After communism and capitalism, there is asterism.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Letters to the FT

As promised here are my letters published by the Financial Times...

LEADER: Timing of Iraq's election has been eclipsed by the importance of a US plan for withdrawal
Financial Times; Jan 21, 2005
Sir, You may be right to suggest that a delay to the election in Iraq will solve nothing but I can also see a spectrum of catastrophic results from a poorly run or divisive election that fails to appear legitimate in the eyes of ordinary Iraqis. These include civil war and the implosion of the Iraqi government.

Given the situation in Iraq, the latter is becoming more likely to be the case. Already the Jordanian ambassador to the US has predicted that 40 per cent of the Iraqi population will be unable to vote. If this is the case, what validity will the election have whenever it is held? Maybe a delay will not change the crisis but the timing of elections is not the main issue any more.

Without the US giving a clear timetable for the end of its presence in Iraq, the elections are in danger of being no more than a sideshow to the attacks on US soldiers and those who are seen to be supporting them.

Without this timetable any new government will appear to a significant section of the Iraqi population to be a cover for the occupation or will be forced to turn against the occupation itself. Either way the US will have to face up to the fact that it must end its presence in Iraq. The only question is when and what will be its legacy.

Iraqis already risk their lives leaving their homes every day, without knowing for certain if they will return safely. Before they risk life and limb going to polling stations they must be given some hope that this will improve their lives. At this stage, a vague promise that the new government can negotiate the end of the US occupation will not do.

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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: US must commit to withdrawal
Financial Times; Mar 06, 2004
Sir, I am an Iraqi who has been in the UK nearly all my life, yet I feel as outraged and as personally affected by the latest massacre of civilians as I would have had I grown up in Iraq.

Speculation on the reasons that motivated the bombers and to a certain extent who they are are all but irrelevant. The point is that this has happened and can go on happening. Unless the US is willing to send an army of 1m soldiers into Iraq there will always be instability.

Even when an all-Iraqi security force is given control of large parts of Iraq after the official end of the occupation there will still be chaos. The new police and army will still be tainted by the fact that they are also there as the frontline of defence for the 100,000 soldiers the US plans to keep in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

For the sake of peace and stability Iraqis must be free to determine their own future and be governed by those whose motivations are exclusively in the interests of Iraq. Yet the US is still trying to create a government in Iraq after the June 30 deadline with the right to sign binding agreements that will affect the country for generations. Such agreements cover the mortgaging of Iraqi oil and the status of US troops to remain in Iraq immune from prosecution under Iraqi law.

If anything, the recent events have woken Iraqis to the fact that the root cause of this anarchy is the presence of US troops and the control the US exerts through this presence. The US has singularly failed to bring order to Iraq because its presence is simply not viewed as legitimate by the majority of Iraqis. Ordinary Iraqis will now see the poor security situation not just as critical but also as something that must be urgently resolved.

The only positive to be taken from the bombings is that, from what I have seen, Iraqis are uniting rather than falling back on sectarian differences. However, unless the US commits to withdrawing its military and stops its gerrymandering with Iraqi politics to create a government that is artificially co-operative with its interests, I can only foresee that it will face an uprising from all sections of the Iraqi population, together with a repeat of all the tragedy of the past year and the problems for regional stability that will ensue.

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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: No vision of how to transform the occupation into a representative Iraqi government
Financial Times; Aug 25, 2003
Sir, I write as an Iraqi who has been forced for more than 30 years to live outside Iraq and who dearly wishes to return to a stable country. The tragedy at the United Nations compound on Tuesday can only serve to push such a day further away.

I read with interest your editorial ("The dilemma of the UN in Iraq", August 21) and I agree that it is at times like this that there must be serious attention to the issues.

All I see, however, in your editorial and the editorials of other respected newspapers is a debate on the merits of increasing the UN role versus increasing US troop numbers. This debate seems to forget one vital component: the 22m Iraqis who have to live through this nightmare.

When are they going to have an Iraqi government backed up by an Iraqi security apparatus? Until this question can be properly answered I can only imagine that the violence and lawlessness will increase.

Replacing a US occupation with a UN occupation will only create a different target for the bombers. Adding more troops to bring security creates more resentment and where will it stop? How many would be enough? How much will it cost? Blaming other states and "jihadis" simply diverts from the main issue.

The root of the violence is that Iraq is occupied by a foreign power and there is no real vision of how that occupation might be transformed into a representative government. Iraqis should be providing their own security but I cannot see how they can risk their and their families' lives for a fuzzy promise. Most people I know in Iraq would rather keep their heads down and hope not to be hit in the crossfire.

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Blog of the Day

Sometimes a picture can say more than any analysis. Go to the two links below at BAGnewNotes and read the comments. They are pictures of Bush and Rumsfeld clearly posing for photographs in the way that they want to be seen by the world but yet revealing more about the real person than should be comfortable.

Securing the Igloo

Your Turn: Man of the Season

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Animation of the Day

Thanks to Bop News for this one.

I guess when there are only statistics and no explainations, people invent new ways for extracting meaning from the numbers...

Friday, June 24, 2005

Whither Iraq?

Stirling Newberry at BopNews has one of the best analyses that I have read on Iraq. The summary in a few lines expalained issues that have nagged me for years:

Current political discussion in Iraq is a waste of time, it involves either discussing options that are not on the table – such as heavy occupation – or it involves discussing options that are, in total cost, even more costly than the current light occupation strategy. Light occupation as it is, is asking for distater, cut and run is asking for catastrophe.

The pervasive disconnect between elites and the public on Iraq has been in place since the first Gulf War, when Bush did not explain to the American public that since the Arabs were paying for the war, they got to pick the end state – namely Saddam in power, and Iraq's oil off-line. The costs of this policy were enormous, far more than the money paid to a broke American government at the time.

In the run up to Iraq, the desire to put Iraq's oil on line as the only solution to macro-economic problems that did not involve a major shift of the US economy, was also not discussed. In effect, the 2000 election was an election over whether Iraq would be invaded, and the US public voted against having energy efficiency – which was the only other viable policy.

In the present a third major decision is being made, one where Iraq is being treated as disconnected from oil prices, economic policy and the large questions of how America wants to direct its future. Iraq, the policy, is not a solution to the problems of the future, but its continuation has a great deal to say about whether the worst case scenarios come to fruition. No one is explaining to the public that an Iraq policy has to be intended to do one thing: prevent oil from reaching 100 dollars a barrel.

This disconnect has created three poles of consensus, none of which are viable. This assures that when the decision is made, it will be made without reference to the American public – except in debased form of some poll question that is about an emotionalized version of the issue – and that it will almost certainly be the wrong decision.

His solution - in a nutshell - is to partition Iraq. I feel, however he has missed one thing - and that is the Iraqi people. To split Iraq into a bunch of mini states may look the best of a bunch of worst options but shows great ignorance of Iraqi society and the social forces in the region. After a few thousand years of living in the this land without any divisive borders how well would the Iraqi people take to partition?

The tribes are so heavily intermarried it would be impossible to draw a line and say this side Shi'a that side Sunnis. And then what of the minorities? - would the Turkomen have to be rounded up and dumped on the Turkish border for not quite fitting in? What about the region? If you create a Shi'ite state in the south what happens when the oppressed Shi'a communities that sit atop much of the Saudi and Gulf oil decide that they would like some of this statehood. I will not even begin to start on the problems with Turkey and the Kurds...

To get to the point partition will create exactly the civil war and regional conflict that will push oil prices way past the $100 point.

On the contrary - we are asking the wrong question. It is not "how do we get Iraq out of this situation?" but "how do we let the Iraqi people create the alternative to the insurgency?". Right now the whole western policy has been to create a sectarian government in Iraq - from the parties they let in to these stupid Shi'a Sunni quotas. It is this policy that is at the root of the insurgency and the civil war.

When a brick is not a brick

Sorry - no existential jokes here.

One of my favourite blogs is BAGnewsNotes - especially where a powerful image in the media is shown and then disected to find the story within. See the June 6th entry - Punching Up The Orange - it is a picture, from the NY Times of a masked Iraqi soldier posing for a picture in a house he raided. The analysis of the context of the picture is excellent - followed by a fascinating discussion which includes input from the photographer - read it here - and the following comments - one of the rare oportunies of real insite on the Interent - not to be missed.

Anyway - a recent post interested me. The Bubble Bubble. The picture is of a brick falling from a recent cover of The Economist magazine. The BAG analysed the context spot on - there is a real fear of the housing price bubble bursting, but he misunderstood the picture completly and failed to recognise the brick was drawn as some in the UK sees a brick. And here is the problem - we are surrounded by images that we recognise at home but will not translate abroad yet the problems that we face are now truly global. The housing price bubble is a real fear for people in the UK and the US the underlying econimic reasons are the same - but as local people we do not have the common images to communicate this accross the world. The same is for the situation in Iraq. As an Iraqi living in the UK I see the problem from both sides - and the failure of US policy in Iraq will have truly global consequences. But how do I draw the picture of this falling brick so that others across the world can understand it?

Monday, June 13, 2005


"String Theory is not just a theory about strings."
LISA RANDALL - Professor of Theoretical Physics at Harvard University

Saturday, June 11, 2005

A black hole

The Financial Times published an editorial on 30th May that has been little reported in the blogosphere... I hope they dont mind if I republish it in full below. The key part is this..

Without re-rehearsing the dismal catalogue of delusion and bungling that has characterised US stewardship of Iraq, it is important to be clear about the salient facts of what is happening now. Iraq is on the brink of a sectarian war that could suck in its neighbours and make the Lebanese civil war of 1975-90 look tame by comparison.

There is really very little going on in the world right now more important than stopping this from happening.

This was written on the day that the 'No' vote in France herealded the possible start of the implosion of the European Union. The key issue for the FT, Europe, the world is Iraq. To make it more clear - if Iraq is allowed to fail and sink into a civil war we could be on the precipice of a new world war. One that will suck in the bordering countries including one member of Nato all on top of the world's oil supply.

This is a very real prospect. Why? Well let us not just trust what the FT says but look at the surrounding countries. Turkey has a large Kurdish minority that has been all but at war with the Turkish government for years. A full Kurdish state on Turkeys border well funded by oil supplies from Kirkuk would be seen as a direct threat to the very existence for Turkey. Turkish intervention in Northern Iraq will immediately draw in Iran and Syria.

To the south Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states have sizeable Shia minorities sitting right on top of their oil wells. What if these communities wanted independence or to ally themselves with a Shia government in south Iraq?

What about the interests of world powers - if war is being fought on top Europe's and China's oil supply. How about Russia's interests in the region? One need only look at the start of the First World War to see how dangerous the current situation is.

I want to start a debate on this issue. Later I will try to look at what can be done.

Here is the full FT editorial...

LEADER: Iraq risks civil war - The past month in Iraq has witnessed such appalling carnage that most of those involved in the country's fate have either been awed into silence or chosen to obfuscate. President George W. Bush, for example, purports to believe that 600 Iraqi civilians died this month because a defeated insurgency against the US occupation is in despair. One has to wonder what the situation would look like if the insurgents were winning.

Without re-rehearsing the dismal catalogue of delusion and bungling that has characterised US stewardship of Iraq, it is important to be clear about the salient facts of what is happening now. Iraq is on the brink of a sectarian war that could suck in its neighbours and make the Lebanese civil war of 1975-90 look tame by comparison.

There is really very little going on in the world right now more important than stopping this from happening.

January's election marked a historic turning point not only for Iraq but for the region. The raw courage of the millions of Iraqis who braved the threats of revanchist ba'athists and butchering jihadis to turn out to vote has indelibly stamped the future of the Arab world. Because of their valour, no Arab tyrant is safe on his throne, whether or not he is a US client.

But the tactics of the jihadis drawn into Iraq by the US invasion have switched since the election. They want civil war between Sunni and Shia - even more than they appear to care about fighting US "crusaders" and their allies, whom they in any case blame for bringing the Shia to power. Until now, the Shia majority has kept its eye on the prize of democratic empowerment and - restrained by a clerical establishment led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - forsworn reprisals against Sunni provocation.

This now appears to be changing - marking arguably the most dangerous moment since the invasion of Iraq.

The good news is that a significant cross-section of Sunni notables and clerics - some with links to nationalist insurgents - has signalled its wish to join the political and constitutional process the Sunnis boycotted in January. The bad news is that the jihadi element of the insurgency is so spooked by this that it is trying to turn Iraqi streets almost literally into rivers of blood - and that the Shia are finally retaliating. Sunni leaders are beginning to turn up mangled and dead.

Exceptional measures such as the current "lockdown" of Baghdad by up to 40,000 Iraqi security forces are justified to combat this. Greater openness by the Shia victors of the elections towards the Sunni minority is also more than ever essential. But it is time too that Iraq's neighbouring Sunni rulers - watching the downtrodden Shia rise to power with undisguised horror - start helping. The US loudly alleges Syrian connivance with the Iraq insurgency. It should also tell its friends in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to stop anti-Shia agitation that risks fanning the flames of sectarian war.

Democracy Now

In the Financial Times I read this...

Microsoft bans 'democracy' for China web users
Microsoft's new Chinese internet portal has banned the words "democracy" and "freedom" from parts of its website in an apparent effort to avoid offending Beijing's political censors.

It reminded me of something...

I was once left waiting at a booth in US embassy while the official went off to find my passport. So out of boredom I started reading the various notices stuck to the sides of the booth. One of them lists the questions to ask visa applicants from countries that require Special Processing ('special processing' is reserved for those of us who are unfortunate to have a passport from a country that is not friendly with the US).

For each country there were two columns marked 'Donkeys' and 'Eagles'. -- Donkeys and Eagles!! that is all we are to them! - For Iraq it was obvious...

Donkeys - members of the Baath party, members of the Iraqi military, employees of the Iraqi government. Eagles - everyone else.

For Zaire, donkeys are anyone who obstructed democracy.

I read that one three times for it to properly sink-in. Can you imagine a Zairean at the US Embassy being asked by a straight faced official - "did you ever obstruct democracy". Can you imagine Bill Gates being asked this question at the airport on his way back from Beijing?

I suppose one must then understand the real meaning of democracy - it is freedom. For a poor Zairean it is the freedom to vote in favour of US policy - for American corporations it is freedom to repatriate dollars back to the US. Once we get these definitions out of the way we can all understand each other much better.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


"For my part I would as soon be descended from a from a
savage who delights to torture his enemies...treats his wives like
slaves...and is haunted by the grossest superstitions."
[Charles Darwin, "The Descent of Man"]

After communism and capitalism, there is asterism.

The slogan comes from a joke on a Unicode web site and because of the innate need for people to label things. We are not comfortable until a new idea has been identified, labelled and pidgeon-holed in one of a few familiar places. Then we can switch out minds of and continue with day-to-day lives.

This is the post communist - post captialists world and how the 'former' capitalists and 'former' communists have aligned themselves is unexpected.

Iraq as a politcal platform has seen former comminists align themselves with big-business and Christian fundementalists (Harrys Place is a healthy example)...

and capitalists aligned with the libertarian left (Soros, Financial Times). I even had an FT editor say to me apologetically that they are not as right wing as they seem.

So welcome to the new world(dis)order - let us go forth with the slogan "Neither Communism or Captialism but Asterism"!