After communism and capitalism, there is asterism.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Cloud Cuckoo Land

To quote the FT:
Iraq’s leaders squabble as death toll mounts
By Vincent Boland in Ankara and Steve Negus, Iraq correspondent

Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s president, on Tuesday criticised Iraq’s prime minister for making a visit to Turkey, illustrating the deep divisions among Iraqi leaders.

The dispute came as the government in Baghdad claimed that 379 people had died in sectarian violence following last week’s bombing of one of Shia Islam’s most holy sites – an attack that has threatened to derail the formation of a new government.

Mr Talabani said the visit to Ankara by Ibrahim al-Jaafari was undertaken without consulting the Iraqi government. He stressed that any agreements the prime minister made with the Turkish government would not be binding on Iraq.

Mr Jaafari was in Ankara to seek Turkish help in rebuilding Iraq’s water and energy infrastructure and in improving transport links with Turkey.
Iraq is burning and the clowns are squabbling over a trip to Turkey. Let me contrast this with a quote from one of the most pro-Shia Iraqi bloggers out there Hammorabi:
Civil war is going on now but on a scale less than that which was planned by the known and unknown groups and forces. ...

What is needed now is a quick formation of the government and investigation about Samara Shrines to reveal those who committed it and the groups standing behind them as no one declared responsibility yet. Delaying formation of government is step towards civil war and more dangerous situation and it is what the terrorism pushing for.
Sorry Hammorabi - these guys cannot agree on their travel itinerary you expect them to form a government? So if we are to believe Hammorabi the next step is civil war. Some have argued that this may not be a bad thing, others have argued that America could have something to gain from the current chaos. I dont thinks so. Let me quote Negroponte to explain:
"If chaos were to descend upon Iraq or the forces of democracy were to be defeated in that country ... this would have implications for the rest of the Middle East region and, indeed, the world,'' Negroponte said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on global threats. ...

Saudi Arabia and Jordan could support Iraq's Sunnis, Negroponte said. And Iran, run by a Shiite Islamic theocracy, "has already got quite close ties with some of the extremist elements'' inside Iraq, he added.

While Iraq's neighbors "initially might be reluctant'' to get involved in a broader Sunni-Shiite conflict, "that might well be a temptation,'' Negroponte said.
Now what he did not explain and the New York Times did is that the Shia minority of Saudi Arabia happen to live right on top of that countries oil. So if Saudi Arabia ends up in a shooting war with Iran and Iraq's Shia, where exactly would that leave them?

Simply put, the world cannot afford a war on top of the major oil-producuing regions. The world cannot affort an Iraqi civil war. And the current solution is not working.

Coallition of the Unwilling

First we have the biggest Neo-Con apologist in the media, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly turning all anti-occupation, now most American troops agree with Sadr:
according to the first poll of US military personnel in Iraq ... Seventy-two per cent of troops said the US should withdraw within 12 months; 29 per cent said they should pull out immediately.

Meanwhile a CBS News poll recorded another record low for the president this week: only 30 per cent of respondents approved of Mr Bush’s handling of Iraq.

John Zogby, the president of Zogby International, said US commanders in Iraq unofficially approved the poll of 944 respondents, which was conducted before the escalation in violence that followed last week’s bombing of the Golden Mosque.
All this before the Samarra bombing, god knows what the percentage is now!

Note the "unofficial" approval of US commanders. The army is telling Bush in an unsubtle way - "Pull your finger out before we pull it out for you".

Will the last neo con in the Whitehouse please turn out the light.

An Ignoble End

I used to say that the way Saddam is being tried by an unconstitutional court under American control would turn him into a martyr when he really deserves to die in ignominy with his true crimes paraded before the people.

But instead Saddam is turning himself into a laughing stock. First we were subjected to the scene of his half brother protesting in his underwear and now this:
Saddam ends hunger strike

Saddam Hussein has ended a hunger strike he began earlier this month to protest against the conduct of his trial, his chief lawyer said on Monday ...

"The president maintained his hunger strike for 11 days but was forced to end it for health reasons," Khalil Dulaimi, who met Saddam for seven hours in Baghdad on Sunday, told Reuters.
For health reasons??? Now I may be missing something here but isn't the whole point of a hunger strike to make yourself sick? You are supposed to continue it until you die or your opponent gives in. Now I am not advocating that he should die like this but if you make a principled stand you stick to it. Especially if you want the world to see you as a legitimate leader and not a coward and fool. If there was ever any respect for this man it is now gone. He has become a national embarrassment.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Salam Adil on Al-Jazeera

The media are finally waking up to the fact that bloggers are part of the mainstream media scene. Al Jazeera interviews me and reviews the Iraqi Bloggers response to the Samarra crisis:
A new force in Iraq news coverage is coming of age – the Iraqi blogosphere.

Inside and outside Iraq, bloggers report on events from their own perspective and give a voice to the community that they say often goes unheard in Western media.

Salam Adil, 38, an Iraqi blogger who lives in the United Kingdom, says: "I compared reporting from the BBC and the British newspapers to the [Iraqi] blogs and there is a world of difference.

"It is as if the Western media are on a different planet," he told

more here...

Blog Roundup: In the Iraqi Civil War the Optimists Strike Back

From what I have seen the Western media has shown too much of a morbid facination with civil war. They are to fast to declare a new war while at the same time frightened by the consequences. The result is that you get a false picture of what is going on. This duality is understandable. The political editor will say "tone it down - a civil war will threaten our interests" while the managing editor will shout "play it up for all its worth - this sells newspapers." So, for the sake of balance I dedicated my Global Voices Online column to reports from those who are looking for lights at the end of the tunnel. Here is the post in full.

If you want to understand what is really going on read this:

Ali of Free Iraqi gives an excellent analysis of the mentaility of the Iraqi Sunni and Shia.

He concludes by saying:

I think we should all look at ourselves first and for me I think the major problem is that Saddam’s mentality is still running this country through people like Sadr, Al-Hakeem, Adnan Al-Dulaimi and Barzani. It’s those people who keep inflaming those already existing divisions for their own benifit, as they represnt nothing but ethnic and sectarian hatred and they feed this fear and hatred among their people so that they vote for them. We Iraqis need to see that and then Americans need to see that too. The solution is certainly not even visible now but I think it helps a lot to identify the problem first.

The optimists strike back:

Forget civil war we have all out blogger battles in Iraq. The Konfused Kid is not confused anymore , he starts with a warning: “WARNING : I am pissed off, so I may say things I do not mean.” and then lays into Zeyad and AnaRki13:

F**k you Zeyad, F**k you Anarki13, f**k you my sectarain grandmother, f**k anyone who’s done anything to wallow in the misery of Iraq and incite more hatred, fear and death amongst the masses, either intentionally or not. Those blogger friends who have taken to recluse in digging up any horrible stories and passing them off to anyone who can hear, glorifiying any negative news they can find, please ignore these sorry fools

Ouch. But why?

Zeyad, a friend of mine and arguably the best Iraqi blogger out there, has been continously adding oil to the pan by translating to the world at large gloomy news from a decidedly miserable website …all the news Zeyad’s been passing are all about doom and gloom, stop glorifiying the death…

As for 13, who immediately called it a Civil War and put his head in the sand, well, dude, please, I know u hate Iraq and everything but can’t u at least have a little faith in yourself?

But he has something positive to say:

I know Iraq will pass through this, and it will actually be a good thing in retrospect because people have got a taste of what it’s like of pitting brother against brother and it will bring the people together…Iraq is filled with nice intellctual guys, yeah I’ve come out and dared to say it. These people will not engage in this folly…

I love my country. Shit, I never knew I cared so much.

Iraq Pundit takes the Western media to task:

Why do these reporters want to see a civil war so badly in Iraq? It looks to me that they hate Bush so much that they will stop at nothing to prove that he’s wrong about Iraq and they are right. The reporters have sunk so low as to take this cheap angle of insisting that an all out civil war has been underway for three years. When will they wake up and realize that this is not a White House scandal. This is about Iraq and its people.

24 Steps To Liberty is amazed by a picture he posts from his TV:

Iraqi clergymen, Shiites and Sunnis, have met in a mosque in Baghdad and decided to contribute to ending the crisis… What was amazing about it is the unity they showed on TV. In the picture, Kubaisi [spokesman of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars] is shown leading the prayers and all the clergies behind him are Shiites from Sadr trend. This is the first time I see this. I’ve never seen a Sunni clergyman leading Shiite prayers…. This is a huge encouragement to Iraqis and a huge defeat also for those who predicted a wide civil war in Iraq.

Ali is not scared by the prospect of civil war:

this mounting rage and distrust among both Sunnis and She’at may not be resolved by Sistanis misplaced calls for tolerance or the Sunni scholars faked offers for peace and it may be needed that things are taken to the extreme to show Sunnis that they’re not the strongest anymore and to show She’at that being a majority does not mean you can whip out 5 or 6 million Sunnis from Iraq. Both parties would most likely learn after that to live in real tolerance and acceptance of their differences.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Newswire: IDAO - Unity of the Iraqi people against US occupation

Statement by IDAO on the destruction of the Askariya Shrine in Samrra
Unity of the Iraqi people against US occupation is the only guarantee for solving the current political crisis
26 February 2006.

The destruction of the Askariya Shrine was no sectarian action. It was an attack intended to fuel sectarian strive and civil war in Iraq. The reaction of the Iraqi people and great majority of religious leaders from the Sunni and Shia faiths alike has been to condemn the bombing of the shrine and stress Iraqi unity..US and British forces must withdraw as soon as possible so that the Iraqi people can find the path for social peace, democracy and progress without US and British meddling.

Is "Civil War" a good thing?

From Baghdad Dweller:

This is a hideous example of the callous way the American media treats Iraq. People are dying needlessly in the streets because of the criminal war started by the US government and Fox News wants to debate if it is a good thing.

But what really shocked me about this image is that us Iraqis should have had this debate a long time ago. Instead of cowering in our homes like victims waiting for liberation or hoping that voting for this corrupt petty dictator or that corrupt constitution will lead somewhere, we should be seizing control of our future.

Iraq is more than this. It has the best experience in the world bar none in state craft. it has a people civilised by thousands of years of history, it has social institutions that are able to survive the worst dictatorship. it deserves and it can build a political system that would be a model for the world.

Yet all we have for a govenment is a bunch of clowns that argue about which ministry they get to play in. The constitution is, frankly, a national embarrasment. And various militias roam the streets in place of real security.

I know civil war is horrific but this situation needs to be analysed coldly - at least so one can sleep at night. What is happening is that one unbearable insecurity situation is replaced by another. What is so harrowing is that as the new security borders are being redrawn people do not know whether their home is going to be in a safe area or on someone's front line.

Really I want you to ask yourself this question, what is the difference; knowing that by driving into the wrong neighbourhood that you will get shot at; or not knowing when you or your children leave the house, if they will get kidnapped, disppeared or killed in random violence? This Iraqi government has never provided and will never provide security to the people. They have armed their own militias and put them in police cars and call this security. Worse such police prevent the people from defending themselves while at the same time are too concerned guarding their own corrupt parties to do anything about crime, leaving the people at the mercy of criminal gangs. One positive thing to come out of this is that people will take control of their own security and not put their lives in the hands of militias that serve their own master and not the people.

Second, we must examine what civil war means. There are many examples of how Shi'a and Sunnis will unite at times of national crisis. Take this image from 24 Steps to Liberty of Sunni's and Shi'a praying side by side in response.

Unlike Lebanon, civil war will not be a fight between the people. From reports I have seen the fighting is happening between militias and militias or militias and people defending their neighbourhoods. This is not civil war in the Yugoslav sense but armed criminal gangs trying to dominate the population.

The Iraqi people must take their destiny in their hands. Take control of their homes and streets and throw out these ugly militias and criminal gangs from their districts. If they do not they can only expect more Samarras and more bloodshed everytime events do not go to the liking of one gang or another.

Further we must define our own unity and national government and not leave it to other countries that only have their own selfish interests at heart. At the root of this conflict is the meddling of foreign interests in Iraq's affairs.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Roundup: Catastrophe in Samarra

The Samarra crisis is developing fast. I posted another blog round up over at Global Voices Online. It is at times like this you can see that blogging comes into its own above other journalism. There is no other medium that can give you the feel of people’s opinions and emotions in almost real time. Just compare this post with the reports in the international media and you can see how far out of touch they are. Here below is my GVO post in full:

Word from the Street:

Zeyad of increasingly misnamed Healing Iraq is in the thick of the fighting and is updating regularly:

Fierce streetfighting at my doorstep for the last 3 hours. Rumor in the neighbourhood is that men in black are trying to enter the area. Some armed kids defending the local mosque three blocks away are splattering bullets at everything that moves, and someone in the street was shouting for people to prepare for defending themselves. … The news from other areas in Baghdad are horrible. I don’t think it’s being reported anywhere.

But fortunately:

UPDATE: Apparently, the attackers were fended off in our neighbourhood. The fight ended about 2 hours ago, about the same time electric power returned to our area. Now we are only hearing sporadic gunshots here and there. To have an idea of what was going on, listen to these small audio files I recorded using a cell phone.

He also posts detailed mosque by mosque updates and maps showing where violent incidents have happened in the past three days.

Christopher Allbritton reports a large armed but peaceful demonstration marching towards the Interior Ministry at 4pm on Friday. He follows this with reports of Sunni’s hitting back against Shi’a neighborhoods and religious sites.

Iraq the Model [sic] gives some reports of Thurdays events and observes:

The sense in the streets and the statements given by some Shia clerics suggest that retaliation attacks are organized and under control and are focusing on mosques frequented by Salafi and Wahabi groups and not those of ordinary Sunnis.

Mohammed also adds that most people are blaming the Mahdi Army for carrying out many of the attacks.

Truth About Iraqis gets through on Yahoo to his cousin who says “It looks like a civil war, the situation is really bad.” He also worries for fellow bloggers who live in Baghdad. He also reports from the Arabic and Western media.

Riverbend reports from her neighbourhood:

The streets near our neighborhood were eerily empty and calm but there was a tension that had us all sitting on edge. We heard about problems in areas like Baladiyat where there was some rioting and vandalism, etc. and several mosques in Baghdad were attacked. I think what has everyone most disturbed is the fact that the reaction was so swift, like it was just waiting to happen. … I don’t think I remember things being this tense- everyone is just watching and waiting quietly. There’s so much talk of civil war and yet, with the people I know- Sunnis and Shia alike- I can hardly believe it is a possibility. Educated, sophisticated Iraqis are horrified with the idea of turning against each other, and even not-so-educated Iraqis seem very aware that this is a small part of a bigger, more ominous plan…

Pointing fingers:

Several bloggers point out the calculted way in which the shrine was bombed. Baghdad Dweller analyses the method:

The one who did this, entered the mosque comfortably carrying explosions, he had all the time to study the construction of the building and find the perfect angles to set the explosions in a way that only the dome will be destroyed. This is a professional, controlled demolition and the bombs set by demolition experts.

The Woman I Was notes:

Samara had been sieged by the American and Iraqi forces for months; no body could enter the city without permission; how those who planted the explosives in the holy shrine managed to stay in it from 5.45pm Tuesday till 7am of the black Wednesday?

She goes on to list who has the most to gain:

Who will get benefits of a civil war in Iraq? Kurds are the first; because Barzani said before months that he will announce his independent state as soon as a civil war will begin… the Americans, again to protect the Iraqis!! And the political “leaders” who are becoming wealthiest day after another from the chose in Iraq… Bush, as usual without feeling any shame, said on the day when tens of mosques were burning and tens were being killed that Iraqis are enjoying the freedom of media and speech!!

Zeyad comments that the Shi’ite parties have much to gain:

The timing of this incident is very ominous. Just as pressure was being mounted on the UIA to form a more inclusive government, and to disband its sectarian militias, we have this. I normally don’t resort to conspiracy theories, and I don’t like the ‘Who gets to benefit from this?’ explanations. People often commit stupid actions for stupid reasons, and lashing out in violence is also a very human reaction. But still, the extent and the spontaneity of the violence are deeply troubling.

He also relates Eyewitness reports that contradict the official story: “that American and Iraqi Interior ministry forces blocked the main street leading to the shrine at 9 pm on the night preceding the blast. It was opened again at dawn Wednesday and the troops pulled out of the area.” and “Another eyewitness … claims that 2 Iranians were arrested yesterday, and that the Al-Arabiya channel crew had filmed them.”

Truth About Iraqis blames America:

This has to be the most corrupted incompetent government ever assembled by US foreign policy. It doesn’t function on so many different levels.But then again, this government was never about governance, but sowing dissent. This dissent was planted in the early days by the Iraq Governing Council and now it is bearing fruit.

Iraqi Pundit points to the media:

Iraqis have been working hard to avoid a real civil war in the midst of suicide bombings, killings and kidnappings. But the media prefer to ignore these efforts and instead choose to focus on the agressive acts of Moktada Al Sadr’s gang.

And The Baghdad Alcohol Sponge has a rare moment of lucidity:

I actually checked the word on the street with the Iraqis. They are all saying the same–that its the Saudis sending people in to fire it up with the Sunni and Shia. And since Iran is against the Saudis–they’re using the locals too. Kinda like the US and Soviet Union over Vietnam.

Final Words go to:

24 Steps to Liberty:

I was amazed how only the provocative and civil-war-style quotes were published today in the newspapers. Almost no newspaper showed how great, it appeared to us, the solidarity among Iraqis was yesterday. It is true that Sunni mosques were attacked by unknown men yesterday, and some Sunnis were killed. But that wasn’t the only thing happened as a reaction. Newspapers should have been neutral, as we were taught, and show both sides. … All expect civil war in Iraq, which might happen although I don’t believe it would. Therefore, they want to contribute to the civil war’s first step. Shame on you all! Shame on the “free and honest” press!

and An Iraqi Tear:

The Iraqis and the nobles of the world should curse Bush, Blair and every body who are observing the Iraqi bloods without trying to stop it.
I am shouting WAKE UP WORLD again; WAKE UP IRAQIS.
The tears are insisting to make me stop writing… PRAY FOR US.
Why those who are burning the mosques did not curse the American and the (Iraqi) forces when these bloodies bombed Imam Ali holy shrine? Why no body is cursing those who attacked the shrine of Malik Bin Anas in Basra who was one of the earliest followers of our prophet Mohammed (MPUH)… why no body is trying to find the link between the cartoons attacking the prophet and exploding the holy shrine?

Friday, February 24, 2006

A blog is born

Hala s. who guest blogged here a couple of times has caught the blogging bug. Read her thoughts at Good luck Hala - and one word of advice - never feed the trolls!

In other news - the Coalition of the Willing falls apart... Wingnut at a time. From Media Matters:
Bill O'Reilly [the objectionable right-wing host of Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor] has suggested that the United States "hand over everything to the Iraqis as fast as humanly possible". O'Reilly has previously called those advocating immediate withdrawal from Iraq "pinheads" and compared them to Hitler appeasers.
Rats and Sinking Ships come to mind.

(Hat tip Kos)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Blog Roundup: Catastrophe in Samarra

I devoted my weekly Global Voices Online post on Iraqi blogs to the bombing of the Shia Shrine in Samarra. Which I republish here in full for your comments.

The general consensus among all the bloggers is that no Iraqi could have been behind the bombing. Some blame foreign terrorists, some blame America, and one even blames Iran. Most are worried that this heralds the start of an all-out civil war.

There are reports from the ground:
Christopher Albritton was in the Green Zone when the news of the bombing broke. He knew something big happened because his interviewee cancelled. Omar of Iraq the Model blames foreign terror groups and reports on the tension in Baghdad: “Sporadic gunfire is heard in different spots in Baghdad but no one knows for sure if the firing meant clashes or mere angry shooting in the air.” Zeyad gives the clearest impression of the atmosphere now:

The situation in Baghdad is bad, bad, bad. I had to flee work early and return home after news of large protests in Shi’ite districts, and several attacks against Sunni mosques in the Baladiyat, Sha’ab and Dora districts by angry rioters. Sunnis are being blamed for the attack against a Shia holy shrine in Samarra, a largely Sunni town.

The streets look empty now, and all stores seem to be closed. I can hear gunfire and American helicopters and jets circling the skies.

Baghdad Treasure also has a strange drive home:

I decided to go back home early and work from there. I expected most of the streets to be blocked by the security forces. I made my driver take me in an armored car this time. I hate to use it but I had to. It was the sunset time. Most Iraqis usually seize the opportunity that it is not too late, so they hang out for shopping and having some fun. Today, Baghdad looked like the city of ghosts. All the way back home, I saw few cars and all were speeding to avoid any danger might happen. It was scary, specially it wasn’t fully dark.

Hassan Kharrufa heard about the attack first when a BBC reporter called him out of the blue. “I looked at the number calling me, and it was a private number. It only meant one thing. Someone was calling me from outside Iraq. “Hey I’ll get down here if you don’t mind”, I said to the driver.”

And opinions from the bloggers:
Raed is sceptical that there will be a civil was as a result of the bombing. He points out that revenge attacks on Sunni mosques were stopped qulckly and goes on to say:

When the Iraqi volcano erupts, it won’t burn Iraqis. Unlike what the bush administration is trying to promote and claim, Iraqis never had a civil war, and they’ll never have one unless the occupation troops stay in Iraq… Today’s attack was yet another disaster that will be contained and dealt with by all the different Iraqi religious and social leaders. I hope this incident will not cause any further vioence against anyone, and I hope it’ll prove to the world that Iraqis are capable of handling the most tragic crisis without turning against each other.

Truth About Iraqis gives a good summary of the unfolding events updated from a number of sources. He expects a civil war that is to the benefit of America “Day one of Iraq’s civil war: Sunnis killed, “dozens” of Sunni mosques attacked… The US plan for the liberation of Iraq has finally entered its final stages. As civil war looms almost inevitably, the US plan for Iraq is bearing fruit.” He adds:

We are being pushed and pulled closer and closer into a civil war by elements that are clearly foreign. No Iraqi would abide by such crimes. No Iraqi would seek to tear the social fabric of our country.

Baghdad Dweller muses on who could be responsible for the attack and narrows it down to Iran or America. Imad Khaduri points to obvious contradictions between news reports on the bombing an the statement issued by the Interior Minister. Salam Adil points out the irrelevance of the political process and suggests that there needs to be a radical change in American policy before another Samarra forces people to take to the streets.

The final word goes to Baghdad Treasure:

It is hard to see this beautiful and ancient country destroyed. It seems what the Americans have done was not enough. Iraqis should suffer, be killed, watch themselves humiliated, and kill each other just because America wants to remove Saddam from its way to make the world safer. Or let’s say to make America safer and hell be with the non-Americans as some of them say. Let the whole world be happy and “safe” now because Iraq’s “liberation” made it safe for them, but unfortunately made it a hell for Iraqis.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Samarra Shrine Destroyed

Would-be emperors fiddle...

AP Photo/Akram Saleh, Pool

While rome burns...

AP Photo/Hameed Rasheed

The bombing of the Shia shrine in Samarra is the most graphic example of why a political vacuum is unsustainable. Yet this is exactly the policy America and their stooges are currently following. Their whole effort in the negociations following the Iraqi election has been to use the stalemate built into the current constitution to force a minority government over the majority winners of the election. To quote AP:
prospects for a broad-based coalition taking power soon appeared in doubt after officials from the Shiite and Kurdish blocs told The Associated Press that talks between the two groups had revealed major policy differences.

The political parties have decided to negotiate a program for the new government before dividing up Cabinet posts—a step that itself is also bound to prove contentious and time-consuming.

Leaders from Iraq's Shiite majority oppose a Kurdish proposal to set up a council to oversee government operations, the officials said. Shiites also reject a Kurdish proposal for major government decisions to be made by consensus among the major parties rather than a majority vote in the Cabinet.

Shiites believe the Kurdish proposals would dilute the power that Shiites feel they earned by winning the biggest number of seats in Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. But while Shiite parties control 130 of the 275 seats, that is not enough to govern without partners.

"Some parties are trying to undermine efforts to form a new government," Shiite politician Ammar Toamah said. "These blocs should not necessarily participate in government."

He also said the Kurdish coalition, which controls 53 seats, was pushing for a role for a secular group led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a Shiite whose party won 25 seats.

So the Kurds want to shoe horn Allawi into power while the Shia want to use their election mandate to control the government. America, in the meantime, is backing and encouraging the Kurds by insisting on a 'unity' government. The result, more dithering. Kurds are encouraged to keep blocking while the Shi'a parties will dig their heels in to prevent themselves being turned back into a minority. This whole process is unworkable and getting more irrelevant by the day. While these negociations are conducted in comfortable offices the real Iraq is falling apart.

There is a need for a radical change of direction. American presence in Iraq should end before more Samarras happen and the people take matters into their own hands. The political negociations should then be left to parties who would have to come to an agreement before the 130,000 American soldiers that guard their tiny patch of earth they call a government leave.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Annexation through the back door

Anne Penketh should sort out her facts or resign her job as Diplomatic Editor at the Independent. In article published today in The Independent she wrote:
Yesterday, in Baghdad, a suicide bomber killed 12 people and injured 15 by setting off an explosive belt on a bus in a Shia district of the city, while a bomb attack killed four people near Liberation Square. In the Kurdish city of Mosul, a suicide attacker blew himself up in a restaurant packed with policemen eating breakfast...
Whoa - wait a minute. Did she just say Kurdish city? Now last time I checked Mosul was an Iraqi city how did the word 'Kurdish' slip in there? Maybe the Kurds are a majority. No - I don't think so - according to the last census they made up 20% of the population and have been a minority in that city as far back as I care to remember. I am sure that there are claims by some chauvanists but that still does not make Mosul a Kurdish city.

So why call Mosul Kurdish? Maybe she could have dropped in that word by accident - but then that is ignorance unfitting of her position. Maybe Penketh agrees with the Kurdish nationalists. Fine, but even a lowly hack journalist would understand how to report a contentious issue. You come out and say what you think - otherwise this counts for cheap propoganda and not fitting of a respectable newspaper. Either way - sort out you facts or resign.

Newswire - Moqtada al-Sadr throws Iraqi unity talks into disarray

Moqtada al-Sadr throws Iraqi unity talks into disarray
· Cleric rejects  constitution and calls for troops to go
· Election success enables Shias to  'flex muscles'
Michael Howard in Irbil
Monday February 20, 2006
The  Guardian

Newswire - US threatens to cut aid to Iraq if new government is sectarian

Published: 21 February 2006
The US and  Britain are pressuring Iraq's dominant Shia community to
relinquish two key  ministries in negotiations for a new government, as the country
was hit by a  wave of bombings that killed at least 24 people.


I am starting a new type of entry called - Newswire where I will post, without comment, links to news that I find interesting. Sometimes the headlines just speak for themselves. You can spot these posts because the title begins with... erm.. 'Newswire'. Obvious really.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The morphing plane crash

Here is an odd example of how a story develops like Chinese whispers... on Thursday a small civilian plane definately crashed somewhere over Iraqi Kurdistan.


Its a German civilian plane and according to German police:
There were two German pilots, three German passengers and an Iraqi on board.


The plane crashed in Iran
"We arrived at the border and saw on the other side Iranians with shovels standing around something we think might be the wreckage of the plane," Colonel Ahmed Ghraib, head of the border force in Iraqi Kurdistan's region, told AFP.

No, the plane crashed in Iraqi Kurdistan
near Halabja.
Sulaimaniya Airport was expecting four German passengers and an Iraqi.
The same German police have changed their story: The two pilots "nationalities were not identified" and there were three German passengers and an Iraqi on board.


All of a sudden Iran's Mehr News Agency has a source that says there were seven or eight people on board and three to five of them were Israeli!

All in all this raises more questions than answers. Apart from the obvious 'what the hell was a plane doing flying low next to the Iranian border?', why would Iran report that there were Israelis on board? Does Iran want to tell the world that they think the Israelis were up to some dirty tricks?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Britain and the Brotherhood

The New Statesman gets some leaked documents. Here is a link to the most interesting one. And here is a picture...

What this shows is that the British Foreign Office is ready to open dialog with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and also to encourage the US and Europe to do the same. Yes, that is the same group that is banned in Egypt and and considered a terrorist organisation by the United States. So why the need for a friendly chat?
"Engaging with movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood will help increase our understanding of 'political Islam' generally, as well as in the specific Egyptian context"
"we should be trying to influence these groups.
It is not simply 'terrorists' anymore but 'political Islam' and this is not just an isolated policy towards Egypt but a general policy across the Middle East. For "Muslim Brotherhood" - you can just as well substitute "Hamas" or "Sunni Insurgents". Here is Britain telling the Americans to face up to some reality. What we see here is the start of the pathetic end to the 'War on Terror'. As any politician will tell you, the first step to peace is negotiation with the enemy. What could have happened to cause this change of heart? Well, simply put, Iran happened.

Bush's whole policy towards the Arabs has been to villainise Sunni Islam because of their opposition to direct American occupation of Arabia and, gee, because America needs an enemy in this world. So America turned a blind eye to Israel's humiliation of the Palestinians, ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan and forced the Sunni's out of power in Iraq by disbanding the army and 'de-Baathification'. America has also fought a three-year bloody war with politicised Sunnis in Iraq.

Now, the West is slowly wake up to the realisation after all these years that the Sunni's were their best allies. They were keeping a lid on popular independence movements, diverting Arab attention away from Israel and, most important, they were the real barrier against Iranian influence.

Iran is now emerging as the single biggest threat to Western domination of the region and America is powerless to stop it. Bomb Iran and you risk the lives of 130,000 Americans held hostage in Iraq. Leave Iran alone and it becomes a nuclear power that can unite the Shi'a (who happen to sit atop nearly all the Arab oil) and hold the world economy to ransom.

So here is what the Foreign Office is really suggesting: Bring the Sunnis back on board and set them on the Iranians. Well Mr. Foreign Office Diplomat, I have news for you.... too late. The key to stopping Iran is Iraq and after being bombed and persecuted, the Sunnis don't stand a chance to come back to power. The back of the old Iraq army is broken and the Shi'a are too well armed to ever accept Sunni domination again.

So what can Britain and America really do? The answer is quite simple. Get rid of the stupid constitution that will allow the creation a mini Iranian republic in the south of Iraq and allow Iraq to develop its own independent democracy. It may not end up creating an American lackey in the region, but given the options, what choice do you have?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Again about Iraqis……Abroad - by Hala s.

Quite a depressing week, started with the long awaited decision of the four musketeers on one of them, and ended with another stressful session in Saddam’s trial.

Poor Iraqis, I look at their drained faces on TV and feel my heart throbbing with fear, what else is in store? What future awaits us? The descendants of 6000 years of civilisation are yet again going downhill.
They say “one day for you and another against you”, It seems that for us it is always the latter.

What is it with power? I wish I could sit on this miserable chair and rule for one week, just to check if I can stand up and leave or not!

What struck me first when I arrived to the UK, is seeing John Major losing the elections, and after few days, I saw him on TV sitting on the back bench in the Parliament representing his constituency!

It looks like the people who moved back to Iraq from abroad had only brought confusion to an already confused society.

I am not trying to be judgmental, although it is an Iraqi trait, but honestly my experience with my own people in here taught me a lot about them and about myself.

The Iraqi Community in the UK:

It is by majority Islamic. Tends to be closed, and acts as if they live in a different planet. Families switched from being moderate, educated groups to extremely religious for fear for their children to become westernised!

In the park near where I live, I see very young girls with their roller-blades or bicycles completely wrapped in black, struggling to keep their balance. The young generation weekend is usually spent in Saturday Arabic/Islamic schools and later to Islamic centres or Mosques to have lunch.
The funny part is that people should stay in the Mosque after lunch to listen to the speech! But they usually sneak out before it starts. So the clever clergy men started locking the doors to prevent these shameful incidents!

People go to these places to feel secure among fellow citizens nothing wrong with that, the problem is with the speech itself, it usually says nothing.

Ashurra for example is a big big event. I’ve never seen the rituals in Iraq, they were obviously banned, but I’ve seen them in full scale here in the UK, from the slamming of chains to the wailing and cloth tearing of women. And the on going lectures in between to stimulate more and more agony and distress.

Once I volunteered to give aerobic classes in an Iraqi women centre, I went and was met by a group of young and middle aged women. The minute I switched on the music to start the training, one woman shouted from behind “Music is Haram. I had to switch it off and we started jumping silently like idiots. They never saw my face again.

I know of men who spent their time going to funerals, or at the most sitting in café-shops made in an Iraqi or Arabic style, with hookahs and backgammon all day.

The welfare system in here made them lazy and relaxed.

The only positive thing I can say of the above, that Iraqis never went to Abu Hamza’s Mosque. We Iraqis love life and have no intention to die before our time comes!

Most of these families are torn between two cultures and cannot relate to any!

The minority are the professionals, a mixture of secular and religious.
Usually shattered all over the UK, trying hard to make ends meet.
As busy as one could be, the result is they don’t want to know. They are so immersed in their own routine, they believe it will last forever.

Another smaller minority are the wealthy settled Iraqis who have been here for decades mainly property owners, I don’t know much about them, I do have my doubts though, that they are making more money somehow again. Those are our Hawasim as they say back home, but made in the UK!
They make profits regardless of who is in power.

In the midst of this gloomy picture, you still meet with the smallest minority of all, promising, enthusiastic people, who have managed to solve the difficult equation of being an Iraqi in the UK.

Most of our esteemed government members belong to one or another of the above categories!
Guess which?

One of the proofs of their failure so far, is that they did not learn an important lesson. Something they enjoyed in here and it was the reason for their survival through out the years… that is tolerance!

I said it before, secular Iraqis are a minority. I sometimes wonder if we are endangered species!

Hala s.

Landing at the Iraqi Blogodrome 4

My weekly roundup of the Iraqi blogs is online at GVO - here is a taste of what I found...

Love is in the air this week and even hardened Iraqi bloggers go mushy at the knees on Valentines day. The cartoon controversy has been brewing with more thoughtful comments and Iraq has been dealing with its own controversy - the demon of abuses by British and American troops has been rearing its ugly head again. There are comments on Saddam’s Trial and in ‘word from the streets’ we will hear about how Ashura passed, the arms market and air-strikes over Baghdad.

more here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Resurrecting History

I have a chat about politics with a friend who left Iraq after 2003. What struck me was that he was an intelligent person yet did not have much of an idea of what happened in 1958. A whole generation of Iraqis have grown up with only a superficial knowledge of their recent history. So, I am pleased that Wafaa' Al-Natheema is campaigning to make people aware of Qassim.

So what were Qassim's successes?
  • nationalizing the oil industry
  • distributing fairly the farms owned by the few amongst the farmers, and, as a result:
  • increasing in middle class percentage and privileges,
  • the building of 35,000 resedential units to house the poor and low middle class
  • rewriting the constitution for the benefit of all Iraq’s minorities and women
  • effectively encouraging and implementing laws with regard to women’s participation in the society
  • giving birth to many other improvements, laws and projects pertaining to literacy, education and the arts.
Now after three years of American occupation the successes can be counted on one finger of my left hand.
  • average number of hours of electricity outside Baghadad are slightly above prewar levels.
  • erm... that's it.
You might want to list the new constitution but that has so far hardened the insurgency and created a stalled government. Not something you can call a resounding success.

It seems to me that the whole aim of Saddam was to erase the memory of 1958. Just try and search for the text of the '58 constitution in English on the web. I tried and failed. I think Iraq needs a workable model for the future and to do this we should go back to Iraq's first successful attempt at self determination and build from there.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

War is just a racket

Major General Smedley Butler, US Marine Corps 1933:
War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we'll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

I wouldn't go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its "finger men" to point out enemies, its "muscle men" to destroy enemies, its "brain men" to plan war preparations, and a "Big Boss" Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.
How times have changed?

Friday, February 10, 2006

A lot about Iraqis.. a bit about Americans by Hala s.

Please welcome Asterism's new guest blogger, Hala s. I will let her introduce herself in her own words...

Hala s. is my pen-name, will be Asterism's guest hopefully for a short while. My aim is to write something constructive has a meaning and could lead somewhere.

Not sure exactly what the theme is going to be? Iraqi politics? Iraqi hopes? Iraqi miseries? All I know, it has to be Iraqi something.

Finally, I cannot thank Salam Adil enough for allowing me a space in his blog. I am not a writer by nature, and being far from home might not add a lot. It feels bad giving observations from a far, but my only consolation is that I am deeply madly and truly in Love with Iraq.

I will do my best not to bore anyone.

It is worth our while sometimes to look at a huge tragedy from a completely different perspective. By doing this, I am not trying to undermine what really hap pened in Iraq and to Iraqis, rather than finding a solution.

As long as I remember, and since childhood, we lived in fear in a hush hush society, parents lowering their voices when it comes to politics, speaking in English not about naughty matters as we thought , but about people disappearing, others get killed and the rapid declination of once a prosperous country. We lived in a tense atmosphere full of distrust and apprehension towards neighbours, friends and even some family members.

We were all affected somehow. I was 14years old, full of myself, when I noticed that the physics teacher was quite bad and we were not getting anything out of her! A complete waste of time I said. I wrote a petition and made the girls in all sections to sign against her. It did not take long, when I was asked to admit to the head mistress. I went running, so confident and happy, I was somehow sure that our wish was granted "a complete idiot". I sat there outside her room for two hours, of course I was beginning to break a bit, and by the time I went in, I was shaking and sweating. She looked me in the eyes and asked: who are you? What is your father name? Do you realise what you have done? Today you are conspiring against your tutor, tomorrow you will do the same against the government! I will pass it this time, one more move of a kind, and you will find yourself and your family and everyone you associate with in the hands of the intelligence police.
My life has changed since that day, I withdrew to myself gradually and became a passive person. What looked to my family as an adolescent mood swings, and probably a secret love affair was pure fear.

If one feels they are a victim, they will continue to wait and wait for someone or something to lift the hardship off. Unfortunately this never happens.

The reason I am saying all this is that we Iraqis carry a lot of the blame on what happened and will happen.

The ultimate solution for many at the moment is the American withdrawal!

I say we have an enemy within; we have to face and kick out. We need to stop feeling victimized even if it is true.

The people who say that we ordinary Iraqis of different sects were living in harmony before the invasion are lying and they know it.
How dare they say that?
We were living in fear and hypocrisy, every single one of us.
I sometimes suspect that those qualities are in our genes after all we've been through.

What is happening now is more or less a replica of before if not worse.
The only difference is we can talk about it and criticise it, so we all have to stress at this point and use it constructively, not just whinge.

When I go back home, I still see people don't give a damn to what happens one meter outside their houses just like before out of fear and ignorance. They don't care about a city that offers nothing but took it all!

Iraqis say I and my brother against our cousin, but I and my cousin against a stranger! As much as I hate this proverb, and prefer unity towards rightness, it looks like it is the only solution we have.

The clowns have taken over the circus

Anyone who thought that I exagerated when I predicted that the Iraqi government will fail would do well to read the Financial Times of 8th February .

The Iraqi Oil Ministry has a nice kettle of fish to deal with. Oil production is lagging miserably, the finance minstry does not have money to pay for refining abroad, and millions of barrels of oil are being lost every day due to smuggling. On top of all this Iraq needs to strike a delicate balance between raising petrol prices (to reduce smuggling and get loans) and keeping it possible for people to live on their incomes. The problems are tough but not completely hopeless.

Now, who would you choose to head-up the oil ministry in these troubled times? A seasoned technocrat from within the oil ministry maybe? Or the clown who was only tourism minister to keep up his party's numbers in government?

No prizes for guessing which one got the job. And we are now looking forward to more of the same in the coming government. To quote the FT article:

Seven weeks after elections, the main factions are engaged in intense horse-trading in which different ministries will be parcelled out among rival ethnic-based political parties - a practice that Iraqis agree yields bad government, yet one they continue to back.

The FT gives some examples of this kind of bad government:

some ministries - such as the Dawa-run health ministry of 2003-2004, for example - were notorious for requiring job applicants to bring a letter of recommendation from their local party office before they could be considered for a post. Bayan Jaber, the interior minister, of Sciri, meanwhile has been accused of filling government posts with his party's Badr militia.

Others are reported to have brought an ideological agenda to technocratic posts, such as Salam al-Maliki, transportation minister and a member of the radical Sadrist group, who once tried to mobilise a paramilitary force to seize control of the airport during a pay dispute with the contractor handling its security.

Even though other UIA members were said to be furious at Mr Maliki, his confrontational style plays well to his fellow Sadrists, who praise him as a man of "integrity" and say he should stay in his post.

The Shia are not the only players of the patronage game. Baghdad residents refer to the Kurdish-run foreign ministry as "little Irbil" - a town in the north - where Kurdish is heard more often than Arabic.

This all adds up to ministries that act only to the agenda of its controlling party and leaves no overall control of the govenment to the Prime Minister or parliament. At a time when the state is collapsing through debt, corruption and war, this can only accelerate that failure.

This is not the fault of inidividual people but of the whole system created and encouraged by America from the rewarding of parties who supported the occupation government with ministries to a constitution that allows a minority to hold the whole government to ransom. The aim is to choke any chance for a strong government to take hold in Iraq. Unfortunately weak government just does not work in Iraq and its failure will affect the whole region.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Officials stating the bleeding obvious part 2

This story will have done the rounds by now so I am sure you will know it:
Israel's Shin Bet security service chief has said his country may come to regret the overthrow of Saddam Hussein ... Mr Diskin was asked about Iraq. "When you dismantle a system in which there is a despot who controls his people by force, you have chaos. You get what happened in Iraq. I'm not sure we won't miss Saddam," he said.
And this is what he is missing.. The real worry for Israel is that once America leaves Iraq - and they are going - all those Jihadi's in their truck bombs will have to start searching around for new targets. And these are not your average armchair terrorists, oh no. They are battle hardened and have been trained by America's finest in the worlds biggest and best terror training camp. Nuclear weapons and big tanks are completely useless against them.

So, to put this in context - Hamas and Asad is sitting pretty. The Israeli need a buffer to keep the Jihadi's out not just a wall. The only way will be to make peace with Palestinians and Syria. They know very well that if Asad falls they will get the likes of Zarqawi taking power in Syria and no big Shi'a population to stop them.

We live in interesting times indeed.

Landing at the Iraqi blogodrome

When I start writing a weekly blog review for Global Voices Online I was thinking - "well this can't be too bad" - "there is a level amount of new stuff posted every week" - "I can handle it". But I did not account for a full-blown international conflict of cultures that set the Iraqi bloggers alight. Even Zeyad was goaded into breaking a four month blog-slumber.

Anyway, go over to my post at Global Voices Online to read about what the Iraqi bloggers have been serving up this week. I have a bit of politics, word from the streets, and if you read to the end there is love at first sight.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

How do you know America is leaving Iraq?

Answer: Follow the money. From Tuesday's Washington Post:

Under the budget plan, the deficit would jump from $318 billion last year to $423 billion in 2006, then slide back down to $183 billion in 2010. In 2011, the last year of the White House's projection, the deficit would again begin to rise, to $205 billion, reflecting the cost of extending Bush's tax cuts beyond their 2010 expiration date and enacting a proposed Social Security restructuring that would cost $57 billion in that year alone.

Sounds good so far. But, "beyond 2007, the budget assumes no military expenditures in Iraq or Afghanistan." And to spell this out more clearly:

The administration, for the first time, has spelled out anticipated spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a formal budget document. Previously, the administration submitted requests for supplemental or emergency spending to cover costs. But the $50 billion in war funding for next year falls well short of the $120 billion that was requested for 2006. And no further war spending is included in future deficit projections.

So Bush plans to spend $70 billion less next year and nothing after 2007. So how is he going to pull this off? The answer is to bring the Sunnis on board. Over the past few weeks I have been noticing a few odd items on the web. First Khalilzad, America's ambassador to Iraq told David Ignatius of the Washington Post:

"The security ministries have to be run by people who are not associated with militias and who are not regarded as sectarian," ... "We are saying, if you choose the wrong candidates, that will affect U.S. aid,"

Meaning the Shi'a parties get nothing significant. If they cannot run the army or the police they are not in power.

Then, Alaa of the blog Mesopotamian, a supporter of the Shi'a parties, said this:

The U.S. presence in Iraq is trying a very treacherous ropewalk at the moment. The situation is fraught with danger. The U.S. authorities are being too anxious to ingratiate themselves to the various Sunni groups in a way that I think is going too far.

America is playing a dengerous game - If it gives too much to the Sunni's, the Shi'a will rebel. But, the Sunni insurgency has built its own momentum and looks like it can continue for the forseeable future. Either way, Bush's budget shows that America cannot afford its occupation. The single worst thing that can happen to America is that it is forced into a humiliating forced withdrawal, yet that is the way events are pointing.

Monday, February 06, 2006

"80% chance of war with Iran"

In a week that all our attention has been turned on the clash of cultures stirred up by the publishing of Danish Mohammed cartoons, the Iran nuclear crisis has been fermenting. The IAEA has voted to report Iran to the UN security council and in response Iran has withdrawn all cooperation with the IAEA.

The Financial Times today publishes a sobering editorial:

There is probably, at best, no more than a one-in-five chance of the stand-off between Iran and the international community being resolved without conflict.

Why conflict - not just, say, protracted sanctions?

[Iran] believes its oil and gas riches will win allies among energy-hungry giants such as China and India, and probably dissuade the US from any action that might drive oil prices higher. And if not, then decades of US embargos have taught Iran artful dodges, and it has access to entrepots such as Dubai just across the Gulf.

The forces on both sides of this conflict are already well entrenched. In the Eastern corner you have Iran .. "not just confident but provocatively cocky". This is also not just the musing of some isolated, madman as President Ahmadi-Nejad is portrayed in some sections of the media:

Confrontation suits the current Iranian regime, which is ultimately based less on religious zeal than on vested interests built up after the 1979 Islamic revolution ... Iranians across the political spectrum support their country's right to both technology and deterrence - making the nuclear controversy a God-given issue around which to rally the nation.

Further, Iran has not forgotten its past conflicts with the west:

Iran .. is scarred by a century of foreign meddling in its politics, including the Anglo-American-organised coup against the nationalist Mossadegh government in 1953. In the 1980s, the US in practice condoned Iraq's invasion of Iran, and through Arab allies helped arm and finance Saddam Hussein as he rained rockets on its cities and chemicals on its troops.

In the Western corner America, a country not known getting over grudges (look at Cuba):

The US can neither forgive nor forget the seizure of their Tehran embassy in 1979 and subsequent 444-day hostage crisis, much less the 1983 attacks in Beirut by Iran-backed suicide bombers that destroyed the US embassy and killed 241 marines, after which American troops withdrew in disarray.

So the FT suggests a deal:

It should accept the Russian offer [to enrich uranium for them]...then Iran should be offered a longer-term deal that addresses its security concerns and treats it as a regional power... some sort of US security guarantee (not to invade, say) and international underwriting of regional security arrangements binding Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia into co-operation.

Sorry Mr. FT Editor but you must be joking. If America is going to give any credible security guarantee, Bush will have to sack Cheney first and then withdraw from Iraq. And on top of everything the Middle East will be simmering from Denmark's blunderbus approach to international relations for a long time. Any attack on Iran now will boil over into a wholescale routing of all Western interests in the Middle East. And Iran knows it all too well.

If you were ever wondering why the whole of the Britsh press were not behaving in their usual jingoistic manner and republishing the Mohammed cartoons together with bagfuls of insults. You now know why.

Self fueling prophecy

Lets file this one under officials stating the bleeding obvious:

Oil Graft Fuels the Insurgency, Iraq and U.S. Say

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 4 — Iraqi and American officials say they are seeing a troubling pattern of government corruption enabling the flow of oil money and other funds to the insurgency and threatening to undermine Iraq's struggling economy. ...

Ali Allawi, Iraq's finance minister, estimated that insurgents reap 40 percent to 50 percent of all oil-smuggling profits in the country.

Last week I reported that Iraqi government faced Catch 22 over electricity - cant raise money without electricity can't rebuild electricity without money. So here is Catch 22 no. 2. The insurgency fuels corruption and corrution fuels the insurgency.

This Iraqi government is doomed no matter how you look at it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Sluglett gets Slugged

I have always had contempt for people who set themselves up as experts of a subject,
shroud themselves in a mystery of learning and use that position to talk down to everyone else. It is in this light that I noted with some pleasure that Wafaa’ Al-Natheema knocked Peter Sluglett down a peg or two. She posts the full email exchange on her blog - but below is a more readable summary.

Professor Peter Sluglett considers himself an expert on modern Iraqi history with good reason - he has studies the subject for 30 years. Along with his late wife, Marion Farouk Sluglett, they wrote one of the important books on modern Iraqi history called "Iraq since 1958". However, he uses that position to stifle any debate on Iraqi history. He considers himself the expert and nobody has the right to contradict him. The problem is that in many cases he is wrong.

Professor Sluglett started by writing to Wafaa' about a letter she wrote on Iraqi Jews:
Dear Wafaa’ Al-Natheema,

Someone has shown me your letter to Nissim Rejwan. I think the record has to be set straight. I have been working on 19th and 2oth century Iraqi history for the last 30 years.

In the Iraqi context, it’s nonsense to talk about ‘Jewish Arabs’. The correct terminology is ‘Arabic-speaking Jews.’ It’s like this. Arabs originate in the Arabian Peninsula. They begin to migrate out in the 4th and 5th centuries AD, and then do so in a big way in the 7th century, with the Arab conquests. Long before the Arab conquests, there were Jews in what is now Iraq. We cannot call them Arab Jews (unless we mean ‘Arabic-speaking Jews’) because their ancestors were there many centuries before the Arabs. ...

Oooh. Well if you have been working for 30 years on this us lowly mortals have no right to breathe the same air as you. So Wafaa' passes Slugletts letter to a real expert, Joachim Martillo, who is motivated to respond to Sluglett and the president of his university:

Dear Professor Sluglett:

Some friends of mine passed your email to me because I am an expert in the period that you address in the above paragraph.

I am completely astounded that anyone with any sort of training in history would try to equate ancient Arabs of 4th-7th century Arabia with the modern Arabic population.

It is a combination of primordialism and essentialism that went out of style with the defeat of the German Nazis, who tried to equate modern Germans with ancient Germanic and Teutonic tribes.

All the populations of the Middle East that spoke some form of Semitic or Egyptian language were Arabicized with the development of the early Islamic empires, and those populations included all the Aramaic-speaking populations that practiced some form of Judean religion. All these populations together evolved into the ethno-linguistic groups that are commonly called Arab today.

It is a major error to describe any populations before the 10th century as Jewish. Modern Rabbinic and Karaite Judaism do not crystallize until the time of Saadya Gaon. There are several cumbersome terminologies to describe various categories of Judean or earlier Judahite populations, but one point is clear as Shaye Cohen of Harvard University has carefully pointed out. "Judean" lost all ethnic or territorial sense by the 3rd century CE. I would argue that his time frame is several centuries too late, but any attempt to trace modern Eastern European Yiddish-speaking populations to ancient Greek and Aramaic-speaking populations of the Roman Empire that practiced some form of 2nd Temple Judaism belongs more to the realm of essentialist and primordialist propaganda than it does to genuine scholarship.

Because you pretend to be a scholar in Middle East Languages and Area Studies, I have appended a very simple introduction to the terminology necessary to discussing Judaica coherently since the development of Zionist ideology.

Patrick Geary has written a basic history book entitled The Myth of Nations. You should read it, for the very elementary points that he makes applies as much to the Middle East and North Africa as it does to Europe.

Joachim Martillo

Ouch. Let see how Sluglett gets out of that....

I accept, and am grateful for, your criticism and detailed information on the 'Jewish Arabs', a subject I should not have raised since what I know about is the 19th and 20th century, and I defer to your evidently greater knowledge of the earlier period.

Frankly Professor Sluglett, that is a little lame. Especially considering Utah University is paying you a Professor's salary to act like a historian. Just knowing details about the 19th and 20th century and then to act with complete ignorance about everything else does not cut it. Anyway, Peter goes on to excuse his opinion...

Howewver, while I know that Iraqi Jews always thought of themselves as Iraqis , I am not sure that they thought of themselves as Arabs (who just happened to be Jewish) -- unlike, for example, the Greek Orthodox population of Syria who are quite unambiguously Arab in their own self-identification. Under the Ottoman Empire, of course, people thought in sectarian and religious terms (Muslims, Christians and Jews), but while it's clear that Iraqi Jewish novelists, poets and so on between 1920 and 1950 felt that they were participants in Arab culture (since they spoke Arabic -- and only Arabic) I wonder whether - after the foundation of the state in 1920 - they thought of themselves as Arabs. Frankly, I rather doubt it, but I'm ready to be proved wrong !

Get ready to be proved wrong... cue Wafaa':

Most Iraqi Jews considered themselves Arabs, but the Industrial west and western Ashkenazi Jews didn't care or paid attention to this reality. They always made their own assumptions, distorted facts and worse yet invented their own "facts" and terminology to fit their agenda about various matters related to the East.

When Jewish Arabs lived in IRAQ, until they had to flee to Israel (a country that treated them horribly), they considered themselves Arabs. Many continued to consider themselves Arabs and even spoke Arabic or Arabized Hebrew even while living in Israel at least until the defeat of neighboring Arab countries in confronting Israel.

Then Wafaa' goes on to describe Professor Sluglett's kind of expertise:

Peter Sluglett or any of the western so-called scholars did not live in IRAQ in that era to witness that reality. They copy each other's findings, writings and statements often without listening to far better sources; the people themselves and their stories, concepts and behaviors.

Peter Sluglett should listen to the commentary by Iraqi Jews in Samir's documentary, "Forget Baghdad", should read the scholarly writings of Naeem Giladi who currently lives in NY and should also read the writing of the great Iraqi Jew, Ahmed Soussa, who never left IRAQ and converted to Islam later in his life, not because he wanted to stay in Iraq. He also should read the carefully written and well analyzed writings on the subject by Prof. Ella Shohat who also lives in NY. Jewish Arabs like the late Sameer An-Naqqash (Iraq) and David Shasha (Iraq/Syria) would have given Sluglett and other such history teachers a good piece of their mind.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Landing at the Iraqi blogodrome

Global Voices Online - The world is talking. Are you listening?

My weekly round-up has been posted over at Global Voices Online. Tell me if you like it or anything can be improved.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Shut up you whiners

Apologies for the title of this post - it is just a joke on the the name of Salam Pax's blog.

So the penny dropped, Iraq did not want the secular parties and Salam Pax and Mohammed (of Iraq The Model) published their breakdown of what went wrong and where Iraq is going.

They generally agree - the religious parties had a head start. They were already organised through the mosques long before Saddam fell. Salam Pax goes a step further. He feels the Americans pulled the religious Shi'a on board to save the elections a year ago. But they differ on the future. Salam Pax feels that:
[seculars politicians] are a tiny minority who will very soon lose all because if you are not doing the sectarian/religious double dutch rope jump you are not part of the game, so get the hell out of the playground.
While Mohammed believes:
"We are not the minority but we are the least organized when compared to the religious parties. When people voted for the religious choice that was because religion was in front of them all the time while parties like ours were more like a new face in the neighbourhood"
Both these bloggers are connected to secular politics that supported the American occupation government so both give an analysis that has serious omissions.

Firstly: the American occupation government sought to divide Iraq in a racist way. They divided the people according to Shi'a, Sunni, Christian, Kurd, Turkuman and made quotas for which sect/religion the member of the original governing council belonged to. Then each sect was given its own minsistry to control which they did like a mini fiefdom. The secular parties that joined in this game, happily participated in this farce. Well, if you ride on the back of the sectarian dragon don't come crying when it turns and burns you.

Secondly, the secular parties came on the back of the occupier. They were created from nothing - literally. Read Mohammed's description. The only one that can claim some popular backing was the Communist party and they destroyed their credibility years ago when they accepted positions in the Baathist government. So the only contituency Secular parties have is from supporting the occupier. And this is an occupier that did very little for the Iraqi in the street and promises less for the future. The most substantial thing that the Americans can claim to have done in the past three years is remove Saddam. The rest are token gestures. Iraq's wealth has been frittered away on corruption. The government still can't refine its own oil let alone pay Turkey to do it. Electricity is a sad joke. And large parts of Baghdad are totally lawless. What had the secular parties to offer other than more of the same occupation.

Iraqis are not stupid and they are not sheep to be led to the slaughter. But this is how you are treating them. I read the manifesto of some of the secular parties during the different elections and frankly they are childish nonsense. Even in the latest election - Allawi's whole program was only security and Chalabli's was to franchise the oil. People need a bit more depth than that. The religious parties did not offer much more but in a choice between several bad options you go for the most organised one.

Anyway - on to my point. Iraq desparately needs reconstruction in the same way it needed reconstruction after 1991. To do this Iraq needs national unity. The Shi'a cannot provide this because the Sunni's will never accept a Shi'a government ruling as Shi'a. The Sunni's are too small a group to rule as Sunni's. Nobody will ever accept the Baathists back. Quite simply any dictatorship will not survive. The Shi'a will ruin themselves because they are now tied to a system that is failing and will fail. They do not have any answers to economic or security problems in Iraq. So there is a hole building in Iraqi politics and any popular movement that stands on a platform of national unity and nationalisation of Iraqi resources for reconstruction will gain support very quickly. But this is not a platform America would like promoted.

The Danish Cartoons a Secular View

There has been a lot said about the Muslim response to the cartoons. But one also needs to point out that the cartoons as published were insulting to all Arabs people; Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Atheist.

The image of Mohammed in the cartoons is used to represent the whole Islamic religion - all Muslims. As people from a region where Islam was born it is our heritage. A hertage of which to be proud - not ashamed.

Let me break the cartoons down in simple terms (a quick google search will net a picture of the cartoons if you want to know what I mean):

The one with the bomb on Mohammed's head is saying very simplisticly that sum total of the whole practice and belief of Islam is suicide bombing. It is not just the image of Mohammed that is on the bomb but the symbolic phrase of Islam - "There is no god but Allah". Or to put the message even more simply: "each and every Muslim is a suicide bomber".

The cartoon of an angry man with a knife and two veiled women says - believe in Moahmmed and you believe in killing and wife bashing. The man in the middle is Muhammed. The image is a shallow joke on two levels. On one it compares the stereotyped Muslim women who are covered except for the eyes with the way Muslims dont allow the image of Muhammed's face (note the eyes are covered). On the second this is no peaceful Mohammed but an angry psychopath. Wanting to convert you by the sword and also threatening the women to keep in line.

The devil horns cartoon says simply all Islam is evil.

The sum total of the images says to me "look at the backward Muslims - they are no more than wife-bashing, suicide bombing, devils".

My own opinion is that some of the cartoons are the work of old-fasioned European racists. Having been denied the "right" to bait Jews, they turned their attention to Muslims. And the message of these cartoons amounts to not much more. Generally the use of a sterotyped image to symbolise a racist message. Be it the Uncle Tom negro to represent all blacks or the image of a Hecedic Jew to represent all Jews. Muslims provide an interesting problem to racists - there is not one visual kind to stereotype. So they found Mohammed as a useful image. And, hey, they can get what Lenin would call 'useful idiots' to jump around claiming freedom of speech on their behalf.

There are issues of freedom of speech here but this is the freedom of the racist to distribute hateful propoganda that incites hate and violence against a minority in Europe.

Shame on those anti-fascists
who still promote these cartoons and other similar cartoons thinking they are defending free speech.

Bill Clinton got it right, Europe is replacing the anti-Semitic prejudice with anti-Islamic prejudice.