Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Today Baghdad is witnessing a tragic disaster; hundreds have died and more were injured when huge crowds of pilgrims heading to the shrine of Imam Kadhom caused the fence of the A'imma bridge to collapse pushing people to fall into the Tigris river.

The news is still uncertain about the cause and casualty toll of this disaster but sources in the ministry of health say that around 640 people were killed in the incident.

The government is to blame for a large deal of the incident as they should have arranged sufficient safe pathways for the passage of the crowds especially that such ceremony had been practiced by Iraqis for so many years.

Our condolences to the families of the victims, may God give them patience.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Among 40 beautiful women competing for the Miss UK title, one carries Iraqi blood in her veins; that's Miss Nottingham Sara Mendili (23) who's got a degree in "organic medicine".

Sara who left Iraq when she was 12 said that her mother encouraged her to join these contests because "I didn't have the chance to win in beauty contests in Iraq where the awards were reserved for girls from the ruling family and their friends" said Sara.

According to the current results of voting for choosing the 12 finalists-which started in the beginning of August and will last till the 3rd of September-Sara is still ahead of the nearest contestant by over 500 points.

Dar Al-Hayat paper which reported the story mentioned that the Iraqi community in the UK is divided over Sara's participation; while moderate westernized Iraqis supported her and helped her with her campaign to get more votes, conservatives and Islamists are calling her names and making jokes about her.

I wish her good luck.
-Major K has a couple of posts about his experience as an American officer training the Iraqi soldiers and officers of the new Iraqi army.
Always good to hear the story from the people who are practically involved in it.
Don't forget to check out the latest episode of 'good news from Iraq' at Chrenkoff's. The best story (aside from politics, war and construction) was this one about music:

In entertainment news, two thousand hopefuls sign up for the Iraqi Idol:

Many Iraqis already obsessively watch "American Idol", a version of the original British "Pop Idol" franchise, and a glitzy Lebanese copy called "Arab Superstar" on free-to-air Arabic satellite channels.

But "Iraq Star" is a brave indigenous effort to perk up the spirits of a depressed nation. The studio set is spartan and drab, and there is no studio audience, though viewers are being promised tinseltown touches when the finale is held in Beirut.

"We are trying to lighten the load and problems Iraqis are going through," said director Wadia Nader during recording of an episode this weekend in a Baghdad hotel.

"We had shows like this in the 1960s when people were discovered on television. But since then, with so many wars, Iraqis couldn't see this kind of thing," he added.

A lot more here.
-Bill Roggio over at the Fourth Rail sheds light on the the latest American air raids near Qaim and the apparently continuous tribal clashes between pro-Qaeda and anti-Qaeda Sunni tribes.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Sistani embarrasses the government.

The differences between the Sheat clergy and the parties that used its name during the elections are deepening and this appeared clearly after Sistani that he's not going to accept having his name or that of the clergy used for any future electoral campaign.

The clergy's negative attitude towards Sheat ruling parties increased after more seeing criticism coming from the people in the Sheat regions to the worsening situation in their cities which is attributed to the failure of the local administrations in running the affairs of the cities; the peak of the crisis came when Sheat-Shaet conflicts started in Najaf and a few other cities. I was even told by some Najafi friends that the conflict pushed Sistani to rufuse any meetings with government officials.

Today the differences reached the peak when Sistani dropped a bomb by rejecting federalism and thus rejecting the constitution of the Kurdish-Sheat alliance putting the current ruling parties in a difficult position.
Sistani in his statement said "The Sunnis are your family. Stay by their side this time so that they stay by your side in the coming times…"

This development reflects a critical turn in the relationship between the Sheat clergy and the government, and the ruling politicians will be faced again by the danger of having clerics interfering with politics but this time, the Sheat alliance which insisted onmentioning the clergy in the introduction of the constitution will certainly realize this danger and they will be left before a hard choice as they have put all their weight on the balance of the clergy and if the latter lets them down the consequences will be catastrophic for those politicians.

The persistence of some politicians to discuss all matters with the clergy in all topics gave the clerics more and more confidence in their role and in a country like Iraq, abolishing the influence of clerics is extremely difficult but still, depending on them is even more dangerous.

Will Sheat politicians absorb the lesson this time and what's their reaction going to be like? Will they try to appease the clergy and regain its support? Or are they going to act independently and count on their own decisions that are deigned to please the people not the clerics?

It is better to have these differences solved right now and prevent them from becoming time-bombs embedded in the constitution; of course this will make the situation a bit harder but our road wasn't easy at all in the last 35 years so why fear a few more difficulties!?
The clergy with all its power and influence hardly got 50% of the votes for its endorsed slate (when the Sunni didn't vote) so I think unity among liberal and secular power can grant them a good chunk of the votes in the coming elections and that will be sufficient to put the clerics and the clergy-dependent parties back in their actual size.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Iraq's constitution: the final discussions...

Dr. Sallama Al-Khafaji (Assembly member from the SCIRI) announced 5 minutes ago on Al-Iraqia TV that many of the disputed points that were delaying the completion of the constitution have been solved and that the word "Party" (which the Sunni CDC members had objections on) was omitted from the clause that deals with deba'athification and now the clause refers to the Saddamist Ba'ath without calling it a "party"!

Dr. Khafaji said that further delays are not expected and voting will take place later today.
She said that everyone is awaiting Mr. Hachim Al-Hasani to decide the time for the voting session as he is the chairman of the National Assembly.

Update: (1:00 pm local time).

Montasir Al-Imara (Assembly member) confirmed that voting on the draft will take place in the coming few hours but also said "There are 153 clauses in the draft and naturally these clauses won't satisfy all Sunnis as Sunnis or all Kurds as Kurds but it's a project for a nation that looks at everyone's interests. The draft concentrated on equality among all Iraqis and there will be no 2nd degree citizens".

Update: (1:10 pm local time).

Baha Al-Araji (CDC member) said a few minutes ago that the latest modified version of the draft has been signed by the majority of the CDC members who are present today.

He pointed out that some federalism-related points will be shifted to the next National Assembly for discussion and approval.

Update: (2:10 pm local time).

Hussein Falluji (Sunni CDC member) told Al-Arabiya TV that the committee of the "marginalized" (in reference to the Sunni politicians) is holding a separate meeting right now for the purpose of preparing an announcemnet to clarify the "challenges and pressures" they were subjected to:

We did not have sectarian or partisan demands; all we care about is the unity of Iraq...we're arranging for a large campaign now to tell the people the truth about what happened. After all, it's all up to the people to decide since the people are the source of authority and sovereignty. All we asked for was to be given more time because we were expected to deal with all of Iraq's chronic problems in a matter of only two months!

We've got nothing to do now but to look forward to the next step; that is the referendum.

Update: (2:55 pm local time).

The National Assembly has just started its session.
Humam Hammodi made a short introductory speech where he pointed out that this constittution is "not a holy text" and that amendmendts can follow in the future.

A representatives of each political, ethnic, religious faction will be reading a part of the draft in front of the National Assembly.

Update: (3:35 pm local time).

While the draft is still being read, Salih Al-Mutlaq confirmed again that none of the 15 Sunni members of the CDC have signed the draft.

Al-Mutlaq also highlighted the American role in bridging the gap between the different parties involved in the process but he put the blame on the other parties (the Sheat and the Kurds) for focusing on "their narrow partisan and sectarian" interests.
Our only difference we had with the Americans was about setting a rigid timetable for completing the process.
We'll be calling all the powers that didn't participate in the last elections for a conference where we will be declaring our objections on the draft...

Al-Mutlaq also explained that their objections are limited to a few points and that they agree with large parts of constitution and he stressed that they (the Sunni parties) will fully participate in the future phases of the political process.
He also called on the people who are not satidfied with the darft to avoid violence and keep practicing their normal daily activities and express thier opinion in peace.

It's worth mentioning that Hachim Al-Hasani (chairman of the Assembly) is not present at the current session.

Update (4:10 pm local time).

The whole draft has been read, now the session is over and tomorrow will be a special session dedicated to making an "elections law".

Friday, August 26, 2005

Breaking News.

I was just about to go to bed when I saw the breaking news on Al-Iraqia TV announcing that an agreement has finally been reached on the draft of the constitution.


Humam Hammodi, the head of the CDC announced that the vote on the draft will take place tomorrow if the required number of Assembly members show up at the HQ of the Assembly (Saturday is not a usual day for parliamentary sessions) and if not, the vote will be postponed till Sunday.

Iraq's constitution: How long is the tunnel?

This piece wasn't supposed to be published in the first place as I only wanted to put my thoughts on paper in order to help myself reach some answers but then I thought I could share it with you so that we can all think together:

It is not easy to forecast the future of this stage of the constitutional process in Iraq; several delays forced themselves after no agreements were reached between the Sheat and the Kurds on one side and the Sunni on the other.
One thing that we must realize here before making assumptions is that the Sunni are more stubborn that their Sheat and Kurds counterparts; the latter two parties managed to get over their differences and they reached accord over the once disputed issues between them and they gave up on some of their previous demands.

On the other hands the Sunni negotiators-till this moment-do not seem willing to change their minds and accept what the other tow parties have agreed upon.
The toughest obstacle delaying getting the Sunni agreement right now is federalism or more accurately it’s generalizing federalism; the Sunni negotiators would agree to granting the Kurds the right to establish a federal state (which already exists) but they don't want that state to include Kirkuk and they don't want other provinces to have the right to form other federal states.

However, that's not what all Sunnis think; there are the tribal chiefs of Al-Anbar who announced yesterday that they have no objection to the idea of generalizing federalism and there is also the governor of Mosul who seems to be in favor of federalism and in a statement he gave a few days ago he expressed his interest in turning Mosul into a federal state without the need to include other provinces in that state since Mosul alone was one of the four (or was that five?) counties from which modern Iraq was established after the fall of the Ottoman empire.

But the question is: where do the Sunni get their bargaining power from?
How did they get to exert this amount of pressure on the Kurds and the Sheat (the winners in the January elections) while the Sunni were the boycotters and they were invited to join the process only months after that?

Actually, this boycotting which is supposed to be a weakness point has become the source of strength for the Sunni.
The Sunni have absolutely nothing to lose, they didn't win the elections and they don't feel like they need to help the constitution succeed, simply because it's not their accomplishment.
It's the winners who worry about the constitution and care for the success of the process because that will be the parameter for measuring their success.
The Sheat and the Kurds know very well that they will not be able to score similar results in any future elections when the 3rd player joins the game especially when this 3rd player is so willing to join the game.

The Sunni are starting to realize their significance and what supports this idea is seeing very prominent political figures like Allawi and Talbani seeking alliance with the Sunnis so why would they (the Sunni) back the Sheat-Kurdish project and try to make the current process succeed when they can be a main player when the next stage comes and then they can design the game the way they like?
That's why the Kurds and the Sheat are so keen to win the support of the Sunni because they realize that the Sunni can fail the current draft if they wanted without losing anything.

Actually the Sunni politicians right now are concentrating on the claim that the latest delays in the process are illegal and are in violation of the TAL and probably they're thinking that the Sheat alliance is weakening after the latest conflict between the Sadrists and the SCIRI and that will probably encourage the Sunni to adhere more to their demands since they think that the position of Sadr men in the National Assembly (who also oppose federalism) could more or less double their influence on the process.

Moreover, the 21 members of advisory board of the CDC backed the Sunni's demands to drop the name of the Ba'ath from the constitution and they suggested rephrasing the clause to ban "all parties that adopt a chauvinistic, Nazi and racist ideology" instead of mentioning the Ba'ath party; actually many people think that the constitution must not sink into small details like this.

Bottom line, I think that even if the draft gets approved by the National Assembly tonight or tomorrow, we're still going to face more obstacles with this constitution that focused on unnecessary details; these details were introduced to please politicians and serve partisan ambitions while the interests of the people came only in the 2nd place and believe me, till this moment no one can know for sure if Iraqis are going to accept or reject the constitution, maybe the Kurdish people are most likely to vote with "yes" but the Shaet and Sunni people's position is not definite yet and that particularly applies to the Sunni whose current spokesmen do not necessarily represent the mainstream Sunni opinion.

Iraqis as a people are facing a very difficult choice this time; it's not like the January elections when they had 111 slates from all colors of the political spectrum to choose from but now they're left to choose between a constitution they don't agree with all its contents and a possible dangerous political vacuum in case they reject the constitution.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Muqtada's office in Najaf is on fire.

Right now there are bloody clashes in Najaf between the supporters of Muqtada Al-Sadr and the residents of the city.
The clashes started after Al-Sadr men tried to reopen their office which has been closed for months but the locals attacked the office, set fire in it and clashed with Sadr's men.
The police forces intervened and the casualties till now are 7 killed and tens wounded.
I have received news saying that a curfew has been imposed in the city.

It's worth mentioning here that the governor prohibited demonstrations arranged by people from outside the city "who wants to demonstrate can go and do that in his own city" said the governor in a statement yesterday.

I was told in a phone call from a friend who lives there that gunfire can be heard right now in najaf.

As a reaction, a number of Sadrists suspended their membership in the National Assembly and warned from "serious consequences" accusing the governor and his party (the SCIRI) of being responsible for the tension in the city.


Al-Hurra just reported that the Najaf police force is exchanging gunfire with the followers of Muqtada Al-Sadr.
The militia men are now hiding and returning fire from the shrine of Imam Ali.

At the same time, the Badr organization (military wing of the SCIRI) denied connection with the conflict.


There are news about clashes extending to reach parts of Baghdad and apparently followers of Muqtada have attacked some offices tht belong to the Badr organization of the SCIRI while the news are confirming that the first clashes originated between the Sadrists and civilian residents.

On the other hand, the ministers of transport and health (both Sadrists) have suspended their membership in the government.
I would like to bring the latest statements of Iraqi law makers to your attention, so I collected a number of these statements that surfaced after the submission of the draft of the constitution to the National Assembly two days ago:

Humam Hammodi, chief of the CDC said that the next parliament will decide the shape of the federal system in Iraq and that and that the possibility for future amendments on the constitution does exist.
He said that he and his Kurdish deputy D. Fouad Maasoum have signed the proposed draft but they're still waiting for Dr. Adnan Al-Janabi (senior Sunni MP) to sign it as well.

Hammodi announced in a press conference yesterday that the CDC has replaced the "constitutional board" that was supposed to monitor the application of the constitution by the "federal court" that is going to look into constitutional texts and solve any problems in interpreting them; this court shall include both, law experts and religious scholars.

One of the important issues is that of keeping balance in distributing governmental posts among the different components of the nation; the concept of quotas will remain valid for only another four years to be discarded after that.

The other key issue was the way of distributing the revenues of the natural resources like oil and gas which Hammodi confirmed that population counts in provinces and the state of development will influence the percentage that will go to each province so that poorer and the relatively underdeveloped cities will have a point of advantage in the distribution.

According to Al-Mada paper, the Sunni parties submitted their version of federalism (via non-Iraqi parties) to the CDC and their suggestion was to limit the formation of a federal state to the three Kurdish provinces while other federal states shall be formed (from one province only) only after the approval of the parliament.

Meanwhile, judge Wael Abdullatif (from Allawi's block) expressed his opposition to the decision of submitting the draft without the approval of all the concerned parties and said that "exceeding the deadline for writing the draft was illegal" while Jalal Addin Al-Saghir from the Sheat alliance block said that the three extra days that were requested were not an extension or a violation to the TAL but it's rather a chance for the Sunni to reach an agreement with the CDC and he criticized the way Hachim Al-Hasani (the chairman of the Assembly) announced the news and the way he ran the last session of the Assembly.

Ahmed Abdulwahhab from the Kurdish block said "we believe that we have satisfied the ambitions and hopes of the Kurdish people" adding that "federalism is the main point of disagreement with the Sunni".
Abdulwahhab added a worrisome comment about the issue of the personal affairs law; he said that we should be expecting a new wave of objections from Iraqi women since sharea still has a role in this part of the constitution.

Tariq AlHashimi, deputy secretary of the Islamic party announced that his party refuses the generalization of federalism but "if the Iraqi people say yes to this constitution then we will respect the will of the people".

Hameed Majeed Mousa, the secretary of the Communist Party said that the current draft "has many deficiencies and holes" but he also expressed his hope in reaching a better result by the end of the three-day period.

Sources, Al-Mada Al-Sabah papers and Al-Iraqia TV.

Tomorrow will apparently be exciting and decisive since it will bring the final word on the new constitution of Iraq and we at this blog will try to keep you updated on the developments of the process.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Breaking News! (updated)

National Assembly member Bahaa Al-Aaraji just told Al-Iraqia TV that an agreement has finally been reached among the leaders of political bodies on the final draft of the constitution and that disputes over issues like federalism, distribution of resources and the role of Islam have been solved.

"All we need now is a couple of hours to reprint the document and produce enough copies to submit them to all the members of the National Assembly to get theri approval later this evening…" Al-Aaraji explained.

Till now there has been no announcement from the head of the constitution drafting committee but Al-Iraqia reporter in the green zone is confirming the news.

Update (6:45 pm local time)The Sunni member of the constitution drafting committee Hasan Zaidan (1st image) said that he didn't get to see the new document till now and added:

"It seems that the Kurds and the Sheat want to pass this draft without considering our opinion...There are other unsolved points till now and I have no idea why no one notified us of the results of the latest negotiations".

Mean while, another CDC member Ali Al-Dabbagh (2nd image) confirmed the news of the agreements and he insisted that this outcome was reached with lots of dialogue among the concerned parties.

Update (7:10 pm local time):
In a press conference that just ended in Baghdad, Jawad Al-Maliki and Jalal Addin Al-Saghir (CDC members from the United Alliance) said that the Sunni politicians still have reservations on federalism but they expected that the draft will easily get the approval of 2rds of the Assembly members.

"Frankly speaking, we cannot wait for the Sunni forever; we have a deadline to respect and if they don't agree with what was written in the draft they can say that in the referendum but we're still having talks with the Sunni politicians" said Jalal Addin (3rd image).

Regarding Islam and the constitution: it was agreed upon that no laws that are against the widely agreed upon values of Islam can be issued and no laws that are against the values of democracy and human rights can be issued.
Natural resources according to the draft will be managed in cooperation between the central government and the local administrations of the federal states/provinces.

Update (10:45 pm local time):

Chairman of the National Assembly Hachim Al-Hasani announced that discussions are still underway among all involved parties in hope for reaching "accord" before disclosing the draft; this is expected to be done within an hour and then the Assembly shall start a session to approve the draft immediately after that.
This is of course in effort to convince the Sunnis to be part of the process, however if this last discussion fails the Sheat and Kurdish blocks are most likely to present the draft without the "OK" from the Sunni politicians.

Meanwhile there have been rallies of joy and celebrations in many Iraqi cities mainly in the south and people went to the streets in thousands although it's past 10 pm now.Kerbala/Iraq: An Iraqi expresses his joy by giving out candies to people who gathered to celebrate the event

The Iraqi TV has been playing patriotic songs all the evening and in between the incoming reports and updates; one song named "Good bye sadness" was played more than 20 times so far!!

Update (11:20 pm local time):

The Assembly has assembled! Voting will follow so stay tuned!

Update (11:30 pm local time):

PM Dr. Jafari and president Talbani join the session and the Assembly members are receiving their copies of the draft.

Update (11:55 pm local time):

"The Assembly has received the draft from the CDC but becaue there is a number of issues that still need further discussio and in accordance with clause 61-f of the TAL, voting will be postponed for another 3 days until the leaders of political blocks can reach accord on the few remaining disputed issues" said Hachim Al-Hasani chairman of the Assembly.

Apparently they think that it is in the best of the process to have accord among all the political blocks.

Session is over.

Iraq's constitution: the second last chance...

The latest news coming from the National Assembly and the constitution drafting committee indicate that no agreement has been reached so far and probably the different blocks are now farther from reaching an agreement than they were a week ago.
The difference now is that they already asked for an extra week chance to get over their differences but they obviously failed in doing that and asking for further time will be unjustified and even if it's legal it won't be accepted by the people.

However there are some worrisome signs that surfaced this morning and were uncovered by members from the Sheat block; they're threatening that if they don't solve the differences with other blocks, mainly the Kurdish alliance they (the Sheat block) will submit their draft to the National Assembly for approval, ignoring the other components of the Assembly and I don't want to think of the consequences of such a move.

The major remaining obstacle right now is the issue of distributing the natural resources between the central government and the provinces/federal states; ironically this particular issue was said to have been solved at least three times before and we heard in the past few weeks that a deal was reached more than once and now they come and say that they still have differences regarding this issue!

I believe the national Assembly failed in accomplishing their mission because the people who shouldered the responsibility of writing the constitution have been giving partisan interests the priority instead of the nation's interests and since partisan interests are naturally in conflict with each other, I think that reaching a dead-end is inevitable.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Today I came across this caricature by one of Iraq's best cartoonists, Khudair Al-Himyari:

Guy with sunglasses: I see white smoke! Maybe they reached an agreement.
Guy to the left: Don't get excited pal, it's only cigarettes' smoke!

Notice that words on the building say "Constitution writing Committee"
Yesterday in the afternoon I picked up some clothes to get them to the laundry; by the way, in Iraq we do most of our laundry at home except for suits, jackets or clothes that have a stubborn spot of oil or juice or…whatever! That's not what I should be talking about right now.
So, the place I was going to to do the laundry is very close to a mosque (a Sunni mosque to be more specific), now once I parked the car and made the first two steps to my destination I was attacked by a kid holding a parcel of flyers in one hand and handing out flyers to pedestrians and people in cars with the other hand.
The parcel was heavy for him that he barely kept balance while moving and it looked funny.

"Uncle, here, take these, read them and then go register your name in the office" said the kid while he snatched a couple of flyers from the parcel (which you can see in the image below) and handed them over to me.
The word "uncle" or "aunt" is used so often when talking to anyone relatively older in age…well, again that's not our topic today!

That kid was not alone there; there were other kids doing the same, all wearing the same kind of screen printed t-shirts and caps carrying the name and sign of the Islamic Party.

Those flyers are different from the ones that were distributed prior to the January elections by this party and other Sunni entities; this time they're encouraging their fellow Sunnis to take part in the referendum and the next elections describing the people's commitment to the constitutional process as a "must do" social and patriotic duty and describing the party's campaign to encourage joining the process as a "must do" religious duty.

It's interesting that this time they were digging for proofs in the Quran and Hadith (sayings of the prophet) to support and justify their calls for taking part in the referendum and elections. They even chose a Hadith where the prophet is supposed to have legalized having a social contract with "nonbelievers" if that contract is going to serve the interests of the community and that's in my opinion is a huge change.

It seems that everyone is getting ready to say their word the on constitution and all that is missing now is, er...the constitution!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

From Al-Sabah:

The residents of Fallujah are asking the authorities to increase the number of voters' registration offices in the city as the existing ones are not enough to finish the registration process of all eligible voters before the day of the referendum planned for October 15….

Well, the way things change in Iraq can be really surprising sometimes; just try to compare between Fallujah 12 months ago and today's Fallujah!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Iraqi parties demand international monitoring for the next elections.

"The next elections need to be supervised by international committees and not by the Iraqi government because the government is not neutral" said Adnan Al-Pachachi the prominent Sunni politician and former Governing Council member in an interview with Al-Mada newspaper, he adds:

We're going to press for having international monitoring over the elections and to have international protection for the fairness and transperancy of the elections.
The IECI has failed to prevent violations in several regions during the last elections.
Depending on the police forces to provide protection for the voting centers isn't a logical choice because we know how those forces were chosen and local security corps will not be neutral either…the government in general is going to be part of the electoral race so it will certainly be biased.
We need the international community to protect these elections; any doubts in its fairness could lead the nation to a disaster.

Many parties, especially those of the opposition or those who boycotted the January elections have increasing fears from manipulations or fraud in the next elections and that's why they think that having international supervision is essential to reassure both, the parties and the voters.
And I share their concerns.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A group of 35 Iraqi sergeants graduated from a training course in the UK on Wednesday:

The 35 graduates who received intensive training for 3 months from British trainers showed their new learned military skills as they paraded in the Infantry training facility in Wales.

The new sergeants were trained according to the same curriculum that is adopted in the British army after introducing a few modifications to meet the special requirements for operating in Iraq; the main job of these men when they return to Iraq will be training new Iraqi soldiers.

From the Arabic BBC news page.

The graduation ceremony was attended by UK's defense minister who talked to the graduates saying "I see brave men in you and there's a tough task awaiting you so be careful and take good care of your country".

Iraq's army deputy chief of staff General Naseer Al-Ibadi who was also there said "We're looking forward to seeing the day when two units from our countries can work side by side in far away places to fight for and defend peace" and added "training our soldiers in the UK is the start for introducing the right ethical values and the concepts of human rights into the Iraqi army".

This is the type of commanders I admire; the cruelty of the difficult situation in Iraq didn't stop him from looking forward to the future.
More pressure from the people on the national Assembly for a secular constitution; this time Iraqi Christians raise their voice loud:

Around 30,000 Iraqis signed a memorandum that demands including the rights of Iraqi Christian communities in the permanent Iraqi constitution which is still being negotiated till now.
The signature-collecting campaign is organized by the "Ma'an" (equal for 'together') NGO.
Chief of the organization, Ibtisam Georges (woman) expressed her fear from having the new constitution ignoring the rights of the Christians who have been living in Iraq for two thousand years side by side with people of other religions, sects and ethnicities.

Mrs. Georges summed up the demands by a) The constitution must not discriminate between Iraqis on any basis. b) The constitution must be based on the concept of citizenship.
From Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.

A Saudi youth tells his story of an unsuccessful trip for Jihad in Iraq.

A Saudi young man (name was not revealed) gave an interview to Al-Watan Saudi paper after he was recently released from prison where he spent some time for trying to sneak into Iraq to join the jihadists.
Here's a translated summary of what he said in the interview

The man denied the existence of specialized recruiting and smuggling network in Saudi Arabia and he said that Saudis who feel the urge to go to fight in Iraq usually travel to an intermediate country (any guesses?) using tourism as a cover for their real intentions and there they would be met by certain people who organize them into units, provide training and transportation in exchange for a certain amount of money.

The man described the procedures as "primitive and arbitrary" and usually depend on luck and coincidences; men willing to become jihadists travel to town near the Iraqi borders where they are identified (from their looks) and spoken to by the recruiting agents who ask them what they they're doing here and so a deal is made.
For example this guy paid 5,000 Saudi Riyal (~1,700 $) just to be taken 30 miles beyond the Iraqi borders but his journey failed.

Inspite of the high cost of the trip, the new jihadist had to share the transportation with other passengers; he was told by his agent that this is essential to "reduce the cost of the dangerous trip"!

He went on with his story explaining that people's positions and ranks within jihadi cells depends on their combat skills, so those with good skills are appointed leaders for cells working under bigger organizations while those with little or no experience would work under the leadership of a professional commander and he pointed out that cells are usually multinational with members from various countries joined by one goal.

I just want to add that according to an earlier report published by the same paper, 5 Saudis were killed in Iraq during the last week.

Here's the rest of the story but in Arabic.
The majority of Iraqis prefer a federal state and a limited role for religion in the constitution; poll results showed:

A research published yesterday in Baghdad showed that a high percentage of Iraqis would prefer a federal system in the new Iraq, that's according to a poll conducted by an Iraqi NGO named "The civil Alliance For Free Elections".
The poll showed that 78% of participants support a federal state while 22% preferred a state based on a strong central government.

As to the relationship between Islam and the state; the results were 65% want Islam to be considered as a source of legislation, 26% want Islam to be the only source of legislation while 9% see that Islam should not be mentioned at all in the constitution.
From Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.

I really think that if the constitution drafting committee had listend to the people more than they listened to politicians, they would have moved with their task way faster than they've been doing. And there would have been no fear from having the constitution rejected like there is now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Sunni respond to Al-Qaeda's threats...

Al-Qaeda is becoming even more aggressive toward Iraq as a whole and a few dyas ago Sunni leaders were added to Al-Qaeda's hit-list.
I think this reflects a lot of frustration among the jihadists leaders after armed clashes between Sunni tribes and jihadi fighters and the active Sunnis participation in the constitution writing process…now Zarqawi is talking about slitting throats again.

The response from the Sunni clerics didn't take a long time to come and ironically that response came from no less than Fallujah itself.
Here's what I read on Al-Mada (Arabic).
The Fallujah scholars council represented by its head Hamza Al-Eisawi the preacher in Al-Wahda mosque released an announcement that urged Fallujans to take their role in the referendum. The cleric explained that this is one of their duties as clerics to give advice to the people and he added that the fatwa will be read in all of the city's mosques.
It's worth mentioning that four voters registration offices have been designated in the city and the people have decided to take the responsibility of protecting these offices without interference from the multinational forces. At the same time, Fallujah is witnessing daily lectures and conferences where thinkers and leaders from the Islamic party are educating the people about the importance of participation in the referendum.

Abdul Hameed Jadoo the preacher at Al-Furqan mosque called the people to have their names registered in the offices saying that "the constitution is going to prove our identity as Iraqis"
Abbas Kareem, a former naval officer from Fallujah said "If we se a fair and balanced draft of the constitution then we're certainly going to accept it"

Dr. Suhaib Mahmood from Fallujah's general hospital said "If the draft guaranteed equal rights for all Iraqis away from sectarian discrimination we'll consider it convincing…having our say in the constitution is essential and an important turning point for us"

While lawyer Sabah Naji from Fallujah too said "We have to participate in the referendum and even if we didn't like the draft we still have the opportunity to say no"

Ahmed Hameed, an engineer in the municipal department in Fallujah said "the town is about to see a new political change that will have a big effect on the shape of the political future of Iraq…everybody here is going to participate and no one wants to miss the chance this time"

Meanwhile but in Mosul, Al-Mada paper also reported that voters registration offices in the northern city are receiving lots of people who want to add their names to the voters lists and that sources from the IECI told the paper that registration rates exceeded expectations it was also mentioned that preachers in Mosul's mosques are conducting a wide campaign to encourage people to participate in the referendum.

In Baghdad and during last Friday's prayers at the Um Al-Qura mosque (the HQ of the association of Muslim scholars) Sheikh Mahdi Al-Sumaiday declared that the association and the Islamic party as well as the department of Sunni property have all made the decision to take part in the political process.

Back to the main topic of this post;last week Zarqawi threatened to bomb, kill and behead all those who dare to show up for the referendum.
Do I need to remind Zarqawi of his previous threats and how Iraqi's responded to these threats?
In an earlier message of hatred he claimed to be defending the Sunni from the Sheat and now he's declaring all Iraqis are his enemies.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Constitution update.

Al-Iraqia TV is providing live coverage from the meetings in convention center; right now there are meetings between the leadrs of political powers to reach a final agreement over the few remaining disputed parts of the constitution.

The session of the National Assembly that was scheduled to start at 6 pm local time was delayed till 8 pm and then again till 10 pm tonight and there is hope (actually little hope now) for an agreement to be reached tonight so that the draft can be submitted to the National Assembly for approval.

I'll try to keep you updated as often as possible.

Update (10:40 pm)

Images from Al-Iraqia show empty seats awaiting the members of the National Assembly, so there's still hope they're going to meet tonight.

Update (11:02)

Assembly members are taking their seats in the hall and PM Jafari is attending the session too.

Update (11:15)
Video transmission is down for all stations covering the session.
more updates soon.

Update (11:25)

Well, forgot to add "hopefully" to the above line but anyway, image is back and I see people counting the attendants to see if the session is attended by the requirted number.
Stay tuned!

Update (11:30)

Chairman of the National Assembly Dr. Hachim Al-Hasani announces that there are a few issues that are still unsolved and he's requesting more time.
Full detailed announcemnet will follow a short speech by president Talbani.

Update (11:40)

Talbani made a very short speech and now Al-Hasani is talking.
He's asking the members of the Assembly to vote on a decision to modify the TAL so that it offers the Assembly more time to complete the draft of the constitution.
This will require the approval of 75% of the Assembly members to get an additional week (7 days!) for the CDC to finish their work and reach agreements over the unsolved issues.
Votes are being counted now....

And the modification is approved and Al-Hasani is asking the presidential board to sign the decision and approve the modification.

Session is over.
New Sabah paper had an interesting interview with the minister of interior yesterday where the minister displayed a number of the ministries latest achievements.
In the beginning he talked proudly of their efforts in the ministry in establishing a data base for suspects and criminals that includes all relevant information gathered from previous investigations and operations.
The minister explained that this is the first time they have such a relatively large data base which currently includes information about 6000 suspects and criminals in comparison with only 25 names when work on the data base began.
He also revealed that this amount of information helped in exposing 250 former criminals who infiltrated the staff of the ministry as new recruits.

This was done after comparing the personal files and finger prints of the 130,000 personnel in the ministry with the information on the data base and it was found that some finger prints of ministry personnel matched those taken from attacks scenes and unexploded IEDs.
Moving to the subject of the Ba'ath organizations and their activity, the minister told the newspaper that new cells of the Ba'ath have been formed with new leaderships and that their total members count "could reach up to 16,000 most of whom are under our surveillance" said the minister.

And regarding recent security operations, the minister pointed out that they were able to locate and assault a workshop that manufactures car bombs in Baghdad.
The workshop had the capacity to arm 8-10 cars with explosives/day. We found 450 liquid gas containers and 1800 mortar shells in the site as well as large amounts of wires, alarm clocks, remote control devices and bomb triggers

According to the minister, the assault was conducted after receiving calls from neighbors who were suspicious about the numerous cars that entered and leaved the workshop (which was actually a backyard of a house).
13 men were also arrested in the operation, 5 of whom are former Ba'ath members and the rest belong to a radical Islamist group and we left a force in the place expecting other members of the group to come and we arrested 15 more members from that terror group.
Yesterday, regular commercial flights have been resumed between Baghdad and Cairo.
The carrier providing these flights right now is the Iraqi private sector owned "Dijla" company which is planning to do three flights a week on this line.
From Al-Iraqia TV.

Now I'll be seriously thinking of making a trip to see the pyramids!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The constitution, the final countdown.

Tomorrow will witness fixing the key axis of the change process that's been developing Iraq since the dictator was ousted 28 months ago.
The final draft of the constitution will be submitted to the National Assembly to get approval after reaching agreements over the disputed issues (which are still being discussed right now) and among the main issues here we have federalism, religion and state and a number of smaller issues tolling up to 18 according to a recent statement by president Talbani who seemed confident that no issues will need to be scheduled for after the next elections.

Meanwhile Mr. Saad Qandil (CDC member) told Al-Sabah paper that political powers will approve federalism based on the following rules: a) it is a right of individual or multiple provinces to form federal states and that includes all provinces with no exceptions. And b) federal states enjoy the same rights and duties with no discrimination.
In the same regard Mrs. Maryam Arrayis (CDC member) said that approving federalism in a certain province (or number of provinces) will need the agreement of two thirds of the members of the city council in the involved province(s) and that a referendum will follow to get 'simple majority'.

On the other hand Salih Al-Mutlaq (Sunni figure in the CDC) said that leaders of political blocks have agreed on that distribution of oil revenues among provinces will be according to population counts in these provinces.

Many of the political figures in Iraq right now believe that postponing finishing the constitution would have major negative effects on progress in Iraq but Iyad Allawi in an interview with a Jordanian newspaper emphasized that preparing what is needed to protect the constitution is even more important than the writing one.
And Allawi added explaining that finishing the draft is not the end of the process and that it is a continuous process to meet the needs of the society and the future changes in circumstances.

Anyway, tomorrow will bring answers to many questions and speculations and I think that despite all the difficulties that accompanied the process we have made way more progress (in terms of politics) in the last two years than our neighbors had and I am sure that no one will be able to enforce his opinion on the people again and Iraqis will not accept a constitution that doesn't convince them.

Power is moving practically to the hands of the people and we've seen how protests and pressure from the people in the last few weeks have forced the elected representatives to reconsider their decisions and change them in not a few cases.
It's clear now to the government and the National Assembly that being elected doesn't give them unlimited authority and that voters are watching and will hold them accountable.
Bill Roggio at the Fourth Rail has a very interesting post about Sunni tribes of Ramadi (actually the Dulaim tribe which is the largest) fighting Al-Qaeda terrorists to protect their Sheat neighbors.

Very encouraging indeed!

The Ayatollah and a change in policy...

When clerics stick their noses in politics does not only bring undesirable consequences upon the people only but upon the clerics themselves too.
So when a cleric imposes his views on the people and it's later discovered that he was dead wrong, that would have a big negative effect on the attitude of the people toward that cleric and I think Sistani has begun to realize that the poor performance and mistakes of his blessed slate were not welcomed by the people.

I think that those who used his name gave him some guarantees and promises that they would make a bright example for others but unfortunately that didn't happen and the south where the Sheat majority resides was the first place to get affected by the questionable policies of the government and its main partisan components and the south became a field for battles over influence and power between parties of the same block who forgot about the needs and demands of the people as well as about the promises they made to promote their electoral campaign.

Sistani was not satisfied with what's been happening and he pointed that out more than once in previous occasions and probably it was the latest demonstrations and unrest that took place in some southern cities as well as the scandals coming out from the cities' councils that made Sistani feel the he'd better not support any particular party or slate again and the increasing complaints coming from various parties about his role in affecting the outcome of the January elections have contributed to the latest change in his attitude.
Anyway, I think this is a positive step by Sistani as it would discourage smaller clerics from repeating what he did last January.

So, today came the news that Sistani prohibited the use of his name or that of the clergy in electoral campaigns and he stressed that the clergy must not be used as a promotion tool for any particular party:

The religious references will back all the candidates and will be standing with the 26 million Iraqis and not with those who want to mix their personal issues with those of the references
The religious references are dedicated to religious issues and to issuing fatwas and advices that unite the sons of the same society…

Quote appeared on Al-Mada paper.

Sistani also (and according to several sources) called for protecting the rights of the Sunni population whom he described as a vital component of the new Iraq.
The Ayatollah also spoke about the constitution and said that the people's opinion about the constitution must be respected and he limited the clergy's role to:

Blessing the constitution that doesn't discriminate between the different sects and ethnic groups of the Iraqi people while other clauses of the constitution should be up to the people to approve or reject…

Well…a welcomed change I guess.

Friday, August 12, 2005

A message to Cindy Sheehan

I realize how tragic your loss is and I know how much pain there is crushing your heart and I know the darkness that suddenly came to wrap your life and wipe away your dreams and I do feel the heat of your tears that won't dry until you find the answers to your question; why you lost your loved one?

I have heard your story and I understand that you have the full right to ask people to stand by your side and support your cause. At the beginning I told myself, this is yet another woman who lost a piece of her heart and the questions of war, peace and why are killing her everyday. To be frank to you the first thing I thought of was like "why should I listen or care to answer when there are thousands of other women in America, Iraq and Afghanistan who lost a son or a husband or a brother…”

But today I was looking at your picture and I saw in your eyes a persistence, a great pain and a torturing question; why?

I know how you feel Cindy, I lived among the same pains for 35 years but worse than that was the fear from losing our loved ones at any moment. Even while I'm writing these words to you there are feelings of fear, stress, and sadness that interrupt our lives all the time but in spite of all that I'm sticking hard to hope which if I didn't have I would have died years ago.

Ma'am, we asked for your nation's help and we asked you to stand with us in our war and your nation's act was (and still is) an act of ultimate courage and unmatched sense of humanity.
Our request is justified, death was our daily bread and a million Iraqi mothers were expecting death to knock on their doors at any second to claim someone from their families.
Your face doesn't look strange to me at all; I see it everyday on endless numbers of Iraqi women who were struck by losses like yours.

Our fellow country men and women were buried alive, cut to pieces and thrown in acid pools and some were fed to the wild dogs while those who were lucky enough ran away to live like strangers and the Iraqi mother was left to grieve one son buried in an unfound grave and another one living far away who she might not get to see again.

We did nothing to deserve all that suffering, well except for a dream we had; a dream of living like normal people do.

We cried out of joy the day your son and his comrades freed us from the hands of the devil and we went to the streets not believing that the nightmare is over.
We practiced our freedom first by kicking and burning the statues and portraits of the hateful idol who stole 35 years from the life of a nation.
For the first time air smelled that beautiful, that was the smell of freedom.

The mothers went to break the bars of cells looking for the ones they lost 5, 12 or 20 years ago and other women went to dig the land with their bare hand searching for a few bones they can hold in their arms after they couldn't hold them when they belonged to a living person.

I recall seeing a woman on TV two years ago, she was digging through the dirt with her hands. There was no definite grave in there as the whole place was one large grave but she seemed willing to dig the whole place looking for her two brothers who disappeared from earth 24 years ago when they were dragged from their colleges to a chamber of hell.

Her tears mixed with the dirt of the grave and there were journalists asking her about what her brothers did wrong and she was screaming "I don't know, I don't know. They were only college students. They didn't murder anyone, they didn't steal, and they didn't hurt anyone in their lives. All I want to know is the place of their grave".

Why was this woman chosen to lose her dear ones? Why you? Why did a million women have to go through the same pain?

We did not choose war for the sake of war itself and we didn't sacrifice a million lives for fun! We could've accepted our jailor and kept living in our chains for the rest of our lives but it's freedom ma'am.
Freedom is not an American thing and it's not an Iraqi thing, it's what unites us as human beings. We refuse all kinds of restrictions and that's why we fought and still fighting everyday in spite of the swords in the hands of the cavemen who want us dead or slaves for their evil masters.

You are free to go and leave us alone but what am I going to tell your million sisters in Iraq? Should I ask them to leave Iraq too? Should I leave too? And what about the eight millions who walked through bombs to practice their freedom and vote? Should they leave this land too?
Is it a cursed land that no one should live in? Why is it that we were chosen to live in all this pain, why me, why my people, why you?

But I am not leaving this land because the bad guys are not going to leave us or you to live in peace. They are the same ones who flew the planes to kill your people in New York.
I ask you in the name of God or whatever you believe in; do not waste your son's blood.
We here have decided to avenge humanity, you and all the women who lost their loved ones.
Take a look at our enemy Cindy, look closely at the hooded man holding the sword and if you think he's right then I will back off and support your call.

We live in pain and grief everyday, every hour, every minute; all the horrors of the powers of darkness have been directed at us and I don't know exactly when am I going to feel safe again, maybe in a year, maybe two or even ten; I frankly don't know but I don't want to lose hope and faith.

We are in need for every hand that can offer some help. Please pray for us, I know that God listens to mothers' prayers and I call all the women on earth to pray with you for peace in this world.

Your son sacrificed his life for a very noble cause…No, he sacrificed himself for the most precious value in this existence; that is freedom.

His blood didn't go in vain; your son and our brethren are drawing a great example of selflessness.
God bless his free soul and God bless the souls of his comrades who are fighting evil.
God bless the souls of Iraqis who suffered and died for the sake of freedom.
God bless all the freedom lovers on earth.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The South...Where to?

Abddul Aziz Al-Hakim the head of the SCIRI called to day for the formation of a federal state in the south of Iraq and Hadi Al-Amiri chief of the Badr organization (the military wing of the SCIRI) said that if the Sheat don't persist in forming this state they will regret it.
I don't really know why Amiri chose the word "regret" in addressing the people of the south, instead he could've said something like 'we would like to see a federal state in the south and we respect the people's choice about it' because I think this tone of threats to the people he's part of carries a lot of possible suspicious meanings.

I think the Islamic leaderships have realized that it's difficult to lead a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country by forcing one perspective that has a specific religious inclination and that's why they're thinking of creating a smaller state in the south which can be more loyal (or less defiant) to them and their strategic ally in Iran, not forgetting the economic advantage of this region of Iraq which possesses the largest oil reserves and Iraq's only port.
So they think that implementing an example that matches the visions of these parties in this region would be easier and safer especially with the presence of the desirable sectarian majority.

Also these parties have established strong basis for them in this region as a step in the preparation for the future federal state (or mere state) and actually right now there's nothing that can stop this plan except the other religious trend that is spreading in the south represented by Muqtada's group.
These two Sheat religious trends do not seem willing to coexist peacefully in the same place and in the past months the southern cities became an open field for a war between these parties and cities like Samawa, Najaf and Kut have witnessed continuous conflicts over power and influence.

In the mean time, the suffering of the silent majority worsens; those people who don't belong to any of the two trends are now looking for hope in the next elections which can rescue them from the control of the parties; there are no well-defined political substitutes though.
Anyway, this morning I came across the Arabic forum on the BBC and on one thread people were posting their comments about the role of religious parties and their militias (namely Badr and Mehdi army) in Basra and it was particularly interesting to read what Basrawis think.

There were around 33 comments by different commentors from Basra, 18 of the comments were against what the parties and their militias were doing in Basra, 9 were supportive of on or both of the two parties, 3 denied the problem, 2 moderately discussed the subject and think that an agreement with the militias can be reached and 1 comment was irrelevant to the subject.

I understand that forums do not necessarily reflect reality but it is always a good idea to hear what the concerned people have to say so I have chosen a bunch of these comments and translated them for you:

-"I've been working in trade between Iraq and Iran for a long time and I've seen a lot of things in my trips and with all respect to our Iranian neighbors, I can say that 80% of the troubles in Basra is caused by the Iranian intelligence. I know about Iranian officials working in Basra under cover of humanitarian organizations or trading firms.
The Iranians fear that Iraqi lands might be used by the US to attack them and that's why they're implementing the theory that says 'if there has to be a fire, let it be outside my home' and now Basra is on fire"

Karrar Murtada-Basra.

-"In Basra there's no government or law, there are parties that rule the province…"


-"Basra is now under full control of the religious groups like Fadheela party and Muqtada's army who care about nothing but restricting freedoms and controlling the resources"

Ahmed Al-Basri-Basra.

-"What the American hero Steven Vincent said is true. The relative security in Basra is caused by the presence of the militias which infiltrated the security forces. They're keeping security for their own sake only and the evidence is in the killings and kidnappings that were committed by people from the police.
The administration in Basra right now is more dictatorial than Saddam was; men using religion as a cover for killings and corruption".


-"We're tired of this; we have never tasted peace and rest in Basra.
During the war with Iran Basra was the 1st target for Iran and in the 1st gulf war Basra was the crossing point for the allied troops and it happened again in the latest war and today Basra is torn apart by Iran-affiliated militias.
When are we going to have some peace??".

Abdul Hussain Al-Musawi-Basra.

-"I'm sorry for Iraq, there's no sense of patriotism left in the ruling class and the politicians fooled the simple people when they claimed they had support from the clergy.
Badr and Sadr are fighting among them but the only loser is the poor Iraqi person.
I am Sheat but I feel ashamed of what some Sheats have done, fanaticism is growing in an ugly way and the situation is intolerable but I am optimistic about the next elections and I think Iraqis have realized the advantage of the past "appointed" government; the media was more open and there was better tolerance for the opposing opinion but now, the ruling parties do not accept any opposition because they inherited the culture of violence from the past regime and now they're treating Iraqis like Saddam did!"

Hasanain Ali-Basra.

-"Repressing freedoms has become the main policy of the parties that are hiding behind religion and are guided and controlled from Iran. I just don't know when are we going to wake up to see the Iranian flag instead of ours!".

Jawad Al-Jabiri-Basra.

-"I think the situation in Basra is relatively more stable than other parts in Iraq and this alleged competition among militias does not actually exist; it's a product of the fantasy of the media which aim at destabilizing the stable regions in Iraq".


-"This is exaggeration! I am from Basra and I don't see what you're talking about!
Who hears you talk thinks that Basra is a torture camp.
Go to Basra and see the truth; people there spends the nights out till late hours and there's no harassment.
Mehdi Army and Badr brigade won 15 seats out of 40 in the city council so they should naturally have a big influence".

Mohammed Hasan-Basra.

-"Basra is now ruled by her own people, no more people from Tikrit can show us how to run our lives. Badr and other organizations fought Saddam and the Ba'ath and they have the right to be active inside the security forces.
Basra is a Sheat city so no wonder Sheat organizations have influence and power there.
It's strange that some people think it's forbidden for the militias to be part of the security forces in their own city!!".

Ahmed Ibrahim-Basra.

-"Greetings to the false Islamic parties, greetings to the terrorists coming from the brother Faqih country, greetings to the government of Dr. Jafari which failed at security, political and social levels; greetings to all of you, we can't stand you anymore; not you, not the Sheat and not the Sunni…".

Faiz Abdullah-Basra.

-"It's true that there are a lot of Sheats in Basra and there's no objection their involvement in the security forces but the greatest problem that threatens the future of the peaceful people lies in the militias and their loyalty that is directed to Iran rather than Iraq.
These groups that infiltrated the police force are carrying out missions for their militias after they finish their official work wearing the same uniforms of the police…".

Fadi Georges-Basra.

-"Some say that Basra is a secure place that doesn't suffer from terrorism but the truth is that Basra is suffering from social terrorism which in my opinion is the most dangerous form of terrorism because freedoms are repressed in the name of the noble Islam.
One example was what happened in the University of Basra where students were severely beaten because they were having a picnic! And female students are being forced to wear hijab especially in the university.
It's almost accurate to say that Basra is an Iranian city flying the Iraqi flag. SAVE US".

Rashedd Mohammed-Basra.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

What's uniting them?

Omar Bakri, the chief of the "Mujahideen" group arrived at Beirut coming from London a few days ago; the news was released in London and confirmed by the Lebanese authorities but the surprise Sheikh Londonstan carried with him to the Lebanese was a Lebanese passport.
Everyone in Beirut wondered where and when did the Syrian sheikh (who sought refuge in London) get the Lebanese citizenship?
Bakri most likely got the Lebanese papers in the last "citizenship offering order" back in 1994 by which tens of thousands (among whom were thousands of Syrian citizens) were given Lebanese citizenships. This occurred under Syrian influence and supervision.

From Dar Al-Hayat (Arabic).

The question is; how was the man given the citizenship (under Syrian supervision) when he ran away from Syria 20 years ago and he was wanted by the Syrian security all that time??
The whole thing looks like a mystery but not to someone from the neighborhood it will not look strange at all that yesterday's enemies became today's allies.

In the early 1980s, the Ba'ath regimes in Syria and Iraq fought a fierce battle against the Islamic organizations and lists of victims are too long to be mentioned here or in any single document.
This was in fact because of the conflict between the pan-nationalist and Islamist ideologies but what happened later (and what I witnessed from living in here) was a noticeable change in attitude by the Ba'ath leadership toward the Salafi movements and by the mid 1990s the old enemies were approaching each other and a more friendly and cooperative type of relationship appeared.

As a matter of fact, the first of the Ba'ath flirts with the Islamists began as early as 1990 during a division that happened in the meeting of the "Islamic conference organization" that was arranged to discuss Saddam's invasion of Kuwait; Saddam endorsed all the groups that opposed the international-and especially the American-intervention in the region and he formed a shadow Islamic conference which welcomed every Saddam-cheering fanatic from Algeria, Yemen, Sudan and Jordan…
Saddam allocated a building across the street from one of his palaces to be the HQ of that conference.

What do you think made Abbasi Madani of the Salafi Algerian group "rescue front" come to visit Saddam in Baghdad and offer him support and volunteers to fight with him when the allied forces were about to liberate Kuwait?
Or what's the connection between Saddam and Hizbullah?
I remember how Hassan Nasrallah called on the Iraqi opposition shortly before OIF to put their hands in Saddam's to fight the great threat.
At that time Iraqis were shocked by Hizbullah's unacceptable attitude but Nasrallah was ready to do anything to fight America even if the ally was someone like Saddam.

The explanation here is quite simple and lies in the old 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' theory.
The infidel, colonial and capitalistic west is a common enemy for both, Saddam and the radical Islamists and in spite of all the differences between the two; they allied their forces in an ugly jihadist creature.
The first thing Saddam did as a gesture to the Islamists was to add the words "Allahu Akbar" to the flag. This was actually in response to a request made by the recruits who came to Iraq to fight the allied forces before the gulf war.

This small gesture was followed by bigger practical steps aiming at twinning the Ba'ath with radical Islam and here came Saddam's "faith campaign" in which all Iraq was included and especially the members of the Ba'ath party, so every high ranking member had to take a "faith course"!
I recall talking to one of our relatives who was a mid ranking member in the Ba'ath; he was a hardcore secular fellow but of modest intelligence. He was anxiously looking for references and books he needed to write a research about the prophet's wives!!

The scene was really funny; the Ba'athist who doesn't know a single verse from the Quran and doesn't even believe in God suddenly became a regular mosque visitor and started doing all the prayers on time!
Mosques gradually turned into substitute locations for Ba'ath divisions and that was the case during OIF.
We could see Ba'athists taking shelter in mosques and practicing their activities from there out of fear of having their main HQs targeted by the coalition forces.

The enemies understood the terms of their new friendship and they understood its limits and what parts of it can be revealed and what must be not.
The connection between terror organizations and dictatorships is still an undeclared alliance but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Every move and every step those new allies do reveal the depth of the relationship between them. It's enough to take a look at Al-Qaeda's leaders' stubbornness when it comes to the war in Iraq to know how important the Al-Qaeda branch in Iraq to them is.
Al-Qaeda cells have assumed their position as the striking arm of dictatorships. The latter can use the former to attack their enemies without putting the dictatorships in a face to face confrontation.
They have understood and are utilizing the fact that massive and expensive armies are helpless against a super power so they changed their strategy to supplying terror gangs with weapons instead of exposing their armies to extinction.

Dictatorships are the terrorists' safe havens and they're willing to provide all forms of support starting with passports and not ending with training facilities, weaponry and funds and the terror organizations would then be able to recruit and prepare efficient fighters at low costs and a comparison between the traditional armies and terror gangs in terms of cost and effect favors the side of the latter.

Dictators and terrorists have too much in common and there's nothing to wonder about in my opinion.
When news came about the Iranian revolutionary guard sending weapons to the jihadists in Iraq, some people found that hard to believe while I think it's more than possible;
"Why not? our enemy is the same, so let's put our differences aside for a while and let's work together" I can hear them say. and that's how the terror-dictatorship alliance thinks and behaves right now.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

And the protests for a civil constitution continue...

This was the headline in the announcement that called for today's women protest in Baghdad.

In spite of the heat and the dust that's covering Baghdad for the 2nd day, more than a hundred Iraqi women representing NGOs and active groups gathered to declare their demands in equality and a civil family and personal affairs law.
The women set a large tent in Al-Firdows square which witnessed the fall of Saddam in April 2003. Under this icon of freedom the women held their signs and demands high.

I met some of the activists who talked enthusiastically about plans for more protests and conventions to show their disapproval of the constitution's draft because they're afraid that religion might hijack the constitution and deprive them of their rights.
I've also noticed that signs that required two to hold were held by a male and a female in a sign of equality; I liked the idea!

We were talking and discussing related issues when a black cloud began moving toward the square.

Our protestors' faces changed and a feeling of discomfort started to spread through the place, one woman said "NO! Not again!!".
That cloud was actually a group of 30 veiled women carrying signs saying things like "Yes, Yes to Islam and NO to Western Secularism".

One of the women yelled at the cloud "No, you can't steal the attention this time. Why do you always do this to us every time we have a protest? Why don't you pick another place or another day to do your thing?".

I tried to calm her down and I told her that the other group has the right to demonstrate just like you do. She said " Yes, but look at the media, they will report about the event as if at was a pro-Islamic demonstration while our voices will be ignored. These women's movement isn't genuine, they keep waiting till we gather and then they show up and they don't do a demonstration of their own and all they do is to oppose what we say". And as the women expected, the media ran to cover the black demonstration.

The police stood between the two teams to prevent any conflict but one Islamist women yelled "No to immorality and dissolution".

At this moment our demonstrators were so angry because of this accusation and a fight with words took place, the organizer of the original protest shouted at the black cloud saying "you want to drag us back to the dark ages, we are neither immoral nor dissolute but your way of thinking is backward".

The tension between the two groups increased and the policemen stopped the Islamists from approaching the liberals' tent.
I seized the chance to talk to the leader of the black cloud:

Me: You want an Islamic state?
Her: Yes I do.
Me: Okay but which version of Islam you want? For example will you accept a Sunni interpretation of Sharea to replace the civil law?
Her: No, the Islam I want is the one that most Muslims agree with.
Me: Fine but different factions have different opinions in almost everything.
Her: Then we shall put a judge from each faction in the courts.
Me: But this way we'll be empowering sectarianism!
Her: No, this way we'll be empowering freedom of religion.
Me: You are a physician as I understood and according to the 137 law your testimony in a court of law will equal half that of any man even if he was illiterate. Will you accept that?
Her: It's an honor to me to be half of a garbage collector because that's what Allah said and it's not you who can explain to me what Allah said.

The journalists and other women were shocked by her answer and they left her as they knew there was no space for a rational talk with her.

Here one of the women from the liberal camp said to her colleagues "don't pay them attention, such women get beaten if they return late to their husbands but we can stay as long as we like because our husbands trust us. They will leave in no more than an hour; such women are slaves of their homes and husbands but we are staying here to defend our rights and their rights because their minds are too weak to do that".

Now I will leave with more photos:

Monday, August 08, 2005

Samawa update.

I was flipping TV channels an hour ago when I cam across Al-Jazeera.
I usually skip this channel but something caught my attention. There was an interview via phone with the representative of Muqty in Samawa city and he was talking to his host about the situation in Samawa (which Mohammed talked about yesterday).
What he said was really upsetting; he twisted facts in the most unfair way and showed the case as if it was Muqty's office that arranged the protest not the normal citizens.

He was saying something like "The protests and demonstrations will
continue until our demands are answered…" and at the same time, there were new images from Samawa in the background showing Muqty's version of protestors; hooded men carrying machineguns and grenade launchers with policemen cautiously watching from a distance and... empty streets!

Yesterday's images and clips that appeared on news stations and blogs showed a few thousands of unarmed men who didn't exceed the limit of throwing stones at the policemen who responded with bullets. I can see clearly that today's protestors are different from yesterday's ones and let's not forget that one of the main demands of yesterday was putting a limit to militias' influence in the city (Sadr's name wasn't mentioned but everyone knows that the word "militias" referred to his gangs).

It's a very sad case of hijacking the people's efforts and sacrifices and Al-Jazeera is also involved in this crime as they ignored the reality of the situation and handed the mic to the perpetrators.
Actually if we go back to the document (Arabic) that called for the protest in the first place, we'll see that the call was made by the "independent people's parliament" and there's absolutely no mention of any party or religious group taking part in the planning for this activity and the 1st and 5th paragraphs of the announcement was calling the authorities to protect the city from the groups that want to destabilize Samawa and adds "civilized nations use dialogue to solve their differences and problems and not force…" and this has got nothing to do with what happened today which suggests that the players have changed.

Moreover, the announcement designated one day (the 7th of August) for the protest "so that the National Assembly hears our voice" and there were no plans to extend the action "until our demands are answered" like what Muqty's guy said.

I (and so does our Samawi fellow blogger said) believe what happened is more likely that the unrest of yesterday been diverted to become a battle over power partisan interests in the city.
Today's sandstorm is probably the worst among the ones we had this year.
Last night it was all clear but we woke up this morning to see a thick layer of dust covering everything, cars, furniture, trees…everything and it doesn't matter how hard you try to seal your house, the dust will infiltrate no matter what.

I even had to use a hair dryer to remove the dust that filled my poor laptop!
This is how it looked an hour ago but it's most likely to become even more reddish by the afternoon.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Marines eat a meal given to them by an Iraqi family during a lull in fighting Friday in Parwana, near Haditha, Iraq.

Not all Iraqis meet the US military with bombs, some meet them with a home-made hot meal.

Would you like an Iraqi-American to be your big brother?

Away from today's clashes and Tuesday's planned protest, I found this cool bit of news through NZ Bear:

Did you know that there's a national, network television show with an Iraqi-American central character?

It's true: the CBS reality show Big Brother, a guilty pleasure of mine, has as a contestant Kaysar, an Iraqi-American graphics designer from Irvine, CA. He's proven to be a formidable competitor in the game during the first few weeks, and seems like a genuinely intelligent and decent fellow.

There's only one problem: he lost last week and was "evicted" from the house.
So why should you care? Because CBS is holding a public poll to determine whether Kaysar or one of two other evicted players will be allowed back in the house. And you can vote, for free, right here.

I, for one, want him back. And so I figure I'll spread the word, and ask my fellow citizens of the blogosphere: click that link, give Kaysar a vote, and keep a positive example of an Iraqi-turned-American in front of the television viewing public.

It's a little thing, but sometimes those actually do count...

I second what NZ said, little things do count.

Protests and clashes in Samawa.

This morning Samawa city witnessed widespread clashes between the residents of the city and the police forces after the people answered the call of the "independent people's parliament" to shut down streets and stores and protest an front of the town hall of the city until their demands are answered.

These demands were announced in a document distributed by the "independent people's parliament" and they included:

1-Preventing a known group of thugs from messing with order and peace in the city. This group is trying to drag our peaceful town to needless conflicts that can only destroy our city.
This is an obvious reference to the religious militias that are trying to control the city.

2-Improving the basic services provided by the municipality after they deteriorated drastically in the last few months and putting an end to corruption in the local administration that has reached unprecedented levels.

Full document (in Arabic).

The police forces responded by opening fire on the demonstrators killing at least one and wounding 46.

The people of Samawa-by creating this parliament-are expressing their contempt and rejection to the current city council that had let them down.
I recall a friend from Samawa telling me once and complaining about the city council "When we voted for the oppressed who suffered from Saddam's regime, we expected them to understand our situation and suffering but unfortunately it seems that we were wrong".

It really hurts me to see Samawa (the city I lived in for a whole year) in this bad situation but at the same time I'm sure that the good and friendly people of Samawa will never accept injustice again.
Today's protests (in spite of the tragic losses) showed us again what kind of spirit our people have and proved again that they're going to find their way to a better future.

Those who tasted freedom once will never accept to live under despotism and injustice again.
What's been happening in Najaf, Kerbala, Nasiriyah and Basra during the last month and what happened today in Samawa is going to show the government that the people will not remain silent anymore.
The government has to correct its path as fast as possible and fulfill its commitments to the people who risked their lives to elect those who formed the government.
Otherwise, I think lots of faces will change after the next elections.
More photos from Al-Dhafir's blog.

Iraqi women have no intention to up on their rights!

Just heard this piece of confirmed news:

On Tuesday, August 9, there will be another protest against the inclusion of Shareat laws in the constitution and to demand full rights for Iraqi women.
The protest will be organized by the "Iraqi Women Gathering" and the invitation is open to all women and men who want to defend the rights of women in the new Iraq.

The protest will take place in Al-Firdaws SQ in Baghdad at 10 am Tuesday morning and there will be nationwide simultaneous protests in the rest of Iraqi provinces.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The democratic Assyrian movement is having objections to that clause of the constitution draft that deals with the issue of nationality and states the requirements needed in those who want to claim their nationality back if they have lost it for one reason or another in the past.

The main requirement mentioned in this clause was that only those who were forced to lose their Iraqi nationality after 1963 would have the right to get the Iraqi nationality again and this excludes thousands of Iraqis who left Iraq against their will before that time.

Head of the movement and CDC member Yonadim Kanna expressed the Assyrians' concerns saying:

More than 20,000 Iraqi Assyrians were deported from Iraq and left to Syria and other countries before 1963 and these are Iraqi citizens and their right to get their nationality back must be protected and I think it's a big mistake to set conditions that might deny them their rights.

Mr. Kanna added:

Those who suggested this condition were aiming at preventing Iraqi Jews from being Iraqi citizens again but they didn't realize that the effects will not be limited to the Jews alone.

He also confirmed that Assyrian churches have evidence and documents that prove the rights of the deported citizens.

From Al-Sharqya News.

Frankly speaking, I think this clause in the draft is totally needless (if not harmful).
It was obviously designed by religious parties and their representatives in the CDC because they don't want to see Jews back in Baghdad but this is actually stupid (let alone that it's against basic human rights) because I don't think any sane person would leave a prosperous country like Israel and come to live in a place like Iraq!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Tariq Aziz confesses "The US didn't give Saddam the green light to invade Kuwait".

Tariq Aziz's lawyer Mr. Badee Aarif said that he met his client 4 days ago and he saw that Aziz's health wasn't in a good condition.
Anyway, that's not my zone of interest but the interesting thing to me is that when Aziz was asked by his American interrogators about if the American ambassador in Baghdad encouraged Saddam or gave him the "green light" to invade Kuwait back in 1990, Aziz answered with "NO" and said that this was merely a rumor and this is according to his lawyer who gave an interview to the Iraqi paper Al-Mashriq.

The paper also asked Aarif if any pressures were exercised on his client and he declared that the American interrogators treated Aziz with respect and they showed understanding towards Aarif's mission but he complained from one of the Iraqi prosecutors who he said was rude in dealing with Aarif and Aziz.

The significance of the confession made by Aziz comes form the fact there is a strong conspiracy theory here and in the Arab world that appeared right after the gulf war and suggested that the US set a trap for Saddam and that the American administration at that time wanted him to invade Kuwait in order to give the US the excuse to destroy Iraq's army and build American bases in the gulf region and of course control and steal all the (what else?) oil.

They ones who spread this conspiracy theory were apparently trying to put the blame on America but at the same time they failed to realize that even if their theroy was true, it wasn't going to make him look innocent; instead, it was only going to make Saddam look more foolish!

Well, I guess another conspiracy theory has just been shot dead, ironically on the hands of the ones who invented it!