Saturday, September 30, 2006

Baghdad under curfew.

The situation in Baghdad calmed down soon after we made the previous post.
Saturday has been so quiet so far, never a single explosion happened as far as I know and there was hardly any sound of gunfire in or around our district in Baghdad.

What can be noticed about this particular curfew is that it's being strictly enforced by Iraqi and US forces in Baghdad.
During most previous days of curfew, vehicles and pedestrians were occasionally seen on the streets but this is not the case today. At least that's what I heard from people who tried to move around for shopping or other business. All, whether driving or on foot, were ordered to go home.

The reasons that made the government declare a curfew remain unclear. AFP reports that:
"The curfew was implemented on the advice of multinational forces to the prime minister because they felt violence would increase today," interior ministry spokesman Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf told AFP Saturday.
A US military spokesman would not say why it had recommended a curfew but only that "intermittent curfews have been an effective means of reducing violence in the past".

However, there's a rumor in Baghdad that al-Qaeda was planning to launch a major offensive in Baghdad and takeover wide sectors of the city. The rumor that was heard for the first time several days ago speaks of 3,000 al-Qeada fighters who have entered the city for that reason.

From what I heard it seems that most of yesterday's clashes took place in al-Dora and al-Hurriya districts south and north-west of Baghdad respectively and in al-Shaab and Sleikh north-east of Baghdad.
A cousin of mine who lives in al-Shaab told me this morning that the area is witnessing heavy presence of Iraqi army and police backed by US troops, and added that Sunni residents in Sleikh exchanged fire for hours with members of the Mehdi Army when the latter tried to invade the district.

Actually I've heard the exact opposite from Shia residents in that part of the city, they think that Sunni insurgents and Takfiris were leading the offensive…everyone tells the story in a different way based on his background.

It's still difficult to determine which story is closer to the truth at this moment.

More updates will follow when available.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Fierce clashes in Baghdad; government imposes curfew.

About an hour ago local TV stations reported that the office of PM Maliki announced that a total curfew will be imposed in Baghdad from now until Sunday morning.

The curfew apparently came in response to an acute deterioration in the capital that was noticed from the early hours of Friday morning especially in districts in the east and north east of Baghdad.

During the day several gun battles took place in several districts of Baghdad and sporadic explosions and gunfire can be heard until this moment.

I've heard from friends I talked to over the phone that unknown armed men have taken to the streets in more than a few districts on both sides of the Tigris river.

Whether the armed men belong to Sunni insurgent groups or Shia militias could not be confirmed. In fact it's quiet possible that it could be both.

Earlier on Friday, al-Sharqiya and al-Hurra TV networks reported that the home of a senior lawmaker from a "large political bloc" was raided by a joint Iraqi-American force. The identity of the lawmaker was kept secret "due to the sensitivity of the case" the report said.
The news also indicated the politician was arrested after a bomb factory and at least one VBIED were discovered during the raid. So some people are speculating that the current escalation is a reaction to the arrest.

Others believe the situation is connected to the threat a senior aide to Sadr made during the Friday prayers.
Hazim al-Aaraji, one of the closest aides to Muqtada al-Sadr warned the government on Friday that the Sadr movement would "start a revolution to topple the government if anyone dared arrest or harm Sayyed Muqtada…"

Right now Mohammed and I are sitting in the garden, smoking and sipping tea and trying to analyze the sounds of the explosions and gunfire to figure out the
dimensions and rough coordinates of the battlefield. And every like 5 minutes the phone rings and there would be a friend or a relative telling us to "stay alert" or "be careful" or making sure that we heard of the curfew.

I can see and hear all kinds of military aircrafts in the skies but I can tell that none was engaged in any of the clashes so far, at least that's the case in my part of Baghdad.

The sounds of war continue while I'm typing these words…the night is obviously going to be a long one but tomorrow should bring the truth about what's happening.
More important, tomorrow will be a big challenge for the Iraqi security forces in Baghdad.
We'll try to keep you updated when we can.

Reconciliation in Iraq; the present and a different approach.

First of all we must keep in mind that there is no such thing as reconciliation in the way it's being portrayed by PM Maliki or President Talabani and I think 'settlement ' or 'compromise' would be better words to describe the kind of effort that would've been appropriate considering the status quo in Iraq.

The core point here is that no reconciliation is needed between the different factions of the Iraqi populace which means the initiative so far is not addressing the people and groups that are behind the violence.

I think it has been made clear that there are certain factions that have no interest in building peace in Iraq and are doing all they can to destabilize the country and ruin the democratic project in Iraq. It has been made clear by those particular factions whom were now used to see respond with escalation whenever a call for calm is made.

Of course such factions are funded and directed by powers in other countries that have their own agendas for Iraq that have nothing to do with Iraq's national goals.
So in this case a solution for Iraq's security problems which arise from the criminal activities of foreign-sponsored armed groups must take the form of a political deal with these regional sponsors who should be persuaded or threatened to accept such a deal, so the government can probably try to figure out what these powers and countries want from Iraq and bargain to convince these powers to end their support for the local troublemakers in return for some of what they want from Iraq or better, in return for Iraq not interfering with their business.

The outcome depends here on how well a deal our negotiators can cut. That means there are no guarantees but it's better to give that a shot that to keep looking for something in a place where that thing never existed.

Perhaps President Talabani's latest warning to Iraq's neighbors falls in this category of bargaining and is a good first step in this direction but words need to be reinforced with action in order to provide leverage, so Talabani and Maliki are expected now to keep the momentum of this warning charged.

Maliki and Talabani should concentrate their efforts in this direction especially that what had been done and achieved with Maliki's original plan of reconciliation does not rise to the level of expectations and does not match the noise made in the local media about it.
There's no clear work plan or guidelines. The entire thing looks arbitrary and many of the people who took part in the latest big conferences where PM Maliki spoke to civil society organizations and community leaders have had the same impression.

We're confused, should we turn the reconciliation decisions into 'winds in nets' or keep them as ink on paper?
(Courtesy of Iraqi cartoonist Khudair al-Himyari/New Sabah)

The search for a solution should start from the back corridors of the parliament and should go side by side with efforts to put pressure on, and negotiate compromise with, the countries that are meddling with Iraq's affairs.
This is of course going to take extraordinary efforts from the leaders who care about Iraq and who put Iraq's welfare on top of their priority lists and will require great assistance from the US especially when it comes to dealing and negotiating with leaders of Iraq's neighboring countries.

In my opinion, political and sectarian violence does not reflect internal problems as much as it reflects symptoms of the problem which is the interference of regional powers in Iraq's affairs and their desires to gain a foothold in Iraq and stop democracy from spreading further in the region.
This means reaching deals with the pawns of these powers is not enough a measure to solve the problem because pawns are replaceable and pacifying one local violent faction will only mean that those who were pulling its strings will look for a new pawn to continue the mission.

Sometimes history, even that of dark eras where evil men ruled, can provide some examples that we probably can learn from…
In one of the previous sessions of the Anfal trial Saddam spoke about how the Kurdish rebellion surrendered immediately after he signed a treaty with the Shah of Iran back in 1975…"120 thousand weapons were turned in, in a matter of days…"

With all the fundamental differences between the two cases and the moral differences between the savage insurgency in Iraq these days and the legitimate Kurdish revolt against the Baath regime, this story tells us how an armed struggle that lasted for half a century collapsed when its main supporter backed out.

For long years before 1975, it was considered next to impossible for the Iraqi military to crush the rebellion, and no political resolution could have been reached between the rebels and the central government but a paper signed by two men was enough to put an end, for some time at least, to that confrontation.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

One reason why I love winter...

Finally, summer in Baghdad is coming to an end.
Although we still get temperatures slightly above 40c every other day, the overall averages are well below what we used to have back in July and August and temperatures at nights are going below 20c again for the first time since June.

These lower temperatures mean I'm going to be relieved from one of the most tedious and exhausting duties I had to bear for the past 3-4 months. That would be maintaining the power generators.

I have two of these things at home, pieces of utter junk, yet it's junk that you have no other choice but to rely on under the scorching heat of summer time in Baghdad.

These tow generators, each produce ~2.5 kw of power which is enough to cover the basic power needs of a household; fans, lights, TV, fridge, water pump and a computer. But this comes at a high expense; especially time-wise…keeping these two generators functioning cost an average of up to 2 hours of my time every day in the past 3-4 months.

I can't remember a day when both machines were functioning! At any given day there would be one of them yelling for some sort of maintenance. Aside from the daily oil-check and refueling and an oil change 2-3 times a week for each engine, there's a lot of maintenance to be done…
There's an almost biweekly change of carburetors, monthly change of engine valves. Every other while a retractable starting-cord would wear out and need replacement.
And at least once a month, each generator would need one major repair, for example, this season alone, I had to replace an engine and two generator coils.
Not to mention spark-plugs and silencers and exhaust tubes that rupture occasionally!

The problem that forces you to choose these pieces of junk is the limited range of options in the market. There are either those fuel-economic $200 things or multi-thousand dollar generators that are fuel-hungry. Even though fuel is available and cheaper now that the shortage is over, fuel prices and availability remain a concern because you can't take anything for sure in this place, and purchasing the wrong generator would have meant having to spend ~$600/ month for fuel alone at times when gas prices rocketed to $4/gallon!

The picture should give you an idea of how the various power sources are organized in a common mains-box in the ordinary home in Baghdad. As you can see there are 2 'knife switches' which we call here 'change-over(s)' which we use to switch between two different power sources, so two of these switches mean 4 different sources, each has a small red indicator-LED that tells us which is on and which is off.

But that's not it, the number of power sources can further increase. In our home for instance we have 6 of them; 4 you saw above and 2 in two other locations but are sort of temporary/portable connections.

Each one of these 2 is basically a double long extension cord running between one home and a neighbor's, through which people can get electricity from their neighbors when one house has it and the other doesn't. These are often considered 'emergency' lines since neighbors usually have little extra power to share, so these extension cords are used to power the very basic needs of a household in the summer…a fan, a light and a TV set.

Anyway, I don't why I'm writing this but it's just that I feel so much relief the worst days of summer are gone, now I don't have to worry much about gas or cheap spare parts, and above all it means I can once again enjoy my treasured afternoon naps…

Monday, September 25, 2006

War on peace…

Yesterday around noon, the 'Virgin Mary Old Eastern Church' in Baghdad was attacked with a series of bombings that involved the use of at least three explosive devices.
The sequence in which the bombs were set off indicates the terrorists were trying to inflict as many casualties as possible among the worshippers who were preparing to leave the church after the Sunday ceremony.

What really makes me sad and angry is that churches are the most peaceful places in the country.
Churches did not turn into bomb factories or hideouts for criminals. They remained beacons for peace and love unlike our mosques and Husseiniyat that drifted far away from their original purpose and sadly became sources of fear and death and changed to become homes to torturers and kidnappers.

It's not the first time churches come under attacks from criminal extremists but if this attack was an act of revenge for what the pope said, then it shows how ignorant those criminals are and how much blind hate they have in their hearts because that church is an orthodox church, not a catholic!

But No, this is not about the pope's "offensive" remarks and I cannot find any motives behind such attacks but hate; hate for everything that represents peace.

Regardless of the motives of the attack, the government and its security apparatus are to blame for not providing sufficient protection for Christian worship places after the terrorists declared their intentions to launch a wave of attacks against these sites.

Ironically, instead, the interior ministry announces a plan to provide more protection for mosques and Husseiniyat.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Begging for more anger!

Iraq's speaker of parliament opened Tuesday's session (Arabic) by complaining about "the pope's excuses are not enough, he must make a clear apology…."
The Islamist speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said it without shame or hesitation, just like all other leaders who owe us a thousand apologies a day for their ignorance and incompetence.

What can I say? We got used to this kind of behavior. When someone is full of mistakes he finds no shelter except in accusing others of being wrong.
I don't know what good can this do for Iraq or its people! What difference does it make to the average Iraqi whether the pope apologized or not? Did Mr. Speaker ask himself these questions?
My guess is that he was in a state of euphoria after watching the 150 teenagers-demonstration in Basra which is another proof of the ignorance of its managers.
I saw angry young men burning the flags of America and Israel, and I still can't figure out the connection they saw between Israel or Jews and the pope!!
In fact the continuous pathetic attempts to blame the west and Israel for everything shows clearly that the motives of such demonstrations are political not religious.

Anyway, it looks like the reaction of Muslims were not as violent or as bloody as the leaders wished them to be and that's why they're now provoking and yelling at the "sleeping" masses and pushing them to show more fury.

They want to add another big scene to the countless previous ones—angry mobs burning flags and pledging to destroy the "infidels".

Actually their latest calls for MORE ANGER are becoming pretty much like begging.
Iran thinks the Muslim people fell short of doing their duty and Qaradawi calls Muslims to have a "day of fury".

All these are theatrical acts directed by governments and corrupt clerics seeking controlled anger among the mobs to use in intimidating the west and discouraging it from applying more pressure on, or calling for changing, these tyrannical regimes.

Such calls are taking the headlines in the governments-controlled media in the Arab countries, and the governments, whether religious or secular, are promoting this provocation of anger.
Meanwhile, voices of reason are being pushed to the rear to appear in a short subtitle or in a tiny corner in the 10th page, or even not mentioned at all.
What the rulers want is the anger that the masses, in the eyes of the rulers, did not express enough of.

What has to be done now from the governments' perspective is to lash those lazy masses with the whips of the media and religion to do more angry protests and show more fist-shaking on TV.

For a while let the people forget about poverty, hunger, terrorism, illiteracy and other problems of the region… And let's redirect the world's attention from "insignificant" issues like Darfur, nuclear reactors, Hizbollah's defiance or Syrian and Iranian meddling with Iraq's or Lebanon's affairs.
What matters now is anger and only anger.

Right Mashhadani? Right Ahmedinejad? Right Asad? Right Mubarak?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

When will we be ready to accept criticism?

Are those who demand an apology from the pope ready to apologize for some of their own mistakes? Or have they never made any mistakes?

Regardless of what the pope said, the Arab and Muslim world, through the tense and offensive reactions, showed once again how incapable its leaders are to respond to criticism in a civilized way.

Here we always insist that the greatest miracle of the prophet is the words he was sent with, the same words that tell Muslims to use logic and kindness in their attempts to invite others to the Islamic faith, the same words that discourage them from using a rude or repulsive tone in their conversations.
The sad thing is that in spite of all these advices, most of the common people and the elites choose offensive, rude if not violent reactions as a first measure to counter criticism.

One friend reminded me of the assassination attempt that targeted the former pope two decades ago wondering what the reaction of the pope was…as we all know he eventually visited the assailant and pardoned him.
No mosques were blown up and no speech of a clash of civilizations was made.
So why don't we admit that the "other" is better than us at responding rationally when criticized? Why don't we learn from others?
When we closed our ears to anything that doesn't match our beliefs and refused all criticism wasn’t that enough reason for the deterioration of our civilization?

Ok, let’s suppose the pope criticized the Muslims' way in spreading their belief, can anyone prove that wrong??

This question pushed me to review some recommended books of Islamic history, books that are held high and considered cornerstones in the documentation of Arab-Islamic history. I started to review these books looking for facts as to whether Islam was spread peacefully.

Yes, many entered in Islam voluntarily over history but I want to shed light on a certain part of history when the sword was used. That's the stage that must be studied and revisited. And there must be no shame felt in criticizing or renouncing it if that's necessary and it should not be treated as a divine story that cannot be questioned.

Let's take a look at the campaigns led by the first set of Caliphs who ruled the Islamic state after the death of the prophet and see in which of these campaigns the faith was spread peacefully and in which ones other means were implemented and which of the peoples of the region entered in Islam voluntarily….
Iraq? Persia? Spain? Egypt?

Which of those nations embraced the Islamic call voluntarily?
I will start from Iraq to state my thoughts about the Islamic invasion of Iraq and I will try to find which statement is closer to the truth; with sword, or through a peaceful invitation?

Anyone with the slightest knowledge about the ancient Middle East knows the enormous difference in riches between green Mesopotamia and the deserts of Arabia. This difference makes it natural to expect that early Muslims who lived in the desert looked ambitiously to the rich lands of their neighbors in Mesopotamia.

I will provide historical texts from some of the most respected books in Islamic history such as al-Tabari, Seerat Ibn Hisham and Tafseer Ibn Katheer. These books show that the questionable motives behind invading Iraq were not secret but were rather mentioned boastfully every time our historians celebrate the achievement of adding Iraq to the young Islamic state.

The story began when the first Caliph Abu Bakr sent two of his toughest generals to Iraq (both are notorious for crimes they had supposedly committed).
Abu Bakr sent Khalid Bin al-Waleed to the south parts of Iraq and sent Iyadh Bin Ghanam to the west (upper Euphrates valley). To motivate the two generals he told them that the first to reach al-Heera would become the Emir and have superiority on the other.

Khalid understood the message and according to al-Tabari he made a speech to his army in which he said "Don't you see soldiers that food piles in that land are as big as mountains!? I swear to God that even if it wasn't for Jihad and even if it was only for the treasures then it's worth fighting for to make these riches our own and leave behind the days of hunger and poverty".

The first village the army met on the road was inhabited by Christian Arabs who were taken by surprise at the size of the invading army. They wondered what Khalid wanted from them and tried to negotiate for peace.
The negotiator of the village and its chief Bin Slooba managed to save his village only after he agreed to pay 90 thousand Dirhams in tribute.
Next was another village that paid as much as 190 thousand Dirhams.

The story continued until the army arrived at the first village that refused to pay the tribute and refused to obey the orders of the army, and so was the battle of "Alees" that town was also inhabited by Christian Arabs.
Khalid Bin al-Waleed vowed to make "a river flow out of their blood".

Khalid's men killed 70 thousands of the town's people in one day and one night according to al-Tabari's story.
But the spilled blood did not form a river which upset Khalid but al-Qa'qa (one of Khalid's lieutenants) advised him to direct water from the river to the spot of the slaughter through a canal.
That way a river of blood was formed and Khalid kept his vow.

The invasion went on in this manner and the men from the desert for the first time knew the word million, which at that time they referred to as "one thousand thousand".
The treasures that fell in the hands of the army were enormous, for example in one battle, Khalid won the helmet of a Persian general that had an estimated value of one hundred thousand Dirhams.

Saad Bin Abi Waqqas assumed leadership from Khalid later and the invading army reached the city of Mada'in (south east of Baghdad) and history relays to us some stories that tell of the ignorance and cruelty of that army.

In one storehouse they found great amounts Kafour (an aromatic substance extracted from Eucalyptus used in medicine) which they thought was salt because of its abundance and color and used for their bread which came out bitter!
Some soldiers rushed to break some boxes that were sealed with lead thinking they contained food to find they were full of silverware!
One war trophy was a 60 arm-long carpet made of silk and gold and decorated with precious stones and made in the shape of Mesopotamia's map.
How did they deal with that treasure?
They simply ripped it apart and divided it among the Emirs of the army. It was said that Imam Ali sold his share for 20 thousand Dinars!

Some books mention that the collective contents of the Persian King's safes was equal to three billion Dinars or "3 thousand thousand thousand Dinars".

And some books mention that the share of the regular soldiers who fought the war in Iraq reached up to 12 thousand Dinars each.
And after Iraq became part of the state, books say that the 3rd Caliph Omar collected one hundred million Dinars or "one hundred thousand thousand Dinars" in tax money

Now I will use a few quotes from the Hadeeth (the sayings of the prophet) that should be enough to silent the angry voices and I'd like to hear what our angry clerics have to say about them…will they renounce these texts? Or will they admit that they have a lot in common with the quotes used by the pope?

Saheeh Muslim/the mosques and prayer chapter:

The prophet (pbuh) said: I was sent with words of wisdom and assisted with horror.

Saheeh al-Bukhari/al-Jihad and the march:

The prophet (pbuh) said: Heaven lays in the shade of swords.

Saheeh al-Bukhari/Tafseer al-Quran (the explanation of Quran):

"You were the best nation brought to the people"
Meaning: The best people to the people, bringing them with chains around their necks until they enter in Islam.

Saheeh Muslim/al-Jihad and the march:

The prophet (pbuh) said: The killer's right is to rob the killed.

The prophet (pbuh) said: I was ordered to fight the people until the say 'There's no God but Allah'.

Now after reading texts that are mentioned in our respected books I wonder why we always put the sword as a symbol under 'There's no God but Allah'?
Isn't the call for Islam convincing enough by itself that some countries or Jihadi groups add a sword to it?!

The truth is that the religious institutions here are corrupt and despotic. And while they reject criticism today, they are looking with fear at the criticism coming out from the inside of the very same institutions which in some cases I find harsher and more explicit that the quotes the pope used in his speech.

First of all, we need to review these texts and history books that Muslim scholars insist on relying on, and before they judge others' knowledge they must present what proves the opposite of the stories or facts they reject. Or, they should abandon these texts and declare them invalid.

Now let's see, the chief cleric of the al-Azhar university accused the pope of ignorance about Islamic history, right? Let's hear what another history scholar from al-Azhar said in one of his books about the same stage of Islamic history as the one the pope was referring to.

Sheikh Khaleel Abdul Kareem in his book "Shadu al-Rababa fi Ahwal al-Sahaba" (first edition 1997) said:

"Did the invaded people take the belief of the invaders voluntarily? What were they expected to do after seeing with their own eyes their men being slaughtered even after they surrendered and raised the white flag? Or when they saw their houses burned down, women taken slaves, belongings purged and taxes imposed, where they expected to keep their religion or move to embrace that of their invading masters to get away from the punishment?"

I believe this testimony which comes from one of al-Azhar scholars is way more critical than the words the pope quoted…

By the way, Khaleel Abdul Kareem was prosecuted more than once but was never pronounced guilty because of his factual and objective approach in which he used examples and proofs taken from the history texts approved by al-Azhar and the like.
His prosecutors backed off when they realized that denouncing him would mean renouncing the history the live by and that's what none of them dared to do.

Some accuse the pope of bad timing but I wonder what is going to be the best time to accept criticism and accept questions? Next year? a decade from now? When?

There will be no such time for our clerics who derive their power from this history, and to them, questioning or criticizing this history is a threat to their holiness and power.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Does Syria deserve the gratitude?

The attack near the American embassy in Damascus leaves much to discuss than the quick response of the "brave" Syrian security.
The whole scene falls in the Syrian desire to send a message to the world and to America that the Syrian regime with its secular dictatorship is the best guarantee to stop the Takfiri terrorism that threatens everyone.

I will not accuse the Syrian regime of directly being behind the operation like the Syrian opposition did, whom I agree with though that the timing, nature and happy ending of the operation seem to be more than a good coincidence that serves the regime that is suffering increased pressure from the world…the 'thank you' they got after this operation was a much needed resuscitation dose.

I will leave this particular incident and go back to the time when Takfiri groups were emerging in Syria…it is clear that this incident and a few earlier ones indicate the presence of a radical organization(s) in Syria, the thing that can not go unnoticed by the government in a police state like Syria.

I had lived under a very similar regime for long years, it even had the same title (The Baath) and I saw how the regime followed and counted the steps of all Islamists whether they were Salafis, Brotherhood, Sunni or Shia or just people who happen to pray. There was no way an organized group could be formed without the regime knowing about it, let alone acquiring weapons and preparing for a coordinated attack against vital places in the capital.

There's no agreement between dictatorships and Takfiri groups in our region, they in fact differ greatly over the form and means of governance though they do share a vision for totalitarian rule and they both share extreme rejection to democracy and freedoms and they both view thet western way of living is the greatest threat to the essence of their doctrine and that its dominance means death to that doctrine.

That said, I will talk about the symbiotic relationship between the two.

I see that the reason behind the growth of religious extremism in Syria, Yemen or Egypt is attributed to one main reason which is the tyranny of the authority that makes life a bad choice and kills hope inside the people that many find themselves with nowhere to look at but the wide heavens that of course has its own route to approach.

There's no need to thank Syria for stopping the attackers because the same regime and its policy were responsible for fostering the ideology of the extremists in the first place.

Let's notice the term 'Takfiri' is often emphasized by the governments that use this quality of the terrorists to spread horror and fear among people inside and outside the country. The word 'Takfiri' and what it refers to is enough to intimidate and terrorize everyone, except for the government which holds all the strings of the game and it's the one who planted the seeds of this ideology.

When this trend tried to direct its rage at the authority, a choice I find justifiable and can't blame them for, the response from the authority was severe and painful and let's not forget the extermination campaigns of Syria against the Islamists in Aleppo and Hama, or those of Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt or Saddam against the brotherhood or the Shia or other outlawed religious factions.

All those violent campaigns of mass murder and collective punishment were enough to repress any anti-government movement and that's why they had to look for somewhere else to unload all the anger which could not be contained forever.
Maybe the best choice here for the Islamists was to direct all the violence, anger and contempt in a campaign that also includes the use of media and psychological warfare against another enemy in a way that wouldn't invite the wrath of the rulers, i.e. against the west which by the time became the rulers' and extremists' mutual enemy.

How did this happen over history?

Actually it was orchestrated through a system of information and education campaign against the dangers threatening the dictatorships. In the early times that took the form of rejecting the state of Israel for no other reason I can think of but the regimes' fear from a democratic system that disrupts the continuity of the totalitarian desert.

Naturally it was very easy to adapt religion to serve this cause to give the operation a divine look and to funnel extremism against the enemy that endangered stability of the region with its new system that could make the citizen compare and see the differences between democracy and totalitarianism which became so obvious from looking at how advanced that small state is compared to her Arab neighbors.

The other danger is represented by the free world whose way of life seemed very tempting for people in our region and a comparison between that and life under dictatorships was again not in the best of the regimes.
In this case several mechanism of "education" were employed to direct the violence led by the extremists from the government to someone else.

That was done either through misguiding the extremists; for example I used to hear Saddam's regime saying over and over again, through rumors and planted stories, that America and Europe are standing behind these dictatorships and that was like telling the angry Islamists to shoot at the real enemy which is the "Great Satan" that endorsed the planted the dictators. Not to mention other levels of propaganda that made the west look as the cause of all our problems, that the west is stealing our riches, fighting our beliefs and destroying our culture and history and fears our development.

I really see that these regimes deserve no thanking as much as blaming and pressure because they are the founders of the atmospheres and conditions that bred extremism and made it multiply and bud in a way that it has long became ready for export to the whole world.

The Takfiris are now a weapon in the hands of the dictators and they are using it efficiently to terrorize us and blackmail the west. These regimes are using these chained mad dogs and threatening to set them loose once they feel the threat of a change looming around their kingdoms.

The question is, is dictatorship a guarantee for keeping the leash on those extremists?

Absolutely not, dictatorship will not and cannot guarantee limiting the growth of extremism because extremist groups are the children of those regimes and a natural outcome of the way those regimes ruled these countries.

Dictatorships have all the lust for power and dirty mentality required to ally with the extremists against their enemies whether those are their own people or the west and its ideas of reform and liberty.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bonjour France!

Al-Qaeda and the 'Salafi group for call and combat' are joining forces to fight France (Hat Tip: Pajamas)…

Al-Qaida has for the first time announced a union with an Algerian insurgent group that has designated France as an enemy, saying they will act together against French and American interests.
In his video, Al-Zawahri hailed "the joining up" of the GSPC with al- Qaida as "good news."
"All the praise is due to Allah for the blessed union which we ask Allah to be as a bone in the throats of the Americans and French Crusaders and their allies, and inspire distress, concern and dejection in the hearts of the traitorous, apostate sons of France," he said.

Now this makes me wonder, what part of France's policy had lead to this, and what made al-Qaeda consider France an enemy that must be fought and brought into submission?

Could it be the neo-conish, hawkish, Zionish policies of President Chirac?(’xcuse my French!)

Nah, France is a peaceful, thoughtful, tolerant and (dare I say chicken?) country and there's no way that France's policies pushed al-Qaeda to ally with that insurgent group, right?

But why should France be so concerned about this new alliance? I'm sure Paris can give time for diplomacy, initiate dialogue and negotiate to reach a compromise with those guys, right?
After all, the France is not illegally occupying any Muslim lands and is sympathetic to Arab and Muslim causes.

Anyway, let's see what options France should consider in response here:

First and foremost, the French, peacefully and willingly, can all convert to Islam (Salafi Islam that is) and endorse Sharia Law instead of their crusade constitution.

Or, the French could fight and defend Paris from al-Qaeda's invasion (scrap that, non-applicable).

Or, The French can opt to pay the Dhimmi Jizya, I think al-Qaeda would appreciate annual tributes of French cheese and perfumes...(no?!)

Or, maybe the French can pretend they converted to Islam to please al-Qaeda but retain their current beliefs, i.e. use the Taqiyya for a while until they find a way out…?

I really don't know, but I know for sure now that there is something wrong with France's policy that Islamists are considering her an enemy.
I assume the French government knows better which part is and maybe it's time to consider changing that part instead of telling other countries to change theirs.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

For the first time ever, they spoke the truth!

After finishing his tour in the Middle East, Kofi Annan says most region leaders told him the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath have been a disaster.
A disaster for whom, is the question…

Speaking about his tour of Middle East nations, Mr Annan told reporters:
"Most of the leaders I spoke to felt that the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath have been a real disaster for THEM...They believe it has destabilised the region."

For the first time I agree with what dictators, despots and apocalyptic nutcases said!
I'd just replace "the region" with "their thrones" to make the statement correct.

Did the "invasion and its aftermath" destabilize the region from those leaders' perspective?
Absolutely yes! The Syrian Baath regime lost its eastern twin, Iran lost its anti-American, anti-Semitic western neighbor and the family-state in Saudi Arabia suddenly found itslef with a northern neighbor where minorities and majorities both have shares in governance.
Moreover, the peoples of the region, since then, became more daring in demanding their rights and criticizing the policy of their governments.

If this is not instability, then what is it?

Iraqi soldiers prevent a massacre.

Iraqi soldiers defused a 2000 pound vehicle-born bomb that was prepared for detonation in downtown Baghdad.

Aswat al-Iraq News Agency reports:

MNF sources today said that a force from the Iraqi army found a vehicle loaded with 2000 pound of explosives in central Baghdad.
"On Wednesday morning soldiers from the 6th IA division found and defused a massive amount of explosives that was placed inside a vehicle in central Baghdad"

Iraqi soldiers sealed the site around the vehicle…because of the great amount of TNT explosives in that bomb it was not possible to do a controlled detonation in the same place. A team of unexploded ordnance disposal experts from the Iraqi army arrived and disarmed the bomb.

This bomb could have been the largest bomb in Baghdad since the multiple attacks on the Palestine hotel compound in October last year.
I can only imagine the casualties and destruction that bomb could have caused had it not been discovered and disarmed…Well done men!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Maliki in Iran.

I have received several emails and comments from readers wondering about Maliki's visit to Tehran and in some cases expressed worries about that visit.

Is this visit in Iraq's interest? Is it in the interest of Iraq's western allies? Does it serve the strategic goals of war on terror or the creation of a stable new middle east?
These are the common questions I heard and actually they are very similar to questions we in Iraq are discussing.
Although we are here and in direct touch with events, comprehensive answers are not easy to find. However, I will try to discuss this issue from my personal point of view and that of people I often meet and talk to.

First of all I'm not going to give this visit more importance than it deserves and I will not agree with commentators who say it has strategic dimensions.
I will rather say it was a routine visit that is part of the protocols that anyone who fills the position of PM has to observe, and it's also required by the condition of Iraq's relations with its neighbors and by the current situation in Iraq.

I will even say the trip to Tehran came a bit later than expected because Maliki visited the US, Kuwait and Jordan before he made it to Iran and all these visits are part of his effort and duty to garner support for his mission and improve his cabinet's relations with Iraq's neighbors to serve Iraq's intersts.
Maliki chose (or had) to delay his trip to Tehran more than once and I think this is due to the sensitivity of his position and because of his background which forces him to be careful before making this kind of decisions.

Now let's be objective and ask ourselves; what can the man offer Tehran and what can Tehran offer him in return?

In spite of assertions from the spokesman of the cabinet that Maliki would firmly ask Iran to stay out of Iraq's business, I didn't think or expect Maliki to deliver a tough-worded message of this sort and in the same time I'm not going to expect anything good to come from what Iran so far promised.

There's no doubt that relationships between Dawa Party (which Maliki belongs to) and Iran are good but are also different from relationships between the SCIRI or the Sadr group and Iran and Maliki realizes this difference in levels of Iranian support for different Iraqi Shia factions and he knows better than anyone the map of alliances and rivalries among these factions, so I think he will be negotiating as a PM of Iraq and not on behalf of the UIA within which Maliki is relatively less favored by Iran than other leaders. Which means he's probably ready to risk loosing some of that support because that would mean his rivals within the UIA would lose more than him or his party.

Still his demands will be stated politely and he will avoid using a tough tone and obviously he will offer guarantees to Iran that Iraq will not be part of an assault on Iran in the foreseeable future.
In fact most of this has probably already been discussed and the rest of the visit which ends today or tomorrow will be dedicated to less critical economic or political issues.

Again, I do not see in this visit, or expect from it, more than what I said above and again I want to add that I cautiously follow every visit made by any Iraqi official to any given country, be that al-Mashhadani to Syria, Zibari to Turkey or Maliki to Iran because I still believe that Iraq's current leaders are not qualified enough for their posts and they do not possess the skills they need to run positively productive negotiations necessary to preserve Iraq's interests and rights.

This problem, the lack of skills, comes from the fact that most of those leaders have had little experience in political and/or diplomatic work and this is complicated by the magnitude of the internal problems in Iraq that makes it even more difficult for those leaders to have clear vision for the future of the country or for its relationships with other countries.

Anyway, I find reassurance in the pluralism and the parliamentary system that has been established through elections and other chapters of the political change in Iraq.
This pluralism makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for anyone including the PM to monopolize the decision making process so I think there's no reason to be afraid that one politician or one faction will break or form a strategic alliance in a way that brings a disaster onto Iraq.
Maliki is only one thread in a fabric made of components that vary in their visions and attitudes and these variations are visible even within individual blocs.
Some consider Iran Iraq's first enemy while others see in Iran a close friend and ally and neither party is small.

What I'm sure of is that there are no more individuals with enough power to drag Iraq ,on their own, into disasters.
Mistakes exist with pluralism as well but these cannot be as destructive as those of dictators.

Monday, September 11, 2006

They are blaming the victim!

With every anniversary of the September attacks the Arab media reserve wide space to cover the commemoration of the terror attack with visible assertion from the media that what happened in 9/11 was a terror attack and no channel or paper would use a different description. Sounds good so far?

I find myself compelled to follow the responses from Arab media and commentators in the hope that I could find a change, a review of calculations or a rereading of facts that is different from the previous. But the media is keen to disappoint me every single time because after the short friendly introduction that leads into the main coverage of the terror attack I find a flood of blaming, condemnation, chastising and scorn directed against (guess who?)…the victim of course, the victim of that very terror attack!
It makes me feel there's only a fine line of shyness stopping those people from praying for the souls of the terrorists, after all they, in the mentality of the media, are also victims of America (who in turn is the victim of that same terror attack!).

As I write the first few lines of this post Omar directs me to an AFP story about the media and 9/11 which left me in shock; the nonsense spread from Arabs to Americans themselves that some in the American MSM are firing their criticism arrows at the victim, turning logic upside down in an offensive and insulting manner explaining that by saying they are searching for solutions to the problem or to avoid another 9/11. many go as far as criticizing and condemning the American administration that had only been in office for six months when America cam under the attack that'd been in planning for years which means the terrorists had no clue what that administration's policy would be like and didn't even know who was going to be in office when they started planning the attack.

You also see others who criticize the American response to the attack calling it "savage" or "brutal" which are words commonly used by the Arab media that at the same time ignores the savage brutality of the attack in the first place.

Concentrating on the response and ignoring the attack that provoked it is an act of denial and running away from reality, and concentrating on the "erroneous" American policy is something I cannot accept because it comes either from dictatorships that see a threat for them in the American policy that calls for liberty and democracy, or from fascist religious powers that see in the pluralism and tolerance that America calls for a danger to their dominance on the minds of their people, or from some American politicians blinded by ambition and care only about discrediting their opponents.

Like we said in a previous post, did Moscow's pro-Arab, pro-Islamist policy keep the Russian people safe from the hands of radical terrorists who use their extreme interpretation of religion as a cover for violence?

Now let's ask ourselves some clear questions and let's go with those critics and suppose we changed the western policy toward "central and vital" Arab and Muslim causes, the question is, will that be enough to make dictators and extremists believe in peace with the west?

I don't think so. Those dictators and extremists always seek to keep a state of low-level confrontation and to keep the possibility for war open because their dominance over their people depends on their ability to create enemies and convince their people that those enemies are whom hatred and anger must be directed at.

I'll try to clarify more and dig up the main reason for the conflict which, I believe, is the thousand year-old interpretations of Quran which were made (the interpretations) divine and holy by despotic rulers and clerics who used these interpretations of the Quran to prohibit rational thinking and obstruct the natural course of mental and cultural evolution of the society asserting that the solution is in returning to the Salaf (ancestors and their doctrine) and not in going forward, these are the kinds of interpretations that shaped the visions of the terrorists who carried out the attack and other attacks.

These interpretations state clearly without any chance for confusion what the attitude toward non-Muslims must be; either convert them to Islam, or force them to pay the Jizya (tax/tribute) or it is war and of course the idea of peaceful coexistence and mutual respect based on equality does not exist, neither do peace treaties. What exists instead is Hudna (temporary cease-fire) which ends once enough power to fight and/or eliminate the enemy is gained.

Now I wonder, if the west chose to change its policy would this encourage the interdependent clerics and dictators to change those interpretations or cancel them along with the set of beliefs derived from them?

Again I don't think so and this what makes the confrontation inevitable. Inevitable because they want it and not the "other" and no matter how the west tries to avoid it, it (war) will come to the west.

The war in fact is one between the set of ideas that seeks to pull the word back into the dark ages and the set of ideas that seek freedom of mind and wants to move human civilization forward.
Changing policies will not change the "holy" heritage which our enemies want to impose, first on us in this region to later export it and impose it on the west.

This is our war first, it's our war as citizens of this region to preserve our humanity so as not to turn into violent, death-spreading mutants.
It's the war of those of us who believe in rewriting history and breaking away from its chains and it's the war of those who look forward to liberating their minds from the dominance of totalitarian interpretations of religion, and it's your war too.

Your duty is to help save us from being smashed between the hammer of dictators and the anvil of religion so that we can take our natural place and play a positive role in this life.
And it's also your battle to stop the murderers from acquiring deadly power so that we can be sure what happened in 9/11, or something much worse, does not happen again.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Federalism in Iraq; SCIRI's project.

The way some of our politicians here insist on implementing federalism annoys me and to some extent also confuses me, although federalism is stated in the constitution it is certainly not the time to activate the form of federalism that is being marketed by some Shia blocks in the parliament when the country is facing a lot of serious challenges and problems and has more critical steps to take than to form autonomous or semiautonomous regions to please a group of politicians or clerics.

And I also doubt that federalism of the type proposed recently can make the politicians who call for it achieve what they are looking for in it be that declared or hidden goals.

It's no secret that, leaving the Kurdistan part aside, the strongest supporter for federalism is al-Hakeem and his SCIRI. Al-Hakeem and his staff, most importantly his ambitious young son Ammar who lived most of his life in Iran and is the hottest candidate for leading the southern region in case it's formed, had been running an extensive PR campaign so to speak to persuade Iraqis in the 9 provinces south of Baghdad to endorse his project in establishing 'the federation of the center and south', this campaign had been focusing on the security issue and the SCIRI had been telling the people that if they wanted to be safe from Takfiri and Baathist insurgents and terrorists then the only way is through federalism.

This former argument does not seem to have solid basis on the ground since the Sunni insurgency in its various forms has had relatively little influence in the south and in fact the developments in the past few months show that instability in the south comes mostly from violence created by Shia factions rival to the SCIRI; in Basra there is the Fadheela Party militias, agents of Iran and outlaw tribes, in Kerbala there are the followers of cleric Mahmoud al-Hasani and in Diwaniya most recently the Sadr militias have been demonstrating their ability to create unrest as we saw in the deadly clashes that occurred only a week or more ago.

Anyway, I was told that this campaign isn't meeting substantial success in the centers of cities which made the Hakeems turn to the simple-minded people of rural suburbs using a tone that's much like "stop whining about lack of services! The decision is in your hands now, vote for federalism and you'll get the water, electricity and gas you need".

This reminds me of a story relayed to me by a friend who lives in the south, his brother was tying to get a certain job in the police department but his attempts failed. He was advised by someone to meet "Sayyed Ammar" and ask him to recommend him to the department. The guy was given an appointment to meet Ammar but on the day of the meeting and after waiting for several hours in the office he was surprised to learn that he and many like him were in fact invited to a speech for the young Hakeem about federalism!

I wonder here what makes al-Hakeem think that he and his party will be able to enjoy his intended Hakeemi Iraqia when almost all other influential Shia factions in that part of Iraq oppose his vision for one reason or another?!

And when I say for example that Sadr doesn't support the federation of the center and south it is not because he wants Mailiki's central government to have full sovereignty throughout the whole country but rather because he wants to control a bigger chunk of the county and does not want to see boundaries limit his ambitions and we have seen evidence for these ambitions in some moves Sadr made like in sending his militiamen to Kirkuk last year to fight the Kurds or in declaring his intentions to send a million armed men to Samarra to "liberate the shrines from the grip of Nawasib".

In this article (Arabic) we can get a clear sense of how Sadr and his followers look at al-Hakeem's version of federalism. The cultural advisor of Sad's office described the proposed federalism of the center and south as a precursor for "A new mass grave for the Shia because of the differences and maybe disputes in visions among the various factions within the community".

Technically the only group that is going to stand by federalism is the Kurds whose current state of relative independence takes its constitutional support from the instatement of federalism in Iraq's constitution but this Kurdish support alone isn't big enough to grant al-Hakeem permission to establish his state and even if it does, al-Hakeem will find himself in a very unpleasant position and this will also mean more unrest in the south that will be very difficult to control.

It's also important to note that Hakeem's policy doesn't have absolute support in the south even in his stronghold in Najaf, recently the advisory board of the city council voted against and blocked the suggestion of forming the "popular committees" which was originally proposed by al-Hakeem.

From a technical point of view and according to article 119 of the constitution either 1/3 of members of city councils or 1/10 of residents (Arabic) in concerned provincescan make the proposal which means a vote can be called for but there's absolutely no guarantee for the project to be approved because that will require a 2/3 majority vote.
I think this gives an idea of the size of obstacles and opposition al-Hakeem might face if a referendum is to b held over federalism in Najaf and other southern provinces.

Bottom line, the kind of federalism that can work for Iraq is one that does not have any connection to ethnic or sectarian roots and in my opinion the best formula to be used in the future is to turn individual provinces, with the exception of Kurdistan, into individual components of the federal state of Iraq and this idea already has decent support from many parliamentarians.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What we need is a united vision.

The war with terror is still on and every new anniversary of the September attacks approaches is a reminder of how fierce this war is and how deep and cruel the evil inside that terror is.

We in Iraq need no special occasions to remind us of that; the front is still on fire and the daily confrontation leaves no place for doubt in our minds about the aggressive nature of terrorism against everything that opposes its ideology even when the opposition is represented by an Arab or Muslim trend whether Sunni, Shia or any other variation, let alone the Christians, Jews, Buddhists or non-religious people.
This aggressive ideology does not aim at achieving limited tactical objectives like many conventional wars are but it presents its goals as an attempt to impose one doctrine on the entire world as it considers everyone who does not abide by this doctrine an infidel who deserves no less than death as punishment.

What concerns me here while we are amid this continuous confrontation on the first front of war on terror is the world's position from this war. When I say Iraq is the first front in this war, I mean what I say and it's not a personal opinion but it's what the leaders of al-Qaeda have said and it's what the acts and intentions of terror-supporting regimes have proven through rejecting the democratic change in Iraq and siding with al-Qaeda to make Iraq fail by all means they have. Such regimes have been providing terrorism with financial, logistic and media aid showing clearly that their goal is one which is not allowing a plural democratic power from emerging in the middle east since that is also a common threat to both, totalitarian regimes and the ideology of terrorism.

Looking at how many free countries deal with this war disappoints me, their failure to form a united front to deal with the challenge and hesitation in addressing the magnitude of the threat has reflected negatively on us who have chosen freedom and pluralism and rejected totalitarianism and extremism.
This failure to agree on a common policy is one of the main pretexts used by the enemy in making wrong judgments and even helps terrorists pretend they are right by exploiting the fact that the west itself is not in agreement over confronting them and that the war on terror is merely waged by a few "Zionist-backed crusaders".
This gives the terrorists the advantage as they watch our differences grow and countries break away from the alliance or act reluctantly; the terrorists view each of these as a sign for victory and an indication that it's a matter of time until the global alliance against them collapses.

What we need now is a united world vision in this regard, a vision that can be implemented through a road map that we all approve and agree within which on adopting the strategy of preemptive war with all its political, military, economic and cultural means.

On the other hand lack of coordination and consensus in looking at and dealing with terror and terror-supporters can only lead to more losses and more victims on our side, some of us in this world need to make up their mind now, realize the seriousness of the threat and stop being inept is playing the global role that history assigned to the free and powerful west.

I wonder what's stopping many countries in Europe from doing what they have to do despite the clear intentions of the enemy and the fact that this enemy made clear its hostility to everything and everyone different, and we see this hostility translate into indiscriminate slaughter that doesn't even care about knowing the religious, political or social orientation of its victims like we saw in September 11 or Madrid or Egypt or London or Jordan and like we see every single day in Iraq.

Terrorism did not target governments or armies as much as it targeted civilian life in the form of markets, trains, hospitals, worship places and even crowds of children and old crippled people.

Then why is the delay and why is the reluctance in taking a firm position and standing united to face the threat?

I think the short-sightedness of some countries, especially in Europe, comes from the following points:

The world in general thinks the threat is currently directed at the United States only for political reasons related to America's stance regarding the issues of the Arab and Muslim world especially the Arab-Israeli conflict. This in my opinion is utterly shallow, such politicians who reiterate this theory are like parrots imitating the totalitarian regimes in the region that use conspiracy theories and feed hatred to their people trying to convince the people that the problem lays within the west and use this to repress aspirations for reform.

It also looks clear that many countries think they can stay away from harm by running away from the confrontation but lessons from history, near history that is, prove that this strategy carries no cure for the disease.

The Soviet Union for example was an avid supporter of Arab countries and assisted them during various chapters of their long conflict with Israel; the Soviets provided Arabs with weapons, money, political support and even technically fought on their side at some points but what did the Soviets, and later the Russians, get in return for those favors?
All I can see is thousands of jihadists roaming through what remained of the Soviet Union spreading death and fear and murdering Russian civilians even inside Moscow itself in the hope they can impose a Salafi regime in that part of the world… all the time Moscow spent sucking up for Arab dictators couldn't spare the Russian blood.

The same with the Europeans who kept pampering Iran for so long and in return the Mullah's reward them by developing missiles that can strike deep into the heart of Europe! And it seems the next reward from Iran will be supplying these missiles with more impressive fireworks.

As you can see It's not only the direction of the threat that the world fails to see but it's also the size of this threat, many think America is exaggerating it to help pass its plans for the world while in fact I see that America is only looking farther than the rest of these countries, maybe it was September 11 that made America see and believe that the threat is actually growing with time and that one day in the future it will have to deal with terrorists armed with much more deadly weapons that they have now.

This is going to happen sooner or later and we already see the feverish pursuit of some countries for acquiring weapons of mass destruction and there is no clearer way to declare such intentions than to declare one's intentions of wiping this or that country off the map.

It might be true that the threat at this point is not big enough and might not equate for a possible serious harm but the case will not remain so for a long time if we did not stand firm to contain it and put an end to its growth.

The other thing I see in some countries' attitudes is frankly a form of parasitism, cowardice and irresponsible dependence by trying to through the entire load on the shoulders of America in a mean, yet stupid, policy to avoid paying the price on the short term. They forget that by doing so they are not really saving lives and treasure but only delaying the payment for some time but the price then will be much bigger.

If only they could look deeper they would see that a sooner victory in the Middle East and helping this region evolve into a democratic and prosperous one means a better market and a lesser threat and even less immigration from the south/east to the north/west and that sacrifices made today will make the world a better place for future generations whom we can spare from paying for our mistakes.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The country comes first, flags can wait.

I don't know how to describe the hoist-the-flag, don't-hoist-the-flag quarrel between Barzani and Maliki, but words like childish, needless and dangerous come to my mind.

I had been to all three provinces of Kurdistan and in two of them, Duhok and Erbil where Barzani's KDP rules, there wasn't a single Iraqi flag. Only in Sulaymaniya, where Talabani's PUK rules, I saw 2 or 3 flags on some government buildings and those were flags that didn't have the Allah-Akbar added by Saddam, so I don't see a reason for Barzani to be so mad at those few old flags.
Even if he was trying to stand firm at his rule of not allowing "Saddam's" flags in Kurdistan he could've done that without issuing an official order. A phone call to the guys in Sulaymania and the flags would be gone and no one would have noticed! There was absolutely no need to make the case reach the media and embarrass the central government including Talabani who's his partner in Kurdistan.

Most people here understand why Kurds hate the flag and until this recent move no one seriously complained about it not being hoisted in Erbil and Duhok.

In fact Barzani's argument that the flag must not be hoisted in Kurdistan because "Kurds were slaughtered under that flag" is weak, not because the slaughter didn't happen, we all know it did happen, but because all Iraqis suffered and were slaughtered and oppressed under that flag and except for some Islamists who like the Allah-Akbar on the flag or Saddamists and pan-Arab nationalists who like the flag because it's a symbol of their times of power, except for those most Iraqis including myself don't like the flag and want it changed.

On the other hand, PM Maliki's reaction wasn't smart or diplomatic either and instead of feeding the mess-hungry media with tough-worded statements he should've tried to solve the difference with Barzani in private.

In fact the nature of the reaction from Maliki and before that the nature and timing of the action from Barzani are wrong and do not serve Iraq's interests especially when we know that the parliament already plans to put the issue of changing the flag and national anthem on the list of issues to be discussed when the parliament resumes its legislative sessions next Tuesday!
Couldn't Barzani wait till then before he bans the flag? And couldn't Maliki be more diplomatic and say "well, we regret what happened but it’s not a big problem because we understand the Kurdish position and we all intend to find a new flag to replace the old one soon"…?

The behavior of both leaders is unacceptable and even dangerous as it sends a wrong message at a time when the government is supposedly trying to persuade groups and parties to join the reconciliation plan. Now if the "reasonable, responsible and moderate" leaders are acting like this, how can we expect violent and undisciplined groups to believe in the national cause?

I can only hope the two men wise up a little, realize the possible negative outcomes of their quarrel and try to contain it and avoid a needless escalation.

Build the country first and then you can have all the quarrels you want, but secure and build the country first.

Al-Qaeda's second man in Iraq captured.

Iraq's national security advisor Muwaffac al-Rubaie announced that number 2 al-Qaeda man in Iraq Hamid al-Siaidi (Abu Humam) has been arrested.

The arrest operation which involved a joint Iraqi-American force is said to has been conducted using high intelligence made available after the death of Zarqawi that left other al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq exposed according to al-Rubaie.

The information acquired indicated that Abu Humam is a dangerous man and of critical importance to al-Qaeda.
Early reports suggested that the terrorist was operating in the Salahaddin/Samarra area but that he later moved to the Baquba area not far from the place where Zarqawi was killed.

Al-Rubaie praised the performance of the assault force during the raid which he referred to as "ideal" and did not involve any collateral damage on other apartments in the same building where civilian families lived and said the wanted terrorist used those civilians as human shields during the raid "but the well-studied plan and skill of the troops prevented any loss in civilian lives" .

The arrest occurred several days ago but was not made public to protect the value of intelligence gathered during, and after the raid which Rubaie said have soon lead to further operations in which 11 (level 2) and 9 (of a lower level) al-Qaeda members were killed.
According to al-Rubaie terror operations Hamid al-Siaidi confessed he was involved in included kidnappings for ransoms they used to finance other operations, killing Iraqi policemen, attacks on many Iraqi army checkpoints, direct planning for the work of several assassination squads (he was the one responsible for preparing the hit lists) and dozens of attacks with mortars against government and civilian sites and above all he was the direct superior of criminal Haitham al-Badri who's responsible for the Samarra bombing that destroyed the Imam al-Askari shrine.

In his announcement, al-Rubaie asserted that Iraqi security forces now have the advantage and are a step ahead on al-Qaeda especially when it comes to intelligence.