Well, this Iraqi American -- and I should meet him, before I leave -- he was among the several hundred -- actually, I think the figure might've been 3000 -- who came in with Jay Garner, Paul Bremer's predecessor, April 2003, to work on reconstruction. He got in a huff about something, resigned, and wrote a piece about that. I guess Soros found him, and he's been working for him, for about a year or so. Well, most Iraqi Americans don't understand why this guy is doing what he's doing, since it's obviously being used in the service of defeating Bush.

So, that's my message: Iraqis, especially Iraqi Americans, love Bush, support him, really believe in him, think he's golden, and will go to the mat for him -- so, goddamit, use us!

As for your other points, I think it's happening -- Sadir's dropped his guns, and he's tossing his hat in the ring
[the political ring]. Iraqis are certainly rooting for the government to succeed. They -- that is, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, your average citizen -- I don't think, are still brave enough, not afraid enough -- still have that fear embedded in them, deep inside 'em -- to stand up -- they're still leaving it to somebody else to do the job -- in this case, the police and the army.

I'll give you an example. The other day, somebody told me about his neighbor, whom he suspects is a Wahhabi terrorist. He said he came back from Afghanistan -- a very pale guy, with a thin red beard. Well, one night, around three o'clock, a car pulled up, and this guy's dog barked, so my friend went down to see what it was. He peeked through the fence, into the neighbor's driveway. The car unloaded some boxes and jerry cans. Two hours later, the same car came back, and loaded up the same boxes and jerry cans. Of course, he suspects the worst -- but, still, he's too afraid to tell the police. Oh -- there was another thing. An in-law saw one of the cars that's pulled into the neighbor's, a pickup or a Kia van, I forget which -- but the same color -- being used to attack the Green Zone
[the in-law lives near the Green Zone] -- fire RPGs or mortar rounds from the car. Well, again, he's still too afraid to notify the authorities, for fear, of course, that the guy could be let off, and even if he isn't, that his buddies will come back to retaliate. So, it's still -- the critical balance hasn't been reached, and it may not be reached -- enough for the average citizen to take matters into their own hands, to step up, take action; it might remain, in the hands of the police, etc. I don't know -- but I'm optimistic.

You know, there is the whiff of a tragedy in the making -- that good people sit back, do nothing, and the bad guys take over.... Well, I just hope not.

As for translating the Bill of Rights, etc., there are others doing that, I'm sure, and...my Arabic isn't good enough to go that way, anyway. But, yes, I wish they would circulate those, teach them in the schools, broadcast some of those basic American principles -- just as I wish there'd be some information about Jews and Israelis -- oh, yeah, that's what I forgot to write about, in my discussion about Al-Hurra television -- that I don't know if they've done anything to humanize Israelis, let alone Jews -- that they're not only soldiers, or people killing Palestinians. I don't know if they use the term "martyrdom operations," for suicide bombings -- I'd like to find out.

All right, bud -- have a great time in the big house. Say hi to all of 'em for me -- tell 'em they're doing a great job -- just don't give in to the State Department too much -- all the time -- that's all.

Good to hear from you, David.

I see that, again, my answers to David's e-mail, are not sufficient -- I can never get to everything David passes along.

If you're reading this, David, I'm gonna continue my reply here -- I should e-mail this to you, too. Well, thanks for the ginger ale idea, although it sounded more like ginger beer [I just saw, on the second, third reading, that that's what it was for]. Well, ginger beer's a drink I can have when I'm in England, which'll be part of my reacclimation to civilized life, that Rita warned me about -- actually, I might go too far, wanting to see so many plays, while I'm there, like I usually do -- might not be ready for it. I might be over the ginger ale craving, though, and I've only got a week left. I'll raise a glass to you, David, while I'm in London -- of all the gingers. Now, where's Ginger?

As for my sister and brother's tea -- yes, absolutely, the dry lime is normally drank hot, but it can be had cold, too. Plus, you can make it yourself, fresh, by buying some dried limes -- they're little brown balls, a little bigger than a ping pong ball -- sorry, Reem and Ahmed -- driving business away from you. You can find 'em at Middle East stores. You break 'em up -- crack the balls open -- that sounds rude. Actually, you've gotta crush those balls. You could take out the seeds, although that's not necessary -- I've heard some people say that it takes away some bitterness. Then, add boiling water. You can tell when it's done, by the smell -- it lets out a gorgeous smell -- very aromatic. It shouldn't be more than three, five minutes. Of course, for iced tea, just cool it. Sugar, to taste. I'd advise against honey -- I just don't like honey in tea, but, of course, that's entirely up to you. Here's their web-site -- NumiTea.com -- now I'm writing for everybody else. Check out the artwork -- it's gorgeous -- all Reem's. Well, almost all. Ahmed stained the boxes, to be the same color that the tea turns out. If you can't tell, I'm very proud of 'em -- they're in Oakland.

Oh -- I just saw, up there in David's e-mail -- where he says my sister's tea is processed -- it's not -- it's whole-leaf -- that means, no dusting or fanning used in the tea bags, like most tea-makers use. Fanning and dusting -- I'm probably getting the names wrong -- that's the stuff that's left over, on the ground, when the tea leaves get used, crushed, whatever -- they sweep it up and use it, in the tea bags. Well, my sister and brother don't do that -- they use the whole leaf, and the whole leaf only. Plus, it's organic and healthy, etc., etc. They introduced three teas to America, and some of them have 50 times the antioxidants of green tea, and all that stuff. They've even got something called white tea, too -- I don't know what that it, what that means.

Finally, as for the hatred. I don't know if I'll get around to writing about all of this -- I've been saving some stuff up, in my head -- about the hatred and bigotry towards Jews, which really stands in for anger and rage at their own lives.

I just went back, and read what David wrote me, two months ago -- about the reasons for Jew-hatred and bigotry. It was an excellent summary, as usual -- thanks, again, David. What I've saved in my head, since then -- in reply to that -- is that the hatred and anger, the hostility and bigotry, is more a function of the person doing the hating and stereotyping, than it is -- than it says anything -- about the group they're hating, they're scapegoating. When and if I get to write about all of this, I wanna go back and refer to Omer Bartov's excellent review article about Hitler's Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf, edited by Gerhard L. Weinberg. I'd lent it to one of the doctoral law students at the office, before finishing it, and got it back, and completed it -- it's 16+ pages long. There is so much stuff in it that's powerfully relevant to what's going on in the Arab world -- the striking similarities to fascism, to fascisms throughout history -- the xenophobia, the search for purity, the fear of the pure race being corrupted, etc., etc. And with Arabs, these things -- these emotional crutches, these..."outrages," these outrageous ragings and rantings and ravings against the world, have been going on for a thousand years, and the culmination of them all was 9/11 -- well, at least for us in America -- and the fascist regimes which govern their countries, and the fascist tendencies which govern people's minds -- and hearts. The propaganda here has really been effective -- in teaching people that others control their lives, in teaching them that they are impotent, that evil forces are out to control them -- and, thus, the paranoia, the sense of siege, that the world is out to get them, etc., etc. -- all resulting in blame and hatred, and the feeling that you've got to destroy the "other," the one that's keeping you down, to have a chance to rise, again -- which is, after all, your rightful place -- at the top of the heap.

Well, there's so much more -- about the effectiveness of the propaganda -- in so many spheres of life -- but I think you get the point. That's why the anti-Semitism is so essential to what ails the Arab world. I know it's not a popular viewpoint among Arabs, especially when it comes to Israel. I know my friend Alaaddin doesn't want me to focus on it, and I'll offend many people, as I did with Abu Ghraib, but it's the...essential...lack...of...respect for another person's right -- in this case, Jews and Israelis -- the.... Oh, I've sort of reached my wit's end. It's 10:15, and I'm gonna get a bite to eat, and come back to finish up for the night.

Obviously, I'm just touching the tip of the emotional iceberg -- a huge iceberg, and it's been festering, buiding up, for a millennium, and we're now faced with the venomous consequences of it all.

I've got a postscript, in which I can give a tip of the hat to Alaaddin. In my pile of papers, of things I wanna write about, I've had two printouts of articles -- one, the review article by Bartov of Hitler's Second Book; the other, an article by Alaaddin, making the argument against a federal system for Iraq. Alaa starts the article with a great quote from Johannes Rao (not sure of the spelling -- it's in Arabic). Rao had just been elected president of Germany -- I've gotta check out, when. He said: "I'm a patriot and not a nationalist. For the patriot loves his country, while the nationalist hates the other." Alaa's article was published in the Jordanian Addustour, last April, I believe, but we've had a hard time accessing it on-line.
From the bleachers
Subject: Your absent blog
Date: 7/7/2004 10:01:38 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi Ayad:

What happened to your blog? I need my daily dose, and your entries stop at Monday. I hope you haven't given up.


* * *

Date: 7/9/2004 2:08:44 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Harold,

I'm back -- take two and call me in the morning.

Good to hear from you. Yeah -- I was away from it all, for a few days there -- I probably needed the break. I'm in it, for the home turn, now....

Thank you, Harold -- for your rooting section.... Adios.

* * *

Subj: We were worried about you
Date: 7/10/2004 11:21:10 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Rita

Hey Ayad,

It was a relief to see your Friday report. I knew you were sick but couldn't be sure if that was the reason you were not writing.

The info regarding your aunt and uncle is terribly sad. I can't imagine being a prisoner in your home because of the fear of being kidnapped if going out. I pray for them and all Iraqis who are living under those circumstances. Our sincere hope is that they will be free of this situation before too much time goes by. Will you be able to get reaccustomed to freedom when you return home? You might have culture shock.

Will be looking forward to hearing from you when you are back on freedom's soil.

Have a safe trip.


* * *

Date: 7/11/2004 11:15:25 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Rita,

Thanks for worrying about me -- it's good to be worried about.

I'm all right -- coming down the home stretch -- just another week or so.

I hadn't thought about that -- my having culture shock, when I return to the land of the free -- the real land of freedom.... I don't know -- maybe I will, maybe I will coop myself up for a bit, not feel so free to go out so much -- to begin with -- but I think I'm too independent to be so constrained.... We'll see. Good point, though.

Thanks for your good thoughts, Rita. See you, your side of the pond.

Adios -- and thanks, again.

Yesterday, I did a sloppy job of writing, in my piece about "The Godfather" and the dating game. I went back and corrected and improved a few things. My biggest blunder was using the word "symbiotically," when I meant "semiotically" -- for the similarities between scenes from the movie, and dating here.
Al-Hurra television

I don't understand Al-Hurra. Hurra is the U.S. government satellite channel for the Arab world. Hurra means "the free one." The station's running motif, during breaks in programming, is stallions running free on a wide open white surface -- either ice or sand -- it's hard to tell, which. The black, white and brown stallions are a few to begin with. They are joined by others, and the eventual group of several dozen pull up, still, by the edge of a pool of water. Every time I see the clip, I wonder how they managed to choreograph the group of what appear to be very wild horses.

I just watched an hour on Al-Hurra about the differences between Iraqis and Arabs vis à vis Saddam, and in particular, the matter of Arab lawyers offering to defend him in court. For the defense was an Egyptian lawyer who has volunteered to defend Saddam. He had the unfortunate name Nabeel al-WaHish, waHish meaning beast, monster or wild animal, a word often used to describe Saddam and aggressive violent people. It was used against the Egyptian by the Iraqis on the program, even the host, Saleem Mashkoor, an Iraqi, as they went a bit out of their way to say his last name. The program started out nicely, as they insterspersed survivors' testimonies with commentary from three main panelists -- the Egyptian lawyer, an Iraqi lawyer in London, Fayiq Shaykh Ali, and an Iraqi journalist in Baghdad, Ibrahim Zubaydi, who was a childhood friend of Saddam. The Egyptian's main line of defense, and he was sticking to it, was that he was defending Arab dignity and honor, against "the United States of Terrorism" and "the Zionist entity." The discussion went along fine, for a bit, with the Iraqis wondering what dignity and honor Saddam represented, and how nobody stood up for Iraqis' dignity, honor and lives when Saddam was slaughtering them. It then descended into name-calling between the two lawyers, with the Egyptian calling the Iraqi(s) mercenaries and traitors, a description he applied to the Iraqi court and those who worked for it, as they were illegitimate, not representative of an elected Iraqi government and agents of the UST and the ZE, who had raped Iraq and put it under brutal occupation. He also questioned the manner in which Saddam had been "repressed," referring, I suppose, to his removal. The Iraqis defended American involvement as legitimate, and accused the Egyptian -- meaning Egypt -- of regulary taking billions from the United States and visiting Tel Aviv, etc. The Egyptian brought up the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib and asked if that was democracy, referring to the United States. The Iraqi lawyer, upset at the Egyptian for interrupting him, wondered aside, "What kind of animal is this?" and later described the Egyptian as "illiterate" in matters of the law. Well, this program, called "Kelimett al-Nahrayn" (Word from the Two Rivers), was all good and well.

What I don't understand, is that on the day sovereignty was transferred from the coalition/U.S. to Iraqis, Hurra had on, as an expert commentator on the events of the day, Andrei Primakov, the former deputy Soviet foreign minister, its top envoy to the Middle East, a blatant Arabist, and now head of a Russian Middle East think tank. Most significantly, Primakov was, and may still be, a personal friend of Saddam from at least the 1970s. For the 15, 20 minutes I watched, Primakov was readily dismissive and pessimistic to all questions and scenarios posed by the questioner about Iraq. Before that, I believe it was, was an extended interview in France with General Michel Aoun, the former Lebanese prime minister, whom Saddam backed to the hilt in the Lebanese Civil War.

Later that night, during their regular "Sa'ah Hurra" (Free Hour), there was a nice discussion among four Iraqis. I got to see most of it, when it was repeated the next afternoon. They would've probably been better off spending the entire hour with scholar Hasan Alewi, who, among other things, pointed out that during the period of the monarchy, martial law was imposed 34 times, and that it has been in effect in Egypt since the early '80s, a point, he said, that was repeatedly brought up by the United States as an infringement of human rights in Egypt. All four guests were optimistic about Iraq.

A few weeks ago, Hurra had a discussion about drug-abuse. The four guests were two young recovering addicts, the mother of a drug user, and a psychologist. The striking thing was that the two former addicts, both men, had on thick white masks covering the nose and eyes, à la those worn in Stanley Kubrick's movie "Eyes Wide Shut." The mother, too, had on a hooded sweatshirt, whose large headcovering was brought down low over her face. The voices of the three were also disguised. The program was from Lebanon, where such discussions are more possible.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Alaaddin and the prince
Subj: Prince Hasan talk
Date: 7/3/2004 2:16:54 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

I went Friday to the talk by prince Hasan in Rotterdam. The prince had really told a rehashed talk about his work in bringing religions and cultures together and his organizing of a conference between Iraqi Sunni and Shia clergy last year in Amman. The only statement he made about the "future of Iraq and the status of Najaf" (the title of his talk) was that Iraq must have a federal system based on geography not on ethnicity or religion. On the status of Najaf, he said it must be like Jerusalem or the Vatican (I fail to see the similarity of their status or the "special" situation of Najaf). He answered two or three questions. I was then approached by the moderator and the host and asked if I wanted to comment (when the host approached, an arrogant Pakistani Ambassador sitting next to me made an astonishing look to this "VIP," Ha-ha). My reply to the host was that my comment would be too long as I disagree with the standard criticism to the west that there is no "Islamic terrorism" and many other issues like playing victim all the time (as the prince did). The IRA is not killing in the name of Christianity but in the name of nationalism. Nowhere in the world are there so many atrocities and terrorism committed in the name of religion outside the Islamic world. To debate all of these, I needed an hour myself.

Then the prince had a special meeting with Iraqis. It started with a speech by a foolish and opportunistic chap (Dr. Mohammed al-Quraishi from France). The prince responded diplomatically and in his response he mentioned that his attendance of an opposition group meeting in London was misinterpreted and that he he had no interest in becoming a King (of Iraq). His only interest was "in helping Iraqi groups to reconcile." But as he continued his response (to the speech of Quraishi and his invitation to visit Iraq "where the Iraqi people is waiting anxiously to shower you with love"), the prince made a slip of the tongue (which no one picked up on other than me). He said he wanted to visit Iraq last year but the American authorities in Iraq (he made a reference to Bremer without naming him) were opposed to the trip and told him that the US is not in the business of establishing monarchies!!! He added in protest: "as you know, some republics have become hereditary." It was clear that he did not like Bremer at all. He hoped the new authorities would allow him to visit Iraq soon, a visit he has been longing to make.

During the prince's visit to the Islamic Univ of Rotterdam, many Iraqis behaved like scumbags with their brown-nosing and special poems they composed/read for his visit. Not to forgo taking pictures with/of him.

After my arrival, I was told I belonged to the "special guests list" and was asked to join members of the list in two lines to welcome the prince outside as he arrived. I refused. Instead I stayed (inside) in the hall of the building talking to a former Dutch Ambassador to Spain. The prince was practically brought and introduced to me by the host. His Pakistani wife noticed my cool reception and so did the prince. She went by without shaking hands. He then had a meeting with the rector, the board of the Islamic University of Rotterdam and the "welcome committee." I did not enter the room, but 4 or 5 minutes later the daughter of the host came looking for me and asked me to join at the request of her father. I went inside and was placed in a 2nd row opposite to the prince and his wife. Both exchanged curious looks as my face expressed dismay at the laudatory poems and speeches made by some Iraqis. I then left to the lecture room where I took a far left seat (instead of the center) at the front row reserved for the "special guest list." After the talk I was asked by the host to join the special meeting for Iraqis (mentioned above). Again I took the furthest seat from the prince in the front row. Similarly, at the dinner. I did not take my seat near the prince (my name was on the table) and went to the last corner seat, next to the former Dutch Ambassador to Spain and a Dutch professor of Turkish. I continued to chew my food as the prince and the rector gave their speeches!!!

My impressions: if he is doing all of this for "humanity," then he is doing a good job even though I don't agree with some of his statements. But in light of the "slip of the tongue," I believe he has a hidden agenda and the most unfortunate thing is that some Iraqis are giving him the wrong impression about how Iraqis inside feel about him. The many references that were made to Ahl al-Bait
[people of the House of Muhammad] and their special tie to Najaf and Iraq made me almost stand up and ask: "What about Ahl al-Baytuna like me?"

Salam and take care,

Okay, Alaa -- I don't know Ahl al-Baytuna. I'm assuming it means, not descended directly from Muhammad -- the opposite of Ahl al-Bait.
Weapons proliferation and the liberation of Iraq

IraqWatch Bulletin, a publication of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, has just released three reports on the effects of the liberation of Iraq on weapons proliferation: a roundtable discussion on the subject, a report about the "unexpected benefit...of war...opponents...seek[ing] out effective ways to stem the spread of mass destruction weapons," and timelines of key events in North Korea, Iran and Libya, "three key proliferant states."
"Reviving Eden," photo essay on the Mesopotamian marshes
The moist, fertile delta where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers converge in southern Iraq was Eurasia's largest wetland: two-thirds the size of Switzerland, larger then the Florida Everglades and roughly equal in area to Massachusetts. Its unique ecosystem has supported a unique human culture for at least 7000 years.

Its abundance of fish, wildlife and birds, together with soil suitable for growing barley, made possible the rise of the Sumerians and their city-states about 3000 BC.

A 5000-year-old engraved cylinder seal shows a house built of reeds that uses recognizably the same architecture that Iraq’s indigenous marsh dwellers, the Ma’dan people, used in the 20th century. These same reed houses also appear in a relief carved in the seventh century BC, during the reign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib, which shows men in battle among the famously impenetrable reed beds.

Around the same time, the marshes served as a haven for the Chaldeans, who defeated Sennacherib’s son Sargon II. In the ninth century of our own era, the Abbasid rulers of what is now Iraq couldn’t defeat the Zanj, a rebellious slave army that took refuge in the vastness of the wetlands. In their time, the Ottoman Turks proved unable to dominate the Ma’dan people, whose slim small boats gave them freedom of movement through the reeds. It was this protective aspect of the marshlands’ dense reed beds that, in the final decade of the 20th century, brought about their deliberate destruction.

In 1991, frustrated by stubborn political opposition in southern Iraq, Saddam Hussein launched a vast punitive assault that burned and poisoned the reed beds. He then built a system of locks, dikes, embankments and canals that turned the wetlands into a dust bowl. “It is absolutely phenomenal to see the destruction of an ecosystem on that scale in just five to six years,” says Hassan Partow of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP).

An estimated 250,000 Ma’dan people were killed or dispersed throughout Iraq and Iran. Many bird and animal species, some of them endemic to the marshes, were deprived of large portions of their range.
That's the opening of Pat McDonnell Twair's essay, accompanied by Dana Smillie's photographs. The essay appeared in the May/June issue of Saudi Aramco World magazine. The rest is more upbeat, and features Iraq Foundation's Azzam Alwash, head of Eden Egain, the project he and his wife, Suzie, set up, to restore the marshes. The marshes -- at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates -- are claimed to be the site of the Garden of Eden and the Biblical Great Flood.

‘No Way,’ Says Cheney

One day after the United States transferred sovereignty to Iraq, Iraq unsuccessfully attempted to give sovereignty back to the United States.

The decision to return sovereignty to the U.S. surprised many in diplomatic circles, since most had expected the Iraqis to keep sovereignty for at least two days and possibly even longer than that.

But in an official statement to reporters today in Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said that “one day of sovereignty was more than enough, thank you very much.”

Mr. Allawi said that he had been “sold a bill of goods” by former Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer III, who had led Mr. Allawi to believe that Iraq was in much better condition than it actually was.

The Iraqi said he had been persuaded by Mr. Bremer to attend a “travelogue-like” slide-show about Iraq with the promise that he would receive a new set of Samsonite luggage and a 13-inch color television in exchange for forty-five minutes of his time.

Once Mr. Allawi realized that Iraq was “nothing like” the country depicted in the slide-show, the Iraqi leader tried to return sovereignty to Mr. Bremer, but found that he had not left a forwarding address or phone number.

In Washington, Vice President Dick Cheney responded to Mr. Allawi’s request to give sovereignty back with a curt, “No way,” adding, “All I can say to Mr. Allawi is, be careful what you wish for, pal.”
A delayed Andy Borowitz, from June 29 -- my delay, not his.
"Godfather," dating game, television, anti-Semitism

A scene from Saddam Hsayn's favorite movie last night reminded me of my "dating game" here. Michael Corleone is in Sicily, in hiding, when his heart is struck by a stunning young woman -- might not even be a woman -- Appolonia, and he asks her father to meet her. On a twilight walk in the countryside, we see them together -- not touching, mind you -- although she slips, and he catches her before she falls. Some ten yards behind, they're trailed by a half a dozen older ladies dressed in black. I thought, that's what it's like here, practically -- semiotically speaking -- not to mention the "if you wanna meet my daughter, your intentions better be honorable," a step Michael Corleone had already cleared. Next, Michael, played by Al Pacino, is sitting across a dinner table from his father-in-law-to-be. At the far end of the table is Appolonia, sandwiched between several older ladies. Michael sneaks a peak at her. She presses her hand approvingly onto her chest and the necklace he'd presented her, at their first organized get-together, before a large gathering of her family. They exchange warm smiles -- and that's the dating game. By the time he'd asked her father to meet her, he'd already committed himself -- he'd gone too far. The decision had been made -- "this one, I want to marry." I've got in my head, some sports metaphor, having to do with committing yourself, but I can't think, what it is. Oh -- I guess, it's about going to the hoop, in heavy traffic -- you've committed yourself, and you're either going to foul, or get fouled -- nothing in between -- well, almost nothing.

MBC's Channel 2 had a tribute to Marlon Brando yesterday. I caught about half an hour of the first movie, "On the Waterfront," and then, all but the first hour of "The Godfather," late at night. Boy, that guy was in a lot of important movies -- and what gorgeous music, in both of them. MBC is a Saudi satellite station, originally meant for Arabs in Britain and Europe. It's made its way into the Arab world. Channel 2 is its annex, mostly for Western programming. In between the Marlon Brando films, they had on "Moonstruck," starring Cher, Nicholas Cage and Danny Aiello, and for which Olympia Dukakis won the Oscar for supporting actress. Tonight, they've got "Gorillas in the Mist," the Diane Fosse story played by Sigourney Weaver. They have "Oprah" on every afternoon -- I don't think, with subtitles. Actually, scratch that -- I think I do remember seeing subtitles. I also saw advertised, as part of their daily (?) lineup, "Friends," "Malcolm in the Middle" and a program called something like "Two Gals and a Guy." I think they may have "Seinfeld," too, but I wish I knew when. They might also have "Third Rock from the Sun," because a co-worker just asked me about that show.

At the uncle's I was visiting, a couple of nights ago, we were watching "Murder at 1600," starring Wesley Snipes, I think it is, Alan Alda, Diane Lane, if that's her name, Daniel Benzali and Dennis Miller. Well, I hadn't yet heard this uncle make any Jewish comments. I really admire this uncle -- quite fair, calm, balanced -- well, he's a top surgeon -- how could he be, otherwise? -- and I thought, well, he might be an exception, from among my relatives. A day or two before, actually, during some news segment about Israel and/or the Palestinians, he asked me if Americans supported Israel. I said, Yes, Americans are sympathetic with Israel, because it's an open, democratic country. He assented that, within the country, Israel was democratic. I forgot the frequently cited polls that about 85 percent of Americans sympathize with Israel. His wife, also a doctor, chimed in, "Well, they control all the media," or it might have been "everything."

In the movie we were watching, the person murdered at the White House is named Carla. My uncle pitched in, that that's a Jewish name. Really? and does that mean the movie's biased towards Jews? I kept my mouth shut -- just listened, and registered. He added, "Rachel and Carla." Later, I thought, maybe he meant Sarah -- or maybe he was right. Then, I wondered, where do they get these things -- I mean, is there some dictionary, some reference book, some almanac, some central directory, radio or TV service -- for all things Jewish, anything that sniffs of Jewishness?

One thing I have certainly concluded, is that propaganda works. As Goebbels said, Repeat a lie often enough, and people will believe it. You can add to that -- in the absence of any information or facts-on-the-ground to the contrary. It is all pretty sad. I have lots more I wanna say about this, and the centrality of anti-Semitism to the war we're in, and how it's an essential part of Arab fascism, the enemy we face.
To martial, or not to martial

Over the past couple of weeks, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, Interior Minister Falah Naqeeb, Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan, Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hasan and Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin have been preparing the public for the imminent imposition of emergency measures, such as curfews, to confront the terrorist threat facing the country. No such measures have yet been imposed. Here are some news and views from the local press over the past fortnight, tracing the development of the issue.

Coalition forces have withdrawn from Khanaqeen, leaving the security file to be handled by Iraqi police. Meanwhile, Baquba witnessed unprecedented security measures, anticipating the application of martial law before the transfer of power on June 30. Iraqi police have set up many check points in the main streets and residential areas of the city. A security source said, under condition of anonymity, that Iraqi police will assault the dens of terrorists and outlaws. The national guards also will participate in the assaults.
(From the June 24 issue of Al-Sabah al-Jadeed, an independent daily, edited by Isma'il al-Zayir.)


The Islamic Da'wa Party rejected the idea of martial law as a means of maintaining security and opposing terrorism. The party said martial law would affect the citizens rather than the terrorists. It asked those involved in security affairs to follow new procedures in chasing terrorists without affecting the lives of normal people who suffered a lot under the former regime. The party added that cooperation of the people with government organisations and political forces is the keystone to defeating killers and terrorists.
(From the June 24 issue of Al-Mu'tamar, the organ of Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.)


Minister of Human Rights Baktiyar Ameen has emphasized the necessity of having regulations concerning the time and place with regard to the imposition of martial law in order not to contradict the human rights of Iraqis. People also differed in their opinions about Prime Minister Allawi's intention to impose martial law in some areas of Iraq that have witnessed armed clashes. Chief of Staff Amer al-Hashimi said the stability of the security situation was connected to having a strong army. The head colonel of Marine Forces Hameed Sharhan Balasim said July 1 would mark a turning point in the marines' readiness to defend Iraqi coasts and ports.
(From the June 29 issue of Addaawa, the Islamic Da'wa Party's daily.)


Anonymous Iraqi sources said a law enabling the government to declare emergencies, curfews, and ask for help from the multi-national force will be declared today under the name of "Law of National Safety". The sources added that the law authorises Allawi to declare emergency and curfew in any specific area or all over Iraq after obtaining permission from the cabinet and presidency of the republic. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said he received guarantees to dissolve the al-Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr.
(From the July 5 issue of Al-Mu'tamar.)


The interim Iraqi government has postponed issuance of the security law without giving any reasons. Prime Minister Ayad Allawi suddenly cancelled a press conference about the law without giving a new date for announcing it. High-ranking officials earlier said the government would apply severe security measures and would reactivate the death penalty after the power transfer. President Ghazi Ajeel al-Yawir said the government has agreed to reactivate the law of the country's security issued in the 1960s that included articles against terrorism and security violations. Yawir and high-ranking officials also said the death penalty would be reactivated and would be applied to Saddam and his 11 supporters.
(From the July 6 issue of Addustour, the daily of the Constitutional Monarchy movement.)


Minister of Justice Malik Dohan al-Hasan said the National Safety Law would enable the transitional Iraqi government to impose martial law on some locations of Iraq to confront any event that might threaten the country's security and stability. As for the death penalty, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said it had nothing to do with Saddam's trial, it was related to the random killings practiced by some terrorists in Iraq. He hoped that use of the law would end after the elections where Iraqis would decide whether to keep or stop applying it.
(From the July 8 issue of Azzaman, published by former Saddam propagandist Saad al-Bazzaz.)
The above translations are from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
Elliot Ness, on the Tigris

People are really pleased with the work of the police and security forces. In the past few days, they reportedly captured a crime ring in central Baghdad's Bettaween area composed of 150 or 175 people, led, of course, by an Egyptian; stopped numerous car bombs, with Iranian passengers, among others; and raided terrorist dens and home explosive factories. Two days ago, the justice minister and the human rights minister displayed a sheet of paper with the names of 29 foreign terrorists captured in Iraq over the past few days. The prime minister announced last week the imminent imposition of emergency measures, called something like "national safety laws." However, that has been put off, with the number of suicide bombings and other acts of sabotage down recently.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Breaking News


Blames Look-alikes for Murderous Reign

Former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein adopted a bold new defense strategy at his Baghdad trial today, pleading his innocence and vowing to find what he called “the real killers.”

“If I walk free today, I will dedicate the rest of my life to finding the real killers of the Iraqi people,” Saddam told a stunned courtroom.

While refusing to identify by name who those real killers might be, the former dictator indicated that “there are a lot of people running around Iraq looking like me, and they would have to be at the top of anybody’s list of suspects.”

According to Saddam, a cadre of Saddam Hussein look-alikes had plastic surgery to look exactly like him in order to frame him for the country’s thirty-four-year reign of fear.

Stopping short of offering a full alibi for what he was doing while his look-alikes terrorized the nation from 1979 until 2003, Saddam said that for most of those years he busied himself with celebrity golf tournaments and that he was also on a flight to Chicago.

But even as Saddam offered his own version of events, his French lawyer, Jacques Verges, said that Saddam’s defense would hinge on the “suspiciously ill-fitting sport jacket” his client has worn in court.

“I can only assume that this sport jacket was found at the crime scene itself,” Mr. Verges told reporters. “If the jacket doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
That's Andy Borowitz, from July 5, 2004.
Alaa's world is turning
Date: 7/5/2004 9:33:25 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

Hello ayad:
I just took a look at the latest writings of yours and there was nothing that showed ur lethargy or tiredness. Still interesting to read. But I guess you feel down because u were sick and/or have not been able to move as much as you had wished. Then there is the wear and tear due to explosions & deaths. These things have their (invisible) toll (at least on me). CNN or the BBC showed a child (no older than 2 years) in pain with his full right arm blown away by the attacks in Hilla last week. It just tore me apart. Why??

Anyway, I will be leaving soon but I will be busy the next few days mawning the lawn or lawning the mawn (whichever one comes first), then taking the car for tuneup and technical/safety approval (every 2 years) and readying ourselves for holiday (not an easy thing considering what my darling takes along with her) starting next Saturday. We will be back before the end of July (around the 26th). Then I will take the 2nd car for a tune up and see whether I can make it to Baghdad in August (God help me with the heat if I go).

We will be heading to France (Elsaz, Jura mountains) and Switzerland. If the weather is as shit as it has been over here thus far, we will head south to the cote d A'zour (Cannes, Monaco and company). Try to call me from London if you stay there when we get back. I guess you won't look up Teresa when u r in London (she would probably beat the hell out of ur ass)!! Haha.

I sent you a narration of a talk last Friday by prince Hasan of Jordan. Feel free to post it with needed grammatical/stylistic corrections.

I wish you a comfortable and a good trip home.


* * *

Date: 7/9/2004 2:53:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Alaa -- great to hear from you, as always.

I will look up Teresa -- I've gotta write her an e-mail, telling her I'm on my way. I'm expecting a beating-up -- from her, and all her lefty friends and family -- what can you do? I'll just sit back and take it, and...take a deep breath, and have another glass of wine. No use arguing...with..."these" people.

Sounds nice, your trip. I just read a novel by Jeffrey Archer, where one of the scenes takes place in Monte Carlo -- I don't think I've ever been, unless as a little kid.

Thanks for the Prince Hasan speech -- it's in another e-mail, right? Look forward to posting it -- as well as part of this e-mail.

Hey -- have a great time, and love to Liesbeth.

Bye, Habibi. I was thinking about you, in A'dhamiyya, these past four days. I was just hiding in the house. I thought, with some homes, some neighborhoods, when somebody comes into the house, word gets around, huh?

All right -- take care. Bye.

Thanks for the phone number -- I'll try to call you.
I’m back from vacation — in A'dhamiyya

I've been dragging, and needing a break, a change of scenery, so my mother, from Cleveland, suggested I go to her brother's house, on the other side of town. The uncle I've been staying with, since I arrived, three months ago, drove me there, Monday evening. The other uncle has a lovely house, in A’dhamiyya, on the river -- that’s the Tigris. It felt like a breath of fresh air, like I'd gone to Switzerland -- they've got central air conditioning, as their house was built in the early '80s, and a lot of lovely original art all over the house, including a seascape by a Giannetti, the name of a film professor I had in Cleveland (for whom I had a previous encounter in Baghdad). The house is quiet and calm, and my bedroom overlooked the river, which frequently had a fast current, although I couldn't hear it -- that would've topped it off -- but I couldn’t get access to the internet. My mother said her brother had access to the internet from his home, but...it didn't work. I joined him to the hospital a couple of days ago, to do some work and try to connect to the internet, via an office phone, but that didn’t work, either. So, I wrote a few things, until a shop would open and somebody could buy me a new calling card for connecting to the local dial-up system.

Oh -- the trip with my uncle to work! He’s the one who has to travel to and from work in a two-car armed convoy. They -- that is, the armed guards -- arrived for him at eight. I was just getting to the kitchen. From the window, I saw three or four men standing in the driveway, just inside the metal gate that separates it from the street. I didn’t notice any guns. I gobbled up a little breakfast, especially the chai-Haleeb (tea with milk), as fast as I could. My uncle was in the driver’s seat -- of his own car -- and a man was seated in the back, with a machine-gun resting on his lap. I guess I haven’t said, this uncle’s a top surgeon, and, therefore, a target for kidnappers. I sat up front. As we pulled out of the driveway, I saw a car waiting outside, on the pavement, loaded with three or four men -- I guessed it to be the second car. After we turned into the street, I looked at the side-mirror, to see when the second car would pull out, behind us, but the mirror wasn’t angled for me. The second car supposedly trails my uncle’s by 10, 20 yards. The streets were pretty clear, as it’s supposed to be, when he’s out -- he tries to avoid any congestion, which might make it easier for kidnappers to intercept his car. He doesn’t go anywhere, but to and from the hospital. His wife, also a doctor, doesn’t leave the house at all. I don’t know how long she’s been imprisoned in the house -- not that it’s an unpleasant prison, but, still, one can go stir-crazy, I'm sure, if you’re cooped up anywhere for any period of time. [I've since learned, she was last out, five months ago -- that might have been when she came back from abroad. She said she gets depressed, even though she's not prone to it, and sometimes looks out from an upstairs window, and watches cars go by. She, also, fears being kidnapped.]

Well, my uncle drove pretty fast -- he's always been a fast driver, though, like his sister -- and his nephew -- that's me. I found myself, a little extra-watchful -- for pedestrians hitting the street in front of us, bicycles crossing where we were turning, and, of course, any car that might cut into our lane, which is an everyday occurrence in Baghdad traffic. He'd honk his horn, whenever we approached another car -- although that's a common practice, too, especially when approching an intersection. Just as we arrived at the hospital, and my uncle was about to make a left turn into the next side street, a car sped up past us to our left. My uncle hit the brake just in time, cursed the other driver, as he gestured back with a swipe of his hand.

That's what I wrote, Wednesday morning. A hospital employee went out and bought a calling card for me, to connect with the internet, but it didn't work. A surgeon working with my uncle who's computer-savvy, tried to help, but he said there was a problem at the internet server's end. My aunt read in yesterday's paper that, indeed, the local dial-up internet service was down for a few days. I was also prohibited from going to an internet café in the neighborhood -- near the house and near the hospital, which is also in A'dhamiyya -- for "there were a lot of serseriyya" (rascals/bastards) in A'dhamiyya -- not as foreigner-friendly as Mansour. Remember -- Saddam made his last stand there, on April 9, on his way out of Baghdad -- along with son Qusay and companion Abd-Hmood, both aces in the deck of cards. Saddam was wearing a big gold chain and medallion around his neck, olive army uniform, and pretty wild curves, sticking out from under a green beret, as I remember it. A'dhamiyya has also been the site of some pro-Falluja demonstrations, some clashes with coalition forces, and, as I saw on a visit to this uncle, a month and a half ago, much anti-American graffiti, including a pair of pro-Saddam scrawlings. It's also home to my friend Alaaddin's relatives, who've warned him against making the trip from Holland.

When we drove back home, Wednesday, I noticed the trail car was driving immediately behind us, unlike what I'd expected. The guards and driver also worked at the hospital -- as security and handymen. Two of them were brothers, including the big guy riding with my uncle, and they wore huge bright, ready smiles. When we got back home, my uncle dropped a pistol on a seat cushion in the family room. That stayed there, much of the time he was at home. We, meanwhile, ate, watched television (mostly news), and read -- they, the newspaper, me, a Jeffrey Archer novel I picked up in their daughter's bedroom, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, then back to Joseph Braude's book The New Iraq and a few entries in the F/G volume of their 1975 Encyclopædia Britannica. I picked it up for "fascism," but I wanted to take notes, so, instead, I read some shorter historical entries -- Fakhrul-Din al-Razi, Evariste Galois, King George III, the Finnish-Ugric religions.

What follows is what I wrote, after my last trip to this uncle's:

May 26: I just got back from visiting the uncle who warned me not to visit him across town, until I got an Iraqi ID. He lives in A'dhamiyya, an area that's known to have some Saddam supporters, and, indeed, on our way to his house, and back, I saw a pair of "Long Live Saddam" graffiti, in addition to quite a few in support of "the resistance," Falluja and Jaysh il-Mehdi, the militia of Muqtada Sadir. This uncle is also a prominent doctor, and has had to drive back and forth to work in a two-car armed convoy, as many doctors have been targeted for kidnapping. Well, "I've been to A'dhamiyya, A'dhamiyya is my friend, and...you're no A'dhamiyya." Seriously, I've been to A'dhamiyya a couple of times -- of course, accompanied by relatives or friends -- and, again, this time, I went with the uncle I'm living with, his wife and his sister. It was good to see them -- my uncle and his wife. More on them, presently

Before we arrived at the house, my uncle drove us through his family's (including my father's) childhood homes. My uncle had a story for every house and alleyway. They lived in a lot of houses -- just in that block and a half of A'dhamiyya, in the Shuyukh neighborhood. There was the grated window from the side of the house that he and his little brother looked out from, to see the neighborhood children playing. There was the bike ride uphill into the winter wind to his American Jesuit high school that made his nose bleed.

The house we drove to, is on the river -- that's the Tigris. They've done a beautiful job with the garden, which they can now enjoy more. Across the river, there's a big security building, so, taking pictures, and pointing, used to be very risky, to say the least. Still, they're missing their children -- in England and America -- and their grandchildren, another source of joy they've been deprived of. Moreover, they've pretty much locked themselves up, in their house. The house's outer walls have been heightened, and the front door of the house has been fortified with an outer wall and steel bars.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Baghdad's freedom monuments

I got to see both of Baghdad's freedom monuments yesterday -- the old one and the new. I saw the new one a few weeks ago, as I drove by it with a friend. This time, I got to approach it on foot -- from across the street -- and photograph it. It stands where that big Stalinesque statue of Saddam was pulled down on April 9, 2003 -- in Firdos Square (Paradise). My uncle and I had gone to the Palestine Hotel, which overlooks the square, which, along with the picturesque mosque on the far side, serve as a backdrop for most television reports from Baghdad. I needed to see someone from Royal Jordanian Airlines, which has offices at the Palestine, to see what my options were, for my return -- in particular, if I could stop for a week in London. Because of the tall cement barricades surrounding the hotel, we had to circumnavigate the hotel grounds, to get to the airlines' office, back at the front side of the hotel. It was an achingly hot long walk. I passed several what-must-have-been foreign reporters.

After gathering information from the airlines agent -- not much they can do here -- and, oh, I'd brought the envelope with my lab tests instead of the one with my plane ticket, although that ended up not mattering -- we stopped at the hotel, for a drink. The lobby's nice looking, with an antiques and rugs shop and a lot of very good local art on the walls -- Islamic mosaics and semi-impressionist oil paintings of traditional scenes. The bar had a singer-guitarist, plugged to a pair of small speakers. He sang, among others, an Ilham al-Madfa'i tune, then "Bad Moon Rising," if that's what it's called, and a nondescript '60s English pop song. There were three or four Westerners at the tables in the U-shaped open space surrounding the bar. To our left, a television played a Dan Ackroyd movie where most of the action was taking place in a winter cabin -- I didn't recognize it. A big Arab-looking woman passed by our table, followed by a pair of Iraqi men, I presumed -- she was definitely the queen bee -- maybe a journalist from Egypt. To our right, were seated a pair of Czechs or Germans, with their Iraqi compadres. Everybody had a buddy. At a table on the far side of the bar, a couple appeared to be locked in intimate conversation. I suppose this is one of the few places one could go, to escape. One Westerner and his Iraqi guide were smoking from waterpipes, and the Westerner might have shaken his head at me after I took a picture of his area, with the singer behind him. The last few days, I've been asking for a ginger ale -- "my kingdom for a ginger ale" -- nuttin' doin'. I asked for a hot dry-lime tea, instead -- it was, surprisingly, very good. My uncle had a Seven-Up, as usual.

As we left the hotel, the doorman greeted my uncle. His brother and family stayed at the hotel last year, until the floor above one of theirs was hit by a rocket shot from a mule-cart. They escaped injury. To the right of the hotel's front door was a booth for the rental agency Eurocar -- I wondered how much their rates were. We walked across the hotel's front yard, toward Firdos Square. I got as far as the end of the hotel's grounds, across the street from the round "square." I thought my uncle or a hotel employee might stop me for such a brazen move -- I didn't care. I clicked a few pictures of the sculpture commissioned by the CPA, called "Survivors." One side of the green sculpture has a curved two-dimensional form of Lady Liberty, holding up a disc for the Sumerian sun. At the outer edges of the circle, there are 37 columns, in ascending sizes, symbolizing the year his highness was born. I asked my uncle to take a picture of me, as if I were one of those foreign reporters, sending a dispatch from Baghdad. We wondered about my camera's ability to record sound and video, too. I'm still a novice, in its use.

Before we made it back to the car, my uncle gave this burly woman covered in a black cape a 250-dinar note. When we parked the car there, she approached us, and my uncle found her frightening. Maybe she did have an imposing, gruff, somewhat menacing manner. He said she probably had a gun under her cloak. "Saddam's raised a whole generation of criminals," he said, for the umpteenth time. Wherever you park your car, there's bound to be someone there to pick up a fee for "watching" it, or for helping you pull out, into traffic. Sometimes, they're appointed for the post, by a bank, restaurant or other busy establishment.

From there, we drove down busy Sa'doon Street, to the heart of the city. This took us through Bettaween, which was majority Jewish, until the early '50s. Now, it's populated mostly by Christians. It also has a reputation for seediness, drug dealing, thievery and prostitution, and, for the past quarter-century, by Sudanese and Egyptians, in particular. Some say the latter are the cause for all crime. This is likely another case of Iraqis exonarating themselves from any ill or trouble. At the end of the street, we entered SaaHett il-TaHreer (Liberation Square) and, right there, to my right, was the giant black steel-on-white frieze by Jawad Salim in honor of the 1958 revolution, "NaSb il-Huriyya" (the Freedom Monument). It encompasses a dozen archtypal figures, from the farmer, to the soldier, to the woman and child, to the laborer, to the man breaking through prison bars. He was a great artist -- the best of the century -- but, oh, what time has done to the politics. Seeing that old monument made my visit to Baghdad official. From the other end of the giant roundabout we ascended the Republican Bridge, and on the left was the old Catholic girls' school, which my cousins attended. I imagine that's been vacant and idle for a while, with no private schooling allowed during the Ba'ath reign.

By the end of my little trek, which included getting stuck in major traffic jams, I was pooped. I wanted to go to the office, to write, but I felt like taking a nap. The sun had done a number on me, again. I think I slept from two to seven. I think I have been overwhelmed by the sun and heat here -- I surrender.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Happy Fourth of July

It's hard to say how proud I am to be an American. What a great country we live in -- so free, so generous, so open, so idealistic, so principled, so curious, ever so young and fresh, and yet so humble. I don't think they've invented a better country. If you find one, I'll match their price, and throw in....

Here's the document that maybe started it all, 228 years ago, today -- all this talk about freedom. I've looked and looked, as David suggested, for an Arabic translation on the internet. Some exist in major libraries, or for fledgling citizens. Otherwise, the closest I've come up with is a proposed pocketbook for Iraqis by Tom Palmer, director of the Cato Institute, putting together the declaration and an already-existing translation of the Constitution.
The Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

"As Alaa's world turns"

When last we left our friend Alaaddin, in the Netherlands...[cue the weepy piano music], he was pondering another way to see his long-lost family, and all those poor little suffering Iraqi children of his old neighborhood -- in the mountains of Kurdistan, where the hills are alive.
Date: 6/23/2004 8:03:59 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

This is what I suggested (and depending on the situation I may go down to Baghdad). But they told me it is unsafe for them to travel north (explosions, kidnappings). I was also told by a Kurdish friend that there were 4 days of waiting before crossing the borders (I have no way of checking this info). Other friends warned that some Kurds may physically attack me because of my strong opposition to the federal solution they are demanding. Recently, I voiced this opposition on Radio Liberty (al-Hurriyah). I was on a list of invitees to the Nov 2002 London meeting which I was not planning to attend. But curiously my name was dropped from the list shortly after I had suggested that (opposition to) federalism must be part of the discussions in the meeting.

I still hope to make it in August. This is why my holiday in
France/Switzerland is 2 (instead of 4) weeks long. I hope the saying "La hidhat b-rjailha w-la khithat Sayyid Ali" will not apply.
[She wasn't honored with her man, and she didn't get Sayyid Ali (for whom she left her man)]


* * *

Date: 6/24/2004 8:02:32 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Alaa,

First of all, could you translate the saying for me?

I can't believe that -- that Kurds are attacking individuals opposed to federalism -- I imagine there are some Kurds who oppose it, too, maybe even some prominent ones, or am I too naive about freedom of expression in Kurdistan? that not everything is being allowed to be expressed?

As for travel to and from Kurdistan, I haven't heard anything. I have one friend who goes up and down, on weekends -- he's out of the country right now -- but he goes with a group of old buddies of his, from the Dezayee family. They go camping, hiking, etc. He invited me to join, but I'm still restricted, without an ID.

Sounds like your family is putting up every kind of excuse, argument, to prevent you from coming. Well, they just don't want anything to happen to you.

Also, the kidnapping thing surprised me, too, especially with locals, if they're not high-value targets -- I don't know.

See you, Alaa.

* * *

Date: 6/25/2004 4:16:13 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

Dear Ayad:
The saying is about a woman who left her husband for another man (sayyid Ali). But sayyid Ali did not marry her. The translation: "She did not keep her husband nor did she win Sayyid Ali."

I do not either believe the Kurds will attack me. Indeed many of their leaders are far more decent than such things. But the concern from some of my friends in Europe was that some undisciplined elements might do these things and blame it on thieves. I wanted to tell you of the concerns my family and friends had, NOT mine. The opposition to the trip came from them NOT FROM ME. Even my dear Liesbeth had recognized that I might go to Iraq and decided not to oppose this. I was and still willing to take the risk and travel through the Kurdish or the Ramadi/Falluja region. Indeed I take risks every day. Yesterday I was driving at 85 miles/hour during a rainy storm with the wind travelling at 70 miles/hour from the side.

Further, the kidnappings they talked about was for money not for political reasons. Whether I was travelling with them from north to Baghdad or they were travelling in the opposite directions, they feared that I (or their childern) would be a kidinpping target for money. They also feared mines/sideroad explosions etc on the highway. Again these are the risks they did not want (me) to take. Last week I spent one hour talking to them on the phone trying to convince them that things were not as bad as they seem to be but I did not succeed. After that I called my brother-in-law whom I hoped with his managerial style he would be able to beter assess the risks. I asked him to invite the rest of the family to discuss the matter. They all were against the trip to Baghdad or to the north for the reasons they mentioned above. I then talked to my eldest brother in Germany and a friend in Norway who was also planning to come with me by car or plane. I also exchanged e-mails with friends in Baghdad. All were against the trip. And no one is more upset about it than ME. I just can't accept that I have 4 months of leave without having been in Iraq. I still hope to make it in August. But if I Ican't, the saying goes "She did not keep her husband nor did win Sayyid Ali." I could have spent the time in Spain or Southern France instead of the rains/storms of northern Europe.

Indeed my "family is putting up every kind of excuse, argument, to prevent you from coming. Well, they just don't want anything to happen to you" or themselves. They are extremely worried and I just can't blame them. The security situation is bad.

Take care dear.


* * *

Date: 6/27/2004 10:10:57 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Alaa -- well, let's hope it gets better, in August, if not sooner. I should be gone, by then, though. My goal is to pass the July anniversaries, and move on.

See you.

* * *

Date: 6/28/2004 4:28:40 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

Let's hope so too. I am sddened by the loss of life in Hilla.


* * *

Date: 6/29/2004 6:57:02 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Yeah -- pretty awful -- I expect we're gonna see a lot of that, in the next few days.
A letter from one Iraqi American, with a particular appreciation for one American
Subj: To All of you Iraqis
Date: 6/28/2004 1:57:31 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Susan Dakak"

Dear friends,

Today, I had the honor of visiting Scott Erwin, a friend who I met while working in Iraq. Scott is a 23-year-old college graduate who went to Iraq to work with the CPA Interior Ministry. I met Scott while he was working on his side- and after-hours job which was working with college students NGO's. He teaches Democracy lessons to over 150 students from Mustanseria University. He was involved with the Ambassadors of Democracy group where he has gotten them few media interviews including CNN and is currently waiting for a grant to get as many as 150 to 200 of these kids to the States for democracy training. Today I met Scott at Walter Reed Army hospital because in early June after one of his sessions at the University, the car he was in, even though unmarked, was ambushed and he was shot four times. Two in the left arm, one in the right arm, and the forth in the stomach. Scott today was in a very good spirit and is looking forward to his full recovery in the next few months. He now can eat normal food and able to talk since last Wednesday. The amazing thing about Scott is that he is willing to go back to Iraq and continue his work there with the most important generation of tomorrow's Iraq.

My visit with Scott got me thinking of how we should all be thankful to Scott and his great accomplishments in Iraq. A year ago last January, we did not believe that the day will come for Iraq and Iraq's children to be learning about democracy and actually applying democracy to their daily lives. Most of us who left Iraq many years ago still do not fully understand what democracy is. I was told once that democracy is the art of negotiation, compromising, debating, convincing, and a majority rules system. Now our college students in Iraq are leaning and living democracy each in his or own way.

All Iraqis inside and outside Iraq were asking desperately the whole world for many years to remove Saddam and his cruel regime. All we ever got from our friend and neighbors was that "he is not so bad", "We can't do anything about it", "Wait a little while longer". or "It is the Iraqi's job to revolt and get rid of him". They said that while our people were being killed, murdered, burned and abused in the most heinous ways. We all know that if the US and GB had not stepped in and took the bull by the horn, we would still be screaming "help the Iraqis get rid of Saddam". We invited the coalition forces to come into our home and get rid of our abusive parent.

These forces stayed with us to teach us how to take care of ourselves. Sure they made mistakes along the way, but did they or did they not get rid of Saddam? We as Iraqis, when we have guests who stay a little longer than anticipated, mess up our home while visiting, and maybe interfere with our daily lives during their visits. Do we kick them out? or cordially wait until their visit is finished, thank them for their help, and wish them good luck on their travel? The US did what we asked them to do, they stayed a little longer and messed up some along the way, no one is denying that. But we still need to thank them for getting rid of Saddam and now that they are ending their occupation, thank them for giving Iraq its freedom and independence. Each one of us has an obligation to do so. Either by phone to our local congressperson, by writing a letter, or by sending and email. We must thank them for allowing their troops get Saddam out, and giving Iraq independence and freedom of democracy.

We all as Iraqis know the saying about a good soul will be owned by a good deed, while a mean soul will rebel by the same deed. In two days, Iraq will be free, Iraq will be independent, and Iraq will be on its way to full democratic country. This happened because of the good deed the US and GB inflicted upon us. How are we going to respond to that good deed my friends? This is no time to think about politics or self interests. This is the time when we show the whole world that when the US and GB took on the rest of the world because they listened to us, we in turn tell then "Thank YOU, you did your job, we'll take over from here".

My friends, I know what I will be doing on June 30, I will first call Scott Erwin and thank him for his work and wish God's blessings on him. Then I will email my local representative and thank him for liberating the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein.

May God guide you in doing the same.


Susan Dakak
Scott Erwin was featured in George Packer's latest New Yorker report from Iraq. Susan Dakak lives in Tennessee, where she's a sanitation engineer, something she's applied in Iraq, as well as advocacy for freedom and women's rights. Susan’s father, Fu’ad Mishu, was a violinist with the Iraqi orchestra from the 1930s to the '60s. I met him at the Kennedy Center last December, when the Iraqi symphony performed with the National Symphony. He brought a picture of the orchestra -- from 1936, I believe it was.
Heard on the grapevine

It's rumored that Paul Bremer, the former ruler of Iraq, fell in love with an Iraqi woman, so much so that he's vowed to divorce his wife in America for her. Mr. Bremer could not be reached for comment. Neither could his wife. As for the mystery woman, she remains...a mystery. This one's a definite "stay tuned."
Letters from Iraqis to Bush and Blair

On the occasion of the transfer of sovereignty from the coalition to Iraqis, here are a pair of signature-gathering letters. The first -- sent separately to President Bush and Prime Minister Blair -- offers appreciation. Its Arabic version can be found on elaph.com's web-site, and those wishing to add their names may e-mail abdulkhaliq.hussein@btinternet.com. The second offers criticism and advice, as well.
President Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington D.C. 20500

Dear President Bush:

With the handover of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government, we, as a group of Iraqi intellectuals and professionals, would like to take this opportunity to express our deepest gratitude to you, to the American people, and to the American armed forces for freeing Iraqis from the murderous Saddam Hussein regime.

As you know, Iraqis tried many times, over the past 35 years, to overthrow this brutal regime. All those attempts were crushed with horrific brutality, resulting in hundreds of thousands dead and disabled. Most of the world’s leaders have talked about the Mesopotamian civilizations and the Iraqi people’s contributions to human history, and how the Iraqi people deserve a better life other than wars, repression and terrorism. But you, Mr. President, along with Mr. Blair and a handful of your brave peers, are the only world leaders who have taken the right decision and have stood up for human rights, freedom and justice and offered the practical help to our people to enjoy the fruits of modern civilization, in particular, democracy, liberty, human rights and civil society. We can’t understand the stance of some circles who try to cast doubts on the legitimacy of this war on terrorism, just because large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction have not been found yet.

It was your courageous decision to stand beside our people at an important historical moment. The souls of the martyred American, British, Italian, Polish, Japanese, Australian and other allied soldiers are living in our consciences, as the best examples of cooperation among people who regard this planet as the homeland for all and that their fate is inseparable.

Mr. President, we are looking forward to continuing the strategic relationship and friendship of our peoples. Iraqis, as you know, are still facing terrorism from inside, the remnants of the old regime, and from outside, the fanatic Islamists -- both, the enemies of freedom, who want to stop our march toward freedom, democracy and prosperity. We are sure that with the help of the honorable leaders in the free world, like yourself, we will be able to defeat the terrorists, the enemies of life, civilization and humanity.

Kindest regards,

Sincerely yours,

* * *

Open Letter to President George W. Bush

The White House

Washington, D.C.

Dear President Bush,We, the undersigned, are Iraqi Americans who have immigrated to the United States at various times during the Baathist rule of Saddam Hussein. We were the first supporters for your call to liberate Iraq. We are very proud to be American citizens and have been made even more proud when the country we chose as ours decided to help the country of our birth become liberated and democratic. Many of us returned to help Iraq take its first steps into a democracy. Some of us left our homes and work in the States and volunteered to fill many of the necessary positions pending the transfer of power into Iraqi hands. We were confident of the steps being taken and the reality of the objectives to be reached. We worked at differing levels of proximity with the Iraqi Democratic Opposition during the Baath rule. Many of us paid dearly for the mistakes of 1991. Many of us have again paid dearly for cooperating with the coalition to help rebuild Iraq. Our people in Southern and Central Iraq were the contributors of the half-million inhabitants of Saddam's mass graves and the recipients of torture, amputations, maiming and rape carried out by the Baath regime.

In the year since liberation, we have noticed an unprecedented effort by the military to help Iraq return to some form of normalcy and learn democratic institutions. Iraqis were overwhelmingly approving what was being done on their behalf. Most Iraqis yearned for the opportunity to participate in building their future country and live honorably in peace. In the past three months there has been a systematic change in attitude by the Coalition Provisional Authority which has led to many reversals we fear are ominous for the people of Iraq in general and the majority Shia in particular. These events are exemplified by the decision to tune down, later abandon, and finally reverse the process of de-Baathification in Iraq. This process has been the key for reversing the effect of decades of fear in the hearts of Iraqis. This process carried the highest rate of approval amongst Iraqis. Another example is the decision to turn over the choice of government to a previous supporter of Saddam, representing an organization that stood impotent at the torture and mass killings of innocent Iraqis. The United Nations has no currency with Iraqis. It participated in robbing food from their mouths and taking bribes during the Oil-for-Food program. If one travels in Southern Iraq, the calamitous effect of the drying of the marshes and the dwarfing of an entire generation by supplying half of the daily required calories are painfully visible. Now fear has returned to the vocabulary of Iraqis and it is much more evident in their conversations. Fear, Mr. President, brings despair, which then feeds the engine of the terrorist. A final example is the promise you made of bringing democracy to Iraqis. All Iraqis speak of that promise and here again their desire to achieve a democratic state is overwhelming.The manner in which the transitional law was voted in by the former Governing Council has demonstrated that all Iraqis look forward to a peaceful, stable, democratic state for their future. Unfortunately, the way in which the present government was chosen was diametrically opposed to the desire for a representative government demonstrated by Iraqis. In this case, neither the earnestly sought-after quota by the CPA was followed nor were the requests of the majority in Iraq respected. In general, the Shias had chosen to cooperate with the Coalition but their hopes were dashed by this process. Their democratic leaders were intentionally excluded by Ambassador Brahimi exactly as he stated he would do at the onset of his consultations. Democratic nationalist Iraqi personalities were targeted and threatened because of their faith in their countrymen, their belief in the potential for a true democracy in Iraq and their willingness to stand up and speak. Instead, perpetrators of terror were rewarded by the removal of de-Baathification. Most importantly, Iraqis are fully aware of these facts. This is why there was such a significant drop in Iraqis' optimism for the future.

Iraqis still have faith in what you promised them, Mr. President. We, as Iraqi Americans, ask that you help Iraqis achieve their dreams by keeping your promise to them. The process of choosing the transitional government was anything but transparent. The appointments were not based on qualifications, devotion to Iraqi democracy, majority representation, respect for minority rights, or leadership in national reconciliation. The decisions were made upon a desire to please certain neighboring Arab nationalists, ultimately taking Iraq back to an era of darkness and despair. We ask that you clarify your objectives to the Iraqi people by:
* Reiterating your promise of democracy to the Iraqi people.
* Setting an election date that will be firm and nonnegotiable.
* Making a promise to Iraqi leaders that they can speak freely, without intimidation, to shape the future of their country.
* Demanding that utmost respect be paid to the sanctity of all holy sites in Iraq by all parties.
* Continuing the process of de-Baathification.
* Turning over former regime elements to Iraqi authorities for a speedy trial.
* Helping Iraqis with the process of national reconciliation.
* Respecting the sacrifices of those who worked for long decades in opposition to Saddam Hussein's Baathist.
* Giving a chance to Iraqis who stand ready to lead the Middle East in demonstrating the virtue of democracy and a free market.
Mr. President, we stood by you before this liberation and are certain you will keep your promise to the Iraqi people. Many of us traveled back to Iraq to tell them just that.

Respectfully submitted,

Please send your endorsement including your name, state and occupation to petition@democracyforiraq.org

(Support from our American friends is gratefully welcomed)
Scene and heard

My barber yesterday gave me another view of things. I congratulated him on "sovereignty." He replied, "Who needs it? Bush killed more than Saddam in two years, four years. Isn't that right?" Ahah. He was saying this in a mild, matter-of-fact way. "They got what they wanted, the governing council." Who? "The Jews. Who appointed them? The CIA?" We didn't talk much, beyond that -- I was all ears. He's a friendly, gentle-looking man in his thirties.

Last night, at a dinner party in my uncle's front yard, I discovered that the Arab satellite channels al-Jazeera and al-Arabiyya were Israeli-run, that they were the cause of all the trouble and terrorism, telling people wrong-headed things about what's happening in Iraq, riling up people. Could someone please tell the Israelis to stop that.

One man started asking who determines American policy, and my uncle railed against the whole notion of "who ran America," "who made American policy," saying that all Americans made policy, pointing at me, that I could become a senator, and that "we've gotta stop all this talk of the Zionists," controlling this, controlling that. I don't think that's what the questioner was getting at. I sat back and listened. No one asked me for my opinion. My uncle was holding forth.

On the women's side of the semicircle, one asked her three peers if they'd been watching "Oprah." She seemed to approve. It's the big hit among housewives -- on, every afternoon, on Channel 2, which shows a lot of Western movies and programming, inlcuding "The Sopranos."
Car-bomb factory discovered

The U.S. military announced today that its forces had uncovered a facility in Yusufiyya, a suburb just south of Baghdad, used to make car bombs and other explosives. The military detained 51 insurgents, they said.
Polish troops find sarin-filled warheads

According to an Associated Press report, Polish troops were told by an informant in May that terrorists had made a bid to buy chemical weapons, Gen. Marek Dukaczewski, head of Poland's military intelligence, told reporters in Warsaw yesterday.
"We were mortified by the information that terrorists were looking for these warheads and offered $5,000 apiece," Dukaczewski said. "An attack with such weapons would be hard to imagine. All of our activity was accelerated at appropriating these warheads."

Dukaczewski refused to give any further details about the terrorists or the sellers of the munitions, saying only that his troops thwarted terrorists by purchasing the 17 rockets for a Soviet-era launcher and two mortar rounds containing the nerve agent for an undisclosed sum June 23....

The warheads all contained cyclosarin, multinational force commander Polish Gen. Mieczyslaw Bieniek said.

"Laboratory tests showed the presence in them of cyclosarin, a very toxic gas, five times stronger than sarin and five times more durable," Bieniek told Poland's TVN24 at the force's Camp Babylon headquarters.

"If these warheads, which were still usable, were used on a military base like Camp Babylon, they would have caused unforeseeable damage."
The munitions were found in a bunker in the Polish sector, where Polish troops had been searching for munitions as part of their regular mission in south-central Iraq.

In May, a booby-trapped artillery shell apparently filled with the sarin nerve agent exploded alongside a Baghdad road but caused no serious injuries to the U.S. forces who discovered it....
Third minister survives assassination

A week ago, our old friend Dr. Mishkat el-Moumin, the environment minister, informed me that she'd just survived an assissination attempt. She would not supply more details. That would make her the third escapee that week, with Labor Minister Layla Abdul-LaTeef and Health Minister Dr. Ala'adin Alwan surviving in separate attacks on Wednesday, June 24.
More Saddam and court

Additional images of Saddam's court appearance yestertday were shown on television today. This time, his hands are shackled and he is being escorted by two Iraqi correctional sevices officers down a hallway. In one shot, he is smiling broadly with one of the guards to his side. In another, from behind the men, we see through the open door in the distance, a beige bus. It resembles the kind used to transport horses.

Citizens are reacting with calls for more. Most people interviewed in the street want to see the entire proceedings, broadcast live. People are happy that he's being put on trial, and want to see him punished. They also want to hear his words -- all of them, directly from him, unfiltered by a censor or editor. Of yesterday's 30-minute session, three-and-a-half minutes were broadcast.
Almost normal

I'm back at my desk, and almost feeling like things are back to normal. I had blood drawn a few minutes ago and gave a urine sample, and, in a couple of hours, we'll see what's wrong with me -- finally, someone who can answer that question. It's been such a bumber of a week, not being able to work much -- if at all. It's during all that idle time that I start to think of what I miss from America -- good television programs (believe it!), good radio, nice tunes, clean homes (the dust is unbeatable), people not imposing themselves on you all the time, fresh food, milk, ice cream, being able to drive and get around on my own, magazines, public libraries, easy access to the internet, movie houses, a decent restaurant, books, bookstores,.... Oh, well, the list is endless. Now, it just feels like I'm doing time -- 20 more days, tops -- and I'm outta here.
Caaa'li'for'nia, here I come,....

Friday, July 02, 2004

His day in court

Last night, I almost finished a post about Saddam's appearance in court, then the elecetricity went off, and I couldn't retrieve what I'd written, at my cousin's, across the front yard. I'll try to reconstruct it, here, although you may have already seen, read or heard the details.

He was brought to a former palace in the outskirts of Baghdad with a chain around his waist and shackles on his arms. Before entering the courtroom, those inside could hear the waist belt taken off, and the handshackles were removed when he entered the coortroom, at one-thirty in the afternoon. "Everybody was electrified, such a state of anticipation, especially the Iraqis who were in the court," reported CNN's Christiane Amanpour. Saddam sat on a wood chair with sidearms, and behind a wood handrail, about chest-high. That, and about fifteen feet of space, was all that separated him from the judge, who was not identified.

Saddam had a full beard, with a patch of white in the middle. This time, the beard was much shorter. He wore a white shirt, buttoned to the top, and a dark-gray pinstriped jacket -- a far-step from the dapper suits he always appeared in. He looked much thinner than last the public saw him, on the day his capture was announced, and he had heavy bags under his eyes. He freqently swatted at a fly, and he took notes on a folded yellow paper.

He dismissed the seven charges read to him, describing the affair "a theater; the real criminal who should be tried is George Bush." He became most agitated when the subject came to Kuwait.
"As far as the seventh charge," he smiled knowingly, shook his head, his eyes twinkling, "unfortunately...every Iraqi would defend...when they said they would make the Iraqi woman for 10 dinars. It's a defense of honor.... those dogs."
The judge reminded him that he's in a court proceeding, and to refrain from using language out of bounds. Saddam said he was responsible for his words, and then apologized. He continued, that as president of the republic and commander of the armed forces, his voice breaking up a bit during the last phrase.

The 30-minute proceeding concluded with Saddam refusing to sign a paper listing the charges. "Permit me not to sign papers until the lawyers are present." For an almost full transcript, click here.

The other broad charges, to which more, and more detail, are likely to be added, are: the killing of political opponents and clerics over 30 years; the killing of 5000 members of the Barazani clan in 1983; the use chemical weapons and other poisons in Halabcha and 50 other towns in 1987-88; the Anfal campaign of mass murder in 1988; the brutal suppression of the March 1991 uprisings, in which hundreds of thousands may have been killed; and the mass graves.

Representatives of the Kuwaiti and Iranian governments were in attendance, and a broad charge for the invasion of Iran will likely be added.

It's expected that Saddam will deny direct or personal responsibility, and, as he did yesterday, will claim that he is immune from such charges as the legitimate president of a republic. That was his tack, during the three-and-a-half minutes of video shown on television, three hours after the proceeding began. He will also likely focus on Kuwait, as that is an international dispute. He repeatedly brought up "official guarantees" for the procedures, implying a preference for an international court, rather than an Iraqi. If he's able to internationalize the trial -- and even if he's not -- he will still try to convert the affair into a political battle, playing on the Kuwait card again, as he did in 1990.

The 11 other top-ranking Ba'this were brought into the courtroom, one by one, and had their charges read to them. They were either for personal complicity in a particular act, or for general responsibility, that is, for being in an position of authority when a crime was committed, such as the invasion of Kuwait.

One disappointment for Iraqis was the paucity of them in the courtroom. There were, according to Haydar al-Musawi, of the Iraqi National Congress, more foreign press than Iraqi or Arab press. The sole representative of an Iraqi newspaper, Azzamman, was asked by the judge to leave the courtroom 10 minutes prior to start.

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