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

Monday, January 31, 2005

President Bush, on Iraqi elections
President Congratulates Iraqis on Election
The Cross Hall
January 30, 2005, 1:00 P.M. EST

Today the people of Iraq have spoken to the world, and the world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East.

In great numbers, and under great risk, Iraqis have shown their commitment to democracy. By participating in free elections, the Iraqi people have firmly rejected the anti-democratic ideology of the terrorists. They have refused to be intimidated by thugs and assassins. And they have demonstrated the kind of courage that is always the foundation of self-government.

Some Iraqis were killed while exercising their rights as citizens. We also mourn the American and British military personnel who lost their lives today. Their sacrifices were made in a vital cause of freedom, peace in a troubled region, and a more secure future for us all.

The Iraqi people, themselves, made this election a resounding success. Brave patriots stepped forward as candidates. Many citizens volunteered as poll workers. More than 100,000 Iraqi security force personnel guarded polling places and conducted operations against terrorist groups. One news account told of a voter who had lost a leg in a terror attack last year, and went to the polls today, despite threats of violence. He said, "I would have crawled here if I had to. I don't want terrorists to kill other Iraqis like they tried to kill me. Today I am voting for peace."

Across Iraq today, men and women have taken rightful control of their country's destiny, and they have chosen a future of freedom and peace. In this process, Iraqis have had many friends at their side. The European Union and the United Nations gave important assistance in the election process. The American military and our diplomats, working with our coalition partners, have been skilled and relentless, and their sacrifices have helped to bring Iraqis to this day. The people of the United States have been patient and resolute, even in difficult days.

The commitment to a free Iraq now goes forward. This historic election begins the process of drafting and ratifying a new constitution, which will be the basis of a fully democratic Iraqi government. Terrorists and insurgents will continue to wage their war against democracy, and we will support the Iraqi people in their fight against them. We will continue training Iraqi security forces so this rising democracy can eventually take responsibility for its own security.

There's more distance to travel on the road to democracy. Yet Iraqis are proving they're equal to the challenge. On behalf of the American people, I congratulate the people of Iraq on this great and historic achievement.

Thank you very much.
Click here, for pictures, to hear or view this speech, or discussions with U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, and with White House counselor Dan Bartlett.
Forty terrorists, captured in Mosul

A few minutes ago, on Iraqiyya television, a local broadcast station, they announced the capture of 40 terrorists in the Hamman part of Mosul. They showed one of the captured, who admitted his group of mujahideen, led by El-Amir al-Mehdi, had carried out 40 operations, including the killing of the governor of Mosul and the police chief of Mosul. He said he had been a prisoner in Abu Ghraib.
Marine, dead in Iraq
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Jan 31, 2005

DoD Identifies Marine Casualty

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

Sgt. Andrew K. Farrar Jr., 31, of Weymouth, Mass., died Jan. 28 due to a non-hostile related incident in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He was assigned to Headquarters and Service Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Response to my trip
Subj: Re: Ayad Rahim, back in Baghdad, for the elections/HITCHENS HERE
Date: 1/29/2005 11:53:49 PM Eastern Standard Time

Seriously and deeply thinking about you and yours, and not just tomorrow (or today). Pity I can't pray (no it isn't). Best of all possible luck and keep me posted when you can. I'll pass your blog to Jim Hake and the others if that's all right...
Glad you liked the act.
Christopher H
Christopher Hitchens, and other Washington insiders, did a comedy show (I happened to watch on C-Span), the day after the inauguration.
From the Cleveland paper -- that's my mom and dad, there
22 NE Ohio Iraqis ride to Michigan, cast ballots
Monday, January 31, 2005
James Ewinger
Plain Dealer Reporter

Iraq's road to democracy included 165 miles of American highway Sunday as 22 Greater Clevelanders rode to Michigan to vote in their homeland's first free election in nearly half a century.

By the time they hand-marked their paper ballots in Southgate, Mich., at 1:30 p.m., about 70 percent of the eligible voters in Iraq already had voted, said Bushra Rahim of Moreland Hills, one of the organizers of the bus ride.

"I think a new country is born again," she said on the way home. "Today Iraq is one day old."

The election results will not be known for a while. But jubilation raced through the crowd in Michigan after the ballots were cast and each person got an ink- stained finger to prevent re-voting.

The Ohioans joined hundreds in an empty big-box store in an area with the largest Arab population in the United States.

There were Iraqi Christians and Muslims - Shiite and Sunni - some in American street clothes, some in more traditional garb. But they were united by the historic task, and many broke into song afterward. They swarmed into one curtained-off bay where many had just voted to sing an informal Iraqi anthem with the accompaniment of a single clarinet.

"I had tears in my eyes as I was dropping my ballot in," said Duraid Chalabi, an architect from Solon. "You have no idea how much it means to us. It is something we never had."

He said that in a matter of a few years, his homeland is going through a political evolution - and revolution - that took the United States a full century. This includes the first election of a constituent assembly, drafting a constitution, electing a chief executive and, quite possibly, fighting a civil war.

As the bus pulled up to the voting location, the parking lot was ringed with American-style electioneering activity, banners, flags and placards for candidates.

Many of the voters from Greater Cleveland commented on how good it felt despite the inconvenience. They had to travel there a week earlier to register, had to go through metal detectors as stringent as those at any airport, and stood in lines far longer than most American voters endured in the recent presidential election.

"We're lucky we're only three hours away," said Dr. Nadia Kaisi, noting that many Iraqis in the western United States would have to travel much farther.

Dr. Nezar Rahim, Bushra's husband, said voters from the Cleveland area represented a broad sampling of the Iraqi population, to the extent that they were 60 percent Shiite, the rest Sunni, some were from the Mosul area in the north, some from Baghdad and others from a southern region - each with a different Arabic dialect.

But he said those differences, in Iraq and within the Arabic community here, are greatly exaggerated.

Dr. Riad Almudallal, another of Sunday's voters, acknowledged that his homeland is an amalgam created by the British after it took possession of that part of the old Ottoman Turkish empire after World War I.

But he said many of his countrymen recognize that they are better served by maintaining the present borders, because of the national economy, marriages, friendships and professional associations that have united the regions in the last 85 years.

Rahim, Kaisi and Almudallal were among four medical doctors to travel from Northeast Ohio, along with three architects and five engineers - two of the latter with doctorates.

Rahim admitted that many of the people on the bus enjoyed a better-informed world view than their countrymen as a result of their educations and from living abroad.

But he said that since the fall of Saddam Hussein, once-outlawed satellite TV dishes and computers with Internet access have piped an unfiltered view of the world into Iraq.

"Since the fall, a hundred newspapers are printed every day," Rahim said, and there are many more TV and radio signals, all outside of government control.

On the ride home, someone turned up a recording of a traditional Iraqi folksong in which a man professes his love for a woman. The lyrics and melody are faithful, but the instrumental line introduced a western pop sound. Think Arabic-jazz fusion.

Many sang along, especially the women on the bus.

Kaisi explained the song, but also spoke of the hardships that brought her and her physician husband to the United States, including the persecution, or threats, against various family members. Her father had been an army general, and her father- in-law a distinguished doctor. Both were critical of Saddam, and one was exiled until the king of Jordan interceded.

She came here 24 years ago with the intention of returning to her country, she said, but now considers Cleveland home and the Middle East a place to visit.

But the bonds remain strong.

Many of the travelers commented on how some areas of their homeland were too dangerous for people to vote.

"I think I am voting for my family in Iraq who can't vote," Nezar Rahim said.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

jewinger@plaind.com, 216-999-3905
Brought tears to my eyes, too, Duraid.
From Holland -- with admiration
  Subj:  Great to be in Baghdad again
  Date:  1/31/2005 7:44:57 AM Eastern Standard Time
  From:  "Al-dhahir, A. \(Alaaddin\)"

Great to know you made it. The bravery of Iraqis is incredible. I am
humbled by those who went and voted inspite of everything.

Take care.
  Subj:  Re:congratulation
  Date:  1/30/2005 8:23:15 PM Eastern Standard Time
  From:  "Tsutomu Ishiai"

Hi, Ayad

How are you doing? I assume you are either voting in the USA or staying Iraq during the election period. I would like to congratulate you and the people in Iraq on the great success of this eleciton. As for me, I just came back from Tsunami coverage in Indonesia after shortcutting my holiday stay in Tokyo. I hope everything is OK for you and your family and I am looking forward to hearing from you.

All the best, Tsutomu

Tsutomu Ishiai
The Asahi Shimbun
Washington Bureau
A'dhamiyya voting

I just spoke with my uncle who lives in A'dhamiyya -- remember, that's the sole bastion of Saddamism in Baghdad. He and his wife voted yesterday. There was some mortar fire and machine-gun shooting, he said, but, after seeing that others had gone out, they went, too -- in the afternoon. We agreed, that it was the morning, that was the most dangerous, when the terrorists wanted to do the most damage, frighten people, early on, in the process. He said that the central parts of A'dhamiyya, around Abu Hanifa Mosque -- the most important Sunni mosque in the country, and one of the most important, in all of Islam -- is where people were boycotting and it was most dangerous to vote. There, anybody who went out, would get "hammered," verbally, and, then, who knows what?

He said it was a great day, that it should be declared a national holiday -- Iraq's liberation day. I said it could be called "the day of choice/decision," and shared what a cousin's husband said, that it was Iraq's wedding day. My uncle especially enjoyed the expressions on the faces of "simple people."
Giving the finger

Looking at the picture that pops up, when I open my AOL account -- of a woman showing her finger, dipped in purple, after voting -- I wonder why it is, that all the voters, including me and the nine people I accompanied, over the course of the day, to the vote, seem to have dipped their right index (pointer) finger, into the ink.
I'm on the Dennis Prager Show

In less than two hours, beginning at 2 p.m., eastern time, I'm to be on the Dennis Prager Show -- "check your local listings." In Cleveland, it's on WHK 1420 AM. I don't know, for how long I'll be on -- it's the third hour, of the three-hour show.

Maybe I can get a call from a friend -- a friendly call -- although, it's a friendly crowd, all the same.
More election talk

I watched the tail end of the interview with my relative, and, now,...back to our story.

First of all, though, maybe, a step back.

The big story -- well, maybe two big stories -- or three -- are the great turnout, even in Mosul, Falluja and Salahiddine province, whose capital is Tikrit, Saddam's hometown; the low level of violence; and that the election was a roaring success -- from just about every perspective imaginable.

As the voting period approached its end, yesterday afternoon, we were hearing about 95 percent turnouts in Mosul, Falluja and Salahiddine, but that just seemed too implausible to me. Later last night, and today, the figures were around 60 percent for Mosul and one-third in Falluja; I haven't heard anything about Tikrit or Salahiddine. I just went to the next room, to ask about Tikrit/Salahiddine, but my relatives, watching TV, repeated what the news announcers have been saying since yesterday afternoon, which is that the turnout was surprising there, as well as everywhere else. There's just great joy over the turnout, and how it all turned out -- how the election was conducted, how it went. On television, officials from the electoral commission have been stressing that transparency of the elections process is of utmost importance. My uncle did report that Ba'gouba, in the "volatile" Diyala province, is said to have had a 50 percent turnout -- all of which is just great. On the Karkh side of Baghdad -- that is, south of the Tigris -- they're saying the turnout was 95 percent; on the RiSaafa side, they're talking about two-thirds, which is great, too, as about one-half of RiSaafa's residents live in A'dhamiyya, which is the center of Saddamism in Baghdad. Of course, all across southern Iraq and Kurdistan, turnouts are way over 80 percent, something that was expected. The important thing, though, is that if there's truly been a good turnout in the "Sunni areas," then the election can't be considered illegitimate, and all talk about civil strife, discontent over the results and civil war, go out the window.

As to the violence, for weeks, I've been guessing that five to 10 polling places would be hit, and 50-100 people would be killed. After asking others, I raised my projections, to 200-300 people killed.

While we were walking, from polling place to polling place, one of the security people relayed that 16 people had been killed in Maysaloon school, one of the eight polling places of Mansour. Later, my cousin's wife said that the bomber was a "mongoloid" boy (Down's syndrome?), who'd had bombs strapped onto him, and been sent off to the door of the polling place. My cousin's 11-year-old daughter said to her mother, "He's really a martyr, huh?"

Speaking of which, as my uncle and I left the house, yesterday morning, he told me he'd adopted, as his motto, something he'd heard a woman utter on TV, the night before. She'd said, about voting, in the face of the terrorists -- their threats and physical danger -- "It's either martrydom, or victory." As we went along, and saw that about half the voters were women, my uncle kept remarking, that it was the women who were most courageous.

I haven't gotten to everything -- from the general points I made, above -- not to mention the details of my experience, yesterday -- but I'm going to take a break, check out e-mail, and get back to the writing.

About the vote

My uncle and I were to head out of the house, yesterday morning, around 8:15. I barely slept, and left my room at seven, went over the kitchen, where my uncle was having breakfast. He woke up at three, he said, having gone to sleep at nine-thirty. I walked in, raised my arms. My uncle was excited -- he was ready to go. I told him I was going to exercise and wash. He brought out clothes of his, for me, as I'd said I wanted to fit in, look more Iraqi. He brought a white dress shirt, worn at the cuffs and collar, wool black pants, a black sleeveless V-neck sweater and a tan wool jacket. I joined him for a breakfast of boiled egg, bread, cheese, thick cream, date mollasses and tea.

Now, we were ready to go. We'd heard some bombs and shooting, overnight and early in the morning. Some of the gunshots seemed to be from across the street, and off, to the right. I got my reporter's notepad, passport (Iraqi), some blank cards and a pair of pens. I joined my uncle, waiting for me, in front of the house. The wide street was empty, except for the guards protecting the embassies and companies based on our street. My uncle greeted them, as we passed them. I thought, we were easy prey, for snipers. I asked my uncle, if any Ba'this lived across the street. He didn't answer, but he said the Americans had posted snipers near voting places around the country. I said, well, by the time the (bad) snipers shot, it was too late. I thought, this (voting), was really an act of courage -- I gained some respect for what they were going through.

As we approached the first first street, to the right, my uncle said he was going to check....

I'm going to stop here, as a relative is on television, on the Sharqiyya station -- one of the local broadcasters.
E-Day -- revisited

It's Monday evening, one day after Iraq's national elections. I typed for an hour and a half, two hours, last night, after going to five polling centers, but my effort went to waste, when the electricity went off, prematurely.

I'm going to send this, now, just to let people know, I'm still here, and active. Then, I'll type some more -- about the voting, people's reactions, etc. -- and send that off, too.

A teut a l'heure!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Nooot yet

A few minutes ago, I wrote that it was Sunday morning -- just past midnight. Well, it wasn't -- and it isn't. The computer I'm working on, had the wrong time, and I lost track of time. It's now 10:32 -- 88 minutes, till E-Day.
Briefing on the elections, Sunday afternoon

I just got the following e-mail:
***Media Advisory***


The REAL deal during Iraq's election

Cliff May, Christopher Hitchens join Iraqi journalists, grassroots correspondents for an on-the-ground, in-depth view of Iraq election

What: Approximately 15 Iraqi grassroots correspondents reporting from the ground on what the IRAQI PEOPLE think about the election, how they participated and what they expect in the future. In live reports from satellite or cellular phones and blog entries, they'll field questions from panelists and audience members as the election news churns along. Iraqi grassroots news correspondents include an Iraqi naval officer, psychiatrist, teacher and a computer science graduate, in addition to many others.

· In-studio discussion with prominent Iraqis
· Video and photos from throughout Iraq
· Call-ins, Q&A with ground-level correspondents in Iraq


Cliff May, President of Foundation for the Defense of Democracy

Christopher Hitchens, author, contributor to The Nation, Vanity Fair

Ahmed Al-Rikaby, director of Radio Dijla, Baghdad

Entifadh Qanbar, Special Envoy of the United Iraqi Alliance, Spokesman for Iraqi National Congress

Ghassan Atiyyah, Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy

Moderator: Shameem Rassan, former director of Iraq Media Network

When: Sunday, January 30, 2 to 4 p.m. EST

Where: National Geographic Studio
1145 17th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036

Background: Spirit of America is a nonprofit organization, based in Los Angeles, which helps Americans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan assist people in need. Founded by Jim Hake, a businessman spurred to action by the events of 9/11, Spirit of America has more than 10,000 American donors, including private citizens, businesses and foundations, who have contributed more than $6 million to projects that directly benefit the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Media Contact: Natalie Wyeth
(202) 261-2871 office / (703) 403-3327 mobile Natalie.Wyeth@mslpr.com
Good morning! -- it's election day -- do you know where your Iraqi voter is?
On the vote

My uncle, as we were making our way home yesterday, said he was so excited about the vote, he took a trial run, the day before, walking the way from home to the school nearby where he expects he'll vote. It took five minutes, he said, and, as I wrote yesterday, the streets around the area are closed off. There's another school, around the corner, a girls' school, where they're expecting voting to be held, too.

Now, there are four families, living on my uncle's property. He and his wife live in the "big house," downstairs. His daughter and her husband, and their two little boys, live upstairs. At the front of the property, there are two houses -- one, for the son and his family; the other, for another daughter, and her family. The son is in play, apparently, with his wife -- maybe -- trying to get him not to vote. Their nine-year-old son asked his father not to vote, afraid something might happen to him. Now, this, according to my uncle and his wife. My uncle's response, to his son, was that, "Your son will regret, for the rest of his life, if you don't vote." We'll see what happens. The daughter and husband who live upstairs, are very excited, and we've been talking about the different lists, the candidates, etc. -- whom we like, whom we don't, who's in, who's out, who's saying what, etc.

Today -- finally -- I got to visit the other daughter. Her husband said he's not voting, because he's not impressed with anybody. I told him that some people in America do that, too -- register a protest no-vote. He said that the candidates haven't produced anything, and that none of them has talked about doing something about the electricity situation, security, work, etc. I asked, "Nobody? -- none of the thousands -- when they want to get people's approval?" He said, No. He added, "In the beginning, we were all happy about the Americans, coming. We expected them to increase the food coupons, but they've declined." His wife...demurred (?).

A few minutes ago, the cousin's husband who lives upstairs, along with my uncle, reported that the Electoral Commission is expecting a 58-percent turnout. I was surprised it was so low. I said I thought the turnout would be 80-85 percent across the South and across Kurdistan. They said, yeah, it would probably be over 90 percent, across those regions, and maybe one-third, in the Baghdad area. Also, they've been talking about the strong control the security forces have imposed over the city, across the country, and think they might succeed, in securing the polling places -- preventing any explosions and attacks. All have said, that a lot depends on what happens in the morning -- that is, whether people go out to vote, after they hear, from friends and relatives, how safe it's been. President Ghazi il-Yawer announced he's leaving at 6:45, to vote. Ayatollah al-Sistani said, a long time ago, he's going, at seven in the morning.

All right -- again, I must get back to e-mail. As I started to do that, a couple of hours ago, the electricity went off, and, now, I should have it, for another forty minutes -- to get some e-mailing done.


Oh -- I just remembered another thing. My uncle told me that when the registration was happening -- which isn't exactly registration, but more like confirmation of where you live, the people in your household, etc. -- he went over to the "store" where they usually collect their monthly share of flour, sugar, cooking oil, rice, etc., to get his forms. These are places that get "agency" from the government to distribute the food rations. He said the agent told him he'd been threatened, and returned the forms. My uncle demanded to know to whom he'd sent them -- that he'd go there, himself, and get the forms. My uncle said the Ba'this have been going around, or hanging around these places, to intimidate people -- voting-applicants and the store-agents. News of this intimidation by the Ba'this got around -- made the news -- and the government started cracking down on them -- or, maybe, on the agents, from whom they could withdraw the license, to distribute the food rations. After two days, my uncle returned to the agent and got the forms for the four families on his property.

All right -- back I go, to e-mail. Ciao!

Oops -- I forgot something important -- yesterday, as I was arriving in Baghdad, one of the candidates, a relative of mine, left the scene -- with his wife and daughter -- for a few days. I asked my uncle if other candidates had fled -- of course, they're all targets. He, and a cousin, don't know. This candidate had returned to Baghdad, a couple of weeks ago, as he was on one of the major lists.
Back at you


I just got up, at five in the afternoon. I refreshed, had a quick bite to eat, and, as the electricity had been on for an hour, went over to my cousin's, to get some work done on the computer -- for three-quarters of an hour, or so.

Although, my cousin's husband went out, and got a generator from his folks. Turned out, the curfew didn't apply during the day -- from six in the morning till seven in the evening -- that is, today. Tomorrow, election day -- no cars -- at all.

Another cousin, just told me that two election centers -- both, schools -- were hit in the town of Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad. In the morning, I heard a couple of explosions. Last night, there was gunfire, here and there -- some of it, back-and-forth, for a bit. After I woke up, my uncle said there'd been a couple of bombings, including in Khanaqin, which was surprising, as Khanaqin is a Kurdish area, and has been very quiet -- he said they get at quiet areas, because they're vulnerable.

All right -- I've got to go. I haven't done any e-mailing, since Monday, and I haven't notified everybody on my mailing list, including media, that I'm gone -- I'm here.

When the national electricity grid goes off, in 20 minutes or so, we'll check out my uncle's house, where his son-in-law brought a generator, and see what we can do.

All right -- adios -- till later.

Oh -- another note, about my cousin's husband, who brought the generator -- I'm trying to go, as fast as I can -- he's the one who said, last night, as we were watching TV, that Sunday's Iraq's wedding. He said there should be ululating, music, etc. I told them, that there was, on the bus ride from Cleveland to Detroit, last Sunday, when we went to register. Then, as were watching voters around the world expressing their joy, on television, I, and the others in the room, were very moved. I teared up.

All right -- gotta go.

See you.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Point, click, and...voila!...you're in Baghdad

I made it. It took some doing -- all that flapping (of wings) -- but...I'm here. More on all that, later. For the time being, I'm going to retype what I typed into my computer, earlier today. I'm at my cousin's home, using his computer, and electricity is very iffy. They get it for one or two hours at a time; then it goes off for two or four, respectively -- and they don't know which it's going to be, and at what hours. So, I've got my work cut out for me -- since what I typed before, is on my computer, and I don't have a CD, or memory card, or whatever that's called, which would let me cut-and-paste, easily...enough.

Before doing that -- that is, the retyping -- let me just say this, about conditions in Baghdad. The weather's cool -- something in the fifties. A curfew -- on auto traffic -- went into effect, this evening, at six-thirty. I just made it, in time. I also almost got stuck in the airport, because my ride didn't arrive, and the road to the airport was going to close, after the last passengers had left. The airport's going to be closed, for the next three days, and several officials, including police, told me, if I don't get out of there, I'd have to spend the next three days in the airport. Enough of that.

There are posters, and brochures, everywhere. President Ghazi il-Yawer's got the airport to himself. The posters have pictures of him, and/or a little girl, holding a teddy bear -- you figure out what that means -- the teddy bear, and the airport. Also, in preparation for the elections -- and it looks like all the polling places are going to be in schools, although the locations haven't been announced -- that'll probably come tomorrow, although, again, people don't know, when or how -- streets around the potential polling places, are blocked off, with coils of barbed wire, and American troops, posted there. Some 10 schools have been hit, in the last few days, and a lot are believed to have been targeted. People are excited, though -- really looking forward to it. A cousin's husband just said, as we were watching reports of Iraqis, voting around the world, that this is Iraq's wedding, to be celebrated in the streets, with parties and dancing. Just as he said that, the voters on TV started singing, outside, and another played his drums, in the polling place, and said pretty much the same thing my cousin's husband had just said. My uncle had countered that, when Saddam gets killed, then it'd be cause for celebrations. I wondered if people coudn't still celebrate, since the curfew doesn't apply to pedestrians -- at least, not from morning to evening -- I don't know the exact hours.

All right -- back to earlier today.

* * *
Friday morning. I'm about to board the plane to Baghdad. There are some 25 people in the lounge for our gate. Almost all are Iraqis. There's a man and a woman, from some Eastern European country, it sounds like. Must be journalists. They've got an Iraqi with them, making phone calls, to get a ride in Baghdad, etc.

I was told by my uncle, who got me the ticket, that seats are very avaiable, going to Baghdad -- that most of the planes are packed, leaving the country -- "they're dying to get out." While I, am dying to get there -- always the contrarian. My uncle, with whom I stayed, for six, seven hours, came to Amman by plane, about a week ago, and he said there were 300 people riding on planes out, with the airlines -- probably just the Iraqi and Jordanian -- each, adding a flight. He's returning to Iraq, in about 10 days. Funny thing is, even in Amman, where he goes, to get away, he still sees patients. When people hear that he's here, they call on him. His patients in Iraq, he says, refuse to see anybody else, so, while he's away, they'll go without, and many have died, in his absence. He feels guilt, he says, for leaving, when so many people depend on him. His brother, a top surgeon, has stayed on, in Baghdad.

I've got to go shopping, as soon as I get there. Today's Friday, so the stores are open. I'm thinking, especially, of Salim al-Ubaydi, the department store near my uncle's. Actually, all up and down thge median strip there, as well as along the streets and alley, little kiosks and stands have set up, since Saddam's departure, selling all sorts of things. I'll need a couple of pairs of pants, a belt and some shirts -- things that will help me blend in. My friend Dhiaa Kashi, in London, told me yesterday that I should wear sandals and a dishdasha, the long nightgown worn by men. I told him I wouldn't fool anyone by it, just as I didn't take the advice of a friend in Baghdad, last spring and summer, to carry, and finger, worry beads, as I walked along. I might try it, though -- that is, the dishdasha, etc. I'm looking at people in the departure lounge, here, to see what they're wearing -- pants -- shirts -- shoes. The journalists' handler has on, Levi's, and some funky-reddish shoes, sort of look like bowling shoes. Another man has a goatee, but I don't think that'd be enough, for me.

Bulletin: passengers are pouring out of the chute into the terminal, from our plane.

While waiting outside the lounge, hoping to find a computer to use, with internet access -- a lounge for business-class travelers, didn't allow me in -- a man with a badge around his neck, asked me if I was going to Baghdad. I wondered how he could tell. I said I was. He asked me to go to the gate. I said that the plane isn't till noon -- it wasn't yet eleven. He said the plane was at 11:45; I reiterated, 12:00. He said that all the passengers had arrived, and it could leave early.

* * *
Some celebrity news

At Dulles airport, at the screening area, I saw Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the boy wonder. He was being searched, and sat down, to take off his shoes. I thought of approaching him -- "Dennis the Menace!," I thought I might announce -- and confronting him about Iraq. I then thought of asking him where he was going, and telling him, in defiance, that I was going to Baghdad. I resisted the urge. Just as well, as I might have said something rude, or looked askance, in reaction to what he might say -- although, I imagine, he's pretty used to that. I did make a concession, to myself, that I'd call him "Congressman."

He was wearing a pin on his jacket lapel. I looked, to see if it was a flag. It wasn't; probably something to do with peace -- maybe, a plea for his proposed department of peace. I thought, for the umpteenth time, these people have given peace, a bad name.

Two stops later, in Amsterdam, at the lounge for our plane, there was a tall dark-skinned man -- looked like former basketballer Hakeem Olajuwan. He was talking with another passenger in line, and I heard his interlocutor respond, "Maa Shaa' Allah!" (What God hath wrought, an exclamation of amazement). I thought, it probably was in response to his being able to speak Arabic -- Arabs are always very pleased and impressed, when a non-Arab is able to say anything in Arabic. When I boarded the plane, I approached the man, sitting in an aisle seat in first class. He had his head down. Pausing next to him, I bent down and softly asked, "Mr. Olajuwan?" He turned his head -- might've said, Yes. "It is you." He asked, "How are you?" I said, Fine, thanks, and moved on. In Amman, he was waiting for his bags, so I went over and stood next to him. He said he's studying classical Arabic at a language center in Amman. Most of that, was in Arabic. It's been his goal, he said, to learn Arabic, for a long time, and he's been in Amman for most of the last 15 months. His children have picked up the language quickly, and, agreeing, I shared our experience, as children, arriving in America. I told him I'd seen him play in Cleveland, 20 years ago. He said Cleveland was really cold. He said, questioningly, that Cleveland was on top. I asked him about Yao Ming. He said he'd seen him a couple of times, but hasn't seen much basketball, of late, being in America, only in the off-season. He said he catches clips on television, every now and then.


People are lining up, to board the plane.

Adios -- till Baghdad. To Baghdad.

* * *
On the plane now. It's a good-sized plane -- a frist-class section with eight seats -- burgundy leather or vinyl covering -- in two rows, and then some 20 rows -- six seats to a row. It was good to see the green "Iraqi airways" (Arabic, atop English, with the simple, curved winged-hawk (?) emblem, to the left of the English) on the cloths hanging over the front of every seat. The seats are upholstered in grey. The carpeting and walls are grey, too. When I first walked into the plane, there was a nice-looking plump woman standing, waiting. She had on the fir-green stewardess uniform, with jacket, and had the typical color and rounded features of a Sumerian face, and bright pink lipstick. She might've said, hello. I replied, "Marhabben," to which she smiled, wide. The pilot was standing beside here.

There are about 40 passengers on the plane. After I put my things down, in an empty row, I got my computer out, to resume this. Then, I got up, to count the rows. I went up to "first class," but was asked by one of the stewards, "Do you want anything?" "May I sit here?" I asked. There was one person, seated in the section. The steward said no; the stewardess said it was first class, that you had to pay more to sit there. I asked how much more. She smiled, and guessed, $100. I said, "The seats aren't numbered, are they?" The guy said, it's open seating.

In the first row -- I'm in the fourth, of coach -- there are two other "foreigners" -- one of them, wearing a black T-shirt, with, among other things, "Rock Star" on the front. He looks well-built -- might be a security person -- a contractor.

No magazine or safety cards in the back-seat pockets. The safety demonstration didn't include the safety-belt portion.

As we pulled out of the gate -- and now, as we're moving towards the runway -- there are, parked, off to the side, six Iraqi Airways planes. My taxi driver, as we approached the airport, pointed them out -- said they'd been there, for 15 years, and were probably run down and in need of a lot of repairs. The driver was Palestinian, as are most of the taxi drivers, and has a sister in the Dora part of Baghdad -- she married an Iraqi attorney she met while the family lived in Kuwait. My driver said that the man really took care of the sister -- materially, and respected her. He also said that he used to go to Basra every one or two weekends, and bought fruit, vegetables and a whole sheep, already slaughtered -- all of which, he said, were better, fresher and cheaper than in Kuwait. This was in the eighties. He traveled around Iraq, too, including the summer resorts, in Kurdistan -- Shaqlawa and Salahiddine.

We're picking up speed, now...and...we're off! Up...up...and away. Out the window, it's pretty arid (I guess, it is, inside, too). Actually, I guess I mean, barren -- all around -- sandy brown, all around. Now there are some rolling hills.

Boy -- didn't take long for them to turn off the seat-belt light.

There are a few roads -- one here; one there.

* * *
At my uncle's apartment, this morning, he showed me a couple of articles -- he had them saved on his computer. An amazing one, was by Abdul-Hasan il-Raashid, who used to be Saudia's information minister, my uncle said, and now runs the satellite television channel al-Arabiyya -- and has really turned it around. In the article, called "Al-Saabiroon" (The Patient/Steadfast Ones),....

We're now being handed styrofoam boxes. In mine -- and I'm sure they're all the same -- there's a red apple, what looks like a piece of pound cake, in a plastic container wrapped in saran wrap, two oval rolls with cheese, in a plastic bag, a small "kinder" candy bar, and a utensils package. I just examined the pound cake, and it turns out to be a cake/pastry, rolled onto itself, with cream in the middle. I'll tell you more, when I dig in.


* * *
All right -- I've consumed my...what's-the-word?... -- oh, yeah -- vittles. One of the two sandwiches was, I think, what they call "mortadella," -- something like bologna or salami -- actually, more like salami -- although I'm sure it's beef. The pastry was all right -- had (probably) apricot preserves, rolled in, with the cream. The apple was unblemished -- very un-Iraqi. Then they came around, with a cart of drinks -- pretty bare-bones -- cans of Fanta (an orange drink), Coke and Seven-Up, it might've been, water and hot tea. That was it. The rows for trays, inside the cart, were empty. The tea's a lot darker than what they served on KLM. While I'm on KLM, on the London-Amsterdam flight, I had, maybe, the best egg-salad sandwich I've ever had -- flavorful, and something crunchy mixed in, with the eggs and cream -- looked like it might be green onions, but, probably, celery. Alaa -- you'll have to tell me what the Dutch's secret is, with egg salad. It came, too, in a very nice loaf of bread -- with grains and seeds on top -- worth the price of admission.

* * *
All right -- back to the mundane world of politics -- I'm sure that's what you're here for, and not a soup-and-sandwich run-down. The article by Abdul-Hasan il-Raashid praised the Shi'a of Iraq -- for not giving in to the bombing and killing that have been trying to incite sectarian violence among Iraqis. That was amazing -- praise for Shia's -- and especially from a Saudi -- and a prominent one, too (I doubt, he's Shi'i, having attained such high positions, in Saudi Arabia -- he's also -- or was -- an editor at a-Sharq il-Awsat, a top Saudi newspaper -- and still contributes to their pages). I said to my uncle, I knew Raashid was good, but I didn't know he'd deviated so much from the Arab line. He's really turned al-Arabiyya around, to the point that, it's practically rooting for Iraqis. This, while Jazeera is...how-shall-we-call-it?...saying all and everything it can, to discredit Iraqis, to play up the fact that the government was appointed by America -- always referring to "the occupation" -- playing up that angle -- that obsession of Arabs. Somebody mentioned the other day -- must've been a relative in America...oh, yeah, I remember -- it was last Sunday morning, as we were headed to the bus company, for the ride to Detroit, to register to vote. (This Sunday, CNN is scheduled to accompany the Clevelanders on their trek to vote, and Lou Dobbs is to interview my mother.) I think it must've been my aunt -- she said the Jazeera host got upset at the guest -- an Iraqi -- for bringing up the mass graves. As my aunt told it, it seemed, he cut off the speaker, and said something like, "We've heard enough about your mass graves." I think the guest was a journalist, and was telling about his brother -- maybe two brothers -- and one or two other relatives who'd been executed.

I think I'll quit now.

* * *
I've got a lot more to type -- retype -- from earlier today, but my cousin's wife just gave me the ten-minute warning, for electricity, so I'm going to review this, and...send it -- post it.

See you, again, when I...can -- when I can get access to the internet. Gonna be a little tricky, over the next couple of days -- what with the curfew, lack (?) of electricity, and my computer...troubles (?), complications.


P.S. I may not get to review all of this, and straighten out the spelling, punctuation, wording and style, so...pardon the...haste -- rush-job.

P.P.S. I reached, in my review, the schools being targeted, and it's now 11:57. My cousin's wife just gave me another warning, so I'm going to send this, without further review -- without further ado. Adieu!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Half-way there

I'm in London's Heathrow Airport, about to take a plane to Amsterdam. From there, I fly to Amman, and, tomorrow, I'm to board an Iraqi Airways flight to Baghdad. I thought that would be neat -- riding an Iraqi plane -- taking it to Baghdad.

A couple of days ago, as I was looking for the times of flights from Amman to Baghdad, I came across this web-site, with pictures of Iraqi Airways' posters, since its inception -- nice!

So, if everything goes all right, I should be in Baghdad, tomorrow afternoon. Of course, they might decide to close the airport tomorrow, in addition to the scheduled three-day closure that's to begin Saturday. A couple of days ago, they turned back two planes from Amman, too, with shooting going on near the airport. On top of that, the borders -- for overland travel -- are to be closed for three or five days -- although that's not supposed to be an option for me.

I doubt I'll be able to post anything tomorrow -- although I'll try. The same might hold for Saturday and Sunday, although that would defeat the purpose of my trip, but I'll try very hard to get some access to the internet. They're supposed to have a prohibition on regular auto traffic, Saturday and Sunday, to reduce the chances of a car bomb -- in the runup to the elections. Speaking of which, my aunt -- on an extended visit from Lebanon, to visit her daughter in Cleveland -- had an intriguing idea -- rather than people going to the polling places, the polling places should come to them -- that is, a complete curfew be imposed, and the people running the elections would go from door to door, taking people's votes. Well, we'll see what I can do. Of course, there's always the chance to reach the internet via phone, from home.

This reminds me of a thought I had yesterday, on a visit to a friend in Washington. I saw her, just after she got off the phone with her boss, in Baghdad. They do legal and political education work, among other things. Well, her boss related the difficulties they were having, with electricity, and getting the benzene necessary to run the generators used for private supplies of electricity -- and this, of course, for an organization that has more money than the average citizen. So, I thought, God, I could see how Iraqis could be resentful of those of us, coming from abroad, with our better access -- resources, to get that access -- to electricity, benzene, kerosene, etc.

My friend was also very angry, blaming America for everything. "How could they make this country work, she exclaimed, as she flipped her hand, towards the window, "but can't make anything work in Iraq -- make such a mess of it?" For me, I think, that I might not be able to write too much, further reducing the utility of my trip. Well, we'll see.

All right -- it's getting time to board the plane -- wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Two down, four more to go

All right! I'm in Washington -- I've made it, this far -- and, a few minutes ago -- it's now 1:30 -- I got the passport.

The best part of it, was the mood in the embassy -- or, maybe, the lack of mood. As I arrived at the front entrance, I saw a sign for the consular section, directing people to the side of the building. I started heading that way, then, stopped, and decided I wanted to go into the main entrance, and experience going into an Iraqi embassy, without being afraid. So, I turned around and went in. Actually, before going in, I looked up, outside the front door, to the top-right corner of the door frame, and didn't see a camera -- that was always one of the terrifying things about walking past that building. I lived in Washington three times in the nineties, and it almost never failed to send a shiver down my spine -- to even walk by the building, knowing they had their cameras going and they might see me -- I might be being watched.

This time, I went in. A postal carrier was by the front desk, with a bundle in her arms. She looked at me, as if to ask me what I wanted. I wondered what was going on -- why the Iraqi embassy had a black woman -- a "mailman" -- working for them. A TV on a trolley next to us, had the president speaking at a press conference -- CNN. I thought -- hey, they should have Fox on. We then both looked to the right, where there was a room, a step or two down, with people seated around the perimeter within our view. It looked like there must've been some kind of conference or gathering -- with Iraqis and Americans, mostly women. A woman from there came towards us. Another came from another direction. The first signed for the mailing. The second had a letter to mail, as the first turned her attention towards me. I asked about getting a passport; she told me I'd have to go to the rear of the building. All, very friendly -- not the slightest bit of trepidation or intimidation.

When I got to the back, there was a small room, packed with about 10 people. Well, I'll cut to the chase. It took a while for me to get my passport, but they got it done. Meanwhile, the two workers, both Kurds, were friendly. Almost everybody in the room was relaxed, smiling and chatting. Almost all were Kurds, spoke Kurdish -- which was just amazing. The main thing was, nobody seemed afraid -- there wasn't that frozen look in people's eyes, bodies -- none of that silence fear. It was like..."the lunatics had taken over the asylum" -- the formerly "oppressed" were now in charge. What a difference a regime-change makes!
We've hit some turbulence

I've got tickets, all the way to Amman -- Cleveland to Washington, then Washington to London, and from there, to Amman, with a stop in Amsterdam. The problem is, flights from Amman to Baghdad, aren't so certain. A couple of days ago, two flights from Amman returned, when there was shooting around the Baghdad airport. Then, Friday is the last day Baghdad's airport will be open, before it closes for three days. My flight to Amman, arrives, Thursday night -- actually, Friday morning, just past midnight. I know, I know -- I should've gone, a week or two ago, when I began getting the bug, but....

Well, a couple of hours ago, I phoned an uncle in Amman, and two in Baghdad, to see about planes, the airport and a ride from the airport in Baghdad. Two of the uncles said the airport would be closed, beginning Friday. The third said, it'd close, beginning on Saturday. The uncle in Amman was going to check for flights. I just called back, and there are flights -- on the Jordanian and Iraqi airlines -- but...they just might turn back, or the airport might get closed...and, then, I'd be stuck in Amman -- probably till after the elections. The borders are getting closed, too, which cuts off the overland option, although that option was pretty much closed to me, anyways, as that would be too risky. There've been reports that bandits/terrorists along the way, have been stopping cars looking for foreigners -- even searching luggage to establish whether somebody is from a distant land, such as America. Good pickins.

So, there you have it.

As I said, I just called my uncle in Amman, again. He checked with the airline -- there is a ticket, there is a flight, but...his wife is discouraging me from making the trip. He was away, attending a wake. They've got his daughter and her family -- five children -- staying with them, in their apartment, and the hotels in Amman are pretty booked, with all those Iraqis, fleeing the voting explosions.

What to do?! What to do?!
New York Times article

I will do a lot less editing of outside material, this time around. The blog will be more all-inclusive -- trying to be your one-stop Iraq site. So, it's up to you -- you can read the article, or skip it, and go to the next entry.
January 24, 2005

Shiites in Iraq Say Government Will Be Secular

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 21 - With the Shiites on the brink of capturing power here for the first time, their political leaders say they have decided to put a secular face on the new Iraqi government they plan to form, relegating Islam to a supporting role.

The senior leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition of mostly Shiite groups that is poised to capture the most votes in the election next Sunday, have agreed that the Iraqi whom they nominate to be the country's next prime minister would be a lay person, not an Islamic cleric.

The Shiite leaders say there is a similar but less formal agreement that clerics will also be excluded from running the government ministries.

"There will be no turbans in the government," said Adnan Ali, a senior leader of the Dawa Party, one of the largest Shiite parties. "Everyone agrees on that."

The decision appears to formalize the growing dominance of secular leaders among the Shiite political leadership, and it also reflects an inclination by the country's powerful religious hierarchy to stay out of the day-to-day governing of the country. Among the Shiite coalition's 228 candidates for the national assembly, fewer than a half dozen are clerics, according to the group's leaders.

The decision to exclude clerics from the government appears to mean that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a cleric who is the chief of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the scion of a prominent religious family and an oft-mentioned candidate for prime minister, would be relegated to the background. The five Shiites most likely to be picked as prime minister are well-known secular figures.

Shiite leaders say their decision to move away from an Islamist government was largely shaped by the presumption that the Iraqi people would reject such a model. But they concede that it also reflects certain political realities - American officials, who wield vast influence here, would be troubled by an overtly Islamist government. So would the Kurds, who Iraqi and American officials worry might be tempted to break with the Iraqi state.

The emerging policies appear to be a rejection of an Iranian-style theocracy. Iran has given both moral and material support to the country's two largest Shiite parties, Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

The conviction that the Iranian model should be avoided in Iraq is apparently shared by the Iranians themselves. One Iraqi Shiite leader, who recently traveled to Tehran, the Iranian capital, said he was warned by the Iranians themselves against putting clerics in the government.

"They said it caused too many problems," the Iraqi said.

The secular tilt comes as Shiite leaders prepare for what they regard as a historic moment: after decades of official repression, the country's largest group now seems likely to take the helm of the Iraqi state. Mindful of that opportunity, and of previous opportunities missed, the Shiite leaders running for office say they are determined to exercise power in a moderate way, which would include bringing Sunnis into the government and ignoring some powerful voices in their own ranks that advocate a stronger role for Islam in the new constitution.

Still, for all the expressions of unity, just how much consensus exists within the coalition is unclear, as is the coalition's very survival beyond the elections. The Shiite leaders, and the rank and file in the Iraqi electorate, represent a wide array of political visions, and those blocs could rise or fall in influence over time.

Important Shiite clerics like Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani already exert considerable influence in the background, although his brand of Islam is thought to be relatively moderate. Shiite leaders like Mr. Hakim will probably continue to use their power behind the scenes; his views are thought to be more conservative.

During the drafting of the country's interim constitution last year, Mr. Hakim and others pushed for an expansive role for Islam in the new state, as well as restrictions on the rights of women.

Some Iraqis expressed concern that the more radical Shiites, notably the followers of Moktada al-Sadr, would be difficult to control once the election is over.

Mr. Sadr, a young firebrand who led a series of revolts against American forces in the spring and summer, has been silenced for now, and 14 of his followers are candidates in the Shiite coalition. But in mosques and in more private communications, Mr. Sadr and his supporters continue to express support for armed rebellion and for a boycott of the election.

The challenge, the Shiite leaders say, will be holding their coalition together after Jan. 30, when the jockeying for power, in what is likely to be a coalition government, begins.

"It was very difficult to bring the coalition together," said Ali Faisal, a leader of Iraqi Hezbollah, a Shiite party that is part of the group. "There is a good chance that it will fall apart."

If the Shiite coalition were to crumble, Shiite leaders fear, they could lose ground to the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, a secular-minded Shiite, or to the Kurdish parties, which are unified on a single slate and which will probably benefit from a large turnout.

Kurdish leaders have already begun to talk up the prospect of Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union for Kurdistan, getting the post of president, which would give him enormous power in shaping the composition of the new government.

The Shiite coalition, known as the United Iraqi Alliance, was pulled together under the leadership of Ayatollah Sistani, the country's most powerful Shiite cleric and a native of Iran. Ayatollah Sistani, without formally endorsing any political party, has issued an Islamic edict calling on all eligible Iraqi Shiites to vote.

The Shiite coalition is widely expected to pull in the largest number of votes on election day. Shiites make up about 60 percent of the electorate here, and if, as expected, large numbers of Iraqi Sunnis boycott the election, then Shiites could capture an even larger percentage of the national assembly seats.

The decision to exclude clerics from the senior positions in the Iraqi government has set off a scramble for the post of prime minister. Under the election rules, the prime minister is to be chosen by the party or group that forms a government, presumably by the group that wins the largest number of seats in the 275-member national assembly.

Among the Shiites, the leading candidates for prime minister are thought to be Adil Abdul Mahdi, the Iraqi finance minister and a leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq; Ibrhaim Jofferey, the head of the Dawa Party; Hussein Shahristani, a nuclear scientist; and Ahmad Chalabi, who marshaled support for the toppling of Saddam Hussein's government in the Bush administration and has since become a pariah. All are candidates for the United Iraqi Alliance.

All four candidates are secular-minded leaders who spent much of their lives in exile. They maintain that they will borrow from Islam's tenets in writing the country's constitution, the main task for the new government, but will ensure that the Iraqi state does not have a religious cast.

Mr. Mahdi, for instance, flirted with communism in his youth, has two master's degrees from French universities and maintains a home in France. Mr. Shahristani was educated in Canada and is married to a Canadian. Mr. Chalabi, the most overtly secular of the group, has a doctorate in mathematics and spent much of the past 30 years in Britain and the United States. Dr. Jofferey is a medical doctor who lived in London.

Also a contender for the prime minister's job is Dr. Allawi, the current head of the Iraqi government, who was chosen last June by the United Nations envoy, Lakdhar Brahimi, and the American leadership. Dr. Allawi is running for the national assembly as the leader of his own slate of candidates, called the Iraqi List.

Dr. Allawi's chances to remain as prime minister are thought to depend not just on how well his group does at the polls, but on how well the United Iraqi Alliance fares. If Dr. Allawi's group performs well, and the Shiite coalition less well, then Dr. Allawi, Shiite leaders say, could become a leading candidate for prime minister. It was a deadlock between Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq last June that allowed Dr. Allawi to become minister.

That principal trend in Iraqi Shiism, known as quietism, rejects the kind of political role for the clergy that it has in Iran. Indeed, some prominent Iraqi Shiite religious leaders note that the Iranian government, after taking power in 1979, marginalized and persecuted Iranian followers of the quietist school in that country.

"It's a completely different concept of government," Mr. Shahristani said, referring to the Iraqi government. "The Iraqi government and the constitution will seek neither an Islamic government nor the participation of Islamic clerics in the government."

The ayatollahs will not be part of the government in any way or express views on day-to-day governance."

Ayatollah Sistani, though an adherent of the quietest school, has involved himself in every step of the political process here. Though he has stopped short of endorsing political candidates, he has come close to backing the Shiite slate. Earlier this month, some candidates in Dr. Allawi's slate protested that the use of Ayatollah Sistani's picture on the United Iraqi Alliance's election posters violated the ban on the use of religious symbols.

Indeed, some Iraqi Shiite leaders say it will probably fall to Ayatollah Sistani to hold the coalition together once the election is over.

Shiite leaders agree that the biggest task facing the next Iraqi government will be mollifying the Sunni Arabs, who they have displaced as Iraq's dominant group. The Sunnis are a minority in Iraq but a majority in the rest of the Arab world, and some of their leaders have had a difficult time reconciling themselves to a subordinate role.

While Shiite leaders say they intend to reach out to the Sunnis, they will have to overcome no small amount of suspicion. Publicly, that suspicion is usually expressed by making reference to Iran, the powerful Shiite-majority neighbor to the east.

"We're not afraid of the Shia or the Kurds governing Iraq," said Sheik Moayad Brahim al-Adhami, leader of the Abu Hanifa mosque, a Sunni bastion in Baghdad. "But what we're afraid of is a fundamentalist representing a foreign country's interests."

Edward Wong contributed reporting from Baghdad for this article.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Here I go, again

I just couldn't resist. I hemmed and hawed, for a couple of weeks, but, then, I just had to make the jump -- and, just in time. I'm flying from Cleveland to Washington, Wednesday morning -- to pick up an Iraqi passport. That should make it easier for me to travel around the country -- well, safer, at least. The risk is, if I get stopped -- the car I'm in, gets stopped -- by one of the terrorists, and they search my bags, or look over the passengers -- for a foreigner -- and...you-know-what. I've heard from a couple of people, that there are kidnapping rings, targeting Iraqis from abroad. As one friend put it, "If they get a good target, then the criminal gang sells the person up the criminal chain and one might end up wearing orange on TV."

It's late, Tuesday night, and I've got to pack, get ready to make the trip, and I want to give you the "back-story," here. So, I'm going to post this, put on the correspondences I've had, over the past couple of weeks, and...get going.

Adios, and see you...in Baghdad.

I should be there, Friday afternoon -- if all goes well -- and write, again -- I hope -- that day.


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