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

Thursday, March 31, 2005

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

Mar 28, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Killed were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


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

By Azeez Mahmood in Sulaimaniyah
March 17, 2005

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

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

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

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

The survivors are left with terrible scarring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 28, 2005

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

Feb 28, 2005

DoD Identifies Marine Casualty

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

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

By Jim Hoagland
Washington Post
March 27, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Fri Mar 25,11:23 AM ET

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

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

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

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

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

Clinton khosh Clinton, laakin Bush yu'wezzin bee

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

Breaking News


Scolds Iraqis in Televised Tongue-lashing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's as if we didn't go vote

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

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

The New York Times
March 21, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Downturn in Rebel Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iraqi Units With 'Heart'

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among Shiites, Good Will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 26, 2005

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

Mar 25, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

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

By Max Boot
Los Angeles Times, March 03, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 25, 2005

Sit a spell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. And of course, the federal scheme.

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

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

Now back to the Kurdish demands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alaaddin al-Dhahir
In other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Deep Roots and Current Violence

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

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

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

The Iraqi Christians

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

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

Violence Against Individuals

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

Suspected of Collaboration

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

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

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

Violence Against Churches

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

The Destruction of Businesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harassment of Students

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

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

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

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

Christmas Celebrations

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

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

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

Conversion to Islam

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

Leaving the Country

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

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

Saddam and the Iraqi Christians

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

Voting in the Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

The national assembly did not meet today, and it probably won't meet Saturday, either, according to Fu'ad Ma'soom, who ruled out the possibility of the government being formed, by Sunday. Discussions, the Kurdish leader said, are ongoing, with Ayad Allawi's Iraqi List. Ibrahim Ja'fari, the presumptive prime minister, assured the public that the government would be formed, by the end of the month, while others predicted the announcement would come, the middle of next week, which begins, Sunday. Ja'fari, who's a medical doctor, conceded that the formation of the government has taken a long time, but said the reason was the desire to make sure that there is national unity, inclusive of all, and that "it's born well, and not weak."

Ja'fari -- speaking at a press conference after meeting with a top-level U.S. Congressional delegation that included Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman and other famous faces, including Markey or Downey -- also cautioned Iraq's neighbors, in an unusually hard tone, against interference in Iraq, and called for Jordan to issue "a clear apology, commensurate with the size of the crime" (Hilla massacre) and "a complete and transparent investigation" of the affair.

Sixty-six katyusha rockets were seized in a raid near the Babil Tire Factory, between Hilla and Najaf. I did not see, if the raid was conducted by Iraqi forces, the multi-national forces, or a combination, thereof.

Rafidayn Bank security guards were able to prevent the kidnapping of an Iraqi contractor, and captured the kidnappers. This seems an unusual occurrence, and could be another indication that citizens and security men are taking a more active role in preventing crime and terrorism – and combating it, as well. The item didn't say the location of the bank, but it's quite likely the main branch, in Baghdad.

Kut police announced the capture of a gang of car thieves and brigands. Kut is the largest city of WaaSit province, southeast of Baghdad.

Two bomb-squadsmen died in the process of defusing a bomb in the Iskaan district of Baghdad, which is just northwest of Mansour, where I am.

Civil defense authorities in the southeastern province Maysaan announced that three bombs were defused in the Mejraawi mosque in Awaasheh.

Kurdistan Democratic Party's Kurdistan TV announced the capture of 108 suspected terrorists in Mosul. The news surprised me, because I didn't hear elsewhere of a large capture, today. Iraqiyyeh television's scrawl said the number captured in Mosul, today, was 13, the same number given in Hurra-Iraq's evening newscast. Also on Kurdistan TV's scrawl was a news item about South Korea's nuclear weapons program – either that it was resisting joining the six-way talks, or that China didn't see progress from "South Korea." Hurra-Iraq added, to its report about the captures in Mosul, that provincial police asked Mosul hotels to report of the presence of foreigners to the interior ministry. Now, on the midnight news, the news presenter said that 71 terrorists were captured in Mosul, while the scrawl at the base of the screen continued to say the number was 13.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

20-year-old Buckeye Marine is killed, Monday, in Anbar
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 22, 2005

DoD Identifies Marine Casualty

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

Lance Cpl. Kevin S. Smith, 20, of Springfield, Ohio, died March 21 as a result of hostile action in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

At least 45 Arabs among the 85 terrorists killed yesterday

The AP article I posted, a couple of hours ago, about the 80 terrorists killed at a training camp yesterday, failed to mention, that at least 45 of the terrorists killed, were foreign Arabs. That, according to this evening's Iraq newscast on al-Hurra. The attack on the training camp, the news report said, was carried out last night by 240 members of the special Iraqi police commandoes, supported by the U.S. military. The intense clashes reportedly lasted 17 hours, and 12 Iraqi police commandoes died in the fight. The group training in the camp called itself The Islamic Army, and among those killed were Algerian, Saudi and Syrian nationals. The raid landed passports and identity cards, and ended in Iraqi control of the camp, near the town of Hilweh, between Tikrit and Lake Therther.

Tawfeeq il-Yasiri, a former military officer and leader of the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance, said the presence of the terrorist training camp was attributable to the weakness of the government authority, its security forces and a security plan. Yasiri said that the security forces succeeded in the raid because of "the development of citizens' awareness, their understanding of their important role and involvement," and that there was "a qualitative development in the security forces' operations, which will be more and larger in the future."

At the beginning of Hurra's Iraq newscast, it gave the total number of killed at the terrorist training camp, as 82. By the end of the seven p.m. newshour, the number was given as 85.
28-year-old soldier from Norfolk is killed in Baghdad
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 21, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Pfc. Lee A. Lewis, Jr 28, of Norfolk, Va., died Mar. 18 in Sadr City, Iraq, when his patrol was attacked by enemy small arms fire. Lewis was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.
20-year-old soldier from Fort Worth is shot dead in Iraq
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 22, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Spc. Francisco G. Martinez, 20, of Fort Worth, Texas, died March 20 in Tamin, Iraq, as a result of enemy small arms fire. Martinez was assigned to 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, Camp Hovey, Korea.
Iraq Says 80 Rebels Killed in Clash
Insurgent Death Toll Is Largest in Single Battle

By QASIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writer
March 23, 2005
Updated: 06:58 AM EST

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A raid by U.S. and Iraqi forces on a suspected rebel training camp left 80 militants dead, the single biggest one-day death toll for rebels in months and the latest in a series of blows to the country's insurgency, Iraqi officials said Wednesday.

Politicians helping shape a post-election government expected within days said negotiators are considering naming a Sunni Arab as defense minister in a move aimed at bringing Sunni Arabs into the political process — and perhaps deflate the insurgency they lead.

The U.S. military announced late Tuesday that its air and ground forces backed Iraqi commandos during a noontime raid on a suspected guerrilla training camp near Lake Tharthar in central Iraq. Seven commandos died in fighting, the U.S. military said, but it didn't give a death toll for rebels.

Iraqi officials said Wednesday 80 rebels died in the clash — the largest number of rebels killed in a single battle since the U.S. Marine-led November attack on the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah that left more than 1,000 dead. On Sunday, U.S. forces killed 26 assailants after they were ambushed south of Baghdad.

Also Wednesday, a mortar shell or rocket landed on an elementary school in western Baghdad, killing at least one child and injuring three others, according to a police official who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution by attackers.

Kids fled the schoolhouse, abandoning backpacks and books on desks littered with glass shards. One teacher wept outside as parents rushed to collect their children.

On the political front, Abbas Hassan Mousa al-Bayati, a top member of the United Iraqi Alliance, said negotiators from his Shiite-dominated bloc and a Kurdish coalition could tap a Sunni Arab to head the ministry of defense, which oversees the Iraqi army battling the insurgency.

"The defense ministry will go to a Sunni Arab because we do not want Arab Sunnis to feel that they are marginalized," al-Bayati told The Associated Press. "They will be given one of the four major posts because we want them to feel that they are part of the political formula."

Sunni Arabs, dominant under ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, largely stayed away from the Jan. 30 balloting amid calls for them to boycott and threats against voters by the Sunni-led rebellion.

Political leaders have in the past announced plans on filling cabinet positions, only to reverse themselves later.

Al-Bayati said his group and the Kurdish coalition, which together won 215 seats in the new 275 seat National Assembly, were expected to name a president on Saturday, the next step toward forming a new government. Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani is expected to fill the post.

Fuad Masoum, a member of the Kurdish negotiating team, said no definitive decisions on divvying up the 32-member Cabinet have been made. He declined to confirm that a Sunni Arab will be named defense minister, but said that it was one option under consideration.

Handing the post to a Sunni Arab could help undermine support for the insurgency, while assuaging Sunni fears that the Shiites will dominate all aspect's of the country's upcoming government.

The army chief of staff could be a Shiite, al-Bayati said.
He added that his bloc was pressing for a Shiite to head the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police — Iraq's other main security force — and that a Kurd could become foreign minister.

Amid the political wrangling, top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani had been scheduled to talk with Talabani on Wednesday. But the meeting was canceled due to "security concerns," said Meithemn Faisal, an official from al-Sistani's offices in Baghdad.

Kurds are thought to number between 15 to 20 percent of Iraq's 25 million people, with Sunni Arabs roughly equivalent. Shiite Arabs make up 60 percent of the population.
Citizen Sistani

The Najaf provincial council has put in a request to the Iraqi National Assembly to grant Ayatollah Ali i-Sistani, Iraqi citizenship. Sistani, a native of Iran who has lived in Iraq for some 45 years (a council official said, more than 55 years), is the highest religious authority in Iraq, the Shi'a equivalent of pope. In addition to Sistani, the council asked the assembly to confer citizenship on two other top religious authorities – each, called a marji', meaning source (for "emulation"). The others are Basheer a-Najafi, a Pakistani, and IsHaaq el-Fayyaadh, an Afghani – both have lived in Iraq the past 35 years. Shi'as from around the world have been coming to Najaf for more than 1000 years, first as a pilgrimage point, for the grave of Imam Ali, Muhammad's cousin, son-in-law and fourth successor, then, also, to study in its seminaries, which for centuries were the best in Shi'ism. In Saddam's times, and after the 1979 Iranian revolution, Najaf was eclipsed as the center for learning by Qum, in Iran. Iraqis, and those supporting the moderate strain of Shi'ism, hope that Najaf regains its former status and influence.

The council's deputy head, Khalid i-Nu'mani, said the council decided unanimously to submit the memorandum to the national assembly, requesting "that the matter be one of the first issues discussed by the elected national assembly," which convened two days after the March 14 request. Nu'mani said one of the main reasons for the request was "that it's a civilized matter, and not political, as there are many developed countries that grant their citizenships to creative and intellectual individuals. If we compared what Sayyid Sistani and the other sources have presented, through the statements they issued and through their leadership of the masses, they were more concerned for the unity of Iraq and Iraqis than others." Nu'mani said that Sistani, who hails from Seestan province, bordering Afghanistan, has lived in Iraq more than 55 years, and that most countries grant citizenship after five years of residence. He said that "the issue concerns Najafis and Iraqis, all, and that's why it's a duty to give back something for what they have presented to us, even if it were something for convenience, and we know that they aren't in need of it, but we are honored by them." The request came, he said, from a group of jurists, and the council approved it, unanimouosly.

It's too bad the assembly didn't do it, when it first met, but I expect this will be one of its first acts – a popular call. On the 16th, Sistani representative Ahmed i-Saafi welcomed the council's request, calling it "part of the faithfulness of Iraqis to these sources and their active and effective role, and concern for the unity of Iraq and Iraqis." Saafi added, "Many civilized countries have granted creative people in the fields of thought, politics and religion their countries' citizenship, as part of their devotion and appreciation to them, and the decision of the provincial council comes from this category." There is not the custom in Iraq, and maybe not a formal process, for gaining citizenship, other than by birth or through patrilineal descent.
The Hilla massacre

Authorities warn that death toll may rise after worst-yet insurgent attack.

By Yaseen Madhloom in Hillah
March 04, 2005

A leading Sunni group has strongly condemned a car bombing in Hillah that claimed at least 125 lives in the deadliest insurgent attack in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

In a statement, the Muslim Scholars' Association called for an end to all attacks targeting Iraqi civilians.

"The association announces that terrorist acts targeting innocent Iraqis should be forbidden, no matter who is behind the attacks and what the pretext is," said the group, which led a boycott of Iraq's elections.

The association also extended its deepest sympathies to the families of those killed in the February 28 suicide bombing. A further 150 people were wounded in the attack.

Police say the bomber detonated a car loaded with explosives outside a government office where police recruits were waiting to receive their physical examination in Hillah, a city 100 kilometres south of Baghdad. A busy market nearby was also hit, adding to the number of casualties.

A group calling itself the al-Qaeda Organisation for Holy War in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on an Islamist website, Reuters news agency reported. The authenticity of the claim could not be verified.

Police arrested several suspects in connection with the bombing.

"The bomber had his hand tied to the steering wheel and remains of the Holy Koran were found near him," said Captain Salam Muhsin, a spokesman for the Babil provincial police department.

Hundreds of people protested in the streets of Hillah a day after the attack, blaming police for what they said were too-lax security measures and demanding more protection.

"The poor work by policemen in the governorate is the reason why this infiltration happened," said Imad Kadhim, a Hillah resident who witnessed the bombing.

Kadhim said police had closed off all major roads and were confident this was enough to deter attacks. But the suicide bomber came in along a secondary road.

Dr Mahmood Abduradha told IWPR that people in Hillah were overwhelmed by the extent of the damage. Many of the bodies could not be identified because the remains were badly burned or dismembered.

"The corpses were collected, loaded into trucks and moved to hospitals," he said.

Hillah's health department used loudspeakers mounted on cars and in mosques to urge people to donate blood. Medical teams from the nearby cities of Najaf, Karbala and Diwaniyah rushed to the city to help, and the Iraq Red Crescent Organisation sent emergency aid and equipment.

Health authorities in Hillah warned that the death toll could rise further, as many of the injured remained in a critical condition.

Yaseen Madhloom is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.
This Institute for War and Peace Reporting article is available in Kurdish and Arabic, too.
Demo in the mornin', demo in the evenin', demo at suppertime….

All right – hop on a plane, ride a boat, pick up and drive – there's a demonstration this morning, at eleven, outside the Jordanian embassy in Vienna – that's Austria, for the geographically challenged. This demonstration follows protests against Jordan in Washington and London on Tuesday, as well as one the same day outside the Saudi embassy in London. Iraqis, and in particular Shi'as, are angry at Arabs for their support of terrorism in Iraq. What flipped Iraqis' collective switch was the "wedding celebration" in Jordan, 10 days ago, for the unwed "martyr" who reportedly carried out the February 28 suicide bombing in Hilla that killed 125-175 people. Sources vary, on the numbers killed and wounded – I ought to call Hilla hospitals, to get that pinned down.

Outside the gates of Georgetown University, some 25 Iraqi men shouted, "Shame, Shame," as, inside the school, the king of Jordan was awarded an honorary doctorate. The protesters called on Jordan to halt the financing of terrorism, the sermons inciting it by the state-controlled clergy and the activities of Saddam loyalists in the kingdom. Carrying a large picture of the king, with one side of his face, that of terrorist kingpin Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the demonstrators also called on Jordan to turn over all the members of Saddam's regime and those financing the terrorism against Iraqis.

A Jordanian official approached the demonstrators and asked them to write down their demands and sign their names, and he would relay them to the authorities. He also asked them to give him the picture. One protester reacted, "They kill Iraqis – that's okay – but we show a picture, half-Zarqawi, and they get irritated." Several Jordanian students engaged the Iraqis, as well, and the opposing sides shouted at each other, across the Georgetown street.

In London, some 100 people gathered and shouted, across the street from the Jordanian embassy, and they directed their anger at all Arab leaders. A woman shouted at the television camera, "Shame on all the Arab governments who didn't condemn this crime. One person in Qatar gets killed, and nobody stays quiet, but 150, and they don't say anything.... Our blood is not cheap." Another woman cried out, "God willing, your day will come – one after another." A third implored, "I ask the respected king of Jordan – if an Iraqi bombed himself and killed 100 Jordanians, what would be the feelings of the Jordanian people?" She continued, "If he's really a king, a hero and from Ahlil-Bayt [the House of Muhammad], he shouldn't be hiding -- he should come out, and speak."

Among the protesters, who were segregated by sex, were many pictures of Zarqawi and King Abdallah, side by side, images of the bodies and remains of the massacre in Hilla, and pictures of the king, with the word "Sectarian," in large red letters, across the face. One sign said, "Your day will come." Another: "No more free oil." A banner, in Arabic: "Get your hands off our country." Al-Hurra reported that a Sunni source told the station that the demonstration was organized by a sect-based group. The Hurra reporter concluded with the words, "Is this message going to reach Arab rulers?"

In Baghdad's Mustansiriyyeh University, tens of students, teachers and politicians reportedly marched through the school, Tuesday, demanding that neighboring countries stop the terrorism against Iraqis.
Roadside bomb kills 21-year-old Kentucky soldier
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 21, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Spc. Jonathan A. Hughes, 21, of Lebanon, Ky., died March 19 in Iraq when an improvised explosive device detonated near his HMMWV. Hughes was assigned to the Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery Regiment, Campbellsville, Ky.
Roberto Alomar -- between Baghdad and Sydney

From: ayad rahim
Sent: Sunday, 20 March 2005 9:51 AM
To: ammar hindi
Subject: Yahoo! Sports - MLB - Roberto Alomar retires after 17-year major league career

ayad rahim has sent you a news article

Personal message:

I know you said, at one point, that he was the best player in the game.

Speaking of which, do you remember the thing he did, that you said you hadnt seen anybody else do?

Lots of love, to all.

Yahoo! Sports - MLB - Roberto Alomar retires after 17-year major league career

* * *

Subject: RE: Yahoo! Sports - MLB - Roberto Alomar retires after 17-year major league career
Date: Sun, 20 Mar 2005 10:20:28 +1100

No I do not remember!!!!!!! What was it that he did that nobody else did? I am so far removed from baseball……

He was the smartest and always studied the game which was what I liked the most about him. He was talent and brains.

Where are u?

* * *

Subject: RE: Yahoo! Sports - MLB - Roberto Alomar retires after 17-year major league career
Date: Sat, 19 Mar 2005 19:30:49 -0500

Hey -- I'm in Mansour, staying with an uncle. What's going on with you? I've been here, since two days befroe the elections, and I'm staying, another month -- almost -- four weeks. I got to vote, here -- went to five voting centers.

Hey -- while I've got you, maybe you can ask Olga a question. Does she know a Katya Waakeem? She's an anchor on Hurra TV, from Washington, and she's just a knockout -- I'd like to meet here. Or if she knows anybody else who works there, or might know anybody?

How are you all doing? What's going on?

The thing about Robbie, had to do with something he did on defense. I can't remember what it was -- some kind of decoy, or some move he made, to get ready for a defensive play -- I can't remember what it was, but you -- or I -- said we'd never seen anybody do that. I think it was you. It involved a play in the outfield, I think -- a ball that went to the outfield. After that, I used to keep saying that to people, but didn't have the punch line.

Oh, speaking of baseball, they've started up a league over here, in 14 cities -- I thin, mostly, college students. There've been a couple of reports done on it, in the press.

All right -- it'd be nice, to hear from you, what's news with you.

Lots of love, to you, Olga and the boys, if they remember me -- and even if they don't. I'm sure Reema doesn't. Love to her, too.


* * *

Subject: RE: Yahoo! Sports - MLB - Roberto Alomar retires after 17-year major league career
Date: Sun, 20 Mar 2005 21:59:43 +1100

Hi Ayad

Still in Sydney and enjoying it. Did manage to get my vote in here in Sydney and was interviewed by a Japanese reporter. I was very excited and took the Kids and Olga along with me to witness it.

What I hear from Baghdad changes day by day (most of the news I get from my brother). Whenever there is a lull in the violence I get excited only to be disappointed few days later. Overall I get the impression that things are getting better. However we have a long way to go. What do you think?

I do remember the Alomar play now. He ran to the outfield as if it was a short fly ball to prevent the runner from advancing. The memories of the 95 series and the series with Yankees that year are still very much fresh.

Olga does not know anyone at the Hura. The are all new people.

Are you working for anyone or just free lancing?


* * *

Subject: RE: Yahoo! Sports - MLB - Roberto Alomar retires after 17-year major league career
Date: Sun, 20 Mar 2005 21:34:40 -0500

Wow -- that's awesome, that you remembered the play. I always talk about that -- that he did something that nobody else has ever done -- well, that's overstating it -- but I don't know what it was. I'm laughing. That's awesome, though, although, it doesn't sound as great, in an e-mail, as it probably was, in person. Well, he's gone -- as they say, he now belongs to the ages.

I think things are going very good. I know that sounds funny, to people far away, but -- if you look at where the country has been, how shattered and sick it is -- its people, and the infrastructure -- and you can include all kinds of things in the infrastructure -- from water, electricity and sewage, to education and economy, you-name-it. It's really doing well. Business is booming, people have disposable income out the wazoo, although, they don't do shit -- laziest people on the planet, probably, but...they can really improve -- lot of growth potential, as they say. Well -- could go on and on, but i think things are going well. They mean well, as do the Americans, and they're very impatient -- although, again, they've gotta learn to take responsbility -- well, I think you know what it's about.

I'm free-lancing -- I've gotta produce some articles, to make some money, now. When I go back, I'll do some speaking, and...we'll see -- I've gotta put all of this, into a book.

All right -- love to all.

Oh -- you said the Hurra people are new -- does Olga know where they brought them from?

That's cool -- about your voting. Hey -- can I put that, on my blog? Including the part about Alomar?

All right -- see you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Breaking News


Social Security Participants Given Wide Choice of Iraqi Cities to Patrol

After receiving only muted support for his sweeping proposals to overhaul Social Security, President George W. Bush attempted to sweeten the pot today, offering all retirees the opportunity to serve in Iraq.

With most insiders calling the president's proposal for individual investment accounts dead on arrival in Congress, the White House hopes that Mr. Bush's offer of guaranteed military service to all retired Americans will find more favor.

Speaking at a rally in Detroit today, the president told his audience, "In the year 2054, the Social Security trust fund will be bankrupt, but the war in Iraq will be alive and well."

Under his new plan, the president said, upon reaching the age of 59 every participant in the Social Security program would be offered the opportunity to begin basic training for what Mr. Bush called "the adventure of their lives."

According to the president, retirees would be "totally free to choose" which Iraqi city they would like to patrol from a list of twenty cities including Baghdad, Tikrit, Fallujah, and oil-rich Kirkuk.

Mr. Bush added that the average retiree serving in Iraq would earn approximately $1500 a month, which would be boosted to $1800 if the retiree should somehow stumble across weapons of mass destruction.

In Washington, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said he was "intrigued" by the notion of spending his retirement years in Iraq but that he had decided to run the World Bank instead.

Elsewhere, antiwar protesters across Europe marked the second anniversary of President Bush ignoring antiwar protesters across Europe.
That's the March 20, 2005, Borowitz Report.
Saudis in Iraq

Today's newspapers relay a report from Reuters news agency that there are 1,500 Saudi terrorists in Iraq. Mansour Njaydaan, "a former extremist who fought in Iraq," is quoted as saying, "There are tens of Saudis in prisons, either because they wanted to go to Iraq, were captured as they tried, or because they were collecting money for people going to Iraq." According to the articles, Reuters reported that the Saudis found other routes into Iraq, most of them via Syria, and that the recent successes of the Saudi security forces against Qa'ida terrorists may have prompted more of the militants to go to Iraq. Njaydaan relayed that a prominent Saudi security officer recently mentioned that there may be 1,500 Saudis in Iraq.

Qa'ida expert Faaris Hazzam affirmed that 2,500 Saudis have gone to Iraq since the toppling of Saddam, two years ago, and that maybe 400 of them have been killed there. Hazzam added, "Every day, there is, in northern or southern Saudia, a family receiving mourners." Saudi officials, the reports continued, have tried to contain knowledge of the number of terrorists who may have infiltrated the Iraq borders, and they indicate that the numbers are much less.

Saudi attorney Mihsin al-Awaji said that most of the Saudis in Iraq have "a one-way ticket" and will most likely die there. Those who return, he continued, bring back with them the ideas of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. "We are extremely worried about the issue of those who may return after the end of the war in Iraq, with the new ideology that's worse than that which came form Afghanistan."
Old new item, about a much older (news) "item"
Gilgamesh tomb believed found

BBC News World Edition (web-site includes pictures)
Tuesday, 29 April, 2003, 07:57 GMT 08:57 UK

Archaeologists in Iraq believe they may have found the lost tomb of King Gilgamesh - the subject of the oldest "book" in history.

The Epic Of Gilgamesh - written by a Middle Eastern scholar 2,500 years before the birth of Christ - commemorated the life of the ruler of the city of Uruk, from which Iraq gets its name.
Gilgamesh was believed to be two-thirds god, one-third human
Now, a German-led expedition has discovered what is thought to be the entire city of Uruk - including, where the Euphrates once flowed, the last resting place of its famous King.

"I don't want to say definitely it was the grave of King Gilgamesh, but it looks very similar to that described in the epic," Jorg Fassbinder, of the Bavarian department of Historical Monuments in Munich, told the BBC World Service's Science in Action programme.


In the book - actually a set of inscribed clay tablets - Gilgamesh was described as having been buried under the Euphrates, in a tomb apparently constructed when the waters of the ancient river parted following his death.

"We found just outside the city an area in the middle of the former Euphrates river¿ the remains of such a building which could be interpreted as a burial," Mr Fassbinder said.

He said the amazing discovery of the ancient city under the Iraqi desert had been made possible by modern technology.

Who can compare with him in kingliness? Who can say, like Gilgamesh, I am king?

-- The Epic Of Gilgamesh

"By differences in magnetisation in the soil, you can look into the ground," Mr Fassbinder added.

"The difference between mudbricks and sediments in the Euphrates river gives a very detailed structure."

This creates a magnetogram, which is then digitally mapped, effectively giving a town plan of Uruk.

'Venice in the desert'

"The most surprising thing was that we found structures already described by Gilgamesh," Mr Fassbinder stated.

"We covered more than 100 hectares. We have found garden structures and field structures as described in the epic, and we found Babylonian houses."

But he said the most astonishing find was an incredibly sophisticated system of canals.
Iraq has long been the site of some of the most important historical finds
"Very clearly, we can see in the canals some structures showing that flooding destroyed some houses, which means it was a highly developed system.

"[It was] like Venice in the desert."
The latest on the Jordan-Iraq rift

In the first official Jordanian semi-apology to Iraq, Prime Minister Faysel al-Faayiz called the February 28 suicide bombing in Hilla that killed at 130-175 Iraqis, a "cowardly crime" that doesn't represent the Jordanian people. He said that Jordanians and Iraqis were "twins," "one people," joined by a common history and customs. The most important thing, he said, was to condemn these "condemnable acts" and work to keep good relations.

In Algiers for the Arab League summit, Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zaybari, today greeted Jordan's foreign minister, Hani il-Mulqi, with the traditional exchange of kisses. Iraq is also represented at the summit by Interim President Ghazi il-Yawer, who arrived last night, and was to deliver Iraq's address, today. Jordan's King Abdallah II stayed away. Jordan is also at odds with Syria, over Lebanon.

King Abdallah yesterday asked his country's charge d'affaires, Deemiy Haddad, to return to Iraq. He was called back, "for consultations," Sunday, in the wake of demonstrations in Iraq against Jordan, for celebrations held there for the Jordanian who reportedly carried out the suicide bombing. Jordanian officials have said that Haddad was pulled out of the country, for his own safety. Haddad lived in the embassy, a few doors from where I'm staying, and Iraqi Shi'a have been demonstrating outside the embassy for more than a week, and may have fired gunshots towards the embassy. Other embassy employees weren't withdrawn, Jordanian officials said, because they did not live in the embassy, and were not at risk.

Iraq pulled its ambassador from Jordan, Atta Abdil-Wahhab, a couple of hours after Jordan's move, and in protest over he leniency with which Jordan dealt with terrorists crossing into Iraq.

Jordanian officials are calling for the problem over the Hilla perpetrator to be resolved diplomatically. Government spokeswoman Asmaa' Khidhir said yesterday that "the problem has gotten bigger than it merits," and that the charge d'affaires was recalled because embassy business was at a halt. Jordanian officials explained that the trouble was over "a clear misunderstanding regarding what news agencies related."

The Arab summit started, this afternoon – its opening session was being broadcast, live, on local television. For many Iraqis, the question is, will Iraq press the issue of terrorist recruitment, incitement and border-crossing from neighboring countries, in particular, from Syria and Jordan. Regarding the possibility of Iraq seeking a resolution on the issue from the summit, Musawi dismissed it as only "a playing card to be used to pressure" other members, but that such resolutions in the past, such as at the recent meeting in Iran of interior ministers, were "just ink on paper."

One Iraqi told a television interviewer yesterday that "an apology from Jordan wasn't enough, even from the king…. There should be compensation, from his pocket." A bus driver said, "All the Arabs must leave – all the problems come from the Arabs."

Pre-Saddam foreign minister Adnan Pachachi said, "I condemn severely the contemptible crimes" in Hilla and Mosul and "the mourning gatherings that were held in some parts of Jordan." He cautioned that Iraq's "relations are with the government," and that if there were suspicions of transgressions, "we must employ diplomatic means" to address those.

Asked about Iraq's ability to assuage public anger at Jordan, political analyst Saadiq il-Musawi said that "all the political forces couldn't stand before this popular sentiment." Jordanians' political positions, he said, "aren't convincing to Iraqis -- diplomatic means are no good."

Musawi saw "two faces" from Jordan towards Iraq. Publicly, he said, Jordan disavows any connection with the terrorists and condemns them. Jordan's intelligence services, on the other hand, knew about Raa'id al-Banna's movements to and from Iraq, via Syria, Musawi continued, and statements from the king and political forces in Jordan, including warnings against "a Shi'a crescent."

Two Jordanian university students were reportedly killed in Hilla, Sunday. Musawi said, Monday night, "I don't think Iraqis would do that – but people who are trying to provoke sedition," such as "Saddam hands."

The demonstration we passed, Sunday, in Baghdad's Mansour district turns out not to have been a direct protest against Jordan, but an indirect one -- supporting Ahmad Chalabi, who's come under attack from Jordanian officials and personalities. Chalabi accused Jordan of worsening relations with Iraq, by King Abdallah's warnings against "a Shi'a crescent" and by Jordanians' expressions of fear that Iraq's seminaries are Iran-leaning. The organ of Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress has a front-page article on the support he's drawing – most likely, from residents of Baghdad's Kadhimiyya district, from which the Chalabis hail. I haven't read the article, but the headline reads, "The Jordanian government is treating the Hilla crime with its customary arrogance." The subheading: "Iraqi citizens: the king is implementing his father's saying 'I'll make in every Iraqi house a [female] mourner." The king reportedly said these words a year or two after his second-cousin, King Faysel II, of Iraq, was slain, in 1958. King Hussein visited Baghdad 42 times during the eight-year war, and Saddam honored the king with the first shot at Iran. Iraqis view the king's participation in the war, as well as gifts and decades of free and low-fare oil, believing that Saddam bought the king, and Iraqi treasure built Jordan. The article today includes a photograph of demonstrators, holding up pictures of Chalabi and a banner reading, "Dr. Ahmad Chalabi, a patriotic political symbol; the Jordanian government should stop defamation and give him his stolen right in the Petra case." Chalabi was sentenced in absentia in 1992 to 22 years for embezzlement in the Jordan-based bank. Chalabi denies the charge, and says it was drive by Saddam, against whom he worked. The banner is signed "the people of Kadhumiyyeh." My cousin's husband told me today that a worker from a-Thawra (Sadir City), speaking about the demonstration, said, passionately, "Nobody talks about Ahmad Chalabi. He's spending money from his own pocket to build Sadir City." A year ago, when Muqtada a-Sadir was fighting the Americans, this person was livid against America.

In response to Jordanian accusations that the demonstrators have been generated by Chalabi and Iran, Jwaad Maliki, Ibrahim al-Ja'fari's deputy, said that "nobody directed the demonstrators," but that they came as a spontaneous reaction by Iraqis to the statements from Jordanians, "from the king, on down," speaking of the dangers of Iraqi Shi'as.
Roadside bomb kills Tennesse Army sergeant in Kirkuk
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 21, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Sgt. Paul W. Thomason, III, 37, of Talbot, Tenn., died Mar. 20 in Kirkuk, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. Thomason was assigned to the Army National Guard’s 2nd Squadron, 278th Regimental Combat Team, Greeneville, Tenn.
A Nobel for Sistani

The New York Times
March 20, 2005

As we approach the season of the Nobel Peace Prize, I would like to nominate the spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, for this year's medal. I'm serious.

If there is a decent outcome in Iraq, President Bush will deserve, and receive, real credit for creating the conditions for democratization there, by daring to topple Saddam Hussein. But we tend to talk about Iraq as if it is all about us and what we do. If some kind of democracy takes root there, it will also be due in large measure to the instincts and directives of the dominant Iraqi Shiite communal leader, Ayatollah Sistani. It was Mr. Sistani who insisted that there had to be a direct national election in Iraq, rejecting the original goofy U.S. proposal for regional caucuses. It was Mr. Sistani who insisted that the elections not be postponed in the face of the Baathist-fascist insurgency. And it was Mr. Sistani who ordered Shiites not to retaliate for the Sunni Baathist and jihadist attempts to drag them into a civil war by attacking Shiite mosques and massacring Shiite civilians.

In many ways, Mr. Sistani has played the role for President George W. Bush that Nelson Mandela and Mikhail Gorbachev played for his father, President George H. W. Bush. It was Mr. Mandela's instincts and leadership - in keeping the transition to black rule in South Africa nonviolent - that helped the Bush I administration and its allies bring that process in for a soft landing. And it was Mr. Gorbachev's insistence that the dismantling of the Soviet Empire, and particularly East Germany, be nonviolent that brought the Soviet Union in for a soft landing. In international relations, as in sports, it is often better to be lucky than good. And having the luck to have history deal you a Mandela, a Gorbachev or a Sistani as your partner at a key historical juncture - as opposed to a Yasir Arafat or a Robert Mugabe - can make all the difference between U.S. policy looking brilliant and U.S. policy looking futile.

Mr. Sistani has also contributed three critical elements to the democracy movement in the wider Arab world. First, he built his legitimacy around not just his religious-scholarly credentials but around a politics focused on developing Iraq for Iraqis. To put it another way, says the Middle East expert Stephen P. Cohen, "Sistani did not build his politics on negating someone else." Saddam Hussein built his politics around negating America, Iran and Israel. Arafat built his whole life around negating Zionism - rarely, if ever, speaking about Palestinian economic development or education. The politics of negation has a deep and rich history in the Middle East, because so many leaders there are illegitimate and need to negate someone to justify their rule. What Mr. Sistani, the late Lebanese Sunni leader Rafik Hariri and the new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas all have in common is that they rose to power by focusing on a positive agenda for their own people, not negating another.

The second thing that Mr. Sistani did was put the people and their aspirations at the center of Iraqi politics, not some narrow elite or self-appointed clergy (see: Iran), which is what the Iraqi election was all about. In doing so he has helped to legitimize "people power" in a region where it was unheard of. In Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine - where Hamas recently said it would take part in parliamentary elections - the ballot box and popular support, not just the gun, are showing signs of becoming real sources of legitimacy. Both Hezbollah and Hamas will have to prove - with turnout, not terrorism - that they are entitled to a larger slice of power.

Third, and maybe most important, Mr. Sistani brings to Arab politics a legitimate, pragmatic interpretation of Islam, one that says Islam should inform politics and the constitution, but clerics should not rule.

The process of democratizing the Arab world is going to be long and bumpy. But the chances for success are immeasurably improved when we have partners from within the region who are legitimate, but have progressive instincts. That is Mr. Sistani. Lady Luck has shined on us by keeping alive this 75-year-old ayatollah, who resides in a small house in a narrow alley in Najaf and almost never goes out the door. How someone with his instincts and wisdom could have emerged from the train wreck that was Saddam Hussein's Iraq, I will never know. All I have to say is: May he live to be 120 - and give that man a Nobel Prize.

Monday, March 21, 2005

No'rooz Pay'rooz-be

That's Happy New Year, in Kurdish. Actually, "no'rooz" means "new day." It's celebrated on the 21st of March, every year, by Kurds and Persians – has been for two, three thousand years. Actually, for some, it could start on the 20th, depending on the equinox. No'rooz traces its lineage to Zoroastrianism, and the practice of lighting fires in hilltops still goes on – was, last night, as bonfires dotted the hillsides and countrysides of Kurdistan. Fireworks, too – last night, in Slaymanee. The scenes from Kurdistan were very joyous, with picnics, barbeques, music, dancing, brightly colored clothing and singing of patriotic songs.

In addition to the birth of life, the occasion also celebrates the Kurdish legend of Kawa al-Haddad, the smith who slew the tyrant who sucked children's blood. As a Kurdish storyteller and folk scholar told it, the occasion is a celebration of the victory of nature and the victory of humanity, truth and justice over tyranny and the symbols of evil. A celebrant told the TV interviewer, "Maybe this is our message to our Arab brothers – that we're a people who live in the northeastern corner of the Arab world. Remember us, in our tragedies, and remember us in our joys."

Arabs celebrate No'rooz, too. It's an official holiday, here – has been, for years – I don't know, how many. On our front porch, this afternoon, my aunt and her three daughters brought out boiled eggs, yogurt, cream, white cheese, figs, sesame-crunch, romaine lettuce, candy, cake and zerdeh, a yellow dessert that's delicious -- I've gotta find out, what's in it -- it's probably pretty basic, with tumeric, for coloring. My mom makes it, in America, so...she can tell me. The kids all joined in, and they lit yellow candles. The two-year-old brought out a huge spring onion. In the morning, I saw the boiled eggs on the stove, and grabbed two, not knowing they were being saved for a special occasion. It was hot, this morning, and I breakfasted on the front porch, where we've got an overflow of little, tall yellow, white and orange flowers, the shape of sunflowers or ones that look like daisies. Tonight, I saw my first cockroach, a sure sign that summer is here.

For more information on No'rooz, you can do a search -- there are various spellings, of course, or read the Wickpedia entry I found, below, or go to its web-page, for all the links.
Norouz (also spelled Norooz, Noruz, Nav-roze, Navroz, Naw-Rúz or Nowrouz and in Persian نوروز) is the traditional Iranian festival of the New Year which starts at the exact moment of the vernal equinox, commencing the start of the spring. The name comes from Persian no=new + rooz=day; meaning "new day".

Norouz with its uniquely Iranian characteristics has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrian religion. Today the festival of Norouz is not only celebrated in Iran, but also in many lands that historically have been within the Persian sphere of cultural influence (i.e., lands which were parts of pre-Islamic Persia).

Iranians consider the Norouz as their greatest celebration of the year. Even with Islam, and the Ismaili Muslims, the festival of Norouz continues to be by far the most important celebration of the year in Iran.

When is Norouz?

Unlike many calendrical holidays, Norouz is determined by a natural event, the vernal equinox.

Norouz corresponds to the precise time of the vernal equinox, when the sun passes through the celestial equator as it traverses the ecliptic. The exact time differs every year, but it is almost always on March 20 or March 21 of the Gregorian calendar, and it is always known to an accuracy of seconds many years in advance. In 2005, Norouz will be on Sunday March 20 at 12:33:00 PM GMT

The exact second the sun passes through this celestial intersection marks the start of astronomical spring, the new Persian year, and Norouz celebrations.


Preparing for Norouz starts in Esfand, the last month of winter in the Persian solar calendar. Iranians start preparing for the Norouz by doing a major spring-cleaning of their houses, buying new clothes to wear for the new year and buying lots of flowers for the Norouz (in particular the hyacinth and the tulip are popular and conspicuous).

Chahar Shanbe Soori

This section is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Norouz&action=edit).

The Haft Seen (In Persian: هفت سین)

A major tradition of Norouz is setting the "Haft Seen" (the seven 'S', seven items starting with letter S or "seen" (س) in Persian alphabet), which is seven specific items on a table symbolically corresponding to the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them. Today they are changed and modified but some have kept their symbolism. Every family tries to set up as beautiful a Haft Seen table as they can, as it is not only of special spiritual meaning to them, but also is noticed by visitors to their house during Norouzi visitations and is a reflection of their good taste.

The Haft Seen are seven of these, though there isn't consensus as to which seven:

• sabzeh - wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish (symbolising rebirth)
• samanu - a sweet pudding made from wheat germ (symbolising affluence)
• senjed - the dried fruit of the jujube tree (love)
• seer - garlic (medicine)
• seeb - apples, (beauty and health)
• somaq - sumac berries (the colour of the sunrise)
• serkeh - vinegar (age and patience)
• sonbol - the fragrant hyacinth flower (the coming of spring)
• sekkeh - coins (prosperity and wealth)

Other items on the table may include:

• pastries
• lit candles (enlightenment and happiness)
• a mirror
• painted eggs, perhaps one for each member of the family (fertility)
• a bowl with two goldfish (life, and the sign of Pisces which the sun is leaving)
• a bowl of water with an orange in it (the earth floating in space)
• rose water for its magical cleansing powers
• the national colours, for a patriotic touch
• a book of poetry by Hafez or a holy book (the Qur'an for Muslims)


During the Norouz holidays Iranians are expected to pay house visits to one another (mostly limited to families, friends and neighbours) in the form of short house visits and the other side will also pay you a visit during the holidays before the 13th day of the spring. Typically, on the first day of Norouz, family members gather around the table, with the Haft Seen on the table or set next to it, and await the exact moment of the arrival of the spring. At that time gifts are exchanged. Later in the day, on the very first day, the first house visits are paid to the most senior family members. Typically, the youngers visit the elders first, and the elders return their visit later. The visits naturally have to be relatively short, otherwise one will not be able to visit everybody on their list. Every family announces in advance to their relatives and friends which days of the holidays are their reception days. A typical visit is around 30 minutes, where you often run into other visiting relatives and friends who happen to be paying a visit to the same house at that time. Because of the house visits, you make sure you have a sufficient supply of pastry, cookies, fresh and dried fruits and special nuts on hand, as you typically serve your visitors with these items plus tea or syrup.

Sizdah Bedar

The thirteenth day of the New Year festival is called Sizdah Bedar (meaning "thirteen outdoors"). People go out in the nature in groups and spend all day outdoors in the nature in form of family picnics. It is a day of festivity in the nature, where children play and music and dancing is abundant. On this day, people throw their sabzeh away in the nature as a symbolic act of making the nature greener, and to dispose of the bad luck that the sprouts are said to have been collecting from the household.


• The Festival of Noe-Rooz (http://www.art-arena.com/noerooz.htm)
• Norooz (http://www.neda.net/norooz/)
• What is Norouz? (http://www.payvand.com/ny/massoume.html)
First National Assembly meeting -- take two

I posted, the day after the first National Assembly meeting, the first part of my account of the day's proceedings. Here, is the second and last installment.

First of all, I missed the opening remarks of the session, delivered by the session's emcee and head of the interim parliamentary bureau, who told the assembly members, "On you, the Iraqi people hang their hopes for progress and building a constitutional, democratic, federal, united Iraq, so that citizens may enjoy a free and dignified life." Later, after Fouad Ma'soum's speech, the presenter thanked Ma'soum for his service, as head of the just-terminated interim parliament.

The U.N. Secretary General's representative, Ashraf Qaadhi, began by thanking the assembly "for inviting me on this important, historic, national occasion." Qaadhi, reading his speech in Arabic, is from Pakistan, so the Arabic was accented – much lighter than the rough Iraqi dialect. I wondered if he wrote the speech in Arabic, if he knew the meanings of the words he uttered, and whether the words on paper were in Arabic script or Latin – it was probably in Arabic, like the Qur'an, which he's probably read. He congratulated the assembled members and the Iraqi people, "who carried out truly democratic elections." Qaadhi noted the "great historic opportunity" before Iraqis to open up and choose what kind of government and order they wanted – in terms of the role of religion, the position of women in society, and minorities. He called a democratic Iraq "a message to the world for freedom and democracy, as a successful experiment…. Either all will win, or all will lose." Qaadhi reiterated that "the United Nations will always stand by your side in your efforts to establish the bases of democracy, in accordance with Resolution 1546," and added that the United Nations "is willing to put before you all its expertise and resources," asking Iraqis to make use of them.

During the few minutes we were without electricity, I missed Ghazi il-Yawer's speech. In the papers, the outgoing president is reported to have said that Iraqis "deserve the heroism gained from the respect of others." Yawer described "this phase as the last in the transitional stage, and it's the most important," adding that "the mission sitting on our shoulders is great and grave, the first of which is the writing of the constitution." He emphasized the need for all to take part in that process, to ensure the rights of all. "Those who participate and those who don't will be accountable before God and the Iraqi people for the sound and solid foundations…. There's no winner or loser. Instead, we will all win, or we will all lose."

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi started by pointing out that "for three-plus decades, we've had two goals – to depose the regime, and to hold free elections for the peaceful transfer of power. Congratulations to our people, for the victory…at the dawn of freedom." Allawi saluted Iraqis, "who defied terrorism and death when they headed to the ballot boxes and took part in the elections." He noted "Iraq's march has been a long one, full of sacrifices, but today, we've arrived at the beginning of the road."

He continued: "We are at the beginnings of a new era of freedom, democracy and the rule of the people." Allawi thanked the Kurds for offering their land from which to fight Saddam, and "for giving up so much." He noted the steps ahead -- setting up democratic institutions, the branches of government and constitutional procedures that "protect the weak against the strong." In looking ahead, Allawi also touched on respecting the opinions of others, building law, and moving the economy from state-run to free-market.

Looking back, Allawi said "it's been our honor to participate in leading this country, in the shadow of very difficult circumstances, almost impossible, to accomplish a number of achievements, among them building security forces able to confront terrorism and Saddam forces." On the economic front, he listed reduced unemployment, the stability of the dinar, improved salaries and international debt forgiveness. Externally, Iraq, he said, "as a peaceful, democratic and federal state," has returned strong, to the regional, European and international stages, noting the importance of the international conference held in Sharm il-Shaykh, last year, to support Iraq.

Allawi thanked the multi-national forces for liberating Iraq and securing order, listing the participating countries. He saluted the United Nations, and called on it "to increase its presence in Iraq." Finally, Allawi expressed pride in the role he has played, and looked forward to playing.

Abdil-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the winning United Iraqi Alliance, began by chanting the traditional words of praise to God and "peace upon Muhammad and the progeny of Muhammad." "And the progeny of Muhammad" is a distinctively Shi'a phrase, a reference to the prophet's grandchildren, Hasan and Husayn, and their descendants, who are viewed by Shi'as as the rightful heirs to Muhammad as the caliphs of the Islamic nation. Therein, lies the defining distinction of Shi'ism. Hakim's "call" was met with a response from the audience, with the words "wa aali-Muhammad" sung back, with a crescendo and pause on the "aa" in "aali." This Shi'i chant was likely unprecedented, in Iraqi politics and wider public life.

Dressed in a religious shaykh's brown robes and turban, Hakim praised and thanked God for "favoring us with being of this great people, who carried the banner of Islam and sacrificed for right, justice and dignity." Noting the eight decades of suppression, he thanked God for granting "this country courageous women, men and elders," saluting their bravery on "achieving victory in the great elections battle." Hakim thanked "God for the opportunity to represent these people."

Hakim then turned to the recent massacres in Hilla and Mosul and "the cheapening of Iraqi blood," describing the perpetrators as possessing "the resentment of the buried." He "condemned severely" the celebration in Jordan of the Hilla suicide bomber, and called on Jordan and the neighboring countries to take steps to stop the recruitment of terrorists and their crossing the borders into Iraq.

Hakim urged the next Iraqi government to take the terrorists out by "their roots" and to "hasten the trial of Saddam, his regime's members and their remains." He also called on the government to pursue bureaucratic corruption and "the people's stolen funds." Hakim also called for a constitution that ensured human rights, respected Iraq's Islamic identity, treated Iraqis equally and ended the role of the multi-national forces in Iraq.

Hakim thanked God for the seminary authorities, and, especially, Ayatollah Ali il-Sistani. He paid tribute to his elder brother Mhammad Baqir al-Hakim, "the martyr of the mihrab [prayer niche]," the victims of Halabcha, "the martyrs of the elections" and those of the [March 1991] Sha'baniyyeh and Marshes uprisings. Hakim closed by stressing the importance of national accord and asking Jordan to stop terrorists.

Jalal Talabani, the leader of the second-place Kurdish list, began by thanking the American, British, Australian, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Dutch, Danish, Ukrainian, South Korean and other foreign forces who helped liberate Iraqis from Saddam. The leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, wearing a grey suit, began assuming the role of the leader of Iraq, as he's expected to be the president of the republic, which would make him the first Kurd to occupy that post. Sometimes speaking in colloquial Iraqi, Talabani stressed national unity and paid special attention to "the absence of our Sunni Arab brothers" from the national assembly, calling on members "to avoid that absence,…so that the same mistake is not repeated that was committed in the establishment of the state, when the Shi'a and Kurds were absent, and the constitution came full of omissions and flaws, and Iraq continued suffering from wars throughout its regions."

Talabani said that "today's session convenes in an air of freedom with few counterparts in the East, with the participation of all nationalities." Noting the "blending of the Saddamiyyeh with the Zarqawiyyeh," Talabani recommended studying the subject of terrorism and uprooting it by a comprehensive plan. He added, "I'm sorry to say that the regional media" are describing the terrorists as "resistance." He closed with, "Let's continue the democratic march."

The ad-hoc chairman of the first assembly session, its eldest member, Shaykh Dhaari il-Fayyadh, praised and thanked Ayatollah Sistani, "the man of peace and democracy," for maintaining "peace in the country" and for bringing about the elections. Fayyadh, wearing the traditional brown tribal robes and headdress, thanked "anybody who helped and supported" Iraqis, mentioning the national guard and the electoral commission. He called for a government to fulfill people's aspirations, provide basic services, and serve the families of the martyrs.

The session concluded with Judge MidHat SaaliH Mahmood, head of the high court, administering the oath of office. He asked members to stand and raise their right hand. He read the oath, phrase by phrase, and members repeated each phrase. I wish I had the words. The concluding line: "As God is my witness." Some members voiced objections that the oath should then be administered in Kurdish. This part of the proceedings, was the first, not translated into Kurdish. The emcee said that the judge didn't speak Kurdish. Some suggestions were offered from the members. After a couple of minutes, the issue apparently died. Fayyadh adjourned the session and said an announcement would be made, soon, as to when the next session would be held, for the choice of leaders of the national assembly.

Commentators on al-Hurra television remarked on the multiplicity of languages, representing the mixture of Iraqi society, and the departing prime minister's detailing his government's accomplishments. Some commentators and citizens interviewed in the street have expressed disappointment that the assembly didn't accomplish anything substantive, the least of which would have been the choice of assembly leader, and could have included the selection of president and vice presidents of the republic. Some commentators said the fact that the assembly leader wasn't chosen was proof that there were still wide disputes between the main protagonists. Some believed, that for the sake of transparency, necessary for a better-functioning democracy, all the discussions and negotiations should take place "under the dome of the parliament." Others are proud and pleased with this first display of representative democracy, and hope that the government will meet their needs.
Hoosier lawyer makes good
Law alum helped shape Iraq’s interim constitution

By John R. Hughey

Feisal Istrabadi, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations and a principal author of Iraq’s interim constitution, is optimistic that Iraq’s challenges in reintroducing constitutional law are possible to overcome.

Istrabadi, a 1988 graduate of the Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington, outlined details of Iraq’s interim constitution during a Feb. 28 lecture on the Bloomington campus. His lecture included an historical sketch on Iraq’s first constitution drafted in 1925 and his opinions on what issues must be addressed in drafting the official constitution.

“Iraq was never Minnesota. The constitution was never fully abided by,” he said, noting that Iraq previously succeeded in creating a rule of law structure, at least until the 1958 coup d’ etat that created constitutional instability. Since, Iraq has been ruled under provisional constitutions.

By 1968, when the Baath Party came into power, there had been a cataclysmic erosion of the concept of constitutionalism, according to Istrabadi. The nation’s lack of a permanent document has led to a widespread misunderstanding of rule of law. The lack of understanding, according to Istrabadi, encompasses Iraq’s intellectuals, many of whom were charged by the previous government to draft provisional constitutions.

“By 2003, you had former deans, former professors of law at the University of Baghdad proposing constitutions for Iraq which would say something like: ‘The right of the accused to a public trial shall not be abridged, unless otherwise ordered by the judge,’” said Istrabadi, prompting laughter from the law school faculty and students in attendance.

He encountered similar flaws in Iraq’s legal system during his work with authorities in creating Iraq’s Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), the nation’s interim constitution. It was written after the March 2003 Iraqi liberation and ratified by ruling authorities in March 2004.

Istrabadi, author of the TAL’s chapter on Fundamental Rights, said the document succeeds in its task of re-establishing constitutional law in Iraq, serving as the official ruling document until the permanent constitution is ratified. Istrabadi is particularly impressed with the document’s protections of religion, freedom of speech and rights for women. The TAL addresses other “substantial issues,” including recognizing the Kurdish language and the mandate for an official constitution to be drafted by August.

“We have a very large set of problems in Iraq. I in no way mean to paint a rosy picture. But I will submit to you, given our history in the last 35 years, the very fact that we are talking about what it means to have a constitution...suggests amazing progress. I am very optimistic,” Istrabadi concluded.
Web-site found for statement on Ba'ath Party as a terrorist group

I came across a link to the statement I posted seven days ago by United Iraqi Alliance spokesman Entifadh Qanbar, in which he concluded, "the time has come for the United States and all other democratic countries to list the Baath party as a terrorist organization." Qanbar spoke to the United States Helsinki Commission/Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, in its March 9 hearing, "The Russian-Syrian Connection: Thwarting Democracy in the Middle East and the Greater OSCE Region."
Rupture with Jordan, updated

I just made several corrections and additions to my post about the first official rupture in relations between Iraq and Jordan, over the celebration nine days ago in Jordan for "the martry" who reportedly carried out the suicide bombing in Hilla, February 28, in which at least 130, and possibly more than 160 people died.
The abject bankruptcy of a colonial occupation

Imad Khadduri
Published 17/3/2005

Even before the invasion and occupation of Iraq, I had publicly stated my unequivocal conviction that "rivers of blood" will flow in Iraq, to the consternation of several American radio stations that curtailed the interview claiming I was threatening the sensitivities of the American listeners.

Back in August of 2002 Vice President Dick Cheney cited the Middle East expert Professor Fouad Ajami (who is not Iraqi) predicting that after "liberation" the streets in Basra and Baghdad are sure to erupt in joy in the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans. When an American soldier was shown on television raising the American flag, just a few days after the invasion, on a building in Um Qasr port south of Basra, I turned to my friends and predicted that that gesture by itself will cost hundreds of dead American soldiers.

Unlike Ajami and Cheney, and for that matter their "Iraqi" chorus of Chalabi, Allawi, and their ilk, I am more attuned with the dignity, and the indignities, of my people.

The US has not won this war.

A report by the US Army official historian (Maj. Isaiah Wilson, published in WorldTribune.com on March 7, 2005) claims that the US military lost its dominance in Iraq shortly after its invasion in 2003.

"In the two to three months of ambiguous transition, US forces slowly lost the momentum and the initiative gained over an off-balanced enemy," the report said. "The United States, its army and its coalition of the willing have been playing catch-up ever since."

The failure to stabilize Iraq in 2003 was primarily due to the "failure of army planners to understand or accept the prospect that Iraqis would resist the US forces after the fall of the Saddam regime".

Pointedly, the Iraqi resistance (and here I exclude the five percent Salafis and the "terrorist" acts of foreign intelligence agencies, near and far) has also aimed at the Achilles heel of the neoconservative construct for occupying Iraq. More than 215 successful attacks on the Iraqi oil pipeline infrastructure have occurred over a period of one year and a half, and will continue unabated until the departure of the occupiers. And despite the illicit grab of the large income from the oil sector by Bremer's irregular monetary policies, Iraqi oil is not covering the US occupation costs, as wished by its planners, but is, instead, augmenting the tailspin dive of the US economy.

In a typically "managerial" attitude of waging a war, stripped from any moral considerations, the defeat in Iraq is forcing top Pentagon planners to rethink several key assumptions about the use of military power and has called into question the vision set out nearly four years ago that the armed forces can win wars and keep the peace with small numbers of fast-moving, lightly armed troops. The Pentagon, instead, became bogged down in an old-fashioned, costly and drawn-out war of occupation. As one senior Pentagon official was quoted as saying by the LA Times on March 11, 2005, "there are smarter, more efficient ways to do regime change and occupation.... One of those ways is to rely much more on our friends and allies to do the back-end work." This is the ultimate abject bankruptcy of a colonial occupation.

The above relates to the "totality" of the US defeat in attempting to occupy Iraq. What will unfurl on the ground is more probably several devastating attacks on large concentrations of occupiers' locations that will hasten their decision to withdraw from Iraq. The attack on the Jizani US military camp near Mosul on December 21, 2004 and the attack on the foreign mercenaries' al-Sadeer hotel on March 9, 2005 are but miniscule examples of that.

When it was becoming clear, by July-August 2003, that the resistance was spreading, several radio stations again called to ask for an opinion on what course of action is best for the Americans. My response, even then, was for the withdrawal of the occupation forces, adding that when wounded, the saliva applied by licking and cleaning the wound is the best medicine. In other words, the Iraqi people can best take care of their tragedy by themselves, once the American occupation is ended and the Iraqis are left to tend to their own affairs. The recent determination and dignity of the election turnout (and not its legitimacy), whether participating in or boycotting it, is a vindication of that. My faith in the Iraqi people and their core capability to surmount our present predicament, according to our own traditions, culture and history, is deep and wide. The Iraqi people will prevail.

Dr. Imad Khadduri worked with the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission for nearly 30 years, from 1968 until 1998. He was able to escape from Iraq in late 1998 with his family. He recently published his autobiography: Iraq's Nuclear Mirage: Memoirs and Delusions
Correction; tribes

Two weeks ago, in talking about the security situation, and the televised confessions of captured terrorists in Iraq, I relayed some things from my cousin's friend, whom I said was a Dulyam, from Anbar. I was wrong. He's not a Dulyam, isn't even a Sunni. He's from the vast Timimi tribe – from its Shi'i branch. However, in addition to himself being a soldier in the Amn (Security services), his brother was an agent in the Mukhabarat (Intelligence, which, in Arab countries, are responsible for terrorism).

A note about tribes. Belonging to a tribe, doesn't mean you live in a tent, wear traditional robes and do some ceremonial war dance. Most Arabs belong to one tribe or another, although most also don’t know which it is, so far removed are they from those attachments, because they've been urbanized for generations. However, though they may live in cities, drive cars, wear modern (Western) clothes, watch TV, live in modern homes, with all the appliances, use computers, work in office, have college degrees, etc., the tribe of origin is something that's taken into consideration, when judging another person, or making associations of one kind or another, especially in business or marriage -- and, now, politics. With the urbanization of Iraq in the middle of the 20th century, those tribal ties began to fade a bit and mean less, but the Ba'ath regime, from its ascent to power in 1968, tried to uproot people's allegiances to any side except the party and the state. They did this, through violence, fear and a widespread network of informants, in every nook and cranny of society. As a result, people began fearing and mistrusting each other, especially "strangers" – that is, people not related to them – although, it wasn't uncommon for a person to be betrayed by a relative or intimate. As a result, people retreated, more and more, to the most basic of ties – family, clan and tribe -- to protect themselves from the state and its network of spies and informants.

This has played itself out, in contemporary Iraqi politics, in the trust people place in politicians and the associations politicians enter into, with each other. So, a person's tribe of origin, something that, decades ago, went unmentioned, is, now, part of doing business.
A view of Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, the prospective prime minister of Iraq
Warren Marik is a retired CIA case officer who is currently in Iraq observing the formation of the new government and sent these observations to the list.

What Makes Jafari Run?

With the Iraqi political process currently in gridlock, Baghdadis--with increasing irritation--are asking exactly this question. It has been roughly one month since Ahmad Chalabi dropped out of the race to be the United Iraqi Alliance list nominee for prime minister, leaving Dawa chief, Ibrahim Jafari, as the unopposed candidate. Chalabi dropped out of the race fearing that an internal secret ballot to determine the UIA nominee would fatally divide the Alliance. Jafari's embarrassing failure to form a government during this long month, however, is again bringing the unity of the UIA into question. The disgruntlement of the factions within the UIA is growing every day that the UIA is not in power. The pleas of Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani for unity will not be heeded forever, many Baghdadis say.

So, after a month of failure in spite of the support of the UIA majority in the assembly, what does make Jafari continue to run?

First, Jafari is Iran's man. He can dress casually, American-style, at the first assembly session; he can live in the Green Zone; and he can travel with his American security guards, but Iraqis know he is Iran's man. Iraqis today have an inordinate fear of Iran's supposed ability to intrigue and manipulate to its own advantage. Baghdadis pass around convoluted conspiracy theories to explain why, for example, Iran actually allowed Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, Iran's Iraqi ally as head of the Shia political organization, SCIRI, to be assassinated rather than believe Iran was simply inept. Jafari, dependent on Iranian material support, is part of that mind-set, and it is doubtful that the Iranian ambassador is encouraging him now to quit and take a few weeks off at a Caspian Sea resort.

Second, Jafari's strongest ally in the UIA is Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the current head of SCIRI and brother of the assassinated Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim. Abd al-Aziz is the person most responsible for Jafari being the UIA nominee for prime minister. Abd al-Aziz undoubtedly thought he was playing a clever game when he unceremoniously dumped the initial SCIRI candidate for the UIA prime minister nomination, Adil Abd al-Mahdi. By this move, Abd al-Aziz was able to obtain generous political concessions for SCIRI from its rival, Dawa, in any Jafari-led government and, at the same time, Abd al-Aziz would also win points with the Iranians for being a team player. Also, Abd al-Aziz has not been sitting easily on the SCIRI throne since the death of his brother. By dropping Abd al-Mahdi, who was not popular with SCIRI's second tier of leadership, Abd al-Aziz was able to strengthen his own position within SCIRI. Abd al-Aziz has a strong stake in a Jafari government and will not advise Jafari to throw in the towel without considerable outside pressure.

And, third, the prime ministership gives Jafari a once-in-a-lifetime chance to jump-start Dawa into a position of national influence. Although Dawa may be first in the hearts of the Iranians (followed closely by SCIRI), it is not first in the hearts of Shia Iraqis. Dawa did poorly in the provincial elections compared with SCIRI, and if Dawa had not joined the UIA national list, Jafari would be a forgotten figure. But he made a tactically smart move for his organization and himself by joining the list and giving SCIRI generous concessions in return for the UIA nomination for prime minister. He will not give up this chance easily in spite of his strategic incompetence in forming a government.

Iraq's political gridlock is a serious problem for the United States as well as Iraq. The Bush administration's man, Ayad Allawi, has no hope of forming a government, and the administration seems stunned to the point of inaction. The corruption of Allawi's administration should make him a political pariah for years to come. But, like it or not, the U.S. signed for Iraq's transition from dictatorship to democracy. The United States will be responsible for what happens. If the administration does nothing and says nothing, the Kurds, who have the good sense to worry now about the outcomes a Jafari government will bring, will eventually bargain for the best possible terms for themselves and come to an agreement.

The Bush administration will then be seen to have allowed a friend (at the very least) of Iran, who belonged to a terrorist organization, and who has a very limited following in Iraq to become Iraq's powerful prime minister under rules formulated by the United States--at the cost of more than 1,500 U.S. combat deaths.

Warren Marik
Information for Democracy
Baghdad, Iraq
I received the above, dated March 19, from Dr. Laurie Mylroie's e-newsletter "Iraq News," and from the press office of Dr. Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.
We've got a break

It's happened. Jordan and Iraq have taken a first, diplomatic step in response to the outrage expressed by Iraqis since the celebration in Jordan, a week ago, for the February 28 car bomb in Hilla that killed 130 people. The suicide-bombing was reportedly carried out by a Jordanian, and his family held "a wedding celebration" for the unwed "martyr."

Sunday, Jordan recalled its charge d'affaires from Baghdad, "for consultations." A couple of hours later, Iraq recalled its ambassador from Amman, "in protest over its leniency with teh perpetrators of terrorism."

Abdil-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the winning United Iraqi Alliance list, called on the Jordanian government to investigate the crime and the family that celebrated the suicide bombing.

Al-Sayyid SaaliH al-Gallaab, a member of Jordan's house of delegates, angrily blamed Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi and Iran for exploiting and pushing Iraqis against Jordan. Gallab said there were "a lot of clarifications" regarding the suicide bombing, and he cited Banna's father, who, after initially expressing joy over his son's "martyrdom," denied that his son was involved, saying that he died in Mosul, and not in Hilla.

Speaking on al-Hurra's world news program this evening, Gallab, a former information minister, explained that Jordan's charge d'affaires was not recalled, but returned to Jordan to deliver a message from Hakim to King Abdallah II and the Jordanian government. Gallab said, "We trust Hakim," who he said was from a respectable, well-known family. Gallab noted that Jordan's ambassador met with Hakim.

Gallab, noting that there were half a million Iraqis in Jordan, said that the anti-Jordan demonstrators did not represent Iraqis. Gallab said that Chalabi "could easily have financed the demonstrators," using some of the $500 million Gallab accused Chalabi of stealing from Jordan. "You can't pull that one, over on us," he said.

Gallab said that "nobody from Jordan had infiltrated the borders, which the Americans monitored with planes and photography." The problem, instead, came from Iraq's open borders with Syria and Iran, he said. "If Iraq asks for an apology for each act," Gallab went on, "they'll be asking for an apology from every country."

Gallab said that Jordan's relations with Iraq "would get better, no doubt," and that the Jordanian government was "with the Iraqi government produced by the elections, as we were with the previous government."

It will be interesting to see what is said in the Arab League summit in Algiers, due to start, Tuesday, and how the affair is dealt with there. Jordan's King Abdallah is staying away from the summit – some believe, to avoid the accusations Jordan's head is certain to face from Iraqi representatives who must assuage their compatriots' pent-up frustrations and rage, at not only Jordan, but all Arabs. Jordan is also at odds with Syria, over Lebanon.

Hilla residents took to the streets, Sunday. Home-made Jordanian flags were burned, and pictures of a pig with King Abdallah's head attached to the body, were hoisted. Demonstration leaders called for an international condemnation of Jordan and for the Iraqi national assembly to form a committee of lawyers to take the case to an international court.

The protesters held Arab states responsible for the terrorism and their silence towards terrorists acts against Iraqis. One protest leader demanded that relations be cut with whoever supports terrorism, adding, "from whichever country sends terrorists, Arab or not." Another asked assembly members to be "as brave as the voters." A man shouted angrily, "Where are the elections? What kind of elections?"

Chalabi's Al-Mu'tamar reported, Sunday, that Hilla residents were forming a committee of tribal leaders, who, if the government did not yield a satisfactory result, would head to Jordan and demand retribution directly from Banna's family.

According to Adnan Pachachi's Al-Nahdhah, Saturday's Jordanian papers reported that Friday sermons in Jordan dealt with the topic of "blind terrorism." Preachers reportedly called the perpetrators cowards, whom the Islamic faith considers "criminals deserving the torture of God in the hereafter," as well as punishment in the world. Preachers also reportedly described terrorists as "psychologically ill," and condemned the killings in Iraq. The newspaper also reported that the Jordanian government has condemned "all terrorist operations," and said that the likes of bin Ladin-ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi do not represent the kingdom – not government and not people.

In Baghdad, Sunday afternoon, on our way home from a wake, my cousin noticed a march on Mansour's 14 Ramadhan Street, most likely, having left the embassy.

For a week, Iraqis have been demanding, variously, the expulsion of the Jordanian ambassador, the closure of the Jordanian embassy, the severing of relations, the closure of the border, cutting economic ties, stopping the supply of oil to Jordan, and compensation from the Jordanian government and/or the Banna family for the families of those killed and for the wounded in the bombing.

Updated: March 21, 2:26 pm
Roadside bomb kills 23-year-old New York soldier, north of Baghdad
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 10, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Spc. Matthew A. Koch, 23, of West Henrietta, N.Y. died Mar. 9 in Taji, Iraq, from injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. Koch was assigned to the 70th Engineer Battalion, Fort Riley, Kan.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

President's Radio Address

March 19, 2005

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. On this day two years ago, we launched Operation Iraqi Freedom to disarm a brutal regime, free its people, and defend the world from a grave danger.

Before coalition forces arrived, Iraq was ruled by a dictatorship that murdered its own citizens, threatened its neighbors, and defied the world. We knew of Saddam Hussein's record of aggression and support for terror. We knew of his long history of pursuing, even using, weapons of mass destruction, and we know that September the 11th requires our country to think differently. We must, and we will, confront threats to America before they fully materialize.

Now, because we acted, Iraq's government is no longer a threat to the world or its own people. Today the Iraqi people are taking charge of their own destiny. In January, over eight million Iraqis defied the car bombers and assassins to vote in free elections. This week, Iraq's Transitional National Assembly convened for the first time. These elected leaders broadly represent Iraq's people and include more than 85 women. They will now draft a new constitution for a free and democratic Iraq. In October, that document will be presented to the Iraqi people in a national referendum. Another election is planned for December to choose a permanent constitutional government.

Free governments reflect the culture of the citizens they serve, and that is happening in Iraq. Today, Iraqis can take pride in building a government that answers to its people and honors their country's unique heritage. Millions of Americans saw that pride in an Iraqi woman named Safia Taleb al-Suhail who sat in the gallery during the State of the Union address. Eleven years ago, Saddam Hussein's thugs murdered her father. Today, Safia's nation is free, and Saddam Hussein sits in a prison cell. Safia expressed the gratitude of the Iraqi nation when she embraced the mom of Marine Corps Sergeant Byron Norwood who was killed in the assault on Fallujah.

To all the brave members of our Armed Forces who have taken part in this historic mission, and to your families, I express the heartfelt thanks of the American people. I know that nothing can end the pain of the families who have lost loved ones in this struggle, but they can know that their sacrifice has added to America's security and the freedom of the world.

Iraq's progress toward political freedom has opened a new phase of our work there. We are focusing our efforts on training the Iraqi security forces. As they become more self-reliant and take on greater security responsibilities, America and its coalition partners will increasingly assume a supporting role. In the end, Iraqis must be able to defend their own country, and we will help that proud, new nation secure its liberty. And then our troops will return home with the honor they have earned.

Today we're seeing hopeful signs across the broader Middle East. The victory of freedom in Iraq is strengthening a new ally in the war on terror, and inspiring democratic reformers from Beirut to Tehran. Today, women can vote in Afghanistan, Palestinians are breaking the old patterns of violence, and hundreds of thousands of Lebanese are rising up to demand their sovereignty and democratic rights. These are landmark events in the history of freedom. Only the fire of liberty can purge the ideologies of murder by offering hope to those who yearn to live free.

The experience of recent years has taught us an important lesson: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. Because of our actions, freedom is taking root in Iraq, and the American people are more secure.

Thank you for listening.
A special beer and another odd name

Two weeks ago, my uncle and his wife took me out to lunch at the Hunt Club. It was undergoing renovation. To the side of the front entrance, a tent housed an impromptu carpentry workshop, where nearly 10 workers were crafting new tables. The main hall, used mostly for weddings, has been torn up, and new tiles were being placed.

In the foyer, there were plaques on the wall, listing the officers of the club. On at least the plaque for 1983-84, one of the names was Watban Ibrahim Hasan, Saddam's half-brother, who was captured, 23 months ago.

We went upstairs, to one of the club's dining rooms. Upstairs, a divider to a room overlooking the back garden was open. That section, my uncle said, used to belong exclusively to Uday and Qusay, Saddam's sons, for their wild private parties, which are often described as drunken debaucheries. There were people seated at the tables there.

We were shown to a table in the central dining area. There were some 25 people in the dining room, including one woman, veiled, sitting with two men, smoking cigarettes, red Amstel beer cans and a bottle of whiskey on the table, being emptied -- by the men. I'd noted the lack of other women, to my aunt. My uncle asked me if I wanted a beer. In addition to Amstel, they had something called Eyvis, or some-such name –- made in Cyprus, my uncle thought. I asked the waiter if they were cold -- that was a problem, last summer. I chose the Amstel. When my tall red can arrived, my uncle said it looked tempting, so he asked for a non-alcoholic beer. Our waiter called to another waiter, "beereh Islamiyyeh." When it arrived, it was a stout green bottle, produced in Iran, made of malt, the essence of apple and carbonated water. It was bottled in Urmiyeh. I know this border town from the 1992 anti-Saddam conference in Salahuddine. Many people who couldn’t make it into Iraqi Kurdistan through Turkey, flew to Urmiyeh, and from there, overland, into Iraq. Iraqis throughout the nineties, continued to use this route. The Islamic beer -– a little subtler than sparkling apple juice -- tasted better than the Amstel. Apparently, it's not the only brand.

I recognized one of the waiters, as he passed by, but I couldn't place him. Then, I remembered -– he was one of the servers at the wake I attended, in the Bunniyyeh mosque, last summer. My uncle told me that Yusif, a Christian, was head of the "boyaat" at the club. Before New Year's one night, my uncle related, eight of Yusif's co-workers were heading home, when their van was stopped in Dora, the southern Baghdad district where they lived, and all eight were killed -- all were Christian; my uncle knew the names of two of them -– Ameer and Hitler.

Fourteen years on from the Kurdish uprising, one of the Baath regime's most notorious torture centres is open to the public.

By Rebaz Mahmood in Sulaimaniyah
March 11, 2005

Hiwa Jamal and five of his friends are on a T-55 tank - but they are holding flowers, not weapons of war. Smiling, the students hold the narcissus blooms up to the foreground of a photograph that is being taken.

The tank is part of an exhibition at the site once known as Amna Surak, or Red Security, because its external walls were painted red - a macabre reflection of the suffering inside, where Kurds were being tortured and murdered in their thousands.

In commemoration of the March 7, 1991 Kurdish uprising against Saddam Hussein's regime, the Red Security building in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah is now a museum where visitors can learn about the history of this region's fight for autonomy.

Fourteen years ago, nobody would have dared come close to this building, and it was said that even the birds didn't dare land here. But now Saddam's regime is gone and students are on the front terrace, singing their national anthem, waving the Kurdish flag and distributing bouquets of flowers.

Red Security consists of six buildings. One of them was the administrative block and the others hold cells - the average size of which was just under two metres square.

In the office of the security manager who would issue orders for the arrest and torture of Kurds, there now hang large cages containing around 70 doves. "These birds are symbols of the peace that the Kurds wanted," said Sarwar Abdullah, a museum guide.

The total number of those arrested, tortured and killed is unknown, but Abdullah estimates that 700 Kurds were executed here in 1989 and 1990 alone. Those who spent their last days in these cells were targeted because of their involvement with the Kurdish opposition party or the peshmerga militia.

For the students, a tour of the torture rooms, cells and morgue of Red Security brings shock and sadness.

This week, the young people got an added sense of immediacy as survivors of this dreaded prison joined the anniversary commemoration to share stories of their time spent as captives here.

"In a four by seven metre room, there could be a hundred people at any one time. We sometimes slept standing up," said Tariq Ghafoor, who was held there for nearly a year before being exchanged for Baathi intelligence officers held by the Kurds in January 1991.

Women had a separate jail block, measuring seven by five metres and designed to house 50 inmates. But by 1988 it held more than 200.

"I'll never forget when my aunt Gule, an older woman, was shot dead with her son on the terrace of this building," Ghafoor told the young people around him.

Kamran Aziz, who was held here from January to October 1990, told the students, "Although I was released 15 years ago, I visit this building once a month." As he spoke of the first day of his imprisonment, some of the students began to cry quietly.

Hansa Jamal, a secondary school student, said, "I was born after the uprising. But I am now crying for those men, women, boys and girls who were tortured, shot and executed here."

The museum also includes a section dedicated to the Anfal campaign, an ethnic cleansing campaign which the Baath regime waged against the Kurds from 1987 to the autumn of 1988, in which 182,000 Kurds were killed and around 5,000 villages were destroyed. To represent the loss of life, the walls of a large hall are covered in 182,000 pieces of mirror glass, lit with thousands of tiny lights.

There are many grisly reminders of the horrors perpetrated in Kurdistan. One photo on display shows two people in military uniform carrying a headless body. They smile as they make victory signs to the camera. "These are intelligence agents and the body is a peshmerga who was beheaded," said Abdullah, the museum guide.

Exhibits also remember the chemical bombardments of towns like Halabja, in which up to 5,000 civilians, mostly women and children, died.

"This is a fragment of one of the chemical projectiles that was used in Halabja. And this is also an unexploded napalm bomb that was used against another Kurdish area," said Abdullah. These are just some of the many weapons in the arsenal used against the Kurds on display.

Visiting this museum now you can still feel the fear and misery that must have filled it years ago, especially in the torture centre where ceiling hooks remain. A statue shows visitors how detainees' hands were tied behind their backs and then attached to the hooks. They remained this way, naked, for hours at a time.

Karwan Qadir, a students' union activist who helped organise the visit to the Red Security museum, told IWPR, "We are constantly bringing students and the new generation here, so they will understand their past and know what we have achieved today."

Rebaz Mahmood is an IWPR trainee in Sulaimaniyah.
This Institute for War and Peace Reporting article should also be available in Kurdish and Arabic.
Iraqi political satire

Sakhir.net, a site with takeoffs using pictures, articles and poetry -- in Arabic. You can see the pictures. There's one, with bags of ground coffee with pictures of bin Ladan and Annan on them. "Binn," is a word for ground coffee.
From Holland to Baghdad

From: Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)
Subject: Iraq visis/Amman
Date: Fri, 11 Mar 2005 09:47:33 +0100

Hello Ayad:
In the past few weeks I have been receiving the same warnings from family (the latest is below) and now Liesbeth is worried too. Every day there is something. How is it now? I also need to know how to book a flight from Amman to Baghdad as there is no connection from here.

Take care.

-----------------------a message from my brother------------------

hi my dear ala:
we look forward to see y but the situation is too dangerous the most dangerouse thing is the kidnapping for ransome and in any time they bloked the hole area and y cant see anyone y want like y did in the past ther is many bloks a y have take a date we telling y that becuase it is a bad situetion a if y want to come y will be wellcomed a afterall it is up to y .
we all fine, say hi to liz

* * *

Sent: Sunday, March 13, 2005 3:50 PM

Hello, Alaa,

I don't like to tell you not to come, but.... I hated it, when people told me not to, and I couldn't stand it -- I just wanted to be here. So, I'm mostly, in the house. I go out, with family -- in the car, and, with somebody, walk on the street, but...it's very limited. Nothing like before. I've been to an internet cafe once, to check out "wireless" connection, but.... Actually, I went to another one, for the same purpose. But, family is very protective....

It's tough.

With my family, they just won't let me go out -- certainly, not on my own, and, even with people -- only the essentials. I'm sure you know, what I mean -- what it's like. And, it sounds like, in your area, it's tougher -- being watched more. I don't know. It's tough.

Okay, Habibi -- lots of love, and let me know...what happens.

As far as planes, from Amman, there's the Urduniyya, for about $500-550, and the Iraqiyya, for $420, something like that. You can call Jordanian, and they'll hook you up with whoever you have to talk to, deal with. Maybe, Iraqiyya, too. I had my uncle, in Amman, buy me the ticket. Nothing on their web-site, of course. Jordanian's got their schedule on their web-site. There are also planes from Damascus, Beirut and UAE -- cheaper, from the latter.

All right -- see you.

And, oh -- can I put your e-mail, with your brother's -- with or without name -- on the post? I mean, blog?

All right -- lots of love,

* * *

From: Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)
Date: Mon, 14 Mar 2005 10:13:54 +0100

Thanks dear Ayad. My sister and her husband called Saturday and after a long conversation they convinced me not to come. They were afraid of kidnapping. They feared that their kids might be kidnapped to extract money from me. My two brothers were already against the trip and I once more lost (4 to 1). And yes I hates it 'cause I just want to be there.

I was first under the impression that my sister had not yet recovered from the shock of a suicide bomber about 10 ago (near the oil ministry). She was bringing her youngest daughter to school and the SOB exploded his car about 200 meters ahead of them. She kept asking her daughter "are we still alive?" After the call I came to the conclusion that I just could not put them under more emotional strain by my presence there. I just can't assess from here the kidnapping's risks. But I ain't going to be sitting at home when I am in Baghdad (even though I urge you to stay with your relatives all the time as you don't know Baghdad as they or I know it). Nor do I know how to sit tight while watching the Kurdish leaders blackmail their way into secession from Iraq. The very least I will make my voice heard.

Salaam and take very good care of yourself.


* * *

Date: Wed, 16 Mar 2005 09:41:34 -0500

Alaa -- I've been thinking about you, the last 24 hours, or so, and, also, after I wrote you my last e-mail. First of all, as I'm sure you know, you can make it to Baghdad, and to your family's home, no problem. The question is, as I'm sure you know, how much you'll be able to get around -- freely -- I mean, you can get in a car, and drive around -- that isn't a problem -- but, coming and going a lot, having a lot of people come over. The other part, and it's related to the last, is whether news of your arrival -- your presence -- gets around. Although, now, I'm thining, you're only staying for a couple of weeks, and it takes kidnappers, a couple of weeks to track somebody, etc.

Well, I thought of you, the last 24 hours, because, yesterday, I was prevented from going out, and I got so pissed off. I think there's a lot of overprotection -- to much, really. I think, they take the rare exception -- the bad news -- and make it the rule. Well, that's the way it is, with my family, which, of course -- with tribal duty, etc. -- doesn't want anything to happen to me -- no way.

If you're reading the blog, you'll now, that today, I made my first solo outing -- on foot. No problem. Again, though, if it's repeated, if I develop a pattern, then...could be trouble.

All right -- see you, and thanks for the permission.


* * *

Date: Wed, 16 Mar 2005 09:47:13 -0500

Hi, Alaa,

I'm reading your earlier e-mail, after I read your later one -- I'm way behind, on e-mailing.

It's tough, I know, with the family, and I'm really sorry, that you're not making it -- I know you want to, as I so badly wanted to.

Deep sigh.

All right -- till next time.

* * *

From: Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)
Date: Thu, 17 Mar 2005 09:53:42 +0100

I agree with you fully. I feel they exaggerate the situation but what can I do if they tell me I will put them in danger. Fear is not something you can measure (like 1 gallon/25 miles) nor it is rational especially when a suicide bomber just misses you. I even thought of going to a hotel as a way of expressing my anger with my family but knowing their reaction they will feel hugely insulted and even more worried if they cannot have a say on my movement. They know I will not stay home. But even staying home with them they tell me will make their kids subject to kidnapping. My sister tells me this happened to a boy living nearby and the same happened to a family member living near my brother (the latter happened last year and in spite of 30000000 kidnappings since, my brother keeps telling me this as if it is today's CNN breaking news).

On the other hand I have to be cautious from my side here. These terrorists are placing car/suicidal bombs, mines, explosive devices with little care for innocent human lives. So what if something happens to you because I or others encourage you to move freely.

When I sat down, I thought there is no need to fuel their fear and worries. They have enough to deal with without my presence. I may come around mid-June. But I haven't told them this yet.


* * *

Date: Sat, 19 Mar 2005 10:37:00 -0500

I agree with you, Alaa, and I thought about that, too, as far as putting my family in danger, by coming. I talked with them about it -- before coming, and when I was here, and things happened -- but they seem to say, it's okay. Still, they keep a lock on me. Except the last couple of days, when I've sort of flown the coop.

All right -- see you.

Political discussion, this evening in London

Political agreement & the delay in the meeting of the newly elected Iraqi National Assembly

@ Dar Islam @ 7:30 Saturday 19/3/2005

Shaykh Husain Alasadi

Dr Sherzad Talabani

Dr Nabil Yasin

رابطة الشباب المسلم

الندوة السياسية

(التوافق السياسي واسباب تاخر انعقاد الجمعية الوطنية)

ضيوف الندوة:

سماحة الشيخ حسين الاسدي

د. شيرزاد طالباني

د. نبيل ياسين

Saturday 7:30pm 19/03/2005

الساعة السابعة والنصف مساءاً

المكان: قاعة مؤسسة دار الاسلام

We're still a ways off

Jalal Talabani said, yesterday, that the national assembly would next meet, on the 25th or 26th of March. That's next Friday or Saturday. Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, is the top candidate for president of the republic.

A member of the United Iraqi Alliance, the top vote-getting list in the assembly, said that the assembly would meet, next Thursday or Saturday. That makes more sense, as Friday is the sabbath.

People are getting impatient, and upset, at the lack of output from the government -- and...the lack of a government. They want them to get on with it, and start producing some results.

The hold-up is negotiations over the formation of the government and the commitment to federalism. The dispute over that commitment, and the issues involved, get at a deep cultural clash between Arabs and Kurds, and their understanding of their positions and treatment in the history and definition of Iraq -- about which more, I hope, soon.

The two main parties in the negotiations are the UIA and the United Kurdistan Coalition, which came in second in the national assembly elections, and which nominated Talabani for the ceremonial post. According to Abdul-Jaleel al-Fayli, a member of the Kurdish list, the Kurds want three of the top ministerial posts -- traditionally, prime minister, interior, defense, foreign, finance, justice. Fayli said Hoshyar Zeybari should retain his post as foreign minister, "as he's done a very good job, representing Iraq, and not just Kurdistan." In addition, Fayli suggested, "oil and finanace," and "possibly other ministries."

Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, the nominee of UIA for prime minister, was quoted in Al-Mu'tamar's Thursday edition as saying that the government will be formed, "completely, in the next two weeks." The "complete," refers to a full slate of government posts, from assembly speaker and assistants to the president, two vice presidents and the entire government cabinet. The assembly was required to choose an assembly speaker, within three days of convening. Next, it was to choose a president of the republic and vice presidents, by a two-thirds vote. Doing that, however, would have eliminated any further blocking power the Kurdish list has, as the choice of prime minister and government cabinet, can then be approved by a simple majority of the assembly members.

UIA has 140 to 151 of the 275 assembly seats, while the Kurdish list has 75-77 seats. Two-thirds, or 184, elect the presidential troika, while 138 are required for a vote of confidence in the government.

Ja'fari said disputes with the Kurdish list have been settled, to fall back on the interim constitution (Transitional Administrative Law). He added that "all sectors of the country must be assured a role in the political process." Other UIA members have said the disputes are down to secondary issues.

Members of UIA have been appearing on news and discussion program, making it clear that they want to include in the government members of all communities in the country, including those who didn't receive their fair share of the assembly seats, a reference to Sunni Arabs. Dr. Ali a-Dabbagh, a UIA member, said that UIA was willing "to give Sunni Arabs -- those who didn't take part -- some of the ministries."

A newly formed committee, to negotiate on behalf of Sunni Arabs, is reportedly seeking one-third of the ministries, for Sunni Arabs.

The Kurdistani list, which finished second, has been outspoken, insisting that more parties, especially Sunni Arabs, be included in the government. They've often mentioned Ayad Allawi's Iraqi List, and negotiations have been expanded, to include Allawi's list and Ghazi il-Yawer's Iraqis list. Previously, Allawi had said he would only join the government, as prime minister. Otherwise, he wanted to lead the opposition, within the assembly. He was also reportedly insistent, that he receive the portfolio, for security affairs, and to have declined the offer of defense minister. Dabbagh said that UIA wanted Allawi in the government, but that "Allawi didn't want to."
36-year-old staff sergeant from Michigan is killed in Baghdad
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 17, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Staff Sgt. Ricky A. Kieffer, 36, of Ovid, Mich., died Mar. 15 in Baghdad, Iraq, when enemy forces using small arms fire attacked his unit. Kieffer was assigned to the Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 182nd Field Artillery Regiment (Multiple Launch Rocket System), Detroit, Mich.
Breaking News

Elsewhere, an attorney for Saddam Hussein said that the former Iraqi dictator wanted to be tried by a jury of Robert Blake's peers.
From the March 17, 2005, (Andy) Borowitz Report.
Presspasses -- the whole story

I didn't realize that I posted something, yesterday, about my attempt to cover the demonstration outside the Jordanian embassy. I wanted to send something, but the electricity went off, at midnight, before I could send my final, edited version. So, today, I picked up the writing, and editing. Here it is -- ready for bed.

I was detained by the Iraqi security forces, yesterday. I was headed towards the Jordanian embassy, down the road, after one of my cousin's boys told me there was another demonstration, there. Since Sunday, people have been gathering in front of the embassy, and across southern Iraq, to protest the massacre, three weeks ago, of 130 people in Hilla, but, more so – and this was the tipping point – in the wake of "the wedding celebration" in Jordan, one week ago, for the unwed "martyr" who reportedly carried out the bombing.

Our street was swarming with special Iraqi police, the commandoes who often wear black ski masks. Most were in police white and light-blue police uniforms, with black bullet-proof vests on the outside. The rest were dressed in camouflage, with red berets. As I walked down the street, and started crossing the median strip, I heard somebody call out, "Ya weled" (Hey, boy). I didn't think it was for me. The call persisted, and when I realized it was directed at me, I stopped. A uniformed officer came close and asked me, "Where are you going?" I said, "I want to go see the demonstration." He said I couldn't go there, and started searching me. I said I was a journalist. Before he got to my back pant-pockets, I told him I had a camera there. He took it out, asked if that's what it really was. I assured him, it was. He took the camera and escorted me back the way I came, to a police pickup truck. On both sides of the median strip, were parked more than a dozen of the blue-and-white police pickups, along with a few camouflaged ones. At the pickup, I told the men that I was a journalist – that that's what I did, see things, write about them, and send them off. They asked me for my press pass – I had none. "How could that be?" I tried to explain. The camera was handed to a man in civvies, who asked me to get in the pickup. I didn't understand why, and wouldn't, exactly. The others pressed me, insisting I get completely in the back seat. I didn't, keeping one foot, out.

Meanwhile, the man with my camera, went away, towards the mass of camouflage-dressed officers near the embassy. The soldiers in and around the pickup asked me if I had any weapon. I said I did, and pulled from my right pant-pocket a palm-sized rubber machine gun. Before heading out to the demonstration, I was at my cousin's house, using their computer. I saw the little machine gun on the couch – it belonged to their nine-year-old boy. As I was leaving, my cousin's wife asked me to be careful, so I picked up the machine gun, "to protect me."

I'd first headed for the demo, five, ten minutes before. I saw the yellow, red, green and black flags and white banners, up ahead. A couple of houses from home, I stopped, and decided I'd be better off if I had somebody with me – to give me a little protection, a local cushion. I went back to the house, and up the stairs, to my cousin's. She discouraged me and her husband from going. He said he might join me, later. He'd been sleeping, on the couch, with his four-year-old, cast on foot, lying on top of him. I left. Before I reached the front gate, I saw another cousin's husband. I asked him to join me. He said he was wearing shorts. I told him, I was, too -- I'd changed. He urged me not to go, that it was dangerous. I asked him what the danger was. He said there could be shooting. I didn't buy that, and asked, by whom, and said I was going to stay far away. I asked him what I should or shouldn't do. He said, "Just keep far away."

The soldiers laughed at my machine gun. I told them it was to protect me. They passed it around. Somebody asked me, "Are you making fun?" I responded, "No – you're making fun." It was fairly light-going, between us. They were amused by my wanting to go watch the demo. They asked if I was Iraqi or foreign. I told them, "Iraqi from abroad." I told them I was staying with my uncle's, down the road and said, "It was a free country." They laughed at that – one of the men repeated, laughing, "Free country." New concept, of course. One of them said it was dangerous. I rebutted, "It was a peaceful demonstration, wasn't it?" The guy in the front seat of the pickup said to somebody, "They were going at it with bricks." I asked him, from behind, if the demonstrators were throwing bricks at the embassy. He affirmed, with a yes or a nod. I asked the soldier in the driver's seat if they'd burned the [Jordanian] flag. He said they had. I asked him if the demonstrators had really entered the embassy, the other day, and taken the flag down. He said, "Nobody entered the embassy – you can't. What are we doing here?" I asked how long the demonstrators had been there. Somebody said, "Since noon," meaning "afternoon." It was about three o'clock, so I guessed, they'd been going, for a couple of hours. I asked, how many there were. Somebody said, a lot. So much for trying to get some information.

In answering their questions, about my work, and trying to make a case for my being allowed forward, I showed them the little notepad I had in my shirt pocket and said I gathered information. One of the soldiers said, "Ahah, he gathers information," a word used for what intelligence officers do. An officer standing outside said, maybe he's from the other side. I asked him what that meant. As to seeing the demonstration, one of them said, "You can see it from here." That wasn't enough for me. From afar – maybe 50 yards -- there seemed to be hundreds of people demonstrating. They were making a lot of noise. A couple of the black flags said, "Ya Husayn," for the seminal Shi'a martyr/saint slain in 680. I saw pictures of what looked like a pig, and I assumed the face pasted on to its body was King Abdallah's. I wanted to ask one of the soldiers, but…resisted. At one point, one of the soldiers said the Americans were going to shoot. I didn't see any Americans. We were surrounded by some 100 Iraqi police, some in camouflage and red berets.

Every now and then, one of the four or five guys in and around the pickup would ask me to get in the back of the car. I was in and out of the pickup, my legs never fully in, and, bit by bit, making my way out – standing by the back or driver's door, or, off, to the side, a bit. At one point, I tapped one of the guys on the back of the neck -- he scowled at me. When another asked me if I had a weapon, I pulled out my little pen: "That's my weapon." One of the officers said it looks like a bullet. The guy standing in the back of the pickup, or atop the cab, asked to look at it. I reached up from the back seat, and handed it back to him. He later asked me, my name. The guy who took my camera, returned. I asked him for the camera. He said the mukhabarat officer would give it to me, after asking me some questions. I didn't like the sound of that – sounded ominous. While I was standing outside the pickup, a soldier approached the man in civvies, asking for a pen, I gave the first, mine. At one point, the oldest of my cousins' kids came by, to see me – some of them had been watching, from in front of the house. I was sitting in the pickup, and the soldiers sent the teenager back.

After the man in civvies went away, and came back, I asked him, again, for my camera. He asked me to get in the car, and he'd take me, to get it – he got in the driver's seat. I was partly in the car, but I wasn't going to get, all the way in. I asked him where they wanted to take me. They said they weren't going to do anything to me, just take me to get my camera. The one to might right, tugged at my arm. I told him not to pull me. Others followed, telling him the same. I argued with the driver – that I didn't have to get in the car, that he'd taken my camera, and he ought to bring it back to me. He asked me, again, to get in the car, and he'd take me, to get it, pointing down the road, across the median strip. Another soldier replied, "There's no difference." I said, "If there's no difference, then get the camera for me. You took the camera from me -- it's my right, that you return it." The driver kept insisting I get in the car. I told him, I didn't want to do battle with him, but that I didn't have to get in the car, and it was my right to have my camera returned to me. The man standing in the back of the pickup suggested leaving me there, and I follow the pickup. That became the plan. I looked up at the man in the back of the pickup, and said, "Aasht-eedek" (Long live your hands, meaning well done, bless you). He replied, "Oo eedek" (And your hands). The situation, which wasn't really that tense, was defused. My lips had gone quite dry, though.

I walked, accompanied by one of the soldiers. The pickup truck made its way across the median strip, and then turned left. I asked my companion, "What's the story, why was it so dangerous?" He said, it's better, I don't ask anything. I asked him his name. He replied, "Doesn't concern you." When we stopped – the pickup, stuck behind a few others -- I asked the soldier, if the embassy was the building right across from us, or the one, to its right. I don’t think he said anything. We were, now, directly across from a mass of some 50 demonstrators, marching from right to left, and chanting. I asked my companion what they were chanting. He responded, "Listen, and you'll hear what they're saying." I could only make out the first word, which I can't remember, now. They carried a large yellow flag, and posters of Abdil-Aziz al-Hakim and of a pair of white-haired clerics. The group included girls, in brown and black cloaks. One white banner concluded with the words "Islamic culture." There was definitely an Islamist flavor to the demo. By that time, the troops surrounding the demonstrators were more numerous.

The first group headed back, and another, similarly sized group, was making its way past. I'd been told, that my camera was going to be brought to me. I took out my notepad, and started taking notes of the scene. I leaned on one of the concrete blocks. The next group included a sizable contingency of women, in black cloaks. There were also a couple of men in robes – tribal and clerical. Among the group, were hoisted Iraqi, red, yellow and green flags. Along the way, I had a little exchange with one of the soldiers, in which I told him I was responsible for myself, and he said, no, they were here to protect me. A senior officer with a good-sized paunch and a red beret came over, and said he'd give me my camera, "But I plead with you, to leave the area." He was polite. I said, that was fine. I walked back. Guards in a watchtower in front of one of the houses, asked me if they'd returned my camera. We had a little laugh. They told me, there were far more demonstrators, before.

I got back to my cousin's, and started writing this up. I took a break, to watch some television, and returned to the writing, last night – but got so carried away with the writing, that I didn't send it off, before the electricity cut off, at midnight. In the meantime, within an hour or two after I left the demo, the scene had pretty much cleared, with almost all of the soldiers/police, gone. I called my uncle, to tell him he could return from a wake he attended – he hadn't been allowed into the area, at its peak. A cousin's husband said that they [the authorities, police] must have made a deal with the demonstrators – that, maybe, the embassy was going to be closed, if the demonstrators stopped shooting at the embassy. I didn't know about any shooting. He said, they were passing by, at night, and shooting at the embassy.

Hurra's Iraq news, yesterday evening, reported that hundreds of people demonstrated before the embassy, and that, in addition to demanding the embassy be closed, protesters called for trade relations to be severed, too. A protest leader also asked for all the regime henchmen who've found sanctuary in Jordan, to be handed over to Iraq. The demonstrators reportedly handed a protest telegram to the charge d'affaires. An older protester wondered how killing other Muslims, women, children and seniors was jihad, and couldn't understand the level of spite that caused people to kill, in this way.

Friday, March 18, 2005


I was detained today by the Iraqi security forces. I was headed towards the Jordanian embassy, down the road, after one of my cousin's boys told me there was another demonstration, there. For five days, people have been gathering in front of the embassy, and across southern Iraq, to protest the massacre, three weeks ago, of 130 people in Hilla, but, more so – and this was the tipping point – in the wake of "the wedding celebration" last week in Jordan, for the unwed "martyr" who reportedly carried out the bombing. Our street was swarming with special Iraqi police, the commandoes who often wear black ski masks. As I walked down the street, and started crossing the median strip, I heard somebody call out, "Ya weled" (Hey, boy). I didn't think it was for me. The call persisted, and when I realized it was directed at me, I stopped. A uniformed officer came close and asked me, "Where are you going?" I said, "I want to go see the demonstration." He said I couldn't go there, and started searching me. Before he got to my back pocket, I told him I had a camera there. He took it out, asked if that's what it really was. I assured him, it was. He took the camera and escorted me back the way I came, to a pickup truck. I told him, and the others, that I was a journalist - that that's what I did, see things, write them up, and send them back. They asked me for my press pass – I had none. "How could that be?" I tried to explain. The camera was handed to a man in civvies, who kept it, and asked me to get in the backseat of the pickup. I resisted. They persisted, insisting I get completely in the back seat. I didn't.

Meanwhile, the man with my camera, went away, towards the mass of uniformed officers near the embassy. The soldiers in and around the pickup asked me if I had any weapon. I said I did, and pulled from my right pant-pocket a palm-sized rubber machine gun. Before heading for the demonstration, I was in my cousin's house, using their computer. I saw the little machine gun on the couch – it belonged to their nine-year-old boy. As I was leaving, my cousin's wife asked me to be careful, so I picked up the machine gun, "to protect me."

I'd first headed for the demo, five, ten minutes before. A couple of houses from home, I saw the yellow, red, green and black flags and white banners, ahead, and, also, a dozen or so of the blue-and-white police pickups, on both sides of the street, along with a few camouflaged ones. I decided I'd be better off if I had somebody with me – to give me a little protection, a local cushion. I went back to the house, and up the stairs, to my cousin's. She discouraged me and her husband from going. He said he might join me, later. It seemed he was asleep, on the couch, and his son, of the broken foot, was on top of him. I headed out. Before I reached the front gate, I saw another cousin's husband. I asked him if he wanted to join me. He said he was wearing shorts. I told him, I was, too - I'd changed. He urged me not to go, that it was dangerous. I asked him what the danger was. He said there could be shooting. I wasn't persuaded, and asked, by whom, and said I was going to stay far away. I asked him what I should or shouldn't do. He said, "Just keep far away."

The soldiers laughed at my machine gun. I told them it was to protect me. They passed it around. Somebody asked me, "Are you making fun?" I responded, "No – you're making fun." It was fairly light-going, between us. They were amused by my wanting to go watch the demo. I said, "It was a free country." They laughed at that – one of the men repeated, laughing, "Free country." New concept, I guess. One of them said it was dangerous. I rebutted, "It was a peaceful demonstration, wasn't it?" The guy in the front seat of the pickup said, "They were going at it, with bricks." I asked him if the demonstrators were throwing bricks at the embassy. He affirmed, with a yes or a nod. At one point, somebody said the Americans were going to shoot. I didn't see any Americans. We were surrounded by the Iraqi police, some with red berets. There were, maybe, a hundred of them.

From afar – maybe 50 yards -- there seemed to be hundreds of people demonstrating. They were making a lot of noise. A couple of the black flags said, "Ya Husayn." I asked the soldier in the driver's seat if they'd burned the [Jordanian] flag. He said they had. I asked him if the demonstrators had really entered the embassy, the other day, and taken the flag down. He said, "Nobody entered the embassy – you can't. What are we doing here?" I asked how long the demonstrators had been there. Somebody said, "since noon," which means, sometime in the afternoon. It was, now, about three o'clock, so I guessed, a couple of hours. I asked, how many there were. Somebody said, a lot. So much for trying to get some information.

In answering their questions, about my work, and trying to make a case for my going forward, I showed them the little notepad I had in my shirt pocket and said I gathered information. One of the soldiers said, "Ahah, he gathers information," a word used for what intelligence officers do. An officer standing outside said, maybe he's from the other side. I asked him what that meant. Once, when I asked for my camera, the reply came, I'd get it, after the mukhabarat officer asked me some questions. I didn't like the sound of that -- sounded ominous.

Every now and then, one of them would ask me to get in the back of the car. I was in and out of the pickup, my legs never fully in, and, bit by bit, making my way out – standing by the back or driver's door, or, off, to the side, a bit. At one point, I tapped one of the guys on the back of the neck -- he scowled at me. When another asked me if I had a weapon, I pulled out my little pen, "that's my weapon." One of the officers said it looks like a bullet. The guy standing in the back of the pickup, or atop the cab, asked to look at it. I reached up, and handed it back to him. The guy who took my camera, had returned. I asked him for the camera. He said the mukhabarat officer would bring it to me. He insisted I sit in the back of the pickup. I wouldn't put my feet in. While I was out of the pickup, somebody approached the man in civvies, asking for a pen, I gave the first, mine.

When the man in civvies came back, I asked for my camera, again. He asked me to get in the car, that he'd take me, to get it – he got in the driver's seat. I was partly in the car, but I wasn't going to get, all the way in. I asked him where they wanted to take me. They said they weren't going to do anything to me, just take me to get my camera. The one to might right, tugged at my arm. I told him not to pull me. Others followed, telling him the same. I argued with the driver – that I didn't have to get in the car, that he'd taken my camera, and he ought to bring it back to me. He asked me, again, to get in the car, and he'd take me, to get it, pointing down the road, across the median strip. Another soldier replied, "There's no difference." I said, "If there's no difference, then get the camera for me. You took the camera from me -- it's my right, that you return it." The driver kept insisting I get in the car. I told him, I didn't want to fight with him, but that I didn't have to get in the car, and it was my right to have myt camera returned to me. The man standing in the back of the pickup suggested leaving me there. He, or another, suggested I follow the pickup. That became the plan. I looked up at the man in the back of the pickup, and said, "Aasht-eedek" (Long live your hands). He replied, "Oo eedek" (And yours). The situation was defused.

I walked, accompanied by one of the soldiers. The pickup truck made its way across the median strip, and then turned left, on the other side. I asked my companion, "What's the story, why was it so dangerous?" He said, it's better, I don't ask anything. I asked him his name. He replied, "Doesn't concern you." When we stopped – the pickup, stuck behind a few others -- I asked the soldier, if the embassy was the building right across from us, or the one, to its right. I don’t think he said anything.

By the time we got to that point, there was a group of about 50, marching to the left and chanting. I asked my companion what they were chanting. He responded, "Listen, to what they're saying." I could only make out the first word, which I can't remember, now. They carried a large yellow flag, and posters of Abdil-Azeez al-Hakim and of a pair of white-haired clerics. The group included girls, in brown and black cloaks. One white banner concluded with the words "Islamic culture." There was definitely an Islamist flavor to the demo. By that time, the troops surrounding the demonstrators were more numerous. I asked my companion what The first group headed back, and another, similarly sized group, was making its way past. I'd been told, that my camera was going to be brought to me. I took out my notepad, and started taking notes of the scene. I leaned on one of the concrete blocks. The next group included a sizable contingency of women, in black cloaks. There were also a couple of men in robes – tribal and clerical. Among the group, were hoisted Iraqi, red, yellow and green flags. An older man with a paunch and red beret came over, and said he'd give me my camera, "But I ask you, to leave the area." I said, that was fine.

Hurra's Iraq news, this evening, reported that hundreds of people demonstrated before the embassy, that, in addition to demanding the embassy be closed, protesters called for trade relations to be severed, too. One protest leader also asked for all the regime henchmen who've found sanctuary in Jordan, to be handed over to Iraq. They were reported to have handed a protest telegram to the charge d'affaires. One protester wondered how killing other Muslims, women, children and seniors was jihad, and was perplexed at the level of spite that caused people to kill, in this way.
Jordan's king, on Iraq
On the eve of a visit by King Abdullah II of Jordan to Washington, the editors of the Middle East Quarterly are pleased to provide a special preview of the Spring 2005 issue featuring an interview with the Jordanian monarch. In it, he describes his concerns about Iran and Iraq, explains his strategy to counter radical Islam, and outlines his hopes for Arab-Israeli peace.

King Abdullah II: "Iraq is the Battleground - the West against Iran."

Middle East Quarterly
Spring 2005

King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein, descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, is the fourth ruler of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the great-grandson of his namesake, the kingdom's founder. Born on January 30, 1962, to King Hussein's second wife, the British-born Princess Muna, he is the eldest of Hussein's sons and was proclaimed crown prince at birth. When Abdullah was three years old, however, Hussein transferred that title to his own younger brother, Hassan. After his early schooling in Amman, Abdullah was educated in private schools in England and the United States and then, in 1980, embarked on a military career, attending Britain's Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. For the next nineteen years, he rose through the ranks of the Jordanian army, eventually serving as commander of the Royal Jordanian Special Forces and as special operations commander. Along the way, he took classes at Oxford and Georgetown universities and further military training at Fort Knox and the Royal Staff College at Camberley, United Kingdom. In 1998, he assumed the rank of major general, which he held when he was proclaimed crown prince by his father on January 24, 1999. Abdullah assumed the throne when his father died on February 7, 1999. Abdullah and his wife, Queen Rania, have two sons and two daughters. On January 11, 2005, Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, interviewed King Abdullah II at his private office in a secluded compound outside of Amman.
The section of the interview, dealing with Iraq:
Iraq and "The Shi'ite Crescent"

MEQ: On Iraq, you warned that a Shi‘ite-led Iraq might develop a special relationship with Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Lebanese Hezbollah to create a "crescent … that will be very destabilizing for the Gulf countries and for the whole region."[2] Please explain.

Abdullah: The Hashemites are from ‘Ahl Al Bayt [family of the Prophet] and do not have a problem with Shi‘ites. We are as close to them as we are to the Sunnis. But, there are many people in Iraq—including Shi‘ites—who have their own concerns about Iran.

We keep saying that the core problem in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian one, but for the first time, my fear is that if things do not quickly settle in Iraq into an inclusive process that brings stability and security, then the Israeli-Palestinian issue may no longer be the core problem. In that situation, the core problem is going to be based around Iraq, and it's going to be a terrible conflict within Islam—a Shi‘ite-Sunni conflict—which would be devastating for this part of the world. The so-called issue of "the crescent" was taken out of context and blown out of proportion. My concern is political, not religious, revolving around Iran, Iran's political involvement inside Iraq, its relation with Syria and Hezbollah, and the strengthening of this political-strategic alliance. This would create a scenario where you have these four [Iran, Iran-influenced Iraq, Syria, and Hezbollah] who have a strategic objective that could create a major conflict. I don't have any problem with Shi‘ites. I have a real problem with certain Iranian factions' political influence inside Iraq. Our argument to the United States is that a capable, independent, secure Iraq is the best way of containing Iran. There's one reason why 1980 happened—the war between Iraq and Iran. The Iranians realize that the way to have success against the West is by them succeeding in Iraq. So Iraq is the battleground, the West against Iran.

MEQ: What advice would you give the Bush administration on the development of the Iraqi army?

Abdullah: I don't think Iraq should be a launching pad for an offensive against Iran. If you have a stable, capable Iraq defending itself, and you have the Iranians and other outsiders losing any strategic capability inside Iraq, you've won. But there are those in the U.S. administration who do not really understand the Iraqi mentality. They believe, for example, that Iraq should only have a police force. In Iraq, if you send the police into a situation, everybody throws rocks at them, but the minute the army walks in, the people are out with tea and cookies. Disbanding of the Iraqi armed forces and the security service was a major mistake at the beginning of the process. On de-Baathification, I've been saying to the president: identify the core element of the Baath Party, the ones that you're concerned with, and then let the rest of Iraqi society off the hook. He [President Bush] understood what we were talking about, but we felt that every time we came and he asked what should we [the U.S. government] do, I had to argue those same points over again, knowing that he had sent his messages to members of his administration to implement this policy, but it hadn't been taken up.

At the moment, they're trying to build the capacity of the army, but they're in such a rush. They want to piecemeal people in, bring them in [for training] for six weeks and take them back. Really, that's not how to train counterterrorist forces.

Here in Jordan, because many [Iraqi special forces personnel] have come through our Special Operations Command for training, we could identify the best people that were in training and have them come back as instructors. The next course that we have is actually going to be trained by the Iraqi cadre that we initially had in the first two, three courses. We want to adapt that capability to the army.

Then, there will be the issue of the Iraqi air force. Two or three years from now, somebody's going to say they need an air force, and you're going to have to start from scratch with fighter pilots. Instead, let's identify the young majors, captains, and even some lieutenants you think are good and bring them into the training. They have Mirages. We have Mirages. There are ways for us to help. But the typical argument that we get is that instead of spending a year training, we should do it in six weeks.

Let's do everything as we've said, but on top of that, let's get a long-term plan in place. For example, I have a suggestion to put an Iraqi armored company inside of a Jordanian battalion or an Iraqi battalion inside a Jordanian brigade and have them go through our one-year training cycle. We're downsizing our armed forces and will have these fine American tanks. We'll give them the equipment, and we'll train them inside of our brigades and our divisions, and then at the end of a training cycle they can go back to Iraq as a united, well-trained force.

MEQ: You have warned that the United States would have to draw some red lines for the Persian Gulf, defining what would constitute acceptable behavior. What do you mean?

Abdullah: If what we are hearing from many Iraqis is correct, and Iran starts to influence Shi‘ites inside of Iraq, then that immediately creates problems inside Gulf countries. The U.S. administration will have to realize where it is going to draw the red lines because it's not just the political crescent that I was concerned about, but also the stabilization of the Gulf countries. So, again, the battleground is Iraq. That is where the red line has to be drawn.

MEQ: The Iranian acquisition of nuclear capability would change the equation. What is the best response to this?

Abdullah: You have to deal with Iran with a united front. When we went to Iran about a year and a half ago, the Iranians were under tremendous pressure. They felt that they had gotten themselves into a very tight corner, and that's why they said, "Please, we want to reach out to the United States; we have our Al-Qaeda prisoners that we want to hand over; we want to talk about weapons of mass destruction; and we want to have some sort of a common understanding on the issue of Iraq, the unity of Iraq." But the minute the Europeans had prime ministers knocking on Iran's door, the Iranians felt the pressure was off. How do you address the nuclear issue now, given the way Europe is, with France's and Germany's relationship with the United States? How do you get a united front to deal with Iran? You need a unified front. But even so, that doesn't mean we should be letting the Iranians off the hook with what they're trying to do in Iraq.

[2] Interview on Chris Matthews Show, MSNBC, Dec. 12, 2004.
Almost whole

The phone lines for our homes are back up – came back, early this afternoon – which means I can work from home – well, the homes of my cousins who live on the same property. Lines in our area have been down, since the three straight days of rain.

Last night, I found out that an uncle's wife had arrived in Baghdad from Jordan, the night before, which meant that, with her, would come the disks for me to restart my i-Book. That would make me whole. At last! I reached the uncle today, but, alas, the package from Cleveland hadn't made it to Jordan, in time for his wife. So, one down, a couple more to go. Almost there.

Update: it turns out, the cousin who lives upstairs – their line still isn't up, and, in our house, only one, of the four phones, is working – the one in my room. The cousin's husband, played with the line, in front of the house, but...to no avail.

Well – the sun was up, today, for the fourth or fifth straight day, and the weather was gorgeous, again.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

My installment plan

I'm working on my super-duper, super-long, way-over-detailed account of yesterday's opening session of the ELECTED national assembly -- I think I forgot to say that, yesterday -- well, not forgot to say it, but didn't emphasize it, enough. I'm still in the middle of writing up my account. I'll post some of it, now, and...the rest...later.

Now -- details.

The night before, I had an elaborate dream about the proceedings. The main thing I remember, now, was that there was a band, to the right of the stage – "the National Assembly Band," I called it – which tooted its horns, for each person introduced -- a la, a college football game. Afterwards – that is, after the session, but within my dream -- I asked my well-connected cousin whose idea that was, and I offered a couple of candidates, such as the CIA or the State Department. She had an answer, and we commiserated over the cheapening of the affair. The words from the Iraqis, with the remembrances of Halabcha, were poignant, and would have sufficed.

Now, the rest of the story.

There was little advance notice, of the assembly's meeting, or that it would be broadcast. Nothing on the previous night's news, about what time it would take place, or whether, and where, it would be broadcast. I was sure it would be, and that was reinforced, a week ago, by Nazar Hayder, an "Iraqi media representative" in Washington, who said that the interim constitution required all assembly sessions be recorded and public. That reminded me of Marc Reuel Gerecht's suggestion, that there be an Iraqi C-Span, for airing, across the Arab world. I kept asking others about the time and broadcast of the session, but nobody had a clue. The general attitude has been, let them go on with it, and their business, and let's hope they do well, by us. Some did speculate, it might be, first thing in the morning -- nine or ten o'clock.

In any case, I made sure I'd be up, yesterday morning. My uncle, who's always up before dawn, said that Iraqiyya would broadcast the session, which was to begin at noon. He said we should start watching, at eleven, for any possible pre-session events -- and I did. Iraqiyya started showing scenes from the national assembly, at 11:05 – members arriving, greeting each other -- and said that the session was late, in starting -- that it was to start, at eleven. To begin with, the camera stayed at long-range, showing the stage and the auditorium seats, in the foreground, so I couldn't make out, any individuals. The announcers mentioned the arrival of Ayad Allawi, Fouad Ma'soum and Ghazi il-Yawer.

There was tight security, throughout the city. The main Jamhurriya, Sinnek and Shuhedaa' bridges, across the Tigris, were reportedly closed, the Ahraar Bridge was open on one side, and roads into Haarthiyyeh, which abuts the Green Zone, were closed off. In the Green Zone, is the Convention Center, where the assembly was meeting, rather than in the national council building, which was looted, after the fall of Saddam.

Tall white curtains enclosed the stage and the seating area. In the center of the stage, was a black-clothed table, bracketed by two podiums. Flower displays sat on the table, and across the front of the stage. There were four upright flags posted to the left of the table, and, to the right, one large flag, flanked by two smaller ones. Above the table, was a large, square white screen, with a black-and-white shaded map of Iraq within a circle at its center. Above the map, the words from the Qur'an "Wa Amarhum Shura Baynahum" (And He commanded them to be counselors among them). Below the circled map, were the Arabic words al-Jem'iyyeh al-Wataniyeh (The National Assembly), and below them, in Kurdish – as best, I could make out, Komehleh-i Neeshtemaani.

I turned to Hurra television, whose coverage is superior to Iraqiyya's. The lovable, huggable teddy-bearish Saalim Mashkoor, who hosts the station's Iraq discussion program "Hadeeth il-Nahrayn" (The talk of the Two Rivers), was at the helm, in the station's Washington studio. My uncle and I love him -- I'd suggested starting a fan club for him. I explained to my uncle – like for Marilyn Monroe. Speaking of which, I want to start an exclusive fan club for one of the station's news anchors, Katya Waakeem. Oh, mama, is she hot! Maybe it's me -- I've got the hots for her.

Hurra's director of Iraq affairs, Ali abdil-Ameer, said the elected politicians "had lost the country and the people, during the month since election results. Why didn't they convene, earlier?" He said they had, ahead of them, "a short period of time and major challenges." Hurra, as usual, in programming on Iraq, had the words, "Iraq decides 2005," at the base of the screen, and on the wall of the set.

At their Baghdad studio – I presume, in the Convention Center – Emad al-Khafaji emphasized that this was "an elected" assembly. He said that the U.N. General Secretary's representative, Ashraf Qaadhi, was seated between Abdil-Aziz al-Hakim and Yawer. Sixty-two members of the diplomatic corps, including the United States' Ambassador John Negroponte, were on hand, at one side of the auditorium. In the front row, he said, were Sharif Ali bin Husayn, the heir to the throne, and Adnan Pachachi and Naseer Chadirchi, both elder Sunni Arab politicians. While Khafaji was speaking, I heard a couple of explosions. He said that he heard three explosions and that they felt one of them shake the studio. Still, he said, although the day felt like election day, like "the wedding celebration" that was, there wasn’t a curfew, from the day before, as there was, for the elections, and that "traffic was pretty normal – slowed down, by security measures, but people, still going to work. They weren't staying away from work, because of the national assembly. So far, today, nothing's happened," he said, an indication that security personnel were "showing a greater ability to control things." This, despite terrorist forces trying to dampen people's joy – "trying to turn it, in another direction." There was another explosion. These were all, supposedly, mortar rounds. The place of the meeting, Khafaji added, was surrounded by troops. The newspapers reported, today, that terrorists who fired mortar rounds from Ghazali Cemetery were captured in the Haifa Street area. One mortar, a newspaper reported, fell in Tigris.

The affair kicked off, at about 11:30. A man, standing at the left podium, at the corner of which was a small flag, introduced each speaker -- I found out, later, that the bespectacled man was the head of the assembly's bureau, but I didn't get his name. We had a couple of electricity cut-offs, during the proceedings, and I lost a few minutes, as I ran back and forth, to make the switches, from the national grid, to our neighbor's generator, which, itself, cut off, for a few minutes, during which I reverted to my cousin's generator, which didn't work – long story. The proceedings began with a recitation from the Qur'an, sung by Dr. Dhiyaa' a-Shakarchi, during which Dr. Ibrahim a-Ja'fari, the putative prime minister of the next government, arrived, greeting several of those, seated in the front row.

The master of ceremonies said Shaykh Dhaari il-Fayyadh would chair the proceedings, as he was the oldest member of the assembly. None of the four papers I have, notes his age, nor did the TV stations I watched. The selection of the oldest member, one paper said, was stipulated in the interim constitution. Seated behind the table, Fayyadh began, by calling for people to rise, for a reading of the Faat'Ha, the first verse of the Qur'an, which is read for the souls of the dead – in this case, those killed by Saddam and his successors in butchery. Fayyadh, in a traditional tribal brown robe and black headdress, listed several names, including the two Sadirs, Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, and "in the Anfal in the north of Iraq." He corrected himself, "Kurdistan." People from the audience, and to the side, called out, Halabcha. Fayyadh replied, "I mentioned Kurdistan."

Fouad Ma'soum, the leader of the interim national assembly, was next. After saying the Basmallah (In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate), the silver-haired Ma'soum, dressed in a light-grey suit, said a few sentences in Kurdish – I caught "Anfal" and "Halabcha." Switching back to Arabic, he welcomed, in his capacity as the head of the assembly that "was terminating at this moment," the assembly members who "were directly elected by the people of Iraq, without interference."

Ma'soum said that the assembly's chief mission would be to prepare a constitution, "in which all those who didn't participate in the elections should take part." In speaking about the goodness of democracy -- and the absolute evil of dictatorship -- Ma'soum said that "the powers of this assembly will be complete, like in any other democratic country in the world," despite its limited term and duties, adding that the assembly was establishing "the foundations of democracy, marked by transparency." Back in Kurdish, I picked up Anfal and Daar-Bendikhan, the latter, a town wiped out by Saddam. In Arabic, Ma'soum then congratulated the members for gaining the trust of the people, he saluted the martyrs and extended thanks to all those who helped the Iraqi people to rid themselves of Saddam.
21-year-old Arizona soldier dies in Ramadi, when road collapses beneath his vehicle
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 14, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Spc. Nicholas E. Wilson, 21, of Glendale, Ariz., died Mar. 11, in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, while conducting a roving patrol when his military vehicle rolled into a water-filled ditch after the shoulder of the road he was on collapsed. Wilson was assigned to 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Camp Casey, Korea.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

This Was Not Looting
How did Saddam's best weapons plants get plundered?

By Christopher Hitchens
Slate magazine
Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2005, at 5:29 AM PT

Once again, a major story gets top billing in a mainstream paper—and is printed upside down. "Looting at Weapons Plants Was Systematic, Iraqi Says." This was how the New York Times led its front page on Sunday. According to the supporting story, Dr. Sami al-Araji, the deputy minister of industry, says that after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, "looters systematically dismantled and removed tons of machinery from Saddam Hussein's most important weapons installations, including some with high-precision equipment capable of making parts for nuclear arms."

As printed, the implication of the story was not dissimilar from the Al-Qaqaa disclosures, which featured so much in the closing days of the presidential election last fall. In that case, a huge stock of conventional high-explosives had been allowed to go missing and was presumably in the hands of those who were massacring Iraqi civilians and killing coalition troops. At least one comment from the Bush campaign surrogate appeared to blame this negligence on the troops themselves. Followed to one possible conclusion, the implication was clear: The invasion of Iraq had made the world a more dangerous place by randomly scattering all sorts of weaponry, including mass-destruction weaponry, to destinations unknown.

It was eye-rubbing to read of the scale of this potential new nightmare. There in cold print was the Al Hatteen "munitions production plant that international inspectors called a complete potential nuclear weapons laboratory." And what of the Al Adwan facility, which "produced equipment used for uranium enrichment, necessary to make some kinds of nuclear weapons"? The overall pattern of the plundered sites was summarized thus, by reporters James Glanz and William J. Broad:

The kinds of machinery at the various sites included equipment that could be used to make missile parts, chemical weapons or centrifuges essential for enriching uranium for atom bombs.

My first question is this: How can it be that, on every page of every other edition for months now, the New York Times has been stating categorically that Iraq harbored no weapons of mass destruction? And there can hardly be a comedy-club third-rater or MoveOn.org activist in the entire country who hasn't stated with sarcastic certainty that the whole WMD fuss was a way of lying the American people into war. So now what? Maybe we should have taken Saddam's propaganda seriously, when his newspaper proudly described Iraq's physicists as "our nuclear mujahideen."

My second question is: What's all this about "looting"? The word is used throughout the long report, but here's what it's used to describe. "In four weeks from mid-April to mid-May of 2003 … teams with flatbed trucks and other heavy equipment moved systematically from site to site. … 'The first wave came for the machines,' Dr Araji said. 'The second wave, cables and cranes.' " Perhaps hedging the bet, the Times authors at this point refer to "organized looting."

But obviously, what we are reading about is a carefully planned military operation. The participants were not panicked or greedy civilians helping themselves—which is the customary definition of a "looter," especially in wartime. They were mechanized and mobile and under orders, and acting in a concerted fashion. Thus, if the story is factually correct—which we have no reason at all to doubt—then Saddam's Iraq was a fairly highly-evolved WMD state, with a contingency plan for further concealment and distribution of the weaponry in case of attack or discovery.

Before the war began, several of the administration's critics argued that an intervention would be too dangerous, either because Saddam Hussein would actually unleash his arsenal of WMD, or because he would divert it to third parties. That case at least had the merit of being serious (though I would want to argue that a regime capable of doing either thing was a regime that urgently needed to be removed). Since then, however, the scene has dissolved into one long taunt and jeer: "There were no WMD in Iraq. Liar, liar, pants on fire."

The U.N. inspectors, who are solemnly quoted by Glanz and Broad as having "monitored" the alarming developments at Al Hatteen and elsewhere, don't come out looking too professional, either. If by scanning satellite pictures now they can tell us that potentially thermonuclear stuff is on the loose, how come they couldn't come up with this important data when they were supposedly "on the ground"?

Even in the worst interpretation, it seems unlikely that the material is more dangerous now than it was two years ago. Some of the elements—centrifuges, for example, and chemical mixtures—require stable and controlled conditions for effectiveness. They can't simply be transferred to some kitchen or tent. They are less risky than they were in early 2003, in other words. If they went to a neighboring state, though … Some chemical vats have apparently turned up on a scrap heap in Jordan, even if this does argue more for a panicky concealment than a plan of transfer. But anyway, this only returns us to the main point: If Saddam's people could have made such a transfer after his fall, then they could have made it much more easily during his reign. (We know, for example, that the Baathists were discussing the acquisition of long-range missiles from North Korea as late as March 2003, and at that time, the nuclear Wal-Mart of the A.Q. Khan network was still in business. Iraq would have had plenty to trade in this WMD underworld.)

Supporters of the overdue disarmament and liberation of Iraq, all the same, can't be complacent about this story. It seems flabbergasting that any of these sites were unsecured after the occupation, let alone for so long. Did the CIA yet again lack "human intelligence" as well as every other kind? The Bush administration staked the reputation of the United States on the matter. It won't do to say that "mistakes were made."
Subject: progress

Date: Tue, 15 Mar 2005 02:11:00 +0300

Hi Ayad,

Iraqi politics is definitely a case of continuous education and evolution. In the past it was the Kurds who were stabbed in the back, by the Shah, by Kissinger (USA) and by the Iraqis over and over. Yet, this time its them holding the dagger. It looks like they have dealt Mr. Jaafari a nasty blow, at least temporarily. Lets, wait and see what develops next.

Funnily enough, G. Yawer the guy who cheated on his election results or at least gained from the "grade curve" is now "leading" the Sunni delegation to ensure that all posts go to Sunnis-Shammar. Again, progress in the right direction. We have gone from Al Majid to Al Yawer, by all means an upgrade!

This "elections" project is becoming more and more important. What's your traveling schedule.

Monday, came the announcement of a new committee, formed to represent the interests of Sunni Arabs, in negotiations with Kurds and Shi'as. The committee is made up of Ghazi il-Yawer, the current president of the republic and expected speaker of the national assembly; Adnan il-Pachachi, leader of the Independent Democratic Gathering and foreign minister before the Ba'ath Party took over, in 1968; Taariq al-Hashimi, of the Iraqi Islamic Party; an unnamed college professor; and an unnamed "luminary" in the former army, who, Yawer's announcement said, "had an honorable record, whose hands were not soaked in blood, who was tortured and detained for long periods in the former regime's prisons, and who's a well-known and very well-liked personage." It added, "We hate the nationalist and sectarian retrenchment, but the conditions now and realities of this stage, unfortunately, pulled us to these terms."

On Al-Hurra-Iraq's nightly discussion program "Bil-Iraqi" (In Iraqi), political analyst Saadiq al-Musawi said, Monday, that the Sunni Arab committee is asking for one-third of government ministries to be held by Sunni Arabs, and that this sector of Iraqi society was the only one, lacking any collective representation.
Technical difficulties

I'm having a hard time, posting things -- well, to begin with, getting on-line. First of all, at home, we're still waiting for the phone lines to come back up. Second, the Jordanian embassy, three, four doors away, has been the object of a lot of attention, lately, as Iraqis have been demonstrating there, the past several days, to protest the celebration in Jordan, three days ago, of the man who allegedly blew himself up, February 28, in the center of Hilla, killing more than 130 people and injuring 80 more. Yesterday, Raa'id al-Banna's family denied that Banna was involved in the Hilla bombing, and said that he died in Mosul, instead. So, as a result -- and, also, because I had a hard time sleeping, the night before -- I couldn't get out of the house, yesterday -- at least, not in the afternoon -- as the national guard and police blocked off the street, either because of the reported takeover of the embassy by Iraqis, holding a sit-in, or to protect the embassy from Iraqi attackers.

Today, after watching the live broadcast of the first session of the national assembly, I asked a cousin for a ride to the money-change shop where his sister's husband works -- I've been using their computer and wireless connection, to post things, the past few days. However, the car could only get as far as the next corner. An Iraqi soldier, posted with his unit, told us that if we left the area, by car, we wouldn't be able to drive back. The soldier said people from Hilla were on their way, now -- that is, to the embassy. I had reached my wit's end, and told my cousin, I'd walk, the rest of the way. I didn't produce anything, yesterday, when I had material to post, on the developing feud between Iraq and Jordan and the Arabs, and I was frustrated and moping. As I was searching for a solution, yesterday afternoon, I discovered that a cousin, nearby, had an active phone line, but that the computer they'd ordered, wouldn't be ready for another day or two. I then found a substitute laptop, that an uncle had left in the house, but...it was missing the charger, it had a note in it, that it shouldn't be run on the battery, and by that time, it had gotten too late, to go out and buy one, let alone, make it to the cousin's -- she'd advised me to postpone the trip, till this morning. In fact, my uncle had to be dropped off, at a nearby corner, and walk the one block, home, while his car was taken back, to his daughter's. So, today, I wasn't going to be held back, anymore -- I'd had enough of the overprotection -- I was itching...under the control.

I made the walk -- no problem, and made a couple of posts -- although, I don't know how you PC'ers and Microsofters put up with it. Now that I've made my first solo trek in Baghdad -- this time around -- I can just imagine, that my mother is going to get in touch with my uncle, and force him to keep me, in. Thank goodness, his phone's not working, but...there are other ways. Woe, the officious (and overbearing) ways of the tribe.

So, bear with me, if you would.

First half of The New Yorker article:


In northern Iraq, there is new evidence of Saddam Hussein's genocidal war on the Kurds—and of his possible ties to Al Qaeda.
Issue of 2002-03-25

In the late morning of March 16, 1988, an Iraqi Air Force helicopter appeared over the city of Halabja, which is about fifteen miles from the border with Iran. The Iran-Iraq War was then in its eighth year, and Halabja was near the front lines. At the time, the city was home to roughly eighty thousand Kurds, who were well accustomed to the proximity of violence to ordinary life. Like most of Iraqi Kurdistan, Halabja was in perpetual revolt against the regime of Saddam Hussein, and its inhabitants were supporters of the peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters whose name means "those who face death."

A young woman named Nasreen Abdel Qadir Muhammad was outside her family's house, preparing food, when she saw the helicopter. The Iranians and the peshmerga had just attacked Iraqi military outposts around Halabja, forcing Saddam's soldiers to retreat. Iranian Revolutionary Guards then infiltrated the city, and the residents assumed that an Iraqi counterattack was imminent. Nasreen and her family expected to spend yet another day in their cellar, which was crude and dark but solid enough to withstand artillery shelling, and even napalm.

"At about ten o'clock, maybe closer to ten-thirty, I saw the helicopter," Nasreen told me. "It was not attacking, though. There were men inside it, taking pictures. One had a regular camera, and the other held what looked like a video camera. They were coming very close. Then they went away."

Nasreen thought that the sight was strange, but she was preoccupied with lunch; she and her sister Rangeen were preparing rice, bread, and beans for the thirty or forty relatives who were taking shelter in the cellar. Rangeen was fifteen at the time. Nasreen was just sixteen, but her father had married her off several months earlier, to a cousin, a thirty-year-old physician's assistant named Bakhtiar Abdul Aziz. Halabja is a conservative place, and many more women wear the veil than in the more cosmopolitan Kurdish cities to the northwest and the Arab cities to the south.

The bombardment began shortly before eleven. The Iraqi Army, positioned on the main road from the nearby town of Sayid Sadiq, fired artillery shells into Halabja, and the Air Force began dropping what is thought to have been napalm on the town, especially the northern area. Nasreen and Rangeen rushed to the cellar. Nasreen prayed that Bakhtiar, who was then outside the city, would find shelter.

The attack had ebbed by about two o'clock, and Nasreen made her way carefully upstairs to the kitchen, to get the food for the family. "At the end of the bombing, the sound changed," she said. "It wasn't so loud. It was like pieces of metal just dropping without exploding. We didn't know why it was so quiet."

A short distance away, in a neighborhood still called the Julakan, or Jewish quarter, even though Halabja's Jews left for Israel in the nineteen-fifties, a middle-aged man named Muhammad came up from his own cellar and saw an unusual sight: "A helicopter had come back to the town, and the soldiers were throwing white pieces of paper out the side." In retrospect, he understood that they were measuring wind speed and direction. Nearby, a man named Awat Omer, who was twenty at the time, was overwhelmed by a smell of garlic and apples.

Nasreen gathered the food quickly, but she, too, noticed a series of odd smells carried into the house by the wind. "At first, it smelled bad, like garbage," she said. "And then it was a good smell, like sweet apples. Then like eggs." Before she went downstairs, she happened to check on a caged partridge that her father kept in the house. "The bird was dying," she said. "It was on its side." She looked out the window. "It was very quiet, but the animals were dying. The sheep and goats were dying." Nasreen ran to the cellar. "I told everybody there was something wrong. There was something wrong with the air."

The people in the cellar were panicked. They had fled downstairs to escape the bombardment, and it was difficult to abandon their shelter. Only splinters of light penetrated the basement, but the dark provided a strange comfort. "We wanted to stay in hiding, even though we were getting sick," Nasreen said. She felt a sharp pain in her eyes, like stabbing needles. "My sister came close to my face and said, 'Your eyes are very red.' Then the children started throwing up. They kept throwing up. They were in so much pain, and crying so much. They were crying all the time. My mother was crying. Then the old people started throwing up."

Chemical weapons had been dropped on Halabja by the Iraqi Air Force, which understood that any underground shelter would become a gas chamber. "My uncle said we should go outside," Nasreen said. "We knew there were chemicals in the air. We were getting red eyes, and some of us had liquid coming out of them. We decided to run." Nasreen and her relatives stepped outside gingerly. "Our cow was lying on its side," she recalled. "It was breathing very fast, as if it had been running. The leaves were falling off the trees, even though it was spring. The partridge was dead. There were smoke clouds around, clinging to the ground. The gas was heavier than the air, and it was finding the wells and going down the wells."

The family judged the direction of the wind, and decided to run the opposite way. Running proved difficult. "The children couldn't walk, they were so sick," Nasreen said. "They were exhausted from throwing up. We carried them in our arms."

Across the city, other families were making similar decisions. Nouri Hama Ali, who lived in the northern part of town, decided to lead his family in the direction of Anab, a collective settlement on the outskirts of Halabja that housed Kurds displaced when the Iraqi Army destroyed their villages. "On the road to Anab, many of the women and children began to die," Nouri told me. "The chemical clouds were on the ground. They were heavy. We could see them." People were dying all around, he said. When a child could not go on, the parents, becoming hysterical with fear, abandoned him. "Many children were left on the ground, by the side of the road. Old people as well. They were running, then they would stop breathing and die."

Nasreen's family did not move quickly. "We wanted to wash ourselves off and find water to drink," she said. "We wanted to wash the faces of the children who were vomiting. The children were crying for water. There was powder on the ground, white. We couldn't decide whether to drink the water or not, but some people drank the water from the well they were so thirsty."

They ran in a panic through the city, Nasreen recalled, in the direction of Anab. The bombardment continued intermittently, Air Force planes circling overhead. "People were showing different symptoms. One person touched some of the powder, and her skin started bubbling."

A truck came by, driven by a neighbor. People threw themselves aboard. "We saw people lying frozen on the ground," Nasreen told me. "There was a small baby on the ground, away from her mother. I thought they were both sleeping. But she had dropped the baby and then died. And I think the baby tried to crawl away, but it died, too. It looked like everyone was sleeping."

At that moment, Nasreen believed that she and her family would make it to high ground and live. Then the truck stopped. "The driver said he couldn't go on, and he wandered away. He left his wife in the back of the truck. He told us to flee if we could. The chemicals affected his brain, because why else would someone abandon his family?"

As heavy clouds of gas smothered the city, people became sick and confused. Awat Omer was trapped in his cellar with his family; he said that his brother began laughing uncontrollably and then stripped off his clothes, and soon afterward he died. As night fell, the family's children grew sicker—too sick to move.

Nasreen's husband could not be found, and she began to think that all was lost. She led the children who were able to walk up the road.

In another neighborhood, Muhammad Ahmed Fattah, who was twenty, was overwhelmed by an oddly sweet odor of sulfur, and he, too, realized that he must evacuate his family; there were about a hundred and sixty people wedged into the cellar. "I saw the bomb drop," Muhammad told me. "It was about thirty metres from the house. I shut the door to the cellar. There was shouting and crying in the cellar, and then people became short of breath." One of the first to be stricken by the gas was Muhammad's brother Salah. "His eyes were pink," Muhammad recalled. "There was something coming out of his eyes. He was so thirsty he was demanding water." Others in the basement began suffering tremors.

March 16th was supposed to be Muhammad's wedding day. "Every preparation was done," he said. His fiancée, a woman named Bahar Jamal, was among the first in the cellar to die. "She was crying very hard," Muhammad recalled. "I tried to calm her down. I told her it was just the usual artillery shells, but it didn't smell the usual way weapons smelled. She was smart, she knew what was happening. She died on the stairs. Her father tried to help her, but it was too late."

Death came quickly to others as well. A woman named Hamida Mahmoud tried to save her two-year-old daughter by allowing her to nurse from her breast. Hamida thought that the baby wouldn't breathe in the gas if she was nursing, Muhammad said, adding, "The baby's name was Dashneh. She nursed for a long time. Her mother died while she was nursing. But she kept nursing." By the time Muhammad decided to go outside, most of the people in the basement were unconscious; many were dead, including his parents and three of his siblings.

Nasreen said that on the road to Anab all was confusion. She and the children were running toward the hills, but they were going blind. "The children were crying, 'We can't see! My eyes are bleeding!' " In the chaos, the family got separated. Nasreen's mother and father were both lost. Nasreen and several of her cousins and siblings inadvertently led the younger children in a circle, back into the city. Someone—she doesn't know who—led them away from the city again and up a hill, to a small mosque, where they sought shelter. "But we didn't stay in the mosque, because we thought it would be a target," Nasreen said. They went to a small house nearby, and Nasreen scrambled to find food and water for the children. By then, it was night, and she was exhausted.

Bakhtiar, Nasreen's husband, was frantic. Outside the city when the attacks started, he had spent much of the day searching for his wife and the rest of his family. He had acquired from a clinic two syringes of atropine, a drug that helps to counter the effects of nerve agents. He injected himself with one of the syringes, and set out to find Nasreen. He had no hope. "My plan was to bury her," he said. "At least I should bury my new wife."

After hours of searching, Bakhtiar met some neighbors, who remembered seeing Nasreen and the children moving toward the mosque on the hill. "I called out the name Nasreen," he said. "I heard crying, and I went inside the house. When I got there, I found that Nasreen was alive but blind. Everybody was blind."

Nasreen had lost her sight about an hour or two before Bakhtiar found her. She had been searching the house for food, so that she could feed the children, when her eyesight failed. "I found some milk and I felt my way to them and then I found their mouths and gave them milk," she said.

Bakhtiar organized the children. "I wanted to bring them to the well. I washed their heads. I took them two by two and washed their heads. Some of them couldn't come. They couldn't control their muscles."

Bakhtiar still had one syringe of atropine, but he did not inject his wife; she was not the worst off in the group. "There was a woman named Asme, who was my neighbor," Bakhtiar recalled. "She was not able to breathe. She was yelling and she was running into a wall, crashing her head into a wall. I gave the atropine to this woman." Asme died soon afterward. "I could have used it for Nasreen," Bakhtiar said. "I could have."

After the Iraqi bombardment subsided, the Iranians managed to retake Halabja, and they evacuated many of the sick, including Nasreen and the others in her family, to hospitals in Tehran.

Nasreen was blind for twenty days. "I was thinking the whole time, Where is my family? But I was blind. I couldn't do anything. I asked my husband about my mother, but he said he didn't know anything. He was looking in hospitals, he said. He was avoiding the question."

The Iranian Red Crescent Society, the equivalent of the Red Cross, began compiling books of photographs, pictures of the dead in Halabja. "The Red Crescent has an album of the people who were buried in Iran," Nasreen said. "And we found my mother in one of the albums." Her father, she discovered, was alive but permanently blinded. Five of her siblings, including Rangeen, had died.

Nasreen would live, the doctors said, but she kept a secret from Bakhtiar: "When I was in the hospital, I started menstruating. It wouldn't stop. I kept bleeding. We don't talk about this in our society, but eventually a lot of women in the hospital confessed they were also menstruating and couldn't stop." Doctors gave her drugs that stopped the bleeding, but they told her that she would be unable to bear children.

Nasreen stayed in Iran for several months, but eventually she and Bakhtiar returned to Kurdistan. She didn't believe the doctors who told her that she would be infertile, and in 1991 she gave birth to a boy. "We named him Arazoo," she said. Arazoo means hope in Kurdish. "He was healthy at first, but he had a hole in his heart. He died at the age of three months."

I met Nasreen last month in Erbil, the largest city in Iraqi Kurdistan. She is thirty now, a pretty woman with brown eyes and high cheekbones, but her face is expressionless. She doesn't seek pity; she would, however, like a doctor to help her with a cough that she's had ever since the attack, fourteen years ago. Like many of Saddam Hussein's victims, she tells her story without emotion.

During my visit to Kurdistan, I talked with more than a hundred victims of Saddam's campaign against the Kurds. Saddam has been persecuting the Kurds ever since he took power, more than twenty years ago. Several old women whose husbands were killed by Saddam's security services expressed a kind of animal hatred toward him, but most people, like Nasreen, told stories of horrific cruelty with a dispassion and a precision that underscored their credibility. Credibility is important to the Kurds; after all this time, they still feel that the world does not believe their story.

A week after I met Nasreen, I visited a small village called Goktapa, situated in a green valley that is ringed by snow-covered mountains. Goktapa came under poison-gas attack six weeks after Halabja. The village consists of low mud-brick houses along dirt paths. In Goktapa, an old man named Ahmed Raza Sharif told me that on the day of the attack on Goktapa, May 3, 1988, he was in the fields outside the village. He saw the shells explode and smelled the sweet-apple odor as poison filled the air. His son, Osman Ahmed, who was sixteen at the time, was near the village mosque when he was felled by the gas. He crawled down a hill and died among the reeds on the banks of the Lesser Zab, the river that flows by the village. His father knew that he was dead, but he couldn't reach the body. As many as a hundred and fifty people died in the attack; the survivors fled before the advancing Iraqi Army, which levelled the village. Ahmed Raza Sharif did not return for three years. When he did, he said, he immediately began searching for his son's body. He found it still lying in the reeds. "I recognized his body right away," he said.

The summer sun in Iraq is blisteringly hot, and a corpse would be unidentifiable three years after death. I tried to find a gentle way to express my doubts, but my translator made it clear to Sharif that I didn't believe him.

We were standing in the mud yard of another old man, Ibrahim Abdul Rahman. Twenty or thirty people, a dozen boys among them, had gathered. Some of them seemed upset that I appeared to doubt the story, but Ahmed hushed them. "It's true, he lost all the flesh on his body," he said. "He was just a skeleton. But the clothes were his, and they were still on the skeleton, a belt and a shirt. In the pocket of his shirt I found the key to our tractor. That's where he always kept the key."

Some of the men still seemed concerned that I would leave Goktapa doubting their truthfulness. Ibrahim, the man in whose yard we were standing, called out a series of orders to the boys gathered around us. They dispersed, to houses and storerooms, returning moments later holding jagged pieces of metal, the remnants of the bombs that poisoned Goktapa. Ceremoniously, the boys dropped the pieces of metal at my feet. "Here are the mercies of Uncle Saddam," Ibrahim said.


The story of Halabja did not end the night the Iraqi Air Force planes returned to their bases. The Iranians invited the foreign press to record the devastation. Photographs of the victims, supine, bleached of color, littering the gutters and alleys of the town, horrified the world. Saddam Hussein's attacks on his own citizens mark the only time since the Holocaust that poison gas has been used to exterminate women and children.

Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, who led the campaigns against the Kurds in the late eighties, was heard on a tape captured by rebels, and later obtained by Human Rights Watch, addressing members of Iraq's ruling Baath Party on the subject of the Kurds. "I will kill them all with chemical weapons!" he said. "Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them! The international community and those who listen to them."

Attempts by Congress in 1988 to impose sanctions on Iraq were stifled by the Reagan and Bush Administrations, and the story of Saddam's surviving victims might have vanished completely had it not been for the reporting of people like Randal and the work of a British documentary filmmaker named Gwynne Roberts, who, after hearing stories about a sudden spike in the incidence of birth defects and cancers, not only in Halabja but also in other parts of Kurdistan, had made some disturbing films on the subject. However, no Western government or United Nations agency took up the cause.

In 1998, Roberts brought an Englishwoman named Christine Gosden to Kurdistan. Gosden is a medical geneticist and a professor at the medical school of the University of Liverpool. She spent three weeks in the hospitals in Kurdistan, and came away determined to help the Kurds. To the best of my knowledge, Gosden is the only Western scientist who has even begun making a systematic study of what took place in northern Iraq.

Gosden told me that her father was a high-ranking officer in the Royal Air Force, and that as a child she lived in Germany, near Bergen-Belsen. "It's tremendously influential in your early years to live near a concentration camp," she said. In Kurdistan, she heard echoes of the German campaign to destroy the Jews. "The Iraqi government was using chemistry to reduce the population of Kurds," she said. "The Holocaust is still having its effect. The Jews are fewer in number now than they were in 1939. That's not natural. Now, if you take out two hundred thousand men and boys from Kurdistan"—an estimate of the number of Kurds who were gassed or otherwise murdered in the campaign, most of whom were men and boys—"you've affected the population structure. There are a lot of widows who are not having children."

Richard Butler, an Australian diplomat who chaired the United Nations weapons-inspection team in Iraq, describes Gosden as "a classic English, old-school-tie kind of person." Butler has tracked her research since she began studying the attacks, four years ago, and finds it credible. "Occasionally, people say that this is Christine's obsession, but obsession is not a bad thing," he added.

Before I went to Kurdistan, in January, I spent a day in London with Gosden. We gossiped a bit, and she scolded me for having visited a Washington shopping mall without appropriate protective equipment. Whenever she goes to a mall, she brings along a polyurethane bag "big enough to step into" and a bottle of bleach. "I can detoxify myself immediately," she said.

Gosden believes it is quite possible that the countries of the West will soon experience chemical- and biological-weapons attacks far more serious and of greater lasting effect than the anthrax incidents of last autumn and the nerve-agent attack on the Tokyo subway system several years ago—that what happened in Kurdistan was only the beginning. "For Saddam's scientists, the Kurds were a test population," she said. "They were the human guinea pigs. It was a way of identifying the most effective chemical agents for use on civilian populations, and the most effective means of delivery."

The charge is supported by others. An Iraqi defector, Khidhir Hamza, who is the former director of Saddam's nuclear-weapons program, told me earlier this year that before the attack on Halabja military doctors had mapped the city, and that afterward they entered it wearing protective clothing, in order to study the dispersal of the dead. "These were field tests, an experiment on a town," Hamza told me. He said that he had direct knowledge of the Army's procedures that day in Halabja. "The doctors were given sheets with grids on them, and they had to answer questions such as 'How far are the dead from the cannisters?' "

Gosden said that she cannot understand why the West has not been more eager to investigate the chemical attacks in Kurdistan. "It seems a matter of enlightened self-interest that the West would want to study the long-term effects of chemical weapons on civilians, on the DNA," she told me. "I've seen Europe's worst cancers, but, believe me, I have never seen cancers like the ones I saw in Kurdistan."

According to an ongoing survey conducted by a team of Kurdish physicians and organized by Gosden and a small advocacy group called the Washington Kurdish Institute, more than two hundred towns and villages across Kurdistan were attacked by poison gas—far more than was previously thought—in the course of seventeen months. The number of victims is unknown, but doctors I met in Kurdistan believe that up to ten per cent of the population of northern Iraq—nearly four million people—has been exposed to chemical weapons. "Saddam Hussein poisoned northern Iraq," Gosden said when I left for Halabja. "The questions, then, are what to do? And what comes next?"


The Kurdish people, it is often said, make up the largest stateless nation in the world. They have been widely despised by their neighbors for centuries. There are roughly twenty-five million Kurds, most of them spread across four countries in southwestern Asia: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The Kurds are neither Arab, Persian, nor Turkish; they are a distinct ethnic group, with their own culture and language. Most Kurds are Muslim (the most famous Muslim hero of all, Saladin, who defeated the Crusaders, was of Kurdish origin), but there are Jewish and Christian Kurds, and also followers of the Yezidi religion, which has its roots in Sufism and Zoroastrianism. The Kurds are experienced mountain fighters, who tend toward stubbornness and have frequent bouts of destructive infighting.

After centuries of domination by foreign powers, the Kurds had their best chance at independence after the First World War, when President Woodrow Wilson promised the Kurds, along with other groups left drifting and exposed by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, a large measure of autonomy. But the machinations of the great powers, who were becoming interested in Kurdistan's vast oil deposits, in Mosul and Kirkuk, quickly did the Kurds out of a state.

In the nineteen-seventies, the Iraqi Kurds allied themselves with the Shah of Iran in a territorial dispute with Iraq. America, the Shah's patron, once again became the Kurds' patron, too, supplying them with arms for a revolt against Baghdad. But a secret deal between the Iraqis and the Shah, arranged in 1975 by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, cut off the Kurds and brought about their instant collapse; for the Kurds, it was an ugly betrayal.

The Kurdish safe haven, in northern Iraq, was born of another American betrayal. In 1991, after the United States helped drive Iraq out of Kuwait, President George Bush ignored an uprising that he himself had stoked, and Kurds and Shiites in Iraq were slaughtered by the thousands. Thousands more fled the country, the Kurds going to Turkey, and almost immediately creating a humanitarian disaster. The Bush Administration, faced with a televised catastrophe, declared northern Iraq a no-fly zone and thus a safe haven, a tactic that allowed the refugees to return home. And so, under the protective shield of the United States and British Air Forces, the unplanned Kurdish experiment in self-government began. Although the Kurdish safe haven is only a virtual state, it is an incipient democracy, a home of progressive Islamic thought and pro-American feeling.

Today, Iraqi Kurdistan is split between two dominant parties: the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, whose General Secretary is Jalal Talabani. The two parties have had an often angry relationship, and in the mid-nineties they fought a war that left about a thousand soldiers dead. The parties, realizing that they could not rule together, decided to rule apart, dividing Kurdistan into two zones. The internal political divisions have not aided the Kurds' cause, but neighboring states also have fomented disunity, fearing that a unified Kurdish population would agitate for independence.

Turkey, with a Kurdish population of between fifteen and twenty million, has repressed the Kurds in the eastern part of the country, politically and militarily, on and off since the founding of the modern Turkish state. In 1924, the government of Atatürk restricted the use of the Kurdish language (a law not lifted until 1991) and expressions of Kurdish culture; to this day, the Kurds are referred to in nationalist circles as "mountain Turks."

Turkey is not eager to see Kurds anywhere draw attention to themselves, which is why the authorities in Ankara refused to let me cross the border into Iraqi Kurdistan. Iran, whose Kurdish population numbers between six and eight million, was not helpful, either, and my only option for gaining entrance to Kurdistan was through its third neighbor, Syria. The Kurdistan Democratic Party arranged for me to be met in Damascus and taken to the eastern desert city of El Qamishli. From there, I was driven in a Land Cruiser to the banks of the Tigris River, where a small wooden boat, with a crew of one and an outboard motor, was waiting. The engine spluttered; when I learned that the forward lines of the Iraqi Army were two miles downstream, I began to paddle, too. On the other side of the river were representatives of the Kurdish Democratic Party and the peshmerga, the Kurdish guerrillas, who wore pantaloons and turbans and were armed with AK-47s.

"Welcome to Kurdistan" read a sign at the water's edge greeting visitors to a country that does not exist.

Halabja is a couple of hundred miles from the Syrian border, and I spent a week crossing northern Iraq, making stops in the cities of Dahuk and Erbil on the way. I was handed over to representatives of the Patriotic Union, which controls Halabja, at a demilitarized zone west of the town of Koysinjaq. From there, it was a two-hour drive over steep mountains to Sulaimaniya, a city of six hundred and fifty thousand, which is the cultural capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. In Sulaimaniya, I met Fouad Baban, one of Kurdistan's leading physicians, who promised to guide me through the scientific and political thickets of Halabja.

Baban, a pulmonary and cardiac specialist who has survived three terms in Iraqi prisons, is sixty years old, and a man of impish good humor. He is the Kurdistan coördinator of the Halabja Medical Institute, which was founded by Gosden, Michael Amitay, the executive director of the Washington Kurdish Institute, and a coalition of Kurdish doctors; for the doctors, it is an act of bravery to be publicly associated with a project whose scientific findings could be used as evidence if Saddam Hussein faced a war-crimes tribunal. Saddam's agents are everywhere in the Kurdish zone, and his tanks sit forty miles from Baban's office.

Soon after I arrived in Sulaimaniya, Baban and I headed out in his Toyota Camry for Halabja. On a rough road, we crossed the plains of Sharazoor, a region of black earth and honey-colored wheat ringed by jagged, snow-topped mountains. We were not travelling alone. The Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence service, is widely reported to have placed a bounty on the heads of Western journalists caught in Kurdistan (either ten thousand dollars or twenty thousand dollars, depending on the source of the information). The areas around the border with Iran are filled with Tehran's spies, and members of Ansar al-Islam, an Islamist terror group, were said to be decapitating people in the Halabja area. So the Kurds had laid on a rather elaborate security detail. A Land Cruiser carrying peshmerga guerrillas led the way, and we were followed by another Land Cruiser, on whose bed was mounted an anti-aircraft weapon manned by six peshmerga, some of whom wore black balaclavas. We were just south of the American- and British-enforced no-fly zone. I had been told that, at the beginning of the safe-haven experiment, the Americans had warned Saddam's forces to stay away; a threat from the air, though unlikely, was, I deduced, not out of the question.

"It seems very important to know the immediate and long-term effects of chemical and biological weapons," Baban said, beginning my tutorial. "Here is a civilian population exposed to chemical and possibly biological weapons, and people are developing many varieties of cancers and congenital abnormalities. The Americans are vulnerable to these weapons—they are cheap, and terrorists possess them. So, after the anthrax attacks in the States, I think it is urgent for scientific research to be done here."

Experts now believe that Halabja and other places in Kurdistan were struck by a combination of mustard gas and nerve agents, including sarin (the agent used in the Tokyo subway attack) and VX, a potent nerve agent. Baban's suggestion that biological weapons may also have been used surprised me. One possible biological weapon that Baban mentioned was aflatoxin, which causes long-term liver damage.

A colleague of Baban's, a surgeon who practices in Dahuk, in northwestern Kurdistan, and who is a member of the Halabja Medical Institute team, told me more about the institute's survey, which was conducted in the Dahuk region in 1999. The surveyors began, he said, by asking elementary questions; eleven years after the attacks, they did not even know which villages had been attacked.

"The team went to almost every village," the surgeon said. "At first, we thought that the Dahuk governorate was the least affected. We knew of only two villages that were hit by the attacks. But we came up with twenty-nine in total. This is eleven years after the fact."

The surgeon is professorial in appearance, but he is deeply angry. He doubles as a pediatric surgeon, because there are no pediatric surgeons in Kurdistan. He has performed more than a hundred operations for cleft palate on children born since 1988. Most of the agents believed to have been dropped on Halabja have short half-lives, but, as Baban told me, "physicians are unsure how long these toxins will affect the population. How can we know agent half-life if we don't know the agent?" He added, "If we knew the toxins that were used, we could follow them and see actions on spermatogenesis and ovogenesis."

Increased rates of infertility, he said, are having a profound effect on Kurdish society, which places great importance on large families. "You have men divorcing their wives because they could not give birth, and then marrying again, and then their second wives can't give birth, either," he said. "Still, they don't blame their own problem with spermatogenesis."

Baban told me that the initial results of the Halabja Medical Institute-sponsored survey show abnormally high rates of many diseases. He said that he compared rates of colon cancer in Halabja with those in the city of Chamchamal, which was not attacked with chemical weapons. "We are seeing rates of colon cancer five times higher in Halabja than in Chamchamal," he said.

There are other anomalies as well, Baban said. The rate of miscarriage in Halabja, according to initial survey results, is fourteen times the rate of miscarriage in Chamchamal; rates of infertility among men and women in the affected population are many times higher than normal. "We're finding Hiroshima levels of sterility," he said.

Then, there is the suspicion about snakes. "Have you heard about the snakes?" he asked as we drove. I told him that I had heard rumors. "We don't know if a genetic mutation in the snakes has made them more toxic," Baban went on, "or if the birds that eat the snakes were killed off in the attacks, but there seem to be more snakebites, of greater toxicity, in Halabja now than before." (I asked Richard Spertzel, a scientist and a former member of the United Nations Special Commission inspections team, if this was possible. Yes, he said, but such a rise in snakebites was more likely due to "environmental imbalances" than to mutations.)

My conversation with Baban was suddenly interrupted by our guerrilla escorts, who stopped the car and asked me to join them in one of the Land Cruisers; we veered off across a wheat field, without explanation. I was later told that we had been passing a mountain area that had recently had problems with Islamic terrorists.

We arrived in Halabja half an hour later. As you enter the city, you see a small statue modelled on the most famous photographic image of the Halabja massacre: an old man, prone and lifeless, shielding his dead grandson with his body.

A torpor seems to afflict Halabja; even its bazaar is listless and somewhat empty, in marked contrast to those of other Kurdish cities, which are well stocked with imported goods (history and circumstance have made the Kurds enthusiastic smugglers) and are full of noise and activity. "Everyone here is sick," a Halabja doctor told me. "The people who aren't sick are depressed." He practices at the Martyrs' Hospital, which is situated on the outskirts of the city. The hospital has no heat and little advanced equipment; like the city itself, it is in a dilapidated state.

The doctor is a thin, jumpy man in a tweed jacket, and he smokes without pause. He and Baban took me on a tour of the hospital. Afterward, we sat in a bare office, and a woman was wheeled in. She looked seventy but said that she was fifty; doctors told me she suffers from lung scarring so serious that only a lung transplant could help, but there are no transplant centers in Kurdistan. The woman, whose name is Jayran Muhammad, lost eight relatives during the attack. Her voice was almost inaudible. "I was disturbed psychologically for a long time," she told me as Baban translated. "I believed my children were alive." Baban told me that her lungs would fail soon, that she could barely breathe. "She is waiting to die," he said. I met another woman, Chia Hammassat, who was eight at the time of the attacks and has been blind ever since. Her mother, she said, died of colon cancer several years ago, and her brother suffers from chronic shortness of breath. "There is no hope to correct my vision," she said, her voice flat. "I was married, but I couldn't fulfill the responsibilities of a wife because I'm blind. My husband left me."

Baban said that in Halabja "there are more abnormal births than normal ones," and other Kurdish doctors told me that they regularly see children born with neural-tube defects and undescended testes and without anal openings. They are seeing—and they showed me—children born with six or seven toes on each foot, children whose fingers and toes are fused, and children who suffer from leukemia and liver cancer.

I met Sarkar, a shy and intelligent boy with a harelip, a cleft palate, and a growth on his spine. Sarkar had a brother born with the same set of malformations, the doctor told me, but the brother choked to death, while still a baby, on a grain of rice.

Meanwhile, more victims had gathered in the hallway; the people of Halabja do not often have a chance to tell their stories to foreigners. Some of them wanted to know if I was a surgeon, who had come to repair their children's deformities, and they were disappointed to learn that I was a journalist. The doctor and I soon left the hospital for a walk through the northern neighborhoods of Halabja, which were hardest hit in the attack. We were trailed by peshmerga carrying AK-47s. The doctor smoked as we talked, and I teased him about his habit. "Smoking has some good effect on the lungs," he said, without irony. "In the attacks, there was less effect on smokers. Their lungs were better equipped for the mustard gas, maybe."

We walked through the alleyways of the Jewish quarter, past a former synagogue in which eighty or so Halabjans died during the attack. Underfed cows wandered the paths. The doctor showed me several cellars where clusters of people had died. We knocked on the gate of one house, and were let in by an old woman with a wide smile and few teeth. In the Kurdish tradition, she immediately invited us for lunch.

She told us the recent history of the house. "Everyone who was in this house died," she said. "The whole family. We heard there were one hundred people." She led us to the cellar, which was damp and close. Rusted yellow cans of vegetable ghee littered the floor. The room seemed too small to hold a hundred people, but the doctor said that the estimate sounded accurate. I asked him if cellars like this one had ever been decontaminated. He smiled. "Nothing in Kurdistan has been decontaminated," he said.


The chemical attacks on Halabja and Goktapa and perhaps two hundred other villages and towns were only a small part of the cataclysm that Saddam's cousin, the man known as Ali Chemical, arranged for the Kurds. The Kurds say that about two hundred thousand were killed. (Human Rights Watch, which in the early nineties published "Iraq's Crime of Genocide," a definitive study of the attacks, gives a figure of between fifty thousand and a hundred thousand.)

The campaign against the Kurds was dubbed al-Anfal by Saddam, after a chapter in the Koran that allows conquering Muslim armies to seize the spoils of their foes. It reads, in part, "Against them"—your enemies—"make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know. Whatever ye shall spend in the cause of Allah, shall be repaid unto you, and ye shall not be treated unjustly."

The Anfal campaign was not an end in itself, like the Holocaust, but a means to an end—an instance of a policy that Samantha Power, who runs the Carr Center for Human Rights, at Harvard, calls "instrumental genocide." Power has just published " 'A Problem from Hell,' " a study of American responses to genocide. "There are regimes that set out to murder every citizen of a race," she said. "Saddam achieved what he had to do without exterminating every last Kurd." What he had to do, Power and others say, was to break the Kurds' morale and convince them that a desire for independence was foolish.

Most of the Kurds who were murdered in the Anfal were not killed by poison gas; rather, the genocide was carried out, in large part, in the traditional manner, with roundups at night, mass executions, and anonymous burials. The bodies of most of the victims of the Anfal—mainly men and boys—have never been found.

One day, I met one of the thousands of Kurdish women known as Anfal widows: Salma Aziz Baban. She lives outside Chamchamal, in a settlement made up almost entirely of displaced families, in cinder-block houses. Her house was nearly empty—no furniture, no heat, just a ragged carpet. We sat on the carpet as she told me about her family. She comes from the Kirkuk region, and in 1987 her village was uprooted by the Army, and the inhabitants, with thousands of other Kurds, were forced into a collective town. Then, one night in April of 1988, soldiers went into the village and seized the men and older boys. Baban's husband and her three oldest sons were put on trucks. The mothers of the village began to plead with the soldiers. "We were screaming, 'Do what you want to us, do what you want!' " Baban told me. "They were so scared, my sons. My sons were crying." She tried to bring them coats for the journey. "It was raining. I wanted them to have coats. I begged the soldiers to let me give them bread. They took them without coats." Baban remembered that a high-ranking Iraqi officer named Bareq orchestrated the separation; according to "Iraq's Crime of Genocide," the Human Rights Watch report, the man in charge of this phase was a brigadier general named Bareq Abdullah al-Haj Hunta.

After the men were taken away, the women and children were herded onto trucks. They were given little water or food, and were crammed so tightly into the vehicles that they had to defecate where they stood. Baban, her three daughters, and her six-year-old son were taken to the Topzawa Army base and then to the prison of Nugra Salman, the Pit of Salman, which Human Rights Watch in 1995 described this way: "It was an old building, dating back to the days of the Iraqi monarchy and perhaps earlier. It had been abandoned for years, used by Arab nomads to shelter their herds. The bare walls were scrawled with the diaries of political prisoners. On the door of one cell, a guard had daubed 'Khomeini eats shit.' Over the main gate, someone else had written, 'Welcome to Hell.' "

"We arrived at midnight," Baban told me. "They put us in a very big room, with more than two thousand people, women and children, and they closed the door. Then the starvation started."

The prisoners were given almost nothing to eat, and a single standpipe spat out brackish water for drinking. People began to die from hunger and illness. When someone died, the Iraqi guards would demand that the body be passed through a window in the main door. "The bodies couldn't stay in the hall," Baban told me. In the first days at Nugra Salman, "thirty people died, maybe more." Her six-year-old son, Rebwar, fell ill. "He had diarrhea," she said. "He was very sick. He knew he was dying. There was no medicine or doctor. He started to cry so much." Baban's son died on her lap. "I was screaming and crying," she said. "My daughters were crying. We gave them the body. It was passed outside, and the soldiers took it."

Soon after Baban's son died, she pulled herself up and went to the window, to see if the soldiers had taken her son to be buried. "There were twenty dogs outside the prison. A big black dog was the leader," she said. The soldiers had dumped the bodies of the dead outside the prison, in a field. "I looked outside and saw the legs and hands of my son in the mouths of the dogs. The dogs were eating my son." She stopped talking for a moment. "Then I lost my mind."

She described herself as catatonic; her daughters scraped around for food and water. They kept her alive, she said, until she could function again. "This was during Ramadan. We were kept in Nugra Salman for a few more months."

In September, when the war with Iran was over, Saddam issued a general amnesty to the Kurds, the people he believed had betrayed him by siding with Tehran. The women, children, and elderly in Nugra Salman were freed. But, in most cases, they could not go home; the Iraqi Army had bulldozed some four thousand villages, Baban's among them. She was finally resettled in the Chamchamal district.

In the days after her release, she tried to learn the fate of her husband and three older sons. But the men who disappeared in the Anfal roundups have never been found. It is said that they were killed and then buried in mass graves in the desert along the Kuwaiti border, but little is actually known. A great number of Anfal widows, I was told, still believe that their sons and husbands and brothers are locked away in Saddam's jails. "We are thinking they are alive," Baban said, referring to her husband and sons. "Twenty-four hours a day, we are thinking maybe they are alive. If they are alive, they are being tortured, I know it."

Baban said that she has not slept well since her sons were taken from her. "We are thinking, Please let us know they are dead, I will sleep in peace," she said. "My head is filled with terrible thoughts. The day I die is the day I will not remember that the dogs ate my son."

Before I left, Baban asked me to write down the names of her three older sons. They are Sherzad, who would be forty now; Rizgar, who would be thirty-one; and Muhammad, who would be thirty. She asked me to find her sons, or to ask President Bush to find them. "One would be sufficient," she said. "If just one comes back, that would be enough."
The article's concluding sentence:
When I talked about Saddam's past with the medical geneticist Christine Gosden, she said, "Please understand, the Kurds were for practice."
National assembly convenes

The newly elected national assembly just concluded its first meeting, about 75 minutes ago. The largely ceremonial two-hour session concluded with the taking of the oath of office for the 275 elected members, and featured speeches by the outgoing prime minister and president, as well as the expected next president. I will type up my notes, and post them, ASAP. For now, I want to send this summary, now.

What distinguished the session, was that, for the first time in Iraq's history, all speeches and announcements (except the oath of office) were made in Arabic and Kurdish (some, summarized in English, too), and that the outgoing leader of the current government, Dr. Ayad Allawi, in, essentially, peacefully handing over the reins of power, spoke about the accomplishments of his government. Another first, was Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, in beginning his speech with religious greetings, included the words "the followers of Muhammad," a reference to the Shi'a imams, which was followed by the response from some of the assembled, in the same. Hakim also pointedly cited the recent massacres in Hilla and Mosul, and called on the governments of Jordan and neighboring countries to stop the recruitment of terrorists and their crossing the borders and killing Iraqis.

Most speakers honored the dead of Halabcha, the bombing of which, with chemical weapons, began, 17 years ago, today, as well as the rebels of the March 1991 uprising, and those who perished and suffered under the 35-year dictatorship of Saddam Hsayn. Several of the speakers, most notably, Allawi and Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, thanked the multi-national forces, naming the United States, Britain and a dozen other countries, for liberating Iraq, and also those who made the elections and this meeting possible, especially, Ayatollah Ali il-Sistani and the Iraqi police, national guard and electoral commission.

The session was carried live by, among others, Al-Hurra, al-Iraqiyya, al-Furat, al-Arabiyya, Diyar and Sumeriyyeh, and was followed, preceded and interspersed with in-studio commentary and man-on-the-street reactions.

Monday, March 14, 2005

What to do with the Ba'ath Party
Hearing: The Russian-Syrian Connection: Thwarting Democracy in the Middle East and the Greater OSCE Region

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Entifadh K. Qanbar
Special Envoy and Spokesperson
United Iraqi Alliance
March 09, 2005

Good afternoon Mr. Chairman. It is a great honor for me to appear before this Commission with such a distinguished group of witnesses. I would like to thank you and the members of the United States Helsinki Commission for giving me this opportunity during my visit here to Washington from Baghdad. I will make a short presentation and then I will welcome your questions.

Mr. Chairman, two weeks ago, on February 23rd, the Iraqi people watched as Al-Iraqiya, the main Iraqi television channel, broadcast a startling interview with the commander of a terrorist group who had recently been captured inside Iraq. A bearded man dressed in a gray jacket and shirt introduced himself, "My name is Anas Ahmed Al-Essa. I live in Aleppo. I am from Syria," he said.

A voice off-camera asked him, “What is your job?”

"I am a lieutenant in intelligence."

"Which intelligence?" asked the voice.

"Syrian intelligence,” he replied.

Lt. Al-Essa then went on to detail how he recruited and commanded a terrorist group inside Iraq in order to “cause chaos” as he said. "We received all our instructions from Syrian intelligence," he stated. He went on to describe how weapons and explosives came to the group from Syria and how he was required to send reports of their attacks back to a colonel in Syrian intelligence.

Lt. Al-Essa and his group, which included 8 Syrians, 12 Egyptians, 10 Sudanese and a number of Iraqis, were arrested the day before the Iraqi elections. They were carrying guns, explosives, and maps of the voting centers.

Iraqi television has broadcast a number of other interviews with captured Iraqi terrorists who confirmed that they received training in Syria before being sent back to Iraq to kill Iraqis and Americans. Several of the captured terrorists stated that they had practiced beheadings on animals in Syria so that they would be able to use the technique on human beings in Iraq. One terrorist said that a member of his network needed to have completed 10 beheadings in order to be promoted to "amir" or group leader.

Mr. Chairman, these televised interviews confirm what we have known for a long time: that Syria is the logistical, financial and training base for the terrorists in Iraq. The leaders of the Iraqi terror campaign are high-ranking Baathist officials from Saddam Hussein’s regime and all of them take refuge in Syria. One of the key leaders of the anti-Iraq forces, Mohammed Younis Al-Ahmed, is known to travel back and forth across the Syrian border into northern Iraq. We know from interrogations of senior Baathist prisoners that even Saddam’s murderous sons Uday and Qusay had been sheltered in Syria before they returned to Iraq to take part in the fight against the Coalition forces. Just last month, General Hassan Zeidan Al Lahaimy, a former commander of the Iraqi Army Third Corps under Saddam, was arrested crossing the border from Syria with a large amount of cash. He is a high-ranking Baathist and one of the leaders of the terror campaign. And of course we know that Syria recently handed over Saddam’s half-brother Sabawi and a number of other senior Baathists who had been sheltering there.

The Baathists in Iraq, directed from Syria, have made great strides in penetrating the military, police and security services established by the interim government of Ayad Allawi. Statistics show that as Baathists and members of Saddam's security forces were integrated into the new Iraqi armed forces by Allawi, attacks against Iraqis and Coalition forces have steadily risen as have US and Iraqi casualties. The only way to win the war on terror in Iraq is to cut off the Baathists' support from Syria and expel them from the Iraqi government and specifically from the security, police and Army. Terrorism in Iraq is led by the Baath Party and not by Al-Qaeda or Abu Musab Zarqawi. Foreign fighters are minority of the terrorists.

Mr. Chairman, the Baath party in Iraq and Syria is a racist, fascist organization that takes its inspiration directly from the genocidal ideologies of 1930's Europe. Baathism has no place in a democratic Iraq because the Baathists do not respect democracy. Their goal is power at all costs. The Iraqi people lived under the Baathist tyranny for 35 years and they know this well. That is why de-Baathification is overwhelmingly popular in Iraq.

Mr. Chairman, the time has come for the United States and all other democratic countries to list the Baath party as a terrorist organization.

Thank you.
What I missed...and continue to miss

While I was here, at the money-changer's store, yesterday, preparing my post, back home, a couple of doors from my uncle's house, there was a large demonstration, outside the Jordanian embassy. The night before, television news showed a reception/celebration in SulT, Jordan, for the local man who blew himself up, two weeks ago in Hilla, killing more than 130 people and injuring another 100. Raa'id ManSoor Ahmed al-Banna's father said they believed he'd killed 300 people, most of them, Americans. They celebrated "the martyr," with a "wedding party," as he was unmarried. Al-Hurra-Iraq had at least three reports on the subject, in its Saturday evening Iraq-news hour. A large banner celebrating "the martyr," hung across the street in SulT, near the religious house where visitors were received. Banna's father, ManSoor Ahmed al-Banna, said when he got the phone call about his son's death, from a man with an Iraqi accent, he didn't believe it, as he thought his son, an attorney, was working in Saudi Arabia. He took the news, he said, with "great sadness and joy."

Iraqis are outraged, and are demanding action -- not only against Jordan, but against other Arab countries, too. My uncle said the demonstrators numbered over a thousand. From the pictures on television, last night, they appeared to be 100, maybe 200. A few of them were stomping on a fire on the ground. The television reporters didn’t say it was a Jordanian flag, but others told me it was -- it could only be that, or a picture of Jordan's king. There were chants of derision against King Abdullah, who's been outspoken in warning against Shi'a ascendance to power – not only in Iraq, but forming "a Shi'a crescent," from Iran, the Gulf, Iraq to Lebanon. The burning of the flag, if it occurred, must be a first – Arabs, openly and freely, burning an Arab country's flag. People are calling for the expulsion of the Jordanian ambassador and/or economic sanctions.

In December, Mithal Aloosi, head of the Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation, led a demonstration of 100 people outside, protesting that country's and Syria's support for terrorism in Iraq. The demonstration was held, either at the Iranian or Syrian embassy -- the information's on my computer, but.... When my computer's back up, I'll...detail.

The same day as the "wedding celebration," interim prime minister Ayad Allawi met with Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder. It was reported that they discussed forgiving the remaining 20 percent of Iraq's Saddam-era debt to Germany and other support for Iraq. The reports of the meeting said that its location was not disclosed. Yesterday, it was revealed that the Allawi-Schroeder meeting was in Jordan. One caller to a television program, last night, wondered if Allawi was there, to congratulate Banna.

In the Hurra reports on Banna's celebration, a Jordanian university professor spoke of Arabs' not understanding Iraqis' anger at them. A member of the Jordanian parliament, RooHi ShaHHaaltoogh, spoke of the "culture of heroism and jihad" prevalent among Arabs, and the appearance of the word "martyrdom" in the Qur'an 100 times, which religious leaders, he said, had to define, more clearly.

Iraqis, decrying the recruitment of terrorists in Jordan, spoke of wanting to see, from their "Arab brothers," "messages of peace and not messages of violence." Tariq Harb, a legal expert in Baghdad, said that the Iraqi government, and the victims of terrorism, could pursue those who assisted and contributed to the crimes, in court.

On al-Iraqiyya's "Special Encounter" last night, Allawi -- asked whether neighboring countries should apologize -- said that it wasn't a matter of an apology, but that the perpetrators be brought to justice.

Sudan's charge d'affaires in Baghdad, Meer Ghani Abkar, apologized to the Iraqi government and people, for the actions of Sudanese terrorists in Iraq. A number of Sudanese, along with Syrian, Saudi and Pakistani, nationals have been shown on television, over the past few weeks, confessing to terrorist acts in Iraq. The Sudanese apology, which came first in a press statement, and last night, by Abkar, on television, is believed to be the first of its kind – that is, from an Arab official, to other Arabs. Abkar said that the Sudanese terrorists don't represent the Sudanese people and government, which "disowns them and their vile deeds." He said that justice should be meted out to them, and that good relations between the countries and peoples should not be affected. The statement said there are 4000-4500 Sudanese accounted for in Iraq, and that they have been hurt by the images Iraqis hold of Sudanese. The statement also said there are 600 Iraqis in Sudan, being "treated well and with respect."

Meanwhile, in Iraq, across the religious and political spectrums, leaders have been condemning the most recent massacre, in which more than 30 people were killed in Mosul, when a suicide bomber walked into a wake at the Shaheedayn Masjid, a Shi'a mosque, followed by two mortar rounds, into the overflow tent. The wake was for a just-deceased college professor.

A few minutes ago, my cousin's husband came back to the office, and said there's another demonstration at the Jordanian embassy. He was trying to get home, but the street was closed off. He couldn't get close enough, to judge numbers, but said there were a lot of people. He saw the banners held aloft, as many were, yesterday. Yesterday, there was also a school bus, which protestors sat atop and shouted from, as it rode to and from the scene. Some speculated, that the demonstrators, yesterday, were from Hilla. Today's demonstration is, no doubt, getting in the way of a "reading" my aunt is holding, on the occasion of Husayn's martyrdom, in 680. She was expecting 60 people, but our road is, apparently, closed now, for the demonstration. I wanted to listen to the ladies' gathering, which is led by a mullaayeh, a professional reader. My aunt had suggested hiding me in the living room or dining room, away from the gaze of visitors, and, more importantly, the mullaayeh, who would be scandalized, by the presence of a man. I thought of sitting at the top of the stairs. Today, though, my aunt said, it was out of the question.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

All in the family
From: Layth
Date: Sat, 12 Mar 2005 00:27:42 +0300

I heard today that the young FARIS AL YAWER the brother of GHAZI and now Ambassador to the UAE is the most likely candidate to become Iraq new DEFENCE MINISTER.
The elder Yawer -- who's not really the elder (of the tribe) -- is said to be the leading candidate for "speaker of the house." He is, now, interim president of the republic, a postion that will probably be occupied by Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
White Arabism

Chibli Mallat
March 3, 2005

In the past two years, the "Iraqi earthquake" (a phrase coined by Jihad Zein, a leading Lebanese columnist) occasioned by the collapse of the most dictatorial system in the Arab world is slowly confirming a new era in the region, where the forces of democracy are emerging as the dominant ideological appeal in each and every Arab country. With fits and starts the system! is shaking, within Iraq itself, then in Palestine, now in Lebanon and Egypt.

The stakes following Rafiq Hariri's assassination go far beyond Lebanon and Syria, where they are bound to change the political scene. As underlined in Lebanon by such diverse writers as Samir Kassir, a strong voice against the Syrian leadership, and Talal Salman, the respected editor of the pan-Arab daily al-Safir, and echoed in a column by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, it is the whole Arab political system that is shaking to the core. The absence of a single Arab president or king at the funeral of a man whom every Arab leader knew personally is telling. While it may be superficially explained by the estrangement of Hariri from his nemesis, President Emile Lahoud, Arab leaders were mostly apprehensive about the question of their legitimacy: would they risk going down with the Lebanese government and president if they showed up, like French President Jacques Chirac, on the side of an angry family?

For the past 20 years, so-called Arab civil society has been slowly denting the status quo. Initially, questions were defensive and focused on human rights, while participants in human rights gatherings were incapable of mustering the courage needed to name those leaders responsible for all kinds of violations, even the more egregious ones like Saddam Hussein. In part this was understandable, and the level of repression meted out against dissidents was uniquely high: scores of dissenters were brutally assassinated, thrown in jail and tortured, while the usual "higher national interest" was put forward and was reinforced by the brutality of Israeli repression of Palestinian dissent and the inexorable shrinking of Palestinian land over half a century.

As time passed, however, the connection between brutality at home and the inability to stand up to anti-Israel rhetoric became increasingly apparent: from the condemnation of the Arab record in general, typified in the UNDP reports since 2002, particulars of repression were getting linked to people responsible at the helm in every single Arab country. Local Arab democrats are still hesitant to accuse the emirs and kings in the Gulf, but the taboos have fallen in the Levant and North Africa: Zein al-Abidin, Mubarak, Lahoud and Asad are being openly challenged to leave the presidency, and the perceived weakness of the hardliners in Israel, leading to the withdrawal from settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, will accelerate the trend of decoupling Arab domestic reform from the Israel "higher interest" fig leaf.

The Arab nationalism that has prevailed since the Nasser revolution is increasingly being dubbed "black Arabism" by those of us who do not want to abandon their yearning for closer integration between societies separated by arguably artificial colonial borders. Black Arabism, in this perception, is characteristically fascist, and is epitomized by the Baath systems in Iraq and Syria. Against it is put forward the need for "White Arabism", which harks back to such figures as Saad Zaghlul in Egypt, Kamel Chadirchi in Iraq, and Kamal Jumblatt in Lebanon. At the core of the message is democratic, non-violent change at the top in these countries, with Arabism read as a liberal call that unifies people irrespective of their religion or sect: in Egypt, Copts and Muslims; in Lebanon, the various communities that form the country; in Iraq, Shi'ites and Sunnis.

The example of Iraq, where Arabism is not capable of giving Kurds their due of equal citizenship, is particularly telling of the more advanced thought needed to accommodate every citizen, hence the surge of the concept of federalism as a further trait of White Arabism. Only federalism can allow forms of Arab identity to be preserved while Kurds are treated as equal both on the individual level and as a collective community.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of White Arabism will be a review of the Palestine-Israel crisis in the light of new parameters, guided mostly by visions of federalism and where human rights are no longer acting passively, but as an offshoot of democracy. While the establishment of a Palestinian state appears inevitable in the short to medium future, White Arabism may have far more to offer to both Jews and Arabs in Palestine-Israel.

Chibli Mallat is European Union Jean Monnet Law Professor in Beirut, and lawyer in Belgium for the victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacres.
Mallat is to speak at a conference on human rights at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University law school, next month.
Light…and lightning

I'm back. Because of three straight days of rain, phone lines are dead, and, so, I cannot "connect," from home. I wrote most of the following, Friday afternoon.

The electricity has been outstanding, the last couple of days. Yesterday, it was on for three hours, then off for three hours, and so on – all day. What's good about that, is the consistency, the predictability – the ability of people to know what's coming, and to be able to plan, which isn't often. That's what causes a problem – when people don't know what to expect. The electricity goes on for two hours, off for four – or, on for one, off for two – or vice versa. The problem is, it frequently changes, from day to day. Sometimes, too, it changes, within the same day. What sometimes occurs, too, is the electricity cuts off, in the middle of the hour – doesn't complete its full course – if there was, even, a full course. Sometimes, when it goes off, during the hour, it might come back, in a few minutes – people attribute this, to a technical or programming glitch -- in the system, or its operation -- that gets quickly repaired.

Even better, yesterday, when the electricity came on at nine, last night, it stayed on, till eight, this morning. So, I got to work, for some seven straight hours, till I just packed it in, before four a.m. Now, Friday afternoon, the electricity's been on, for two and a half hours, after going off for one (from two to three), after being on, from eight in the morning. Before that, it was on for 11 straight hours. When I saw my uncle, around noon, he said that it'd been a year since we had 12 straight hours, and, "In-shaa'-allah [God willing], it'll be on, till eight, tonight." My cousin's husband said, "The terrorists will be really ticked off now, that people are happy; they'll want to wreck that."

It's also been drizzling steadily for three days. My cousin who lives upstairs – their phone line goes dead, when the line's outside box is wet. I thought, maybe they could cover it, to keep it dry. Her husband doesn't know where it is, exactly. After the rain stops, it dries, in an hour or two. Today, though, after raining, almost nonstop, from yesterday evening, all three lines on the property are dead. Another cousin's wife just told me that it's the main box, in the street, that's probably wet. A little sun, she said, and it'll dry. She and her husband said that when repairmen come, to fix it, they leave the box open, and it soaks up water, whenever it rains. It's also impossible to get things repaired, they said. My cousin, brushing the forefingers of his right hand against each other, said, "You've gotta give 'em money."

In the middle of the night, too, satellite television reception was interrupted. There's been some rare thunder, and a few bolts of lightning, too – not the kind where you see the trails, on the horizon, but hazy, shadowy lights, way off, in the distance – maybe clouded over. The rain also got in the way of Friday lunch – the main "weekend" meal. The cousin who lives upstairs – her family was going to go to her in-laws', for a fish dinner. They were going to buy a fresh fish, in a nearby shop, and have the place grill it for them, against an open fire – "mazgoof," it's called. The name comes from "Mosgovi" -- from Moscow. Why, I haven't a clue. It's an Iraqi specialty, though. The fish – carp, is said to be the best -- is split in half, lengthwise, salted, and impaled into sticks in the ground, facing a wood fire. My cousin's husband just told me, that it's also done another way -- in some restaurants, in a "tannoor," a brick-and-clay oven usually used for baking wide flat bread – you can find 'em, in some Indian restaurants.

At four o'clock, exactly, we heard a big explosion, that shook the windows. I was sitting in the family room, with my uncle, who was asleep on the couch, and his wife. As soon as we heard the explosion, she gripped the chair, called out, "That was very close," said some words of beseechment to God, got up, yelling her daughter's name, and went back, towards the stairs, to check on the daughter and her family – they live upstairs. My uncle said they always strike, at "zero," or at the bottom of the hour. I asked, why. I don't think he said anything about that. Immediately after the explosion, a police siren went off. My uncle said it must have been one of the companies based on our street, that was targeted.

In less than 10 minutes, helicopters were circling overhead and racing past – here, they call these little helicopters, from which a person can look out, an open door, "flies." The male cousin on the property, came into our house, said "Land Cruisers" nearby were targeted by armed men. We thought, it might be the two contiguous houses nearby, to our left, rented by a Western company. A couple of days ago, as we neared home, on the other side of the median strip, guards stopped traffic, to let the company's three cars, enter their property's front gate. My uncle said, then, that even that – referring to the inconvenience – makes me happy, so long as we don't have Saddam.

After a few minutes passed, I went to the front gate, where the husband from upstairs, along with four of the cousins' boys, were already gathered. Everybody was gripped with excitement. One of the boys, in his early teens, ran towards me, "It's a red Daewoo; it had three masked men in it!" "Did you see them?" "No, but that's what people said." There were mixed reports, as to whether it was a drive-by shooting, with an RPG, or a roadside bomb, triggered from a waiting car. One thing, everybody agreed on, was that it was a three-car convoy – of Jims, they call them – SUVs, of some kind – hit on the side street, that little damage was done to the cars – pockmarks, scratches and two back tires blown from the lead car -- and that Americans were aboard. The father to three of the boys said it was a black car. He said that only American officials use those cars. The sirens, he or somebody else said, came from the convoy – that they pulled them out, as soon as they were hit.

There were, now, security men – Iraqi police, guards to the embassies and companies, and who-knows-what-else – scattered up and down the street. With all the activity, we expected the perpetrators to be caught. The shooting -- or bombing -- the others said, happened on the side street. The husband who lives upstairs, said as soon as he heard the explosion, he looked out the window, and saw the three-car convoy heading past our street, and the siren, emanating from the convoy. The front car, its two back tires disabled, was swiveling, he said.

After another 10 minutes, American humvees came by. I pumped my fist high, yelled at them, "Go, get 'em!" I'd been rooting on the helicopters, too – we all expected, that they were chasing the car with the perpetrators. The humvees stopped in front of our house – five of them. Out of the last, came two men. A short, stocky man came around, and stood to my left; he had the name-tag Martinez on his right chest, and something yellow in his year – I thought, to absorb noise. To my right, came a taller, thinner man, with soft features – I thought he might be a woman – I couldn't tell, behind his chinstrap and the helmet covering his hair. He said he was from Chico. He's been here for three or four months, would stay on, with his unit, for another three or four. I was surprised at the length of his stay – not a full year, or 15 months. He said the unit needed medics. I asked him if that's what he did, in Chico. He said, no. "So, you're a medic-in-training." He laughed. They asked me if I had any leads. I told them what I'd heard. They said that the Jims must have been Suburbans, and that not only American officials used those – lots used them. I told them my story – from Cleveland, left here, when I was nine. "So, why are you here?" "I'm visiting my cousins," I said, pointing back towards the houses, "plus, I'm a journalist – I'm gonna go, write this up, and send it." The Chico man laughed, "So, you can make a few bucks now." "I doubt it – I'm just gonna describe the scene – I've got a blog."

After the Americans pulled out, to settle, farther down the street, I asked the father of the three boys, how he knew the people in the convoy that was hit were Americans. He said, "They were dressed like them," pointing back towards the street and the soldiers outside.

Later, on the front porch, my uncle was sitting with four, sometimes five, of his grandchildren, telling them about World War II – the oldest, in his mid-teens, had a school assignment. My uncle said he told the boys about the family driver, Hajji Mehdi, who said to my uncle, when he was four or five (which would make it 1939 or 1940), with his wisp of hair hanging down over his forehead, that he looked like Hitler – the driver was a big fan. The boys were telling my uncle about the flooded streets they'd driven through. My uncle's son, I later learned, had dropped off his son, at a tutor's, half an hour before the explosion – "God protected," he and his wife said – that they hadn't driven past the scene, with their son, at the time of the hit.

Update: It's, now, Saturday night, past midnight. The electricity's still pretty good – fairly steady – although I haven't kept track. My main impediment – to sending anything – has been the phone lines. They're still down, in all three homes – make that four – on the property – in three separated houses -- two of the families, share a phone line, and they're in two detached houses. Moreover, today, Saturday, I wanted to go to an internet café, but the male cousin on the property was out, getting a cell phone for his mother, and he was threatened – in a subtle – well, I guess it's not too subtle a way – over an old business deal. He was told that they should agree – over some rental property, or the rent on a property – I don't know the details – and if they didn't, "Well, we don’t want anybody to get hurt." The person – a high-school classmate of my cousin, I think – mentioned my uncle, too – that he wanted to talk with him. So, that sort of put the kibosh, on any outing. At least, for today. The cousin's husband who lives upstairs – who has a money-change shop – they have a wireless connection, at work, and he's going to let me use their connection, after they close shop, tomorrow afternoon. So, that's when I'll send this.

As to my cousin, and the not-too-veiled threat, his father told him that, until all these former regime elements are rounded up, we – family members – will remain targeted – eyes will remain on us. He said he's going to settle it – probably, by splitting the difference (over the money) – in a week to 10 days. That is, if he's not able to persuade them to do the right thing, and take their complaint to court. In the meantime, he's been telling me – that is my uncle has – that, we should minimize our outings – to only the essential ones – more reason, he says, to get the wireless connection, at home. Finally, my uncle said, it's been his conviction, since the fall of the regime, that if any of us is ever followed, we should do what the person he knows whose brother was kidnapped, did when he, himself, was followed: told his driver to "hit the gas." He said, if it's your time to become a martyr, then it's your time. Better that, than to be disgraced and humiliated. I wanna talk with him about that – but this, was not the time. My cousin, when it came time to take his son somewhere, didn't do it – leaving it to his wife.

As to the phone lines...who knows. First, my uncle said, it could take a month, before they're up. He said, it's been a year, since they've had a interruption in phone service. Under Saddam, it could come and go, at anytime, and nobody bothered doing anything. This afternoon, on our way back from the barber's and, then, the gas station, we saw a crew of men, working in the ground, at a nearby corner -- my uncle said, "In-shaa-Allah, they'll fix it, in a couple of days."

The weather, since the three days of rain, has been gorgeous, again -- the sun has been in full bloom, the last two days, and temperatures, have been in the sixties.

A last update. The strike on the convoy, it appears, was a roadside bomb. I'm in the money-change shop, and the cousin's husband who works here, told me he passed by the spot, this morning, and saw a hole, one meter wide, at the right edge of the median strip.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Good thoughts, from Cleveland
Subj: hey babe
Date: 3/6/2005 7:13:23 AM Eastern Standard Time

been reading Instapundit.com (love it) with links on all the developments in Lebanon - especially the comment by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt on gaining inspiration from the voting in Iraq. Made me think about you and hope you are doing well.... Drop a kwik line and let me know what's up.

Road-side bomb in Ramadi kills four soldiers
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 08, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the death of four soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. They died on Mar. 4 in Ar Ramadi, Iraq when an improvised explosive device detonated near their patrol. The four soldiers were assigned to the 1st Infantry Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Fort Carson, Colo.

The soldiers are:

Capt. Sean Grimes, 31, of Southfield, Mich.

Sgt. 1st Class Donald W. Eacho, 38, of Black Creek, Wis.

Cpl. Stephen M. McGowan, 26, of Newark, Del.

Spc. Wade Michael Twyman, 27, of Vista, Calif.
On Ayad Allawi's chances
Sent: Wednesday, March 09, 2005 5:39 PM

Hello, Layth,

.... So, you still think Ayad has a chance, huh? Some people are pissed off at him, for holding up the process (of forming a government).

All right -- see you.

* * *

Date: Wed, 09 Mar 2005 23:16:41 +0300

Ayad : Its un-Iraqi to give up power, look at our history of the last 100 years!

* * *

Date: Thu, 10 Mar 2005 09:02:03 -0500

Yup -- good point. I'll tell you -- my uncle, is pissed at him. Thinks he's another Saddam, wants to run the country, for 20 years.

Afghan and Iraqi Women Delegations Invited to the United States for International Women’s Day Celebrations

Media Note
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 18, 2005

Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky and Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues Charlotte Ponticelli will host two high-level delegations of Afghan and Iraqi women leaders in New York City and Washington, DC, February 28 to March 11, 2005.

In New York City, the delegations will attend plenary sessions of the 49th Session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. In Washington, the delegations will attend events marking International Women’s Day on March 8, participate in training workshops, and meet with Administration officials, members of Congress, and the press.

Through these visits, the State Department continues its programs to provide training in political leadership, governance, networking, and communications to ensure that Iraqi and Afghan women have the resources necessary to lead democratic reconstruction in their respective countries.

Massouda Jalal, Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs and a presidential candidate in the October 2004 Afghanistan election, and Narmin Othman, Iraqi Minister of State for Women’s Affairs, will head the delegations.
Car bomb kills two soldiers in Ramadi
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 09, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. They died March 7, in Ramadi, Iraq, when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated near their screening area. The two men were assigned to the Army’s 44th Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Camp Howze, Korea.

Killed were:

Sgt. Andrew L. Bossert, 24, of Fountain City, Wis.,

Pfc. Michael W. Franklin, 22, of Coudersport, Pa.
Saddam trial, at least five months away

Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i, the national security adviser, said, Wednesday, that he expected the trial of Saddam Husayn to take place by the end of the year and hopes it will take place in September or October. Humam Hamoudi, a high-ranking official in the winning United Iraqi Alliance, is quoted in today's Da'wa newspaper, saying that the trial of Saddam will take place before the referendum on the constitution, which is to take place by October 15.

According to the human rights minister, Bakhtiyar Ameen, the first members of the former regime to be tried, will be Barazan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti, the half-brother of Saddam, and Taha Yaseen Ramadhan, the former vice president, who, among other things, oversaw the destruction of the town of Dujayl, in 1982, after an assassination, near the town, on the life of Saddam.

If Saddam's trial won't take place, till late in the year, that means I'll leave, after the first batch of trials, and return, for Saddam's.
Suicide Bomber Kills 30 in Iraq Mosque
Gunmen Kill Two Police Chiefs; Kurds, Shiites Reach Deal on Government

Updated: 01:46 PM EST

MOSUL, Iraq (March 10) -- A suicide bomber blew himself up at a Shiite mosque during a funeral Thursday, killing at least 30 people, an attack that came as Iraq's main Shiite party and a Kurdish bloc said they reached a deal that sets the stage for a new government to be formed.

U.S. troops cordoned off the northeastern Tameem neighborhood near the mosque, a poor area of the city crowded with many homes. Civilian vehicles helped ambulance crews in ferrying casualties to hospitals.

''As we were inside the mosque, we saw a ball of fire and heard a huge explosion,'' said Tahir Abdullah Sultan, 45. ''After that blood and pieces of flesh were scattered around the place,'' he added.

Rows of overturned white plastic chairs were stained in blood. Body parts, believed to be of the bomber, were spread around the area, and the smell of gunpowder filled the yard. Windows of nearby cars were shattered.

''After the cloud of smoke and dust dispersed, we saw the scattered bodies of the fallen and smelled gunpowder,'' said Adnan al-Bayati, another witness.

Insurgents in the past have targeted Shiite mosques and funerals.
The U.S. military unit that controls the area could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mosul has been a hotbed of insurgent activity and the scene of many bombings, drive-by shootings and assassinations against the country's security services, Iraq's Shiite majority and people thought to be working with U.S.-led forces.

The deal between the clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance and a Kurdish coalition will allow a new government to be named when the National Assembly opens next week.

It calls for the government to begin discussion on the return of about 100,000 Kurds to the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk and talks about redrawing existing Kurdish regions to include the city in Iraq's new constitution.

It also gives the Kurds just one major Cabinet post - one fewer than they demanded - in return for making one of their leaders, Jalal Talabani, Iraq's first-ever Kurdish president. One ministry will go to the country's Sunni Arab minority, which largely stayed away from the Jan. 30 elections.

The Kurds agreed to back conservative Islamic Dawa Party leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari for prime minister.

As part of the deal, any land agreement will be incorporated into the country's new constitution, which must be drafted by mid-August and approved by referendum two months later.

''As for Kirkuk, we agreed to solve the issue in two steps. In the first step, the new government is committed to normalizing the situation in Kirkuk, the other step regarding annexing Kirkuk to Kurdistan is to be left until the writing of the constitution,'' said Fuad Masoum, a member of the Kurdish coalition, who served as head of the Iraq's former National Council.

He added that the new government ''is obligated to normalization in Kirkuk, the return of deported Kurds to their main areas (in) Kirkuk.''

A ranking member of the alliance who has participated in negotiations with the Kurds, held in Baghdad, said the government that will be formed after the National Assembly convenes Wednesday will deal with both issues.

''We agreed with the Kurds that these two issues are to be solved through the government and they agreed on this.... We told them that the issues will be discussed as soon as the central government is formed,'' said Ali al-Dabagh, a member of the Shiite Political Council.

Kurdish demands include an autonomous Kurdistan as part of federal Iraq and a share of region's oil revenues. They also want to maintain their peshmerga militia and want a bigger share of the national budget, more than the 17 percent they now receive.

Their demand for a federal state requires redrawing their state borders to include Kurdish areas - Kirkuk among them.

They also want reversal of what they call the ''Arabization'' of areas such as Kirkuk. Ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein relocated Iraqi Arabs to the region in a bid to secure the oil fields there.

Many of the Kurds who want to return to Kirkuk are now living in tent cities.

''With regard to the financial resources, this was solved. Kirkuk resources will be given to the government which will spend them fairly to reconstruct all provinces. As for the peshmerga, they will be joined in the security bodies, such as borders guards, local police,'' al-Dabagh said.

He said the Kurds had demanded to keep a local peshmerga militia force of 100,000, but that ''we told them that the Defense Ministry will decide how many peshmerga are needed under the condition that there will not be a separate peshmerga unit.''

The Kurds emerged as kingmakers from the elections with 75 seats in the 275-member National Assembly. The alliance has 140 and needs Kurdish support to assemble the two-thirds majority needed to elect a president, who will then give a mandate to the prime minister. Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi only received 40 votes.

''We told the Kurds that if they are going to have the presidency, then they could have only one major cabinet post because Sunnis should have one major cabinet post,'' al-Dabagh.

The dealmaking went on as violence continued against Iraq's security forces. In the latest strikes, gunmen killed two district police chiefs and two others Iraqis in attacks in Baghdad on Thursday. Also, an accountant working for a Kurdish television station was killed in northern Iraq.

Assailants in two cars opened fire on a pickup truck carrying Col. Ahmed Abeis, the head of Salihiyah police in western Baghdad, killing him, his driver and a guard, police Col. Khazim Abbas said.

The white truck could be seen on the side of a road in Baghdad's Saidiyah neighborhood, its windows shattered and bullet-ridden. Weeping, a brother of Abeis picked up an empty shoe from the back of the blood-smeared vehicle.

In an Internet statement, a group claiming to be Al-Qaida in Iraq took responsibility for an attack in the same area on ''an intelligence officer who used to investigate the Mujahedeen and hurt them.'' The authenticity of the statement could not be verified.

In a separate attack, gunmen also killed the chief of Jisr Diyala in southeast Baghdad, Col. Ayad Abdul-Razaq, a police officer said on condition of anonymity.

In the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, gunmen killed an accountant working for KurdSat TV, Brig. Saraht Qadir said. The television station belongs to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two main Kurdish parties.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Government minister escapes assassination

Mehdi il-Hafudh, the minister of planning and developmental cooperation, survived an assassination attempt in which two of his guards were killed. His convoy was driving through the Mansour district of Baghdad, Wednesday afternoon, when it came under fire. Hafudh's guards, joined by guards for German diplomats, returned fire. A third guard was injured. No details were released, on terrorist casualties. The attack took place, about a mile from where I am, and just behind my cousin's husband's money-changer's shop, on 14 Ramadhan Street.

Al-Sistani For 2005 Nobel’s Peace Prize

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To: The Committee for Nobel Prize for Peace

We the undersigned would like to file our petition to the Swedish Academy and Nobel Prize Committee to nominate the Muslim’s spiritual Leader Ayat-Ullah Ali Al-Sistani for the highly respected humanitarian award –Nobel Prize for Peace for 2005.

We belong to various religious, ethnic and various professions and system of thoughts – however, we united in respecting social peace and brotherhood of all races and cultures of Humanity.

Mr. Sistani gave Muslims all around the globe a good example how to follow peaceful ways to resolve complex social-political challenges that face them, condemning terror and emphasizing to Millions of Muslims to follow rules of law and respect to humane, peaceful methods and civic norms to promote social peace and political-civic peaceful practices in the Iraqi , Muslim and Int’l societies. We deeply believe that the contribution of Ayat-Ullah Ali Al-Sistani has helped Iraqi society to avoid civil and multiethnic violent conflicts that terrorists intended to draw, and by this he has promoted peace and respect to human brotherhood in Iraq, the region, and all over the world- and that is why we believe Al-Sistani deserves the Nobel prize for Peace.

ترشيح السيد علي السيستاني لجائزة نوبل للسلام لعام 2005

نحن الموقعون ادناه نرغب ان تدرج اسماؤنا ضمن ملف للأكاديمة السويدية للعلوم واللجنة المشرفة على تسمية جائزة نوبل للسلام لعام 2005 لترشيح اية الله السيد علي السيستاني لهذه الجائزة الأنسانية الرفيعة. نحن نعلن من خلال ترشيحنا هذا باننا اذ ننتمي لمختلف الأعراق والأديان والثقافات المشارب الفكرية ولكننا جميعا نلتقي حول مبادئ الأخاء ألأنساني وضرورة اتباع الطرق السلمية لحل الخلافات ألأجتماعية او الدينية او القومية او السياسية لتطوير السلم ألأجتماعي والدولي واحترام افراد المجتمع العراقي والشعوب وألأجناس والملل والأديان.
ان السيد السيستاني قد اعطى المسلمين حول العالم مثلا حيا لأتباع الوسائل السلمية لحل مشاكل معقدة كالتي واجهت ولا زالت تواجه المجتمع العراقي والدولي , مدينا كل انواع الأرهاب والتعصب وداعيا ملايين المؤمنين لأدانة الأرهاب وباتباع وسائل احترام القانون وحرمة وقداسة ألأنسان والطرق المدنية السلمية لمجابهة التناقضات المحلية داخل المجتمع العراقي وعلى نطاق المنطقة والعالم .

نحن نعتمد ونعتقد بعمق مساهمة السيد السيستاني الفعالة بتجنيب المجتمع العراقي انزلاقات خطيرة اراد ألرهابيون جرها له وساهم بتعميق فرصة ألأخاء والحوار والممارسة المدنية للمواطنبن العراقيين ولعموم الأنسانية من خلال تطويره للمبادرات السلمية وتعميق دور الدين في خدمة السلم والتعاون والحوار , ألأجتماعي مؤكدا اخوة الناس والشعوب ونابذا للتعصب وألأرهاب - وعليه نتقدم بهذه المذكرة الجماعية لطلبنا هذا للجنة جائزة نوبل للسلام مع الشكر.


The Undersigned

To sign:

View Current Signatures

In his February 11 column, The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger nominated the voters of Iraq for the Nobel peace prize.
Here come the Iraqis

The minister of higher education and scientific research announced, yesterday, the resumption of the government's scholarship program for study abroad. Through this program, thousands of Iraqis have been leaving the country, since its establishment, in the early 1920s, to return, not only with expanded knowledge, but to establish schools of medicine, architecture, business administration, engineering and the sciences. In the twenties, students were sent mostly to the United States and Britain. From 1960, students were sent to the countries of the Soviet bloc, as well. One-hundred million dollars was recently allocated for the purpose.
21-year-old Elk Grove soldier dies, when her vehicle rolls over
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 08, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Spc. Adriana N. Salem, 21, of Elk Grove Village, Ill., died Mar. 4 in
Remagen, Iraq when her military vehicle rolled over. Salem was assigned to the 3rd Forward Support Battalion, Division Support Command, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

The incident is under investigation.
For vice president...

The names emerging, for the two vice-presidential posts, are, finance minister Adil Abdil-Mehdi and Haachim al-Hasani, the minister for minerals and industry. What's important is that Hasani is a Sunni Arab and a top politician of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which boycotted the elections. Mehdi is a top aide to Abdil-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the top Shi'a party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

The soon-to-convene national assembly will have, as its first duty, the selection of a president for the republic, and two vice presidents. Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, has already been nominated for the post of president by the Kurdish coalition, which received more than 25 percent of the vote and one-quarter of the seats in the assembly.

I heard Mehdi and Hasani's names on television, and something to do with the vice-presidency, as I was heading downstairs, yesterday evening, to talk to my mother, calling from Cleveland. I told her the news item. She said she'd known about it, for four, five days. She said she reads 20 web-sites a day (last summer, she said it was 40-50 a day). I responded -- as I passed on, what my mother said, to my uncle and his wife, sitting near me, in the family room – "Then, what are we doing, here? We might as well, all leave Iraq, and head over there, to follow the news, in Iraq."
Cell-phone technology an explosive tool for insurgents

By Rowan Scarborough
The Washington Times
March 7, 2005

The efficiency of cell-phone technology in rebuilding Iraq has a drawback in that insurgents are using the hand-held devices to orchestrate attacks and set off roadside bombs, defense officials say.

A growing network of cellular connections has proved a boon to
contractors, the U.S. military and average Iraqis in turning the state-run economy into a free-market business environment.

But insurgents have been able to capitalize on the growing availability to create their own mobile command-and-control centers. Bomb-makers also use cell phones to remotely set off improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the roadside devices that have killed scores of U.S. troops.

Charles Krohn, an Army official in Baghdad from 2003 to 2004, said the insurgents developed an ingenious way to thwart eavesdropping as they set up meetings and attacks.

"They would use more than one phone to send a message," said Mr. Krohn, a visiting professor at the University of Michigan. "They would deliver part of the message on one number and call another number to deliver another part of the message. So if someone was listening, they would only get part of the message. If you were concerned about eavesdropping, you would want to use more than one telephone and there is no shortage of cell phones in Iraq."

Those in Abu Musab Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq organization use
cell-phone communication to notify terrorists of attack plans, said one well-placed defense source.

"I don't know if Zarqawi himself uses a cell phone but his aides do," the source said.

Virtually all spoken electronic communication in the country is done via cell or satellite phones, not land lines. The constant chatter does give the National Security Agency and specialized commando units opportunities to intercept conversations. And, the Associated Press reported last month that Iraqis use a cell phone's text messaging feature to send tips on terrorists to trusted security officials.

But the technology seems to be doing the insurgency more good than harm.

Sources said insurgents have the know-how to make one cell phone
communicate with a second phone whose components are built into the bomb's triggering mechanism.

"We don't quite know how to combat that," the defense source said.

U.S. troops seized a terrorist-produced video that shows insurgents in a car that passes an Army convoy going in the opposite direction, said a Marine officer who fought in the notorious Al Anbar Province west of Baghdad. When the convoy reached a certain point, the men in the vehicle can be seen using a cell phone to detonate a hidden IED.

"These guys like to film their atrocities," said the officer, who
requested anonymity.

Insurgents use other types of phones. In April, near the insurgent-heavy town of Latifiyah, an Army convoy was devastated by a series of IEDs. An investigation showed that bombs were ignited by satellite phones activated by another satellite phone, the Marine officer said.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, Virginia Republican, lamented that U.S. countermeasures are not keeping pace with terrorist IED making.

"It's almost a leapfrog," he said. "As soon as we get a system which seems to be producing the effectiveness, they leapfrog to another technology and keep moving forward."

There are days when the U.S. command decides for security reasons to shut down cell-phone connections in some sectors. Other times they jam it for hours to prevent terrorists from coordinating attacks via the airways.

The importance of cell phones to the insurgents was illustrated when Marines and Army troops captured the terrorist-infested city of Fallujah in November.

Marines discovered a network of makeshift IED factories and among the parts were cell phones and hand-held radios. Insurgents made the bombs, then smuggled them out for use in vehicles or as roadside explosives.

The insurgents' command structure is filled with Ba'athists who led Saddam's vast and layered security agencies, including the dreaded intelligence service, the Mukhabarat.

The CIA's top weapons inspector reported that the Mukhabarat maintained an extensive research and development program for all types of IEDs. Defense sources said the technology has helped terrorists build better bombs.

In fact, the insurgents have gotten so skilled that their expertise is being exported to Afghanistan, where U.S. forces are fighting al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists.

Gen. John Abizaid, the U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf, said, "It is a problem that requires not just an American effort but an international effort, because we see the technology moving, and the tactics and techniques, moving from Iraq to Pakistan to Afghanistan."

The CIA report on the Mukhabarat, or Iraqi Intelligence Service, said its M-21 directorate ran the Al Ghafiqi Project to produce a variety of IEDs.

"No one person constructed an entire explosive device alone," says the report, prepared by a team led by Charles Duelfer. "The construction process drifted through the sections of the directorate."

The reported also says: "Al Ghafiqi constantly invented new designs or methods to conceal explosives; books, briefcases, belts, vests, thermoses, car seats, floor mats and facial tissue boxes were all used to conceal" explosives.
Get on with it, already

Thousands of people demonstrated in the southern city of Samawa, yesterday morning, demanding that the elected politicians begin their work, and, in particular, forming the government. It's been more than five weeks since the elections, and nearly four weeks since the February 13 announcement of the election results, which were certified, on the 17th, and people are getting restless, that a government hasn't been created, yet.

A discussion regarding the delay was held at Baghdad University's College of Political Sciences, yesterday, in which professors, students and representatives of political parties took part. The consensus was reported to have been that the lack of experience by the parties and politicians in forming lists and governments was a natural cause for the delay, as were the special circumstances the country was passing through, in its transition from dictatorship to democracy. Article 38 of the Transitional Administrative Law, the interim constitution, received special attention, as it imposed a two-week period on the assembly for the selection of the presidential troika and, then, a month deadline, for the formation of the government. Many Iraqis are expressing strong concerns that interim prime minister Ayad Allawi is already exploiting the delay, and might even extend his term of office, till the December elections. These fears were also articulated by Dr. Hayder Sa'eed, in a televised discussion on al-Hurra-Iraq, Tuesday night, about the feasibility of democracy taking root in Iraq. Sa'eed, a writer and academician who arrived in Iraq, after the fall of Saddam, pointed out that democratic values, practices and culture were new to Iraqis, and Allawi's clinging to his post, even though he was defeated in the polls, was a reflection of that, hinting at a repitition of dictatorial rule.

A couple of hours ago, I asked a man who returned from his hometown, Amara, yesterday, after spending four nights in the southeastern city, how people there were taking the news of the delay in the formation of the government. Ahmed replied, people were happy with the way rule was being carried out – that traffic police were doing their job, and everything was, as it should be. He said the situation in Amara was much better than in Baghdad, and that he'd prefer to live there, if he could. Ahmed, who's worked for my uncle, for a dozen years, stepping in for his father, who began working for the Rahims in 1950, recently got engaged to be married to a woman from Amara. Ahmed said security was great in Amara, which, he said, was very beautiful, and that electricity was sometimes available, around the clock.

In the morning's headlines, Adil Abdil-Mehdi, the finance minister, said that negotiations over the formation of the government, were in their final stages. Mehdi is a top aide to Abdil-Aziz al-Hakim, the top name on the winning United Iraqi Alliance list and the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the top Shi'a party.
Revolution's on a roll in the Mideast

Charles Krauthammer
New York Daily News
Friday, March 4th, 2005

Revolutions either move forward or die. We are at the dawn of a glorious, delicate, revolutionary moment in the Middle East. It was triggered by the invasion of Iraq, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and televised images of 8 million Iraqis voting. Which led to the obvious question throughout the Middle East: Why Iraqis and not us?

The revolution began outside the Middle East with the Afghan elections. That was followed by the Iraqi elections. In between came free Palestinian elections that produced a moderate, reform-oriented leadership. Demonstrations for democracy led President Hosni Mubarak to promise the first contested presidential elections in Egyptian history. And now, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, where the assassination of opposition leader Rafik al-Hariri fueled an explosion of people power in the streets that brought down Syria's puppet government in Beirut.

Revolution is in the air. What to do? We are already hearing voices for restraint about liberating Lebanon. Flynt Leverett, your usual Middle East expert, takes to The New York Times to oppose immediate withdrawal of Syria's occupation of Lebanon. Instead, he thinks we should be trying to "engage and empower" Damascus.

We are on the threshold of what Arabs in the region are calling the fall of their Berlin Wall, and our "realists" want us to make deals with dictators. It would be a tragedy to try to rein in Lebanon's revolution. It would betray our principles.

The Cedar Revolution promises not only to liberate Lebanon. A forced Syrian withdrawal could bring down the Assad dictatorship. Changing Damascus will transform the Middle East.

We are not talking about invading Syria; there is no need. If Assad loses Lebanon, his regime could be fatally weakened, economically and psychologically.

Assad has succeeded Saddam as the principal bad actor in the region. From the al-Hariri bombing in Lebanon to the Feb. 25 Tel Aviv bombing to its support of insurgents in Iraq, Syria is trying to destabilize its neighbors.

Five years ago, Assad repressed Syrian demands for more freedom. Now 140 Syrian intellectuals have petitioned their government to withdraw from Lebanon. They signed their names. Were the contagion to spread to Damascus, the entire region would be on a path to democratization.

This is no time to heed the voices of indecision, compromise and fear. It is our principles that brought us to this moment by way of Afghanistan and Iraq. They need to guide us now, through Beirut to Damascus.
Suhayl for president

Safiyyeh Suhayl, the woman who sat next to Mrs. Laura Bush at the president's State of the Union address, a month ago, is running for president of Iraq. The news, here, had to do with any connection between Suhayl's visit to Washington, and her candidacy for the Iraqi post. She denied that she was seeking U.S. support for her candidacy. Suhayl, who is Iraq's ambassador to Cairo – although not yet officially accredited by the Egyptian government – said her attendance at the president's address was by invitation from the president and his wife, sent to her, via the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Suyahl told the newspaper a-Zamaan, two weeks ago, "I am determined and serious in the candidacy, and, with all certainty, this is not born today, and it is through my people and my country, and not by the means of a foreign country."

Suhayl, who last year married Iraq's human rights minister, Bakhtiyar Ameen, said she was happy with the Iraqi democratic experience and the genesis of coalitions between the political forces, but that the election program did not provide Iraqis the opportunity to get to know their representatives, especially the independents among them. Suhayl was not a candidate for parliament, which she ascribed to "being an independent, and knowing, in advance, the difficulties faced by independents, with her understanding that representation is built on meeting and dialogue with all sides, while we find that the foundational blocs don’t allow that now."

Suhayl indicated that her diplomatic work in Cairo is captive to Egypt's restoring official relations with Iraq, which it severed, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, in 1990. According to the foreign minister, Suhayl has been received warmly by Egyptians.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Security Forces Find 35 Corpses in Iraq

By TODD PITMAN, Associated Press Writer
4 minutes ago

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi officials said Wednesday that 35 bodies — some bullet-riddled, others beheaded — have been found at two separate sites and they believe some of the corpses are Iraqi soldiers kidnapped and executed by insurgents. In other violence, a suicide bomber detonated a garbage truck packed with explosives outside the Agriculture Ministry and a hotel used by Western contractors on Wednesday, killing at least three people, officials said. The bomber also died.

Two other car bombings were also reported. Police 1st Lt. Mohammed al-Duleimi said one car bomber targeted an American checkpoint outside a base in Habaniyah, 50 miles west of Baghdad. Another car bomb exploded near U.S. troops close to a U.S. base in Abu Ghraib, just west of the capital, police Lt. Akram al-Zubaie said.

No other details were available and the U.S. military could not be immediately reached for comment.

Elsewhere, guerrillas struck a police patrol with a roadside bomb in the southern city of Basra, killing one policeman and wounding three more, Lt. Col. Karim Al-Zaydi said.

Twenty of the corpses were found late Tuesday in a field near Rumana, a village about 10 miles east of the western city of Qaim, near the Syrian border, police Capt. Muzahim al-Karbouli said.

Each of the bodies had been riddled with bullets — apparently several days earlier. They were found wearing civilian clothes and one of the dead was a woman, al-Karbouli said.

South of Baghdad in Latifiya, Iraqi troops on Tuesday made another gruesome discovery, finding 15 headless bodies in a building inside an abandoned former army base, Defense Ministry Capt. Sabah Yassin said.

The bodies included 10 men, three women and two children. Their identities, like the others found in western Iraq (news - web sites), were not known.

Yassin said some of the dead men in Latifiya were thought to have been part of a group of Iraqi soldiers who were kidnapped by insurgents in the area two weeks ago, Yassin said.

Wednesday's truck bombing in central Baghdad shook nearby buildings in the heart of the capital, injuring dozens of people and covering a huge swath of sky with acrid black smoke. Volleys of automatic weapons fire could be heard before and after the explosion.

Police said a group of insurgents wearing police uniforms first shot dead a guard at the Agriculture Ministry's gate, allowing the truck to enter a compound the ministry shares with the adjacent Sadeer hotel. Guards in the area then fired on the vehicle, trying to disable it before it exploded.

Officials at al-Kindi hospital said at least three dead and eight wounded were taken there. Ibn al-Nafis hospital counted at least 27 wounded, said Dr. Falleh al-Jubouri.

The truck blew up in a parking lot. Several burning vehicles were in flames and around 20 cars were damaged.

The violence came a day after the U.S. military announced it was speeding up an inquiry into the shooting death of an Italian agent killed Friday by U.S. troops at a Baghdad checkpoint — a friendly fire incident that has strained relations with Italy, a key American ally. The agent was escorting Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena to the airport just after insurgents freed her.

The shooting that killed Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari and wounded Sgrena, a 56-year-old journalist for the left-wing Il Manifesto newspaper, angered Italians and rekindled questions about the country's involvement in Iraq.

Italy sent 3,000 troops to Iraq, while Bulgaria has 460 here. Both countries have said they will not withdraw their troops, but domestic pressure to bring them home is growing.

In Rome, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's office said the premier had "expressed the satisfaction of the Italian government" at the accelerated U.S. military investigation. Friendly fire investigations typically take months.

President Bush (news - web sites) called Berlusconi on Friday and promised a full investigation into the attack, which took place after nightfall as the car carrying Sgrena, Calipari and two other agents approached Baghdad airport. Another agent also was wounded.

Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini told parliament Tuesday that U.S. troops killed Calipari by accident, but disputed Washington's version of events.

Fini said the car carrying Calipari and Sgrena was not speeding and U.S. troops did not order it to stop, contrary to what U.S. officials say. But Fini dismissed allegations made by Sgrena that the shooting was an ambush.

"It was an accident," Fini said. "This does not prevent, in fact it makes it a duty for the government to demand that light be shed on the murky issues, that responsibilities be pinpointed, and, where found, that the culprits be punished."

The U.S.-led coalition said a follow-up investigation will be led by U.S. Brig. Gen. Peter Vangjel and will take three to four weeks. Italian officials were invited to participate.

The investigation was ordered by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. George Casey. Vangjel, of the 18th Airborne Corps, commands all Army artillery in Iraq. He arrived in the country in January.

In Washington, Casey said he had no indication Italian officials gave advance notice of the car's route. "I personally do not have any indication of that, even on a preliminary basis," Casey said.

The U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, which controls Baghdad, said the vehicle was "traveling at high speeds" and "refused to stop at a checkpoint."

An American patrol "attempted to warn the driver to stop by hand and arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots in front of the car," it said. "When the driver didn't stop, the soldiers shot into the engine block which stopped the vehicle, killing one and wounding two others."
State Department intro, on Iraqi women
Focus on Iraq

Iraq is a nation rich in culture, with a long history of intellectual and scientific achievement, especially among its women. But Saddam Hussein's brutal regime had silenced the voices of Iraq's women, along with its men, through violence and intimidation. In 1979, immediately upon coming to power, Saddam Hussein silenced all political opposition in Iraq and converted his one-party state into a cult of personality. The Iraqi people were systematically repressed, tortured, raped, and terrorized. The regime frequently imprisoned and executed people without any kind of trial. As a woman in Saddam's Iraq, you could have faced:
Beheading. Under the pretext of fighting prostitution, units of "Fedayeen Saddam" (the paramilitary organization led by Uday Hussein, Saddam's eldest son) beheaded in public more than 200 women, dumping their severed heads at their families' doorsteps.

Rape. The regime used rape and sexual assault of women to:
Extract information and forced confessions from detained family members;

Intimidate members of the opposition by sending them videotapes of the rape of female family members; and

Blackmail Iraqi men into future cooperation with the regime.
Torture. Saddam Hussein's thugs routinely tortured and killed female dissidents and the female relatives of Iraqi oppositionists and defectors. Children were imprisoned if they or their parents were not viewed to be faithful supporters of the Saddam regime.

Murder. In 1990, Saddam Hussein introduced Article 111 into the Iraqi Penal Code. This law exempted men from any kind of punishment if they kill their female relatives in defense of their family's honor.
The U.S. Government will help Iraqi women in a secure and liberated Iraq to pursue projects that they identify as the best way to achieve their goals. Administration officials have met and continue to meet with free Iraqi women, exchanging ideas about their path forward in a free and open Iraq. As Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky [link to March 6, 2003, briefing on "Human Rights and Women in Iraq: Voices of Iraqi Women," with three Iraqis] said after a meeting with Iraqi women:
"It is clear that the women of Iraq have a critical role to play in the future revival of their society. They bring skills and knowledge that will be vital to restoring Iraq to its rightful place in the region and in the world."

"Tomorrow is summer." That was the word, yesterday, from my cousin's four-year-old son. He said, his father told him so. He'd just asked me to take out their swimming pool, "the one with fishes in it." The previous morning, he got a cast put on his left foot, till just above the ankle -- the day before, he fell off the top of the back stairs that lead to their apartment, breaking a bone in the bottom of his foot. He was climbing on the outside of the stairs' railing, and nearly reached the top.

Spriiiiing is heeeere
-- why doesn't my heart go daaancing?
Spriiiing is heeere
-- why isn't the waltz entraancing?
No desiiire,
No ambition...leeeeeeeads meeeee,
Maybe it's because nobody neeeeeeeeeeds meeeee?
Spriiiiing is heeeeere
-- why doesn't the breeze deliiight me?
Stars appear
-- why doesn't the night inviite me?
Maybe it's because nobody loooooves me,
Spriiiing is heeeeere, I heeeear.
That was the First Lady of Jazz, in case you didn't recognize the voice. Well -- ...my, trying to be the first lady of jazz. Words by Lorenz Hart, music by Richard Rodgers.

The weather's been gorgeous – the temperature's been very pleasant, for the last fortnight. We've had yellow and orange flowers, dandelion-like, blooming in the garden, folding up, at night. Yesterday, we had a nice breeze, too – too much, for the locals – just lovely, for me.

Update: "Today is summer. Baba said."

Another update: As I was leafing through the papers, yesterday, to compile my post on recent political developments, Bess 'Aad, the eight-year-old nanny to my cousin's three little ones, pointed to one front-page picture, and said, "National guard." I asked her how she knew. She told me about the day they came by her home -- "they looked like the Americans." The next day, they came, again, and she knew…. Then, the four-year-old told me he saw the Americans -- that they'd come to his house. Then his father arrived, he said. The Americans were looking for machine guns, and they came into the house, to search. They didn't have any. I asked him, "What about your machine guns?" He said they didn't take them. "Did they ask for them?" "I didn't let them take them." "Why not?" "Because they would've hit me with them?" Okay. Good enough reason.
Women's Empowerment Key to Building Democracies, Rice Says

Secretary of State Marks International Women's Day

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice commemorated March 8 as International Women’s Day by asserting that the United States will continue to support women as they work to build democratic governments worldwide.

"Women are integral to the process of building responsible governments and democratic institutions," Rice said. "Women's participation and empowerment at all levels of society will be key to moving these new democracies forward."

Rice noted the important role that Iraqi and Afghan women are playing in the development of civil society, especially after recent successful elections.

"The women of Iraq and Afghanistan are indeed finding their own voices," she said. "They are being heard throughout the world."

Following is the statement by Secretary of State Rice:

Office of the Spokesman
March 7, 2005


International Women's Day, March 8, 2005

As the world celebrates International Women's Day tomorrow, I will have the honor of welcoming to Washington women leaders from Afghanistan and Iraq. These women represent the millions of others back in their homelands who have inspired the international community with their courage, determination, and faith in the force of freedom.

One of the women who will be with us, Nermin Othman, Iraq's Minister of Women's Affairs, told us last year, "The terrorists will not succeed this time. We are determined to win." Minister Othman was exactly right. Women turned out in force to vote in the January elections, and will represent over 30 percent of the new National Assembly.

We believe that democracy must be homegrown and that elections are a critical step toward it. We recognize that despite the success of the recent elections, the people of Afghanistan and Iraq face many challenges ahead. Freedom, the protection of fundamental human rights, economic opportunity and prosperity, equality and the rule of law - these are all elements of the democratic process. Women are integral to the process of building responsible governments and democratic institutions. Women's participation and empowerment at all levels of society will be key to moving these new democracies forward.

As partners in the pursuit of freedom, the United States will continue to support these women as they move toward building peaceful, prosperous and democratic societies. President Bush has said, "Our goal...is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom and make their own way." The women of Iraq and Afghanistan are indeed finding their own voices, and they are being heard throughout the world.

Created: 07 Mar 2005 Updated: 07 Mar 2005
Methinks the prez likes his perks, and political posturing

Interim president Ghazi il-Yawer said the post of president should go to a Sunni Arab. Conventional wisdom, is that a Kurd, in particular, Jalal Talabani, has a lock on the ceremonial position. The unified Kurdish coalition, which came in second, in the national assembly elections, has officially nominated Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, for the position. Yawer's statement is viewed as opposing the appointment of a Kurd to the post. According to al-Shaahid, a pro-Ba'ath newspaper, Yawir says he won't accept anything less than the presidency. Earlier, Yawer rejected the post of head of the national assembly, which, conventional wisdom has it, will got to a Sunni Arab. Commenting, Yawer said, "The most important thing, for us, is the unity of Iraq, and national accord, which must be above all considerations. And we are doing what we can to preserve national accord, for the sake of a free, generous life for the Iraqi people."

Azaad Jendyani, a top PUK official, rejected Yawer's statement, saying, "Iraq is made up of two main national groups, and they are Arab and Kurdish, and it's necessary to divide the top two posts in the country." Jendyani opposed dividing the posts, along sectarian lines. "The Sunnis and Shi'as in Iraq should agree among themselves, as one nationality," said Jendyani, "and they should try to satisfy the Kurds, who belong to a different nationality than the Arabs, and decided to stay within Iraq by their own choice."

Choosing a president and two vice presidents will be the first task of the national assembly, when it convenes, which is expected to be, March 16. Roz Noori Shaawees, the interim vice-president, reaffirmed that Kurds insist on one of the two top posts. Shaawees, a leader in the Kurdish Democratic Party, added, "After the Kurdish coalition list got a good portion of the seats in the national assembly, we hope they have a prominent role in the formation of the coming Iraqi government." Shaawees, who is leader of the Kurdish parliament, said, "We are insistent on the matter of federalism and are concerned about the security situation, working with the multinational forces. We are not in favor of putting a timeline for the withdrawal of the multinational forces in Iraq." Shaawees, speaking at a press conference in the Kurdish parliament building, in Erbil, said the Kurds want two of the top ministerial posts. The top government posts are prime minister, defense, interior, foreign, finance and justice. The Unified Kurdish Coalition finished second in the national assembly voting, receiving 25.7 percent of the vote, giving it 75 of the 275 seats in the assembly. The coalition has since expanded its bloc, to 77 seats.

Mihsin abdil-Hameed, leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni grouping, said his party supports the nomination of Talabani, for president. Hameed's party boycotted the elections, because its request for a delay in the vote was rejected. Hameed was responding to a question, after meeting with Talabani in QalaJolan, northeast of Slaymanee, the PUK's capital. Hameed added, "The new Iraqi government must adopt the foundation of accord, and its doors should be open to all sides that participated in the elections and that didn't participate. All of Iraq's sectors and nationalities must take part, without discrimination between religious creed or sect in the coming Iraqi government."

The general secretary of Hameed's party, Ayad al-Saamerraa'i, after meetings with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Islamic Da'wa Party, the two top parties of the winning United Iraqi Alliance, affirmed that all the parties desire unity in the national ranks. Saamerraai'i said he welcomed the good news of Ja'fari's nomination for prime minister, and described Ja'fari as possessing "great respect from all segments of Iraqi society and political and patriotic forces." Saamerraa'i called for a comprehensive political program, "considering that the winners from the Alliance list now represent all Iraqis, and not their parties." Saamerraa'i held "the United States and the Allawi government responsible for not responding to his party's requests to improve conditions for carrying out the elections. We called for the spread of the spirit of brotherhood and brotherly co-existence to rise above sectarianism and the racist and nationalist rhetoric."

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

43-year-old Maine sergeant supporting Iraq dies in Syracuse from illness
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 05, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Sgt. 1st Class Michael D. Jones, 43, of Unity, Maine, died March 3 in Syracuse, N.Y., of a non-combat related illness. He had just returned from duty in Iraq. Jones was assigned to the Army National Guard's 133rd Engineer Battalion, Belfast, Maine.
Subj: EAST WING Episode from Baghdad's Green Zone

Date: 3/2/2005 11:46:25 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: INCBaghdad

EAST WING Episode from Baghdad's Green ZoneWarren Marik is a retired CIA case officer who is currently in Iraq observing the formation of the new government and sent these observations to the list. They reflect what "Iraq News" has heard elsewhere. President Bush articulates a bold vision of freedom and democracy, but it has minimal impact on the bureaucrats in Baghdad, whose mission is, above all, to keep their finger in the pie.
Here in Baghdad, the disheartening thing about the current question over who is going to be the new prime minister is that the Bush administration seems to consider Iraq its version of "The West Wing." The administration, through its writers, directors, and producers in the Green Zone, sees its show as a stirring story of the development of democracy in Iraq--one the administration should completely control.

The consequence has been that the "East Wing" in Iraq has made no progress in advancing its democracy story line since the show's inception, when American viewers--the taxpaying audience--saw the opening Governing Council episodes. After more than a year of airing, East Wing remains a program showing a Green Zone-cast government following Green Zone direction.

Worries about ratings have added a note of panic to the Green Zone crew's overdirection. They refuse to accept that their main character, played by Ayad Allawi as the prime minister, has outlived his usefulness. They've been reduced to using bizarre story lines--such as Allawi forming highly unlikely political coalitions to save his position and publicizing foreign plots against his life--to revive this already expired character. What a drudgery the show has become and what a disappointment!

True, there have been some good episodes. The spectacularly successful January election is one example. But the January election episode was the idea of the Iraqi talent and not the Green Zone "suits." And now that those episodes have aired, the euphoria has worn off, and most of the Iraqi talent has dropped back into their old roles of frustration and confusion while they wait for the inevitable orders from the directors.

The frustration must be the same for the American writers, directors, and producers stuck in Baghdad's Green Zone. The studio front office in Washington has chosen for them a bewildering cast of Iraqi characters who have tried to thrill us with their rise but have, instead, astonished us with their pratfalls, in spite of the best efforts of the crew on the set.

Who can forget the character of Colonel Muhammad Latif, who promised to find a suitable commander for the loyal Iraqi forces in the bandit town of Falluja and wound up deciding he himself was the best man for the job? Of course, the Iraqi force deserted to the forty thieves within a week. We were appalled by that episode, but how depressing it must also have been for the Green Zoners who had a very different ending in mind.

And who can forget the Great Sunni Hope, played by Adnan Pachachi, a character Green Zone producers hoped would go on for years. In stirring episodes, the Green Zoners hoped he would voice Sunni interests through national assembly scripts and drown out the scraping and squeaking of the Sunni backdrop.

Unfortunately, Pachachi and his supporting company of players attracted fewer viewers during the January sweeps than could be registered. Despite the best efforts of the Green Zone press agents, the planned Pachachi national assembly episodes had to be cut, and the Green Zoners and Allawi are now doing nothing to advance the national assembly story line.

With the current executive producer, John Negroponte, getting kicked upstairs to studio headquarters and with a new executive producer yet to be named, there's some breathing space to make some changes.

The "Survivor" format is still popular, and the studio in Washington should consider it.

Let's have that Iraqi talent fight it out on the assembly floor without direction. Let's have the Iraqi talent choose the main characters. Let's have the talent work out the political rules for next season on their own.

And let's bring the Green Zoners onto the screen as participants--with their Status of Forces Agreement negotiations and spending audits--for an even better show for American taxpayers.
"Thank heaven…for little girls"

Saddam's eldest surviving offspring may have been asked to leave Jordan. According to the Ba'thi paper al-Shaahid (The Witness), a high-ranking Jordanian official was dispatched by his government to the home of Raghad Saddam Hsayn al-Tikriti, a week ago, to give her a "severe warning," to leave the country. This, because of "her activities," according to Al-Shaahid, which relayed the item from the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Anbaa' (The News). "Activities" refers, no doubt, to the 37-year-old's reputed financing of terrorist activities in Iraq, along with direction and inspiration. The Kuwaiti paper, according to al-Shaahid, says the reason for the eviction notice includes Tikriti's "meeting recently with Iraqi intelligence officers to give them orders for operations inside Iraq." The semi-weekly Al-Shaahid is dated February 27, and the reported visit by the Jordanian official, it said, was to take place, "in the next two days."

Some, in Iraq, say that interim prime minister Ayad Allawi met with Tikriti in Amman, last year, to get her to curtail her activities. Last year, Tikriti said she wanted to run for president, in the tradition of surviving daughters such as Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi. She also told the London-based Saudi magazine Sayyidati that she misses Iraq. "Yes, if I have a chance I'll go back faster than you would imagine," she said. As for why she didn't return, she said, "I'm not afraid of death, but of scandal," referring to the mistreatment of Iraqis by U.S. forces in Abu Ghraib prison.
The Arabs' Berlin Wall has crumbled

By Mark Steyn
(London) Daily Telegraph
Filed: 01/03/2005

Three years ago - April 6 2002, if you want to rummage through the old Spectators in the attic - I wrote: "The stability junkies in the EU, UN and elsewhere have, as usual, missed the point. The Middle East is too stable. So, if you had to pick only one regime to topple, why not Iraq? Once you've got rid of the ruling gang, it's the West's best shot at incubating a reasonably non-insane polity. That's why the unravelling of the Middle East has to start not in the West Bank but in Baghdad."

I don't like to say I told you so. But, actually, I do like to say I told you so. What I don't like to do is the obligatory false self-deprecatory thing to mitigate against the insufferableness of my saying I told you so. But nevertheless I did.

Consider just the past couple of days' news: not the ever more desperate depravity of the floundering "insurgency", but the real popular Arab resistance the car-bombers and the head-hackers are flailing against: the Saudi foreign minister, who by remarkable coincidence goes by the name of Prince Saud, told Newsweek that women would be voting in the next Saudi election. "That is going to be good for the election," he said, "because I think women are more sensible voters than men."

Four-time Egyptian election winner - and with 90 per cent of the vote! - President Mubarak announced that next polling day he wouldn't mind an opponent. Ordering his stenographer to change the constitution to permit the first multi-choice presidential elections in Egyptian history, His Excellency said the country would benefit from "more freedom and democracy". The state-run TV network hailed the president's speech as a "historical decision in the nation's 7,000-year-old march toward democracy". After 7,000 years on the march, they're barely out of the parking lot, so Mubarak's move is, as they say, a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile in Damascus, Boy Assad, having badly overplayed his hand in Lebanon and after months of denying that he was harbouring any refugee Saddamites, suddenly discovered that - wouldja believe it? - Saddam's brother and 29 other bigshot Baghdad Baathists were holed up in north-eastern Syria, and promptly handed them over to the Iraqi government.

And, for perhaps the most remarkable development, consider this report from Mohammed Ballas of Associated Press: "Palestinians expressed anger on Saturday at an overnight suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed four Israelis and threatened a fragile truce, a departure from former times when they welcomed attacks on their Israeli foes."

No disrespect to Associated Press, but I was disinclined to take their word for it. However, Charles Johnson, whose Little Green Footballs website has done an invaluable job these past three years presenting the ugly truth about Palestinian death-cultism, reported that he went hunting around the internet for the usual photographs of deliriously happy Gazans dancing in the street and handing out sweets to celebrate the latest addition to the pile of Jew corpses - and, to his surprise, couldn't find any.

Why is all this happening? Answer: January 30. Don't take my word for it, listen to Walid Jumblatt, big-time Lebanese Druze leader and a man of impeccable anti-American credentials: "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Berlin Wall has fallen."

Just so. Left to their own devices, the House of Saud - which demanded all US female air-traffic controllers be stood down for Crown Prince Abdullah's flight to the Bush ranch in Crawford - would stick to their traditional line that Wahhabi women have no place in a voting booth; instead, they have to dress like a voting booth - a big black impenetrable curtain with a little slot to drop your ballot through. Likewise, Hosni Mubarak has no desire to take part in campaign debates with Hosno Name-Recognition. Boy Assad has no desire to hand over his co-Baathists to the Great Satan's puppets in Baghdad.

But none of them has much of a choice. In the space of a month, the Iraq election has become the prism through which all other events in the region are seen.

Assad's regime knocks off a troublemaker in Lebanon. Big deal. They've done it a gazillion times. But this time the streets are full of demonstrators demanding an end to Syrian occupation.

A suicide bomber kills four Jews. So what's new? But this time the Palestinians decline to celebrate. And some even question whether being a delivery system for plastic explosives is really all life has to offer, even on the West Bank.

Mubarak announces the arrest of an opposition leader. Like, who cares? The jails are full of 'em. But this time Condi Rice cancels her visit and the Egyptian government notices that its annual cheque from Washington is a month late.

Three years ago, those of us in favour of destabilising the Middle East didn't have to be far-sighted geniuses: it was a win/win proposition. As Sam Goldwyn said, I'm sick of the old clichés, bring me some new clichés. The old clichés - Pan-Arabism, Baathism, Islamism, Arafatism - brought us the sewer that led to September 11. The new clichés could hardly be worse. Even if the old thug-for-life had merely been replaced by a new thug-for-life, the latter would come to power in the wake of the cautionary tale of the former.

But some of us - notably US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz - thought things would go a lot better than that. Wolfowitz was right, and so was Bush, and the Left, who were wrong about the Berlin Wall, were wrong again, the only difference being that this time they were joined in the dunce's corner of history by far too many British Tories. No surprise there. The EU's political establishment doesn't trust its own people, so why would they trust anybody else's? Bush trusts the American people, and he's happy to extend the same courtesy to the Iraqi people, the Syrian people, the Iranian people, etc.

Prof Glenn Reynolds, America's Instapundit, observes that "democratisation is a process, not an event". Far too often, it's treated like an event: ship in the monitors, hold the election, get it approved by Jimmy Carter and the UN, and that's it. Doesn't work like that. What's happening in the Middle East is the start of a long-delayed process. Eight million Iraqis did more for the Arab world on January 30 than 7,000 years of Mubarak-pace marching.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Confessions, confidence and Zarqawi

My cousin's friend, whom I met last night, said that Saturday night's televised confessions were with a number of the 50 members of the vast Dulaym tribe captured in Lateefiyyeh, south of Baghdad. They included two women, he said, one of them, elderly.

The person I met, seemed to know a thing or two, about security affairs. He was a soldier in Saddam's Amn (Security services), he is, himself, a Dulaym, and his wife is a Rawi, making them both, natives of Anbar, the province that provided a preponderance of the former regime's foot-soldiers, and has, since, supplied many, for its successor operations. This cousin's friend, along with many other people, have been greatly impressed with the work of the new Iraqi army, national guard and special forces – the raids, capture of terrorists, seizures of weapons, professionalism and fearsomeness. He predicted that the security forces would take control of the country's security situation in two months. I expressed amazement. Another cousin's husband just said, of his own prompting, that things would be under control, in the next two to three months; he attributed this to the increased information given by citizens, whose confidence in the security forces and willingness to provide information, has been buoyed by the televised confessions. My uncle, today, told me that, two months ago, he told police about a suspect in a terrorist operation near his home, and the suspect was picked up. Today, he said, he saw a woman write down the (mobile) phone numbers of the police tip-off lines. She did this, he said, at a major, outdoor roundabout -- very openly, that is -- while, until three, four months ago, people rarely dared to provide police with information or suspicions on terrorists or their activities.

The capture, a week ago, of Saddam's half-brother, Sab'awi Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti, the reputed financier of terrorist operations in Iraq, has given a further boost to people's confidence, not to mention, to that of the security forces. Further, still, people expect the new movement's ideological father, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to be captured, soon (a report, that Zarqawi is already in custody), delivering a final death blow to the terrorists.

My uncle saw the seven newly released photos of Zarqawi, and said they appear to be of him, in custody. He also warned me against trusting too much, in the words of his son's friend, the former Amn officer, who, my uncle said, has been sitting on the fence, and will, like everybody else, swing solidly in the direction of the new order, when they see it, succeeding.

In tonight's televised confessions, also of captured terrorists in Mosul, confessors said they used the money for clothes and drink. Yesterday, a pair said they couldn't carry out the operations, without being drunk. Tonight, one said he used "pills," too, before the operations.
Opening Session Set For Iraq's Legislature
Move Signals Progress in Factional Talks

By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2005; Page A16

BAGHDAD, March 6 -- Iraq's newly elected National Assembly will convene for the first time March 16, politicians said Sunday, an apparent sign that the leading Kurdish and Shiite Muslim coalitions are making progress in closed-door talks to form a new government.

"They decided together that the assembly will be held on the 16th of this month," said Rehda Jawad Taqi, spokesman for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a leading Shiite party that met Saturday with other political groups and decided on the opening date.

Barham Salih, a Kurdish politician and interim deputy prime minister, told the Reuters news agency that the parties hope to reach an agreement by March 16. But even "if we don't . . . the National Assembly will begin its work and discussions will continue inside the assembly," he said.

The decision came as there has been rising public exasperation that more than a month after Iraq's historic elections on Jan. 30, the victorious parties have not yet reached an accord on who will occupy senior posts in the new government. Such an accord had been regarded by many Iraqi politicians as a necessary prelude to the convening of the assembly.

The opening session of the 275-seat assembly, another landmark in this country's modern history, will fall on the 17th anniversary of a chemical weapons attack by forces under Saddam Hussein on the Kurdish village of Halabja. Mustard gas and nerve agents were used in the 1988 assault, which left an estimated 5,000 Kurds dead and is regarded as one of the ousted Hussein government's most vicious acts against its citizens.

The announcement of the opening session demonstrated yet again the persuasive powers of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most eminent Shiite Muslim cleric, who a day earlier had urged the haggling political parties to accelerate their discussions so the assembly could convene soon.

Sistani and three members of the United Iraqi Alliance, a predominantly Shiite Muslim coalition of parties that emerged from the elections with a slim majority in the assembly, met Saturday in the southern city of Najaf. Sheik Fawaz Jarba, one of the few Sunni Arabs in the alliance, told reporters after the meeting that Sistani had encouraged the group "to unite and to form the new government as soon as possible and not to delay this issue any longer," according to the Associated Press.

The alliance has nominated Ibrahim Jafari, head of the religious Dawa party, for prime minister. The alliance has been negotiating with the Kurdish parties, which hold 75 seats in the assembly, to secure their support for Jafari's bid.

Alliance officials have said they support Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, for the mainly ceremonial position of president. Asked whether the Kurds had reciprocated by endorsing Jafari for prime minister during Saturday's talks, Taqi replied: "I can't say definitely. . . . But in general they support Jafari."

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, whose party won 40 seats in the elections and finished third, has also sought Kurdish backing for his effort to become prime minister in the new government.

Kurdish and Shiite politicians have said in recent days that they would like a Sunni Arab to become speaker of the assembly as a way to reach out to the Sunni population. The Sunnis, who dominated the government under Hussein, boycotted the elections in large numbers to protest the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

[Early Monday, insurgents launched a series of attacks in Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing seven soldiers and five police, the Associated Press reported, citing police and medical officials.]

On Sunday, gunmen killed a prominent Sunni Arab politician, Hana Abdul Qader, as she left her home in Mosul.
Ready or not, here we come

The statement, yesterday, by deputy prime minister Barham Salih, that the national assembly would probably convene, March 16, includes the assumption that the assembly would meet, even if the government were not formed, by then. Needless to say, negotiations are ongoing. The Kurds, reportedly, are not pleased with the leading candidate for prime minister, Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, the nominee for the post of the United Iraqi Alliance, which won a majority of the 275 seats in the national assembly elections. The main sticking points, are the status of Kerkuk, and the issue of federalism. Ja'fari has been forthright in his opposition to the Kurds' stances, on both issues.

Today, a meeting was held at the home of Ahmad Chalabi, with at least the two UIA members who recently defected, and, quite likely, a number of other elected UIA members, who have been considering defecting. Chalabi is, likely, trying to keep the members reined in.
Iran sees opportunities and dangers in a Shiite Iraq

Commentary by Iason Athanasiadis
The Daily Star (Beirut)
Friday, March 04, 2005

As Iraqis voted in late January, Iranian officials publicly proclaimed that an independent Iraq was all they really wanted. However, mounting U.S. pressure, in the shape of overflights by drones and the continuing American regional military presence, kept Tehran vigilant.

The tension reminded me of a conversation I had in Qatar in April 2003, as the Americans prepared to take Baghdad. A grizzled Iraqi journalist and I were sitting at the Al-Jazeera station where we both worked. With the war almost over and the uncertainty of a new occupation beginning, we were taking stock. The journalist, a Sunni who supported Saddam Hussein, told me: "By removing Saddam, [the Americans] have taken out the cork that kept the Shiites in the bottle. They will now spill out of Iraq and dominate us, cause trouble in the region. Iran will run amok."

The victory of Shiite parties from the United Iraq Alliance (UIA), which took most seats in the transitional Iraqi constituent assembly heralds the end to over 80 years of uninterrupted Sunni domination. Iran is keeping close tabs on the greatest transformation to hit domestic Iraqi politics since Saddam Hussein was deposed. However, the Iranians must also factor in the more quietist political approach of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, an attitude reportedly influenced by the way Shiites were crushed by the British Army in 1920. This quietism puts Sistani in stark opposition to the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's concept of Wilayat al-Faqih, which holds that Shiite clerics can play a prominent political role.

Sistani has great influence, but refuses to take part in the day-to-day running of Iraq. Popular Iranian dissatisfaction with the akhund (as the ruling clerics are derogatorily referred to) and the government's failing economic policies will serve as a salutary reminder to Sistani of the wisdom of his ways. This could also be a main reason why the new Iraq might not lean Iran's way.

The potential for inter-Shiite dissension is there. For example, pious and wealthy Iranian Shiites are beginning to choose Sistani as their object of emulation (a characteristic of Shiite Islam whereby individuals can select a senior ayatollah to be their spiritual guide) and sending him funds in the form of a religious tax. Sistani is the world's most senior Shiite figure and outranks the ruling clerics in Tehran and Qom. By supporting him, Iranians are effectively registering a vote of no confidence in their own government.

However, the beginnings of fractiousness aside, should a theocracy emerge in Iraq, it could easily become an appendage of Iranian foreign policy. Long-oppressed Shiite communities living in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Yemen might seek inspiration in the political emancipation of their Iraqi co-religionists and demand greater participation in their countries' decision-making processes. At the same time, Iran could use its networks of patronage inside Iraq to destabilize the U.S. occupation, something it has already hinted it might do in the event of continued U.S. pressure.

British intelligence has confirmed this capability, saying the Revolutionary Guard Corps is developing an extensive spy network ensuring that Iran retains political influence in Iraq after the election. It has been reported that the corps has recruited agents and placed military intelligence officers undercover in major cities in southern Iraq. In the event of heightened tension, the Iranian network could intervene by supplying weapons and intelligence and even fighting on the side of the Shiites. Should Iraq be transformed into a second Shiite Islamic Republic, it could set off a domino-effect wherever Shiite communities exist, and that includes Lebanon.

While such scenarios are keeping Washington policymakers worried, the reality is more nuanced. A religious Shiite government in Iraq (though not a theocracy) would not necessarily be to Tehran's advantage. The UIA is too fractured to provide a viable model for governance. Furthermore, the Shiites will not have a chokehold over the country's political institutions. Given the final vote percentages, what is more likely to emerge is something akin to the Lebanese confessional political model, where the different sects and communities will demand specific posts in government.

What is raising stress levels in Tehran, and particularly in the holy Iranian city of Qom, is the resurgence as a source of authority of the Iraqi holy city of Najaf. Still the most important religious and scholastic site in Shiite Islam, its influence was diminished under Sunni rule. Najaf's re-elevation to its previous status could spell trouble for Tehran and its claims to paramount religious legitimacy.

In fact, giving support to Najaf as a means of weakening Iran was an idea that the CIA toyed with for a time. Former American spy Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote in the mid-1990s that "an independent or autonomous Shiite state in southern Iraq would have re-energized Iraq's Shiites, long docile under ferocious Sunni rule." He envisaged a rebirth of "the age-old clerical rivalry between Najaf and Qom ... Hostile to the clerical hubris of Khomeini's Iran, Najaf's Arabic-speaking mullahs would loudly have debated the fundamentals of Khomeini's theocratic rule. Dissident senior Iranian clerics disgusted with Tehran could have repaired to Najaf, as the Ayatollah once did under the Shah. A network of anti-regime clerics could have formed. At minimal cost to the United States, Washington could have encouraged a Shiite civil war."

While Iraqi criticism of the Islamic Republic was nonexistent in the first days following the election, the Shiite establishment is still debating the degree to which Iraq's future Constitution should be Islamic. This and tensions with Sunnis and the more secular-minded Kurds are bound to dominate Iraqi politics for several years to come. There is a strong likelihood that Najaf will transform itself into a regional pole of influence, challenging both Saudi Arabia and Iran in the process.

A united Iraq propagating a Shiite foreign policy is a distant reality. But should worse come to worse for Tehran, it could always resurrect a "right of influence" over Iraqi Shiite shrines. Still, in the near future Iraq's new government will be too involved in internal affairs and in resolving the issue of the American military presence to pose much of a foreign policy threat to the region.

Iason Athanasiadis is a specialist in Middle East politics who often visits Iran. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.
Wined and dined, and ready to bomb

Introducing last night's batch of televised confessions, the commander of the Lions Forces, the national-guard unit that captured the suspects, said that the men we were about to see, had stolen more than 40 cars in Mosul, to be used as car bombs. One of the confessors, Yunis Mhammad Yunis, a diminutive man who said he was born in 1975, said that he and his peers were drunk when they were picked up by Salam al-Jabbari, to carry out their operations. Another, a large man in his late-thirties named Sha'lan, who was captured on February 7, said that they brought prostitutes to the farm, for a party, the night before their operations. Sha'lan said that he/they received "five papers" ($500) for each operation, that they received the cars, ready to be detonated, that he knew they were supported from abroad, but didn't know from where, and that their superior, Sayyid Mehdi, drove a BMW. He also went over the number of people and cars, and the tasks of each, involved in planting and setting off a car bomb. Sha'lan said he didn't know how many civilians were killed by the four car bombs and five other bombs he detonated. The off-screen questioner replied, in scorn, that even a person watching TV in Africa, knew how many people were killed in a bombing. The confessors I saw, last night, said they belonged to AnSar a-Sunna, and that they signed on, to wage "jihad."

Sunday, March 06, 2005

On the hunt for the terrorists

The news today reports the capture of more than 400 suspected terrorists in raids in Anbar province by the American and Iraqi armies, as well as a number of weapons caches.

There were also reported raids on the Basra-Nasiriyya road, for smugglers, as well as in Saammara, for terrorists, each yielding more than 20 captured suspects. There were a number of other terrorist captures, around the country.

I haven't seen the new clip of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but I was just told, by a person who saw it, that it looks like a hidden camera was used, and that Zarqawi looks very different from the pictures we've seen of him -- puffy cheeks, long beard, well-fed and quite relaxed. We agreed that the filming must have been done, surreptitiously, and that the film must have been smuggled out, which means that this person -- the filmer -- defected. The person who related this, said that the armies are on Zarqawi's tracks, in the Saammara area, and that, because of this new clip, we would learn more, in the next day or two.
National assembly may convene in 10 days

Deputy prime minister Barham Salih said today that he expects the national assembly to convene on the 16th of March. On the 16th of March, 17 years ago, the Iraqi air force began three days of bombing of the city of Halabcha with a mixture of chemical weapons, causing the death of more than 5,000 of the city's residents.
Bomb kills Iowa soldier in Ramadi
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 01, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

2nd Lt. Richard B. Gienau, 29, of Longview, Iowa, died Feb. 27 in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, from injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device hit his military vehicle. Gienau was assigned to the Army National Guard's 224th Engineer Battalion, Burlington, Iowa.
American soldier from Britain is killed in Anbar
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 01, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Staff Sgt. Alexander B. Crackel, 31, of Wilstead Bedford, United Kingdom, died Feb. 24 in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, from injuries sustained from enemy small arms fire. Crackel was assigned to the Army's 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, Camp Hovey, Korea.
35-year-old soldier from Florida dies in Baghdad
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 01, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Spc. Michael S. Deem, 35, of Rockledge, Fla., died Feb. 24 in Baghdad, Iraq, from non-combat related injuries. Deem was assigned to the Army's Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

The incident is under investigation.
Bomb kills two soldiers on patrol in Iraq
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 01, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. They died Feb. 26 in Abertha, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated while they were on patrol. Both Soldiers were assigned to the Army's 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

The Soldiers are:

Pfc. Min S. Choi, 21, of River Vale, N.J.

Pvt. Landon S. Giles, 19, of Indiana, Penn.
Army staff sergeant from Dallas is killed by bomb in Mosul
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 05, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Staff Sgt. Juan M. Solorio, 32, of Dallas, Texas, died March 4 in Mosul, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his military vehicle as his unit was being attacked by enemy forces using small arms fire. Solorio was assigned to the Army's 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash.

A couple of days ago, when I connected to the internet, at the home of one of my cousins, the main Yahoo! page contained, in the list of the day's top stories, the line, "Mystery of ancient Mesopotamian city solved." Of course, I clicked on the link. I was wrong. Well, you learn sumtin', every day.
French archaeologist solves mystery of ancient Mesopotamian city

Wed Mar 2,10:11 AM ET (the web-version of the article includes a picture of the archaeologist, although, not of the site)

PARIS (AFP) - The mystery of an ancient Mesopotamian city has finally been lifted after 25 years of meticulous work by a French archaeologist who has revealed it was one of the first "modern cities," purpose-built in the desert for the manufacture of copper arms and tools.

In a new book entitled "Mari, the Metropolis of the Euphrates," Jean-Claude Margueron said the third millennium BC city, in modern day Syria, was "one of the first modern cities of humanity. Created from scratch in one phase of construction with the specific goal of becoming this (metallurgical) centre."

This was an astounding concept for the period when cities developed from villages or trading posts and showed that the Mesopotamians were way ahead of their time in terms of urban design and development.

"How could a city develop in the third millennium BC in the middle of the desert, in a region devoid of copper and in a valley devastated by the floods of the Euphrates making any agriculture very risky?"

In an interview with AFP, Margueron, 70, repeated the question which haunted him during the decades of excavations of Mari, discovered in 1933 by his predecessor Andre Parrot.

In 1935, the temple of Ishtar, the statue of King Lamgi Mari, then the Grand Palace of the second millennium, and other temples and fabulous sculptures were discovered, followed by the living areas and a part of the third millennium palace.

When Margueron took over as director of excavations in 1979, most of the spectacular pieces had already been discovered. But the question remained: Why had they built Mari?

To rediscover the city, Margueron spent thousands of hours examining the basements, the terraces, the living quarters, traces of streets, and the surrounding areas - the former river bed of the Euphrates and other waterways.

"So they were discoveries, not always spectacular, rarely immediately important, but very significant for the overall understanding of the site and its integration in the geographical, historical and economic context," said Margueron.

"The" revelation of Mari -- spread over a dozen years but unpublished until now -- was the existence of a major centre of metallurgy, dating from 2,900 BC.

"In fact the metallurgy was everywhere in the city. It was the existence of this lucrative activity -- Mari produced arms and tools -- which justified everything which we had found previously," said Margueron.

A major navigable canal was discovered which followed the Euphrates river for 120 kilometres (75 miles) and allowed the transport of copper and wood from the Tauras mountains of modern Turkey to support the metallurgical activities of Mari.

They also discovered an irrigation channel which allowed agricultural production in an area which otherwise did not receive sufficient rainfall to grow crops. A third canal protected the city from flooding and allowed large boats to enter the city which was also protected by a levy bank and double ramparts.

"The builders of Mari knew the profits they could make from a economic hub between the south of Mesopotamia and the north, between the east and the Mediterranean.

"The innumerable riches of the archaeological discoveries made during these excavations shows they were right."
The Brother, Leader of the Revolution

Wednesday night, with my computer, down, and me, down, too, I wanted to find something entertaining on TV – a good movie, or, better, yet, “Seinfeld.” I flipped through the TV channels. The one that had “Seinfeld,” last summer, 2, the second channel of the Saudi MBC, had on a movie – I can’t remember, what – but I wasn’t interested in it. I went through the on-screen channel guide, and decided, with nothing of interest, on any of the English-language channels – or, I should say, the ones with American, or English-language, programming -- to try “Libya.” There, on the screen, was…"the man." He was wearing one of his…mini-fezes – a black one – and white robes, at which he’d occasionally tug, above his left shoulder. He’s a good-looking man. I wondered, why all these dictators – I guess, except for Hitler – are handsome. Saddam -- and Iraqis don’t like to hear this, let alone, say it -- is a good-looking man. I know, that once you get to know the man, he doesn’t look so good, anymore – gets to be, outright ugly. Sounds like a bad marriage, too, huh?

The man was sitting, behind a long table, at the base of the auditorium, lecturing the assembled hundreds. It was a wide, modern auditorium -- would make a very good concert hall -- with an upper deck, I think – looked a bit like E.J. Thomas Hall, in Akron. There were sections in the hall, with, exclusively women, almost all of whom were veiled, and military men, in cobalt-blue or olive-green uniforms. In the front row, behind desks, sat men in suits – I assumed, the ministers of his government – I don’t think there was a woman, among them. Across the bottom of the screen, the words, “The talk of the brother, leader of the revolution, on the activities of the Libyan people.” At the bottom-right of the screen, the logo for the station, in a geometric script: “al-Jemaaheeriyyeh” (the Masses – actually, it’s the adjective of the plural of “the masses”). He did mention, a couple of times, to the listeners, that they decided.

Among the things that grabbed my interest, he said, about Iraqi women, children and old men being killed, “We can’t be more Iraqi, than the Iraqis.” He used the same phrase for Palestinians, who, with Israelis, “were hugging each other, eating together.” Along the way – I didn’t note, how it came up – he said, “We can’t be more Kurdish, than the Kurds.” It might’ve had something to do with people suffering, being persecuted. The reference to Kurds surprised me, what with the huge Berber minority in the Maghreb. Maybe he views their treatment, in Libya, as just. It is, a socialist paradise, after all -- maybe not so Arab-centered.

He went on, at length, about the people who fought in Afghanistan, who returned, to cause trouble. One returnee, he said, ended up, killing his father. He also spoke, contentedly, about foreign companies, now in Libya, investing and producing oil and natural gas, and he named more than half a dozen countries, including, if I remember right, Canada, America and Australia. He said, more than once, “We want to be friends with America,” and also, “we don’t have any problems with America – anymore,” nor with Europe.

He spoke in a casual, discursive, semi-lecturing way. He said that countries have “allies, agents or enemies.” To America, “we’re none of those.” He got a big round of applause, for that line. I was surprised, actually, at how little the crowd was engaged – roused, by his words. A couple of people, were even slouched in their chairs. I expected, that all of them, would be true believers, or, at least, higher-ranking officials, who had to be there. Quite a few, too, were walking around, in the side-aisles and the row between the front and back sections. When Saddam spoke, audience members would be in rapt attention, and have to compete, to see who would jump higher, yell louder -- at almost every utterance. Yesterday's talk by Bashar Asad, was more like it.

Back to our man. He proclaimed that America couldn’t occupy Libya. “Proclaim,” might be too strong a description, for he didn’t raise his voice, and was sort of bumbling -- slurring his speech; sometimes, he was hard to hear, let alone, understand. That surprised me, too – the casualness with which he spoke, as if he was sort of tired of being king. I’m thinking about Mel Brooks’s line, from “A History of the World, Part I” – “It’s good to be the king.” Well, it seemed, a bit of a burden, for “the brother, leader.” About America’s inability to “occupy” Libya, he said, “We’re an armed people.” Every person would booby-trap himself, he said -- every house, each kitchen, every garden, would be mined – by people’s own will, of course – although he didn’t have to say that.

I didn’t see, for the 15-20 minutes I watched the talk – until electricity went off – when the event took place. Nor, was the word “mubaashir” (Live) on the screen, at any time.

Yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, we went to an uncle's house, for an open-house, on the occasion of Husayn's death. That's not Saddam Husayn, but Husayn, the grandson of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, who was killed in the year 680. His slaying was the fountainhead – the defining moment -- of Shi'ism. There's more to be said, about the gathering, the open-house, at which huge vats, the size of the mid-section of a VW Beetle, of rice and qeemeh (a ground-chick-pea-and-meat stew) are served – to all and any. I bring the gathering up, because, there, I met the hothead of my dreams. More on him, what he said, later, too. I bring him up, because he spent seven years in Libya, and he mentioned that for five years (I'd previously heard, 10), Qathaafi prohibited the speaking of English – I assume, the reading and writing of it, too, although…. This reminded me, that in his speech, Qathaafi said, at one point – maybe when he was saying, you can't be more Iraqi than the Iraqis, etc. – "When in Rome, do, as the Romans do." He translated it, for his audience – before, or after, saying it, in English.
West Palm Beach soldier is killed in Ramadi
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 01, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Pfc. Chassan S. Henry, 20, of West Palm Beach, Fla., died Feb. 25 in Ramadi, Iraq, from injuries sustained from an explosion while he was conducting combat operations. Henry was assigned to the Army's 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division, Camp Hovey, Korea.
Corpus Christi soldier is killed in Baghdad
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 02, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Pfc. Danny L. Anderson, 29, of Corpus Christi, Texas, died Feb. 27 in Baghdad, Iraq, from injuries sustained from small arms fire. Anderson was assigned to the Army's 26th Forward Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.
Two Legislators Withdraw in Impatience From Fragile Shiite Coalition

The New York Times
March 5, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 4 - Two newly elected politicians announced Friday that they were withdrawing from the fragile political alliance cobbled together by the country's most powerful Shiite cleric, marking the first notable fracture within the alliance.

The defections expose the vulnerability of the Shiite parties as they struggle to form a coalition government with other political groups, and showed the limits of the influence of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the cleric who assembled the alliance. The split signaled that any talks to form a new government would probably be protracted, as rivals to the Shiites try to take advantage of weaknesses in the alliance.

The divisions improve the chances of politicians like Ayad Allawi, the interim prime minister, to pull together a disparate coalition to challenge the Shiites, who have the most seats in the new constitutional assembly.

Dr. Allawi or other politicians could try to woo the defectors, or any allies they could pick off from the Shiite coalition, in an attempt to form the two-thirds majority needed in the constitutional assembly to seat a government. The departure of the two politicians leaves the alliance with just 138 seats in the 275-member assembly, barely a majority.

One of the departing politicians, Sheik Abdul Karim al-Muhammadawi, said as many as eight others on the Shiite list might withdraw. Mr. Muhammadawi is a close ally of Ahmad Chalabi, the former Pentagon favorite who last week withdrew his bid to become prime minister. It is not clear what role, if any, Mr. Chalabi played in the defections.

It has been more than a month since the elections on Jan. 30, and the two defecting politicians said they had left the alliance because of the delays in forming a new government, which they said should take office immediately to deal with the precarious security situation.

Violence has continued to surge throughout central and northern Iraq. On Friday, four marines were killed in combat in restive Anbar Province, the American military said. An American soldier also died in a vehicle accident near Tikrit, in the north.

Gunmen also shot and killed Lt. Col. Ghaib Haddad Zerib, a police chief in Al Budair, south of Baghdad, Interior Ministry officials said. A car bomb exploded near Baquba, northeast of the capital, killing one civilian and injuring three others, police officials in Baquba said.

The most wanted man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant, has begun to circulate a magazine on the Internet aimed at inspiring attacks against the Americans. The magazine has photos of President Bush and Osama bin Laden and includes text from Mr. bin Laden praising Mr. Zarqawi's fighters. Mr. Zarqawi's group, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, claimed responsibility in an Internet posting on Friday for two suicide car bombings that killed five policemen on Thursday at the Interior Ministry.

The two departing Shiite politicians first announced their plans on Friday on Al Arabiya, a satellite news network based in Dubai. Mr. Muhammadawi, an influential politician from Amara, a southern city near the Shiite marshlands, heads the Hezbollah Party (which has no ties to the party of the same name in Lebanon, listed by the United States as a terrorist organization). The other politician is Ali Hashem Yousha, the head of a little-known party called the National Coalition.

Mr. Muhammadawi said in a telephone interview that the main reason he had lost confidence in the Shiite alliance was that the alliance had failed so far to install a government. "There hasn't even been a meeting yet to choose a new president," he said.

The members of the constitutional assembly must choose a president and vice president by a two-thirds vote. The presidency council, as it is called, then appoints a prime minister and cabinet members. The assembly would then approve the new government by a majority vote.

The easiest path to power for the Shiite alliance is to join with the main Kurdish alliance, which has more than a quarter of the assembly seats. The Shiites have nominated Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the leader of the Dawa Islamic Party, for prime minister, while the Kurds are pushing for Jalal Talabani, the founder of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, to be president. But the two groups have been mired in tough negotiations.

Dr. Allawi has said he wants to be prime minister and is trying to pull together a secular coalition to challenge the Shiite alliance.

Mr. Muhammadawi's withdrawal could have a significant ripple effect. Before the elections, he agreed to ally the Hezbollah Party with the Shiite Council, an umbrella political group assembled by Mr. Chalabi that later joined forces with the Sistani group, the United Iraqi Alliance. The Shiite Council has at least a dozen members in the Shiite alliance, and Mr. Muhammadawi could take some of them with him.

Last week Mr. Chalabi withdrew from a campaign for the prime minister's office, allowing the Shiite alliance to settle on Dr. Jaafari as its nominee. Some members of the Shiite Council said they might try nominating their own members, including Mr. Muhammadawi, to be president or prime minister.

Humam Hamoudi, a senior official in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful member of the Shiite alliance, said the reasons Mr. Muhammadawi and Mr. Yousha gave for their departures were "incredible."

"I think it's a political game that those two members are playing with Mr. Allawi," Mr. Hamoudi said. "They want to join in a coalition with him so that if he becomes prime minister, they will get some of the ministries."

At a lunch with Western reporters inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, Dr. Jaafari acknowledged that the absence of a new government was eroding the confidence of the people.

"There is a question mark from the people because they are not sure what is really going on," he said. "They have a right that the process should go faster. We think it has been delayed, but we're hoping it will be resolved within a reasonable time and not be delayed further."

Robert F. Worth contributed reporting for this article.
Two 27-year-old New York City soldiers are killed by a bomb in Baghdad
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

Mar 04, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the death of two Soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The soldiers died on Mar. 2 in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near their military vehicle. Both soldiers were assigned to the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, Manhattan, New York, N. Y.

The Soldiers are:

Spc. Azhar Ali, 27 of Flushing, N.Y.

Spc. Wai P. Lwin, 27, of Queens, N.Y.


The Task Ahead
Now we need the media's help in Iraq.

The Wall Street Journal
Monday, February 28, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST

Barely a month ago, Iraqis voted in their first ever fully democratic elections. It was an exciting and proud moment for all Iraqis, free at last after decades of tyranny. There was never any doubt, despite the intimidation and terrorism, that millions of Iraqis would take their chance to play their part in history.

The new--and freely elected--Iraqi Parliament has already been formed. We are now in the process of shaping the new Executive. When this is achieved, the role of the Interim Government will be complete. For me, personally, it has been a great honor to have played my part in laying the foundations for a free and prosperous Iraq, at peace with itself and with its neighbors.

We faced many challenges, not least in ensuring the Iraqi people had this chance to take control of their own future. But the challenges for the next government are just as many and as daunting. Above all, we must continue the process of national reconciliation which has, in truth, only just begun. It is now clear that early decisions to disband the army and to engage in a doctrinal, as opposed to a more pragmatic, de-Baathification process have made the task harder. They were, I accept, taken for the best of motives but their impact has been to increase suspicions among ethnic and religious groups and to make it harder to improve security.

We have to work hard to tackle these challenges. Most important, we must ensure that all views and constituencies are included and reflected as we build the new government and security forces, in the appointment of ministers and officials, and as we continue to build new and stronger relationships with our neighbors.

It is why the drafting of the new constitution--the main task of the new Parliament--is so crucial to the future of our country. The task of writing this constitution is as critical for us as the task performed by your country's Founding Fathers. Our Founding Fathers must ensure the constitution guarantees basic rights for all Iraqis, safeguards our hard-won democracy and reflects fairly--and is seen to reflect--the views of Iraq's diverse population. If we can meet this challenge, the new constitution will provide a huge opportunity to heal the divisions across Iraqi society which were deliberately deepened by Saddam Hussein. It will be of immense practical and symbolic importance, showing just how determined we are to heal the wounds and to live as brothers and sisters in our own country.

* * *

The Shia Islamist community who engaged with such enthusiasm in January's elections must show they will not exploit their parliamentary strength to the exclusion and detriment of other groups. They should invite the full participation of the Iraqi community and this invitation must be warm and genuine. If it is, the Sunni, liberal Shiites, Christians and others must respond with equal sincerity. Having been reassured that they will not face collective retaliation for the crimes of the predominantly Sunni Baathist regime, they now need to engage fully and without hesitation in the political process.

We have a better chance of getting this right if the constitutional debate is as broad and public as possible. The whole of Iraqi society needs to be engaged in both the debate and the reconciliation which it should bring. This places a big responsibility on the new, free media in Iraq.

But the pan-Arab media has a big role to play as well--something it already appeared to relish during the election campaign. Arabic satellite TV stations such as Al Arabiya were obviously excited and inspired by the sight of real democracy in the heart of the Arab world. By reporting fairly on the elections, they in turn inspired their Arab audience across the Middle East and beyond. Iraqis were proud to see their country dominating the region's airwaves, and indeed the media of the world, for reasons not of war or conflict, but for the fascinating sight of real democracy at work.

The elections were a big turning point--not just in Iraq but also internationally. In Iraq, we are relieved that the much-needed reconciliation between pro-war and antiwar powers has now been achieved. Now that the differences about the past have been confined to history, we can all focus on the needs of the future. I am delighted to see that more European countries and others are now coming forward to help us in the huge task of rebuilding our country.

Beyond these political challenges, two other familiar and no less formidable challenges remain: Iraq's security and Iraq's economy. We need to continue to build Iraq's security forces and security apparatus in a transparent and accountable, as well as effective, manner. This will both improve security and allow the multinational forces to leave Iraq. Grateful as we are to the international community for the help and their sacrifices to date, Iraqis should be able to start taking over more and more security responsibilities very soon. But we will continue to need and to seek assistance for some time to come.

Security is also absolutely essential to rebuild the economy, to create the jobs Iraqis need and to start the slow process of spreading prosperity. We were once one of the most prosperous countries in the region. We can be again. Our natural resources remain, as do the skills and energy of the Iraqi people. Many of the building blocks--domestic and international--are in place for a real explosion in Iraq's production and productivity. But the real effects will not be felt until better security unlocks much of the dormant capital and the potential investment waiting to come in.

* * *

The period ahead will be no less fascinating than the last 20 months in Iraq. The pace and the extent of change will be no less rapid or far-reaching. Some of the focus of the international community--at least the non-Arab community--may shift away now that we have reached and passed as critical a milestone as January's elections. And that will, frankly, be welcome: The unremitting glare of the world's spotlights all trained on Iraq has made our job at times even harder than it otherwise would have been.

But our enthusiasm, and my enthusiasm, for the job ahead is no less today than it was in April 2003. In Iraq, as we build our future, we make history. The support of our allies, who have already given so much, will remain crucial to our success. But that future first and foremost depends on our own commitment and efforts. I can assure you that no one wants to see a successful Iraq more than the Iraqis themselves. And I am confident that we have both the ability and the determination to succeed.

Dr. Allawi is interim prime minister of Iraq.

In the news

Two parties have announced their withdrawal from the United Iraqi Alliance, the leading vote-getter in the elections for the national assembly. The parties are: Hizbullah and the Patriotic Alliance. It was previously reported that some members from the UIA had split off, and allied themselves with interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqi List, in his quest to retain his post.

Artists in Babil province displayed paintings memorializing the Monday massacre in Hilla. The Guernica-like scenes were displayed outdoors, near the site of Monday's car-bombing, which killed 125 people and injured more than 100 more. The killed and wounded were waiting outside a health center, for blood and vision tests for employment, or were in the large outdoor market opposite the health center. On the walls of buildings along the site also hung long black banners with words painted in white and yellow, condemning the killings and terrorism, and expressing sympathy and solidarity to the people of Hilla. A Hillawi interviewed on the street said, "This is not resistance; it's terrorism." The countries surrounding Iraq, he described as "not our neighbors, they're not our friends."

In Samawa, a large procession against the terrorist act in Hilla was held, Friday.

According to the Iraqi television station al-Sharqiyya (The Oriental), Italian sources say that U.S. forces tried to kill Giuliana Sgrena, the Italian journalist just freed by (or rescued from) kidnappers, because she possessed information, damaging to the United States. Sharqiyyah is run by Sa'ad al-Bazzaz, who headed media operations in Iraq until he fled Iraq, after the Kuwait war. Bazzaz, who also publishes the newspaper a-Zamaan, returned to Iraq, after the fall of Saddam, and fled, again, last year, after pictures of him, at leasure with Saddam's son Uday, were publicized.

The Mayzaan (Balance) Organization for the Defense of Human Rights held a conference in Baghdad, Saturday, to detail the damage done to Falluja in November's military operations in the city. One speaker said that 90 percent of the city was destroyed. At least two people spoke of the use of "internationally prohibited weapons." A doctor from Falluja said that U.S. forces admitted using "chemical materials." The conference included pictures of the killed and wounded, and called for independent groups to enter the city, and for compensation for the damage.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Kurds Set Out Their Demands

Kurdish parties’ controversial claim on Kirkuk likely to be source of tension in post-election coalition building.

By Talar Nadir and Zaineb Naji in Sulaimaniyah
Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Iraqi Crisis Report No. 113, 18-Feb-05

Kurdish politicians, keen to capitalise on their newly acquired political power, are outlining their demands in negotiations to establish a new government.

The Kurdish Alliance List, made up of the two main Kurdish parties, came second in the January 30 elections with almost 2.2 million votes, giving it 75 seats in the National Assembly.

Because a two-thirds majority is required to take key decisions in 275-member parliament - including forming a cabinet - the Kurdish coalition has been courted in recent days by the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance and by the Iraqi List led by interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shia.

The United Iraqi Alliance, which is supported by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, will have 140 seats in the assembly, with 183 needed for a two-thirds majority, and the third-placed Iraqi List will get 40.

In meetings with various parties to hammer out who will hold various government posts and other issues, Kurdish politicians are making their demands known.

It seems likely that the Kurds will get their wish of holding the presidency and they have put forward Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, leader Jalal Talabani for the post.

But other Kurdish demands, such as moving the border of Iraqi Kurdistan further south to include the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and maintaining their militia, the peshmerga, are more contentious. The Kurds also want to increase their share of national budget expenditure, which currently stands at 17 per cent.

“We will be receptive to the faction which is more responsive to our demands, and those demands should be included in the constitution,” said Mullah Bakhtiar, a member of the PUK political bureau.

The status of Kirkuk, which is also claimed by Arabs and Turkomans, is an extremely sensitive issue, largely because it is the home of Iraq’s northern oil fields. But the Kurds are unlikely to budge on their claim to the city. Adnan Mufti, a member of the PUK political bureau, said, “ The issue of Kirkuk had been a main issue in the negotiations with the Baath regime,” he said. “So now, in a democratic, federal country, how can we [drop] the issue of Kirkuk?”

Arabs and Turkomans are worried because the Kirkuk Brotherhood List, made up of the two main Kurdish parties, received 59.2 per cent of the vote for the local governorate elections, the top spot in the race. That means the Kurdish parties would get at least 24 of 41 seats on the governorate council of Taamim province, which includes Kirkuk.

“Kirkuk originally is not a Kurdish city,” said Mueen Ahmed Ali, a professor at the University of Baghdad’s College of Law. “If we give up Kirkuk, then the Kurds will be independent and have this oil wealth for themselves and deprive Iraq of it.”

It seems Kurdish desires for a federalist state may be shared by the United Iraqi Alliance, which would have more control over the oil fields in the Shia-dominated south under such a system.

Iraqi Kurdistan, which includes the provinces of Dahuk, Arbil and Sulimaniyah, has been a semi-autonomous region since the 1991 Kurdish uprising.

“Federalism should be prevalent in all the corners of Iraq,” said Mofaq Rubai, a candidate of the United Iraqi Alliance. “Look at the experience of Kurdistan, which is enjoying the benefits of federalism.”

But Kurdish wishes to maintain their autonomy is not agreeable to other Arabs, who fear that a federalist state would be a precursor to complete independence for Iraqi Kurdistan.

Sheikha Lamia Abdulsakr, a candidate on the Iraqi List, said her personal opinion was that it was too early to decentralise Iraq.

“I don’t encourage federalism in Iraq because we want a united Iraq from north to south, with one heart, one hand and one flag,” she said.

As for maintaining the Kuridish militia, Bakhtiar said the national government should be grateful because having the peshmerga maintain security in Kurdistan would free up Iraq’s national security forces to deal with other areas.

“We can defend our own area with our own forces so we lessen that burden on their shoulders,” he said.

Although Kurdish politicians will face pressure from other political groups to make concessions during negotiations, their supporters will urge them not to give way, as they see the elections as an historic opportunity to finally make their voices heard.

“This time the Kurds will go to Baghdad with great power and they will get most of their demands,” said Fareed Asasard, head of the Kurdistan Journalists’ Union. “Iraq can’t be run without the Kurds, so making a coalition with any faction should be on the basis of agreement, not concession.”

Talar Nadir and Zaineb Naji are IWPR trainee journalists in Sulaimaniyah.
This Institute for War and Peace Reporting article is available in Kurdish and Arabic.
In the news

The United Iraqi Alliance, the leading vote-getter in the elections for the national parliament, says it now has 151 of the 275 assembly seats. The UIA also says it has reached agreement with the Kurdish list, which claims it has 77 seats, on the formation of a national unity government.

The Kurdish leaders appeared together, Thursday, and said they would join any party that meets their demands, at the top of which is inclusion of Kerkuk in the Kurdish self-rule region.

A group of UIA members has declared it has withdrawn from the list -- I don't have further details. The Shi'a Political Council, an amalgamation of 38 political parties, including Ahmad Chalabi's and Muqtada Sadir's, previously announced its withdrawal from UIA, accusing the UIA of undemocratic practices. This may have to do with the UIA's making its choice for prime minister, without a secret ballot.

Ahmad Chalabi has called for a dialogue with armed groups.

Humam Hammoudi, appearing this evening on television, called for the immediate convening of the national assembly, even if agreement hasn't been reached on the makeup of the government. Hammoudi is the top deputy to Abdil-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Revolution in Iraq, who is also the number one name on the UIA list. Many people have grown impatient, over the fact that a government hasn't been formed.

Bakhtiyar Amin, minister of human rights, said the first person from the former regime to be tried, will be Barazan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti, one of Saddam's three half-brothers. At the top of the bill of indictments against Tikriti will be the crime of wiping out the town of Dujail, in 1982. Tikriti, as head of the Mukhabarat, in 1980, likely gave the order to poison my aunt.
U.S. troops make progress training Iraqi forces
I was a bit stunned, to see this (positive) headline, in the list of the day's top news items, on the main page of Yahoo!
U.S. troops are making progress training Iraqi forces

By Susannah A. Nesmith, Knight Ridder Newspapers
Thu Mar 3, 3:48 PM ET

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Troy Hawkins is proud of the men he refers to as "my guys." The Iraqi soldiers he's been training for almost a year are in one of the first battalions to take operational control of a sector of Baghdad from the Americans - and it's one of the deadliest neighborhoods in town.

The insurgents are actually afraid now, boasted Hawkins, of the 1st Infantry, 9th Regiment, from Fort Hood, Texas. "The Iraqis will stand and fight," he said.

That's a big step forward. Only when Iraqi security forces take control of this troubled country can American officials begin to draw down the 150,000 U.S. troops here.

Yet Hawkins' success in finding, training and equipping Iraqis who are willing to stay and fight is just the beginning. Those troops still can't stop suicide bombers such as the one Wednesday that hit the base where Hawkins' soldiers are training. A "daisy chain" car bomb of three 135 mm artillery rounds and a Russian air-to-ground bomb detonated one after the other, killing five Iraqi soldiers and several civilians.

And they couldn't prevent firefights such as the one last month in which Hawkins was shot twice by an insurgent.

"If we leave now, it's going to be total chaos," Hawkins said the day after an American Army doctor took one of the bullets out of his arm. He refused the doctor's advice to evacuate to Germany for treatment. "What will take five years to help get straightened out will take 10 if we go."

The training mission, possibly the United States' most important effort here, faces a host of challenges, beginning with basic flaws in its design. The Americans initially planned for a lightly equipped, minimally trained force able to handle civil disturbances, back when they thought the war would end quickly.

At first, only one U.S. captain was assigned to the 302nd Battalion of the Iraqi army, but that grew to nine American soldiers and officers, including Hawkins, as the job evolved and they realized the magnitude of their work.

"One of the lessons we've learned is the guys doing this need to be identified stateside so they can take some Arabic, get ready," said Capt. Whit Weeks, of Fayetteville, Ark., who's also training the 1,000-man 302nd.

"People have been doing this for a long time," he said, referring to Americans training foreign militaries. "The special forces do it. There are manuals about how to do it. But we couldn't get them because we didn't know we were going to be doing this. We've had to learn on the ground."

The Americans who designed Iraq's postwar security system didn't suspect that an insurgency would spring up intent on ousting the Americans and any U.S.-supported government, and they didn't plan for the heavy equipment needed.

Now the design's been changed: The Iraqi National Guard recently was folded into the army out of recognition that Iraq continues to be at war and a lightly equipped and trained national guard no longer made sense. And the Americans are working to get better equipment for the Iraqi security forces.

Equipment would do a lot to bolster the Iraqi army, according to Col. Talib Mohsin Alaa, the commander of the 302nd Iraqi Battalion.

"We can take control of this area, but we still need the United States because we don't have tanks or grenades," he said. "The terrorists have all the weapons. We just have rifles."

Wrapping paper dotted with purple hearts covers the windows of Alaa's office, hiding him from snipers' eyes. His battalion has an odd assortment of World War II-era Russian trucks, Nissan pickups and British vans. Parts are scarce. Without a safe, he keeps his pistol in the paper tray of his printer.

Aside from equipment, Alaa worries about his men's loyalty. Like many, if not most, Iraqi units, some people in the 302nd are feeding information about operations to insurgent bombers.

"There are definitely infiltrators, and you can't stop it," Weeks said. "When we have a plan for a large-scale mission, someone will go out on Haifa Street the day before with loudspeakers announcing, 'The Iraqi army is coming.' "

"But am I afraid I'm going to go out there and get shot in the back by one of our guys? No," he said.

His confidence in the Iraqi soldiers comes from watching their sacrifices. In the past year, 18 officers and soldiers in the 302nd Battalion have been assassinated while off duty.

"I've moved my family two times," because of insurgent threats, Alaa said, as he dismissed a captain who'd just changed into a long dishdasha robe and a head scarf. None of the Iraqis leaves the base in uniform.

"My youngest is 5 years old, and if you ask him where his father works, he will tell you his father is a guard at the Ministry of Health," Alaa said. "This is a dangerous job but I need to give my kids a future in peace, like kids in other countries have."

He's quick to point out that American families have made sacrifices in this war too.

"Don't forget how these U.S. soldiers leave their wives and kids to come here and give us freedom," he said. "We have to thank them for doing that for us."

An American advising the 302nd also has been killed in battle in the last year. Several others, including Weeks, have sustained shrapnel wounds.

The 302nd's area of operations is Haifa Street, Baghdad's deadliest neighborhood, where insurgents hide in a warren of alleyways and attack neighboring areas and Iraqi and American patrols.

That's where Hawkins, a 37-year-old father of four, was shot Feb. 16.

"We had received grenades," Hawkins recalled. "I came around the corner to lock it down, trying to move two squads of Iraqis down the alley. I took my eyes off the alley to look back to see where my guys were, and I saw out of the corner of my eye two guys pop up with Kalashnikovs."

He said he fired off two rounds before he felt a bullet rip into his leg. He kept firing until another hit his arm. A few hours after American doctors treated him and he refused their advice to evacuate to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, he went back to his Iraqi battalion.

"I have a mission here," he said. "I didn't want to leave them this close to the end of my tour."
Hawkins, who'll be taking home a slug still embedded in his leg, admitted he's become attached to the men of the 302nd.

"I've seen guys with grenade fragments in them, bleeding, pulling people off the street, getting kids out of the way," he said. "Then they'll fight the enemy. And they rescued a hostage one day. They heard banging on the door. We were getting shot and catching grenades, and they rescued a hostage. Anyone else would have ignored that banging. ... They're very determined to make this work."
Iraqi civilians see it, too. This afternoon, I was at friends' home, for lunch, and they were remarking, at the remarkable difference, over the last six months, and that now, the national guard is fearsome -- "we're even afraid of them, now."

Friday, March 04, 2005

Subj: national assembly, to meet soon

Date: 3/4/2005 1:31:40 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: Ayad

Hi, Sa'ad,

I've heard -- and you probably have, too -- that Ahmad Chalabi wants the national assembly to convene, on the 6th, which is Sunday. That probably won't happen, though -- according to a few people here -- and it's more likely to happen, Monday or Tuesday. Most people -- politicians, that is -- are saying, that it should happen, next week.

See you.
Sa'ad, who works in Iraq, but is out of the country, now, asked me to let him know, when the assembly would convene, as he said he could get an invitation, to attend. I asked him to get me in, with him.
Zarqawi: Do we got him?

According to the web-site al-Jeeran, which looks like a good one, Abu-Mus'ab al-Zarqawi is in custody. The article, based on wire service reports, says that high-ranking Iraqi sources revealed yesterday, that Zarqawi was captured and that his capture will be announced, when an Iraqi government is appointed. He, along with three of his top aides, the article says, were captured along the Syria border, as they attempted to cross it. They have since been in a U.S. prison. The delay, the article says, will make the capture a gift of the U.S. government, to the new Iraqi government, to give it a good boost.

Zarqawi, the article says, was captured before Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's last visit to Iraq, and that he (Rumsfeld) sat in, on an interrogation session with Zarqawi. More than once, Iraqi officials have said recently, that they were on the verge of capturing Zarqawi, and, just two or three days ago, General John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, said that Zarqawi's "days were numbered."
Merchants of Despair
Sort of for the war, sort of...

Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online Contributor
February 25, 2005, 7:48 a.m.

Much of the recent domestic critique of American efforts in the Middle East has long roots in our own past — and little to do with the historic developments on the ground in Iraq

1. "It's America's fault."

Some on the hard left sought to cite our support for Israel or general "American imperialism" in the Middle East as culpable for bin Laden's wrath on September 11. Past American efforts to save Muslims in Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia, Kuwait, and Afghanistan counted for little. Even less thanks were earned by billions of dollars given to Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. The Islamofascist vision of a Dark Age world run by unelected imams — where women were in seclusion, homosexuals were killed, Jews were terrorized, Christians were routed, and freedom was squelched — registered little, even though such visions were by definition at war with all that Western liberalism stands for.

This flawed idea that autocrats supposedly hate democracy more for what it does rather than for what it represents is not new. On the eve of World War II isolationists on the right insisted that America had treated Germany unfairly after World War I and wrongly sided with British imperialism in its efforts to rub in their past defeat. "International Jewry" was blamed for poisoning the good will between the two otherwise friendly countries by demanding punitive measures from a victimized Germany. Likewise, poor Japan was supposedly unfairly cut off from American ore and petroleum, and hemmed in by provocative Anglo Americans.

By the late 1940s things had changed, and now it was the turn of the old Left, which blamed "fascists" for ruining the hallowed American-Soviet wartime alliance by "isolating" and "surrounding" the Russians with hostile bases and allies. The same was supposedly true of China: We were lectured ad nauseam by idealists and "China hands" that Mao "really" wanted to cultivate American friendship, but was spurned by our right-wing ideologues — as if there were nothing of the absolutism and innate thuggery in him that would soon account for 50 million or more murdered and starved.

Ditto the animosity from dictators like Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro. The Left assured us instead that both were actually neo-Jeffersonians whose olive branches were crushed by Cold Warriors, and who then — but only then — went on to plan their own gulags in Vietnam and Cuba.

2. "Americans are weak."

Before we went into Afghanistan, we were hectored that the country's fierce people, colonial history, rugged terrain, hostile neighbors, foreign religion, and shattered infrastructure made victory unlikely. We also forget now how the Left warned us of terrible casualties and millions of refugees before the Iraq war, and then went dormant until the insurgents emerged. At that point it resurfaced to assure that Iraq was lost and precipitate withdrawal our only hope, only to grow quiet again after the recent Iraqi election — a cycle that followed about the same 20-month timetable of military victory to voting in Afghanistan.

Now a new geopolitical litany has arisen: The reserves are "shattered"; North Korea, Syria, and Iran are untouchable while we are "bogged down" in the Sunni Triangle; a schedule for withdrawal from Iraq needs to be spelled out; there is no real American-trained Iraqi army; the entire Arab world hates us; blah, blah, blah...

In 1917, "a million men over there" was considered preposterous for a Potemkin American Expeditionary Force; by late 1918 it was chasing Germany out of Belgium. Charles Lindbergh returned from an obsequious visitation with Goering to warn us that the Luftwaffe was unstoppable. Four years later it was in shambles as four-engine American bombers reduced the Third Reich to ashes.

Japanese Zeroes, supposed proof of comparative American backwardness in 1941-2, were the easy targets of "Turkey Shoots" by 1944 as American fighters blew them out of the skies. Sputnik "proved" how far we were behind the socialist workhorse in Russia, even as we easily went to the moon first a little over a decade later. The history of the American military and economy in the 20th century is one of being habitually underestimated, even as the United States defeated Prussian imperialism, German Nazism, Italian fascism, Japanese militarism, and Stalinist Communism.

Nor in our more recent peacetime were we buried by stagflation, Jimmy Carter's "malaise," Japan, Inc., and all the other supposed bogeymen that were prophesized to overwhelm the institutional strength of the American state, its free-enterprise system, and the highly innovative and individualistic nature of the American people.

3. "They are supermen."

When suicide murderers dominated the news of the Intifada, followed by the car bombers and beheaders of the Sunni Triangle, many in the West despaired that there was no thwarting such fanatics. Perhaps they simply believed more in their cause than we did in ours. How can you stop someone who kills to die rather than merely dying to kill?

That Ariel Sharon in two years defeated the Intifada by decapitating the Hamas leadership, starting the fence, announcing withdrawal from Gaza, and humiliating Arafat was forgotten. In the same manner few now write or think about how the United States military went into the heart of darkness in Fallujah and simply destroyed or routed the insurgents of that fundamentalist stronghold in less than two weeks, an historic operation that ensured a successful turnout on election day and an eventual takeover by an elected Iraqi government.

So this paradox of exaggerating the strength of our weaker enemies is likewise an American trademark. Spiked-helmeted Prussians were considered vicious pros who would make short work of doughboy hicks who had trained with brooms and sticks. Indeed, the German imperial army of World War I may have been made up of the most formidable foot soldiers of any age. Still, it was destroyed in less than four years by supposedly decadent and corrupt liberal democracies.

The Gestapo was the vanguard of a new Aryan super-race, pitiless and proud in its martial superiority. How could soda-jockeys of the Depression ever fight something like the Waffen SS with poor equipment, little training, and a happy-go-lucky attitude rather than an engrained death wish? Rather easily as it turned out, as the Allies not only defeated Nazism but literally annihilated it in about five years. Kamikazes were also felt to be otherworldly in their eerie death cult — who, after all, in the United States would take off to ram his Corsair or Hellcat into a Japanese ship? No matter — the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Army Air Corps were not impressed, and rather quickly destroyed not merely the death pilots but the very culture that launched them.

4. "We are alone."

George Bush was said to have alienated the world, as if our friends in Eastern Europe, Britain, Australia, and a billion in India did not matter. Yet the same was said in 1941 when Latin America, Asia, and Africa were in thrall to the Axis. Neutrals like Spain, Argentina, and Turkey wanted little to do with a disarmed United States that had unwisely found itself in a two-front war with the world's most formidable military powers.

By the 1950s we seemed to have defeated Germany and Japan only to have subsequently "lost" China and Eastern Europe once more. Much of Asia and Latin America deified the mass-murdering Stalin and Mao while deriding elected American presidents. The Richard Clarks and Joe Wilsons of that age lectured about a paranoid Eisenhower administration, clumsy CIA work, and the general hopelessness of ever defeating global Communism, whose spores sprouted almost everywhere in the form of Nasserism, Pan-Arabism, Baathism, Castroism, and various "national liberationist" movements.

5. Why?

Why do Americans do all this to themselves? In part, the nature of an open society is constant self-critique, especially at times of national elections. Our successes at creating an affluent and free citizenry also only raise the bar ever higher as we sense we are closer to heaven on earth — and with a little more perfection could walk more like gods than crawl as mere men.

There are also still others among us who are impatient with the give and take of a consensual society. They harbor a secret admiration for the single-mindedness of the zealot in pursuit of a utopian cause — hence the occasional crazy applause given by some Americans to the beheading "Minutemen" of the Sunni Triangle or the "brave" "combat teams" who killed 3,000 on September 11.

Finally, the intellectual class that we often read and hear from is increasingly divorced from much of what makes America work, especially the sort of folk who join the military. They have little appreciation that the U.S. Marine Corps is far more deadly than Baathist diehards or Taliban remnants — or that a fleet of American bombers with GPS bombs can do more damage in a few seconds than most of the suicide bombers of the Middle East could do in a year.

It is wise to cite and publicize our errors — and there have been many in this war. Humility and circumspection are military assets as well. And we should not deprecate the danger of our enemies, who are cruel and ingenious. Moreover, we should never confuse the sharp dissent of the well-meaning critic with disloyalty to the cause.

But nor should we fall into pessimism, when in less than four years we have destroyed the two worst regimes in the Middle East, scattered al Qaeda, avoided another promised 9/11 at home, and sent shock waves of democracy throughout the Arab world — so far at an aggregate cost of less than what was incurred on the first day of this unprovoked war. Car bombs are bad news, but in the shadows is the real story: The terrorists are losing, and radical reform, the likes of which millions have never seen, is right on the horizon. So this American gloominess is not new. Yet, if the past is any guide, our present lack of optimism in this struggle presages its ultimate success.

A final prediction: By the end of this year, formerly critical liberal pundits, backsliding conservative columnists, once-fiery politicians, Arab "moderates," ex-statesmen and generals emeriti, smug stand-up comedians, recently strident Euros — perhaps even Hillary herself — will quietly come to a consensus that what we are witnessing from Afghanistan and the West Bank to Iraq and beyond, with its growing tremors in Lebanon, Libya, Egypt, and the Gulf, is a moral awakening, a radical break with an ugly past that threatens a corrupt, entrenched, and autocratic elite and is just the sort of thing that they were sort of for, sort of all along — sort of...

— Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His website is victorhanson.com.
Confronting the killers

A powerful scene, being repeated on television here, shows two women, each confronting her son’s killer. The killers are among terrorists captured recently in Mosul, and shown on television, confessing to their crimes. After I was told about the mothers, three days ago, I got to see a few seconds of the scene. This is part of the televised confessions of terrorists captured in Mosul, clips of which have been shown, during programming breaks. I saw one of the women, grab the man, and, wailing, started slapping him. The men were lined up, against a wall of the courtyard of the prison or security headquarters. I’d been told, that one of the women yelled at the killer, that her boy was “orphaned,” and she’d raised him, by herself. He joined the police, she said, when he was 17, and “then, you, his friend, killed him.”

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Why Not Here?

The New York Times
Published: February 26, 2005

This is the most powerful question in the world today: Why not here? People in Eastern Europe looked at people in Western Europe and asked, Why not here? People in Ukraine looked at people in Georgia and asked, Why not here? People around the Arab world look at voters in Iraq and ask, Why not here?

Thomas Kuhn famously argued that science advances not gradually but in jolts, through a series of raw and jagged paradigm shifts. Somebody sees a problem differently, and suddenly everybody's vantage point changes.

"Why not here?" is a Kuhnian question, and as you open the newspaper these days, you see it flitting around the world like a thought contagion. Wherever it is asked, people seem to feel that the rules have changed. New possibilities have opened up.

The question is being asked now in Lebanon. Walid Jumblatt made his much circulated observation to David Ignatius of The Washington Post: "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world."

So now we have mass demonstrations on the streets of Beirut. A tent city is rising up near the crater where Rafik Hariri was killed, and the inhabitants are refusing to leave until Syria withdraws. The crowds grow in the evenings; bathroom facilities are provided by a nearby Dunkin' Donuts and a Virgin Megastore.

The head of the Syrian Press Syndicate told The Times on Thursday: "There's a new world out there and a new reality. You can no longer have business as usual."

Meanwhile in Palestine, after days of intense pressure, many of the old Arafat cronies are out of the interim Palestinian cabinet. Fresh, more competent administrators have been put in. "What you witnessed is the real democracy of the Palestinian people," Saeb Erakat said to Alan Cowell of The Times. As Danny Rubinstein observed in the pages of Ha'aretz, the rules of the game have changed.

Then in Iraq, there is actual politics going on. The leaders of different factions are jostling. The tone of the coverage ebbs and flows as more or less secular leaders emerge and fall back, but the amazing thing is the politics itself. If we had any brains, we'd take up Reuel Marc Gerecht's suggestion and build an Iraqi C-Span so the whole Arab world could follow this process like a long political soap opera.

It's amazing in retrospect to think of how much psychological resistance there is to asking this breakthrough question: Why not here? We are all stuck in our traditions and have trouble imagining the world beyond. As Claus Christian Malzahn reminded us in Der Spiegel online this week, German politicians ridiculed Ronald Reagan's "tear down this wall" speech in 1987. They "couldn't imagine that there might be an alternative to a divided Germany."

But if there is one soft-power gift America does possess, it is this tendency to imagine new worlds. As Malzahn goes on to note, "In a country of immigrants like the United States, one actually pushes for change. ... We Europeans always want to have the world from yesterday, whereas the Americans strive for the world of tomorrow."

Stephen Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote an important essay for this page a few weeks ago, arguing that American diplomacy is often most effective when it pursues not an incrementalist but a "maximalist" agenda, leaping over allies and making the crude, bold, vantage-shifting proposal - like pushing for the reunification of Germany when most everyone else was trying to preserve the so-called stability of the Warsaw Pact.

As Sestanovich notes, and as we've seen in spades over the past two years in Iraq, this rashness - this tendency to leap before we look - has its downside. Things don't come out wonderfully just because some fine person asks, Why not here?

But this is clearly the question the United States is destined to provoke. For the final thing that we've learned from the papers this week is how thoroughly the Bush agenda is dominating the globe. When Bush meets with Putin, democratization is the center of discussion. When politicians gather in Ramallah, democratization is a central theme. When there's an atrocity in Beirut, the possibility of freedom leaps to people's minds.

Not all weeks will be as happy as this one. Despite the suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq, the thought contagion is spreading. Why not here?

Justice for Hilla

Today and yesterday, people in Hilla have taken to the streets, looking for answers. Monday morning, 125 of their townsfolk were killed, and another 100-plus, injured, as a car bomb struck outside a health center, where people were gathered, to have their blood and vision tested, for work in the civil service. Across from the health center, is the province's largest outdoor market. Hillawis have been demanding that the government punish the perpetrators, and are also looking for accountability from the government, for not protecting the town and its people. Another large bomb hit the central market, last summer.
I’m here – but, barely

My computer went…crash, yesterday, and it’s been a struggle, ever since.

This is my fourth try, to send…something,…so, I’m just going to say this, and…hope, it gets through.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Judge in Saddam trial is assassinated
Tuesday, March 01, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The judge overseeing the trial of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has been assassinated, FOX News has learned.

U.S. officials confirmed Judge Raid Juhi, 35, has been killed, and Iraqi officials are expected to provide details on his assassination.

Saddam is on trial for war crimes and genocide. The former dictator appeared before a special tribunal in July, where the charges against him were read.

While Saddam whereabouts and the location of the tribunal were kept top secret, a photograph showing him being questioned by Juhi on July 1 had been made public.

Juhi, who was also presiding over the criminal trials of 11 of Saddam's henchmen, has been living and working under U.S. and Iraqi military protection. It was not clear how a group of gunmen managed to shoot and kill him.

While an obvious target for assassination, Juhi refused to hide in anonymity. In an interview with the New York Times last October, he explained: "There is something very good in Iraqis being able to see that Saddam is gone and that he and other members of his regime now have to face the authority of a judge, of an ordinary man like me."
A pair of winners...for us all

A paragraph, from one of the maven's farewell fearsome foursome:
Win Some, Lose Some

The New York Times
January 24, 2005

Here's how some of my journalistic crusades turned out:

. . . .

Winner: Kurdish autonomy. Kurds say "the Kurds have no friends," but their legendary chieftain, Mustafa al-Barzani, was my friend. His oft-betrayed people, who suffered poison-gas attacks under Saddam, have built a safe, prosperous democracy in Iraqi Kurdistan, an inspiration to Iraqis and Muslims around the world. (Shortchanged Kurds tipped me to the U.N. oil-for-food scandal.) Although I underestimated the staying power of terrorists and Baathists, I believe Kurds will be part of the Iraqi majority that will rule, and history will judge our blow for freedom to be a winner.
Mr. Safire -- we hardly knew ya' -- Not! Ye shall be missed, and fondly remembered. Hey -- he's not dead!
Arabs, beware!

The other top story of the past couple of days is the rounding up of Arabs who are in the country illegally. The area around the downtown Battaween district was cordoned off, Monday and Tuesday, and police and national guardsmen swept hotels on and near Sa'doon and Abu Nu'aas streets, and picked up hundreds of Sudanese, Egyptian and Palestinian nationals. Reports are, these people will be deported. Police reported that a group of the Sudanese men opened fire on the guardsmen, and a firefight ensued; no further details were provided. The road blocks and search points placedon both sides of the Tigris caused traffic congestion, Monday, which eased, Tuesday. These were reported to be the largest raids conducted, to date, in Baghdad.

Announcements are appearing on television, for those “Arabs and foreigners” in the country who have not reviewed their status in a while, to check with the interior ministry.

There was also a raid on a group of militants, in Babil province's Mashroo' district, south of Baghdad, resulting in the capture of 14 men from their homes and workplaces. The 14 men, according to Captain Salam Taraad al-Ma'moori, commander of the Babil police's rapid attack force, were responsible for a number of kidnappings, killings and car-bombs.
Ibrahim al-Ja'fari: Iraq's Designated Prime Minister - A Biographical Note

By: Nimrod Raphaeli*

The Middle East Media Research Institute
Inquiry and Analysis Series - No. 211
March 1, 2005


For the first time in the history of Iraq, a list of candidates for national elections made up almost entirely of Shi'ite candidates has won 48.1 percent of the vote and an absolute majority of seats - 140 of the 275 seats. The list, called the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), comprised the two major Shi'ite parties in Iraq, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the al-Da'wa Party, headed by Abd al-'Aziz al-Hakim and Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, respectively. The list further includes the Iraqi Congress Party, headed by Dr. Ahmad Chalabi,and a slew of independent candidates. Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of SCIRI, a cleric who was not considered as a viable candidate for the post of prime minister, was first on the list; al-Ja'fari was second.

Within a few days of the announcement of the results on February 6, a number of newly-elected members of the National Assembly had declared themselves candidates for the post of prime minister. After internal consultation, the United Iraqi Alliance selected Dr. Ibrahim al-Ja'fari as its candidate for the top executive post, and was subsequently endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Barring last minute surprises, the endorsement of al-Ja'fari by the UIA, and by al-Sistani, will almost certainly guarantee his approval by the simple majority required in the National Assembly to become the first elected prime minister in Iraq in more than 50 years.

Personal Details

Ibrahim abd al-Karim Hamza al-Ja'fari was born Ibrahim al-Ushaiqir in the city of Karbala in 1947. He is a sayyid, meaning he is descended from Prophet Muhammad. The Al-Ushaiqir family originated from the city of al-Ushaiqir, in what is now Saudi Arabia. Al-Ja'fari's great great grandfather, Sayyid Mahdi bin Sayyid Ali bin Sayyid Baqir al-Ushaiqir, led the al-Ushaiqir revolt in Karbala in 1876 against the Ottoman Empire. [1] Young Ibrahim attended both primary and secondary schools in that city which, in 1968, witnessed the first wave of what was termed "Shi'a politicization" and the rise of the influence of the Islamic Da'wa Party (hizb al-Da'wa al-Islamiyya) under the leadership of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr.

Al-Ushaiqir joined the Da'wa party in 1968 but continued his education at Mosul University, earning a medical degree in 1974. He was to say later that his studies in Mosul had sensitized him to the views and concerns of the Sunnis. [2] Upon completing his education, he returned to Karbala to immerse himself in political activity. When conflict between the Da'wa Party and the Ba'th authorities intensified in the late 1970s, Saddam Hussein engaged in physical liquidations on a large scale. In 1980, al-Ushaiqar fled to Iran. To protect his family from retribution by the regime, Ibrahim al-Ushaiqir adopted the name al-Ja'fari, (he was sometimes known as Abu Ahmad al-Ja'fari). Unable to engage in political activities independent of the Iranian "party line," al-Ja'fari moved to England in 1989, where he served as a spokesman for his party and where his family, comprising his wife, his two sons, and three daughters, continues to reside. [3] Unlike Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, al-Ja'fari was opposed to outside invasion to remove Saddam from power. [4]

Focus on Shi'a Identity

Free for the first time from the politically oppressive environments in Iraq and Iran, al-Ushaiqir/al-Ja'fari was able to refocus attention on the "Iraqi Shi'a identity," to interact with other Iraqi parties in exile and to offer innovative ideas about a democratic future for Iraq. In fact, the Islamic Da'wa Party was able to establish what was termed as "flexible alliances" with other leaders in exile. Al-Ja'fari was instrumental in his party's decision to take part in the 1991 meetings in Beirut of the national action committee, the precursor of the Iraqi National Congress. [5] His activities, inclined toward political pragmatism, were opposed by another wing of the Da'wa Party led by Abu Bilal al-Adib, who supported the Iranian agenda and continues to reside in Iran and to be financially supported by the Iranian government. [6]

The Return to Iraq

Al-Ja'fari returned to Iraq immediately upon the fall of the Saddam regime. He had opposed the invasion; however, he now joined other political forces declaring that the occupation was a reality and it was necessary to join forces with others to shorten its duration. [7] In July 2003 he became a member of Iraq's Governing Council and its first president - a position rotated among members in alphabetical order. Since June 1, 2004, he has served as one of the two interim vice presidents of Iraq.

The Islamic Da'wa Party

The Islamic Da'wa Party was established in 1958 and is considered the oldest Islamist movement in Iraq. It is based "on the ideology of reforming Islamic thought and modernizing religious institutions." [8] In 1980, the party leader, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, was assassinated by agents of Saddam Hussein, and the party was banned because of its association with Iran. [9] Al-Da'wa members either joined the Iranian military units during the war with Iraq or refrained from political activity altogether. In July 1982, members of the party staged an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein, and the following month they bombed the Ministry of Planning. Following an attack on Saddam's motorcade in April 1987, thousands of al-Da'wa's members were executed and many others fled Iraq. [10]

Al-Da'wa Party's Position on Islamist Government

The al-Da'wa party advocates some form of Islamic government. For example, an editorial in the party's organ, al-Da'wa, laments a decision by the then-ruling Iraqi Governing Council to exclude Islamic education from school curriculum and to replace it with "religious ethics and values." "We are awaiting the days," editorialized the paper, "when our people will be the source of [our] strength, and our divine faith the basis of [our] laws…" [11]

Statements like this have raised alarms both in the United States and among the Iraqi Sunnis and secular politicians about al-Ja'fari's alleged Islamist views. Questions have also been raised by outgoing interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, about al-Ja'fari's commitment to a pluralistic society and his relations with the Iranian regime. Speaking for Allawi, his assistant, 'Imad Shabib, called on al-Ja'fari "to conduct himself as an Iraqi and be loyal to Iraq and not to another country," obviously referring to Iran. He added, "Dr. Al-Ja'fari is our friend but we must tell both the Da'wa Party, which is the party of al-Ja'fari, and SCIRI: Beware." [12] An examination of al-Ja'fari's record could dispel at least some of these worries.

Al-Ja'fari's Views on Key Issues

In a wide-ranging interview with Associated Press followed by another one with the London daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, al-Ja'fari has tried to dispel the concerns about his Islamist views.

One of the most profound issues that will have to be addressed in the new constitution is whether, as advocated by al-Da'wa Party, Islam should be the only source of legislation or whether it should be one of the sources of legislation as has been established by the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) which serves as Iraq's interim constitution. When questioned about this issue in the interview, al-Ja'fari's reply was somewhat circuitous but nevertheless reassuring: "Iraqis agree on common ideas, such as respecting peoples' various beliefs, maintaining civil liberties, endorsing elections as the way to select authorities, preserving the state sovereignty, respecting human rights, and respecting women and integrating them into political life.

"The great majority of Iraqis are Muslim; hence, it is natural that we should care about their sensibilities by making Islam the official religion of the state and making it
one of the main sources for legislation [italics added] along with other sources, without harming the Muslims' sensibilities."

In his subsequent interview with al-Sharq al-Awsat, al-Ja'fari was far more assertive on the subject: "I believe that it is incumbent on whoever leads Iraq to have been born in the womb of this country, and his particularities should be compatible with those of this country. Iraq is diverse and does not resemble any other country. Not all Iraqis are Shi'ite and not all Shi'ite are Islamists and not all Islamists believe in the rule of jurist [wilayat al-faqih, which characterizes the regime in Iran]… Iraq is diverse and it is incumbent on everyone to respect this diversity, respect the freedoms, beliefs, and the political, religious, and ethnic affiliations of all the Iraqis." [13]

Keeping in mind that Ayatollah al-Sistani was born in Iran, the notion that the Iraqi leader should be born in the "womb of this country" is quite significant.

When asked further whether his reply may have contradicted his party's call for the Islamization of the society and the state, al-Ja'fari made a revealing distinction: "We believe that the theory is not the goal, but the goal is the human being [who] will be flexible in developing the theory." [14] In his interview with al-Sharq al-Awsat, al-Ja'fari added: "I am not surprised if a person undergoes changes but I am surprised if he does not change his point of view. The political activity is the art of the possible in the management of change." [15]

The Position of SCIRI

The position of al-Ja'fari on the diversity of Iraq was echoed by statements made by the other major partner in the United Iraqi Alliance, namely the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. A spokesman for SCIRI asserted that it is "impossible that the next Iraqi government will be religious and Islamist. It will be a national, democratic, free, and coalition government" that will afford an opportunity to all "the confessions, nationalities, and religions in Iraq to partake in it… We will not form a government subordinate to this or that country. We do not need Iran or Syria - they need us." [16]

Not less significant is the "advice" given by Ayatollah al-Sistani to a delegation of UIA leaders who visited him in Najaf. While he endorsed the selection of al-Ja'fari as prime minister, he called on UIA to defend the rights of the Sunnis because of the circumstances they have gone through. [17]

No Withdrawal of Multinational Forces until Security is Restored

Al-Ja'fari has stated, openly and often, that until security is restored to Iraq it would be premature to ask for the withdrawal of the multinational forces. This position is shared by SCIRI, by the Kurds, and by the outgoing Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, but rejected by most of the Sunnis and the radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. [18] The Sunnis and al-Sadr have persisted in their demands, before and since the elections, that the establishment of a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq is a pre-condition for their engagement in the political process.

In his interview with AP, al-Ja'fari seems to broaden the justification for placing foreign troops in countries which are unable to take care of their own security:

"We have to look into the reasons why the multinational troops remain in Iraq, and not only in Iraq, but in many regions around the world: the troops are present in a certain country when the breaches in the security situation are greater than the capacity of the security apparatus in that country to handle it.

"It is true that the presence of multinational forces in Iraq is a weakness and not a point of strength, as it means that security is not up to the level needed in the country. However, treating such a weakness shouldn't lead us to committing a bigger mistake by calling for the troops' withdrawal at this time. There are security challenges; there are breaches, assassinations, and explosions." [19]

Iraqi Federalism

Al-Ja'fari's answer to the question about federalism will undoubtedly leave many Kurds bewildered. He seems to believe the calls for federalism derive from a desire to escape successive governments' "suppression of the sons of the provinces." If the central government creates justice for all, al-Ja'fari has argued, "many of the fears will evaporate." In other words, the calls for federalism will cease. The Kurdish parties will undoubtedly have difficulty supporting a prime minister who holds this kind of view about federalism. The Kurds have made strong statements that they will only support a candidate for the prime minister post who supports their principles. [20]

Challenges Ahead

Dr. al-Ja'fari, and for that matter any prime minister who will be selected by the National Assembly, faces enormous challenges. If not approached wisely and cautiously, each of these hurdles could greatly undermine the fragile democratic system being constructed in Iraq. It is incumbent upon him to:

· Work closely with the multinational forces to control the insurgency as a first step toward restoring security and initiating a drive for the reconstruction of the country.

· Initiate a process of national reconciliation that will bring the Sunnis back into the political process as critical partners which could greatly weaken the support they provide to the insurgents.

· Work closely with the Kurds to satisfy their demand for a federal system of government that would preserve their autonomy.

· Keep the clerics in his own backyard from pressing too hard for the Islamization of the state and society.

· Address the critical needs of the population, e.g., power and water supply, that affect the quality of life.

· As the national leader, keep the National Assembly focused on the drafting of a constitution that embodies aspirations of all segments of the Iraqi population.

· Stand firm against Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs.


Dr. Ibrahim al-Ja'fari emerges from his statements as a religious moderate and a pragmatic politician. Given that he will preside over a transitional government until the next elections due for December of this year, there is no reason for alarm that he would seek to transform Iraq into an Islamist nation while the country is engaged in the drafting of a new constitution. There could be some changes on the margin, but the fundamental principles upon which the Iraqi social and political mosaic resides will probably remain unchanged.

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

[1] http://nahrain.com/d/news/05/02/16/elf0216a.html.

[2] al-Sharq al-Awsat (London), February 28, 2005.

[3] Le Monde (Paris), February 16, 2005.

[4] http://nahrain.com/d/news/05/02/16/elf0216a.html.

[5] al-Sharq al-Awsat (London), August 24, 2003.

[6] al-Sharq al-Awsat (London), August 6, 2003.

[7] Nahrain, op.cit.

[8] al-Bawaba, July 30, 2003.

[9] For the history and ideology of the Da'wa party see Rodger Shanahan, "The Islamic Da'wa Party: Past Development and Future Prospects," Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 8 No. 2 (June 2004).

[10] www.Iraqnews.com/party islamic daawa party.html.

[11] al-Da'wa (Baghdad), august 6, 2003.

[12] al-Sabah (Baghdad), February 21, 2005.

[13] al-Sharq al-Awsat (London), February 28, 2005.

[14] Loc. Cit.

[15] al-Sharq al-Awsat (London), February 28, 2005.

[16] al-Sharq al-Awsat (London), February 22, 2005.

[17] al-Zaman, February 28, 2005.

[18] Al-Ja'fari's position on the subject is reflected in a numerous interviews to both foreign and Iraqi press. See, for example, http://wnbc.com/news of February 15, 2005, Le Monde, February 16, 2005.

[19] www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,147815,00.html(February 16, 2005)

[20] al-Sharq al-Awsat (London), February 25, 2005.
Dr. Raphaeli is a native of Iraq. Dr. Ja'fari was in Kurdistan on Tuesday, meeting with Mas'ood Barazani, leader of the Kurdish Regional Government.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Grief and anger in Hilla

The people of Hilla, today, mourned the killing, yesterday, of 125 of their compatriots. Processions carried coffins to Najaf, for burial. Alongside the grieving, there was anger and consternation at the lack of coverage, and sympathy, in the Arab world -- not only for the massacre in Hilla, but for terrorism in Iraq, in general. A brother of one of those killed, cried out to the Arabs: “What do you have with us? We’ve got honorable people, trying to build our country -- leave us alone!”

The government has declared tomorrow, Wednesday, a national day of mourning. During breaks in programming, television stations have showed the pool of blood outside the health center, the funeral processions, or wailing family members. The images were punctuated with messages in support of the police and national guard against terrorism, or vowing that the deceased would not be forgotten and would be avenged by the defeat of terrorism and the advance of democracy. The government has extended emergency help to the families of the fallen and wounded -- approximately $1,000 to the families of those killed, and $500, to the wounded.

People, yesterday, were gathered at the health center in Hilla, for blood and vision tests, so they may apply for civilian work. Across from the health center, is the largest outdoor market of Babil province.

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