Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A tale of two tribes, a gang and a militia...

Is it civil war in Iraq or is it not? And if it is, is there a way to stop it and if it's not, is there a way to avert it?
Who's to blame for the sectarian violence and who's escalating it? And what role foreign terror groups like al-Qaeda is playing in this regard? Is it possible that foreign terrorists, with their numbers estimated to be between several hundreds to a few thousands, were/are capable of inflicting so much damage and taking the lead in provoking sectarian strife in a country of 28 millions?

These are some of the questions I hear and read very often these days. It's not easy to find the right answers without taking a much closer look at what's happening on the ground preferably by following the sequence of events in a limited area(s) to get a better understanding of the reality of the situation.

Today I have a true story for you about the sectarian tension in one area of Iraq, although it's only one area but it has a lot in common with other areas and I believe similar stories are taking place in other areas.

The story is taking place in a suburb of Baghdad with mixed tribal and sectarian composition and it's a suburb where we happen to have relatives living over there.
Last week my father and I went there to attend the funeral of an extended family member; everything went almost normal until we wanted to go home. Here's part of the conversation that went between us and one of our hosts:
(O=Omar, F=my father and R=relative)

R: Er, I don't know how to put this, but coming here was a mistake in the first place, I'm glad you made it safe but if you leave now I will be concerned about your safety.

F: Why? What's going on that I'm not aware of?

R: There's been a lot of trouble here recently and traveling at this time of the day can be so dangerous.

F: Ok, I'm listening…

R: It all started several months ago when a bunch of young men from the local tribes began showing strange extreme religious behavior we're not familiar with in this area.
They did not have influence here in the beginning and their apparent action was limited to hate talk against Shia who they refer to as the "enemies" while we coexisted here and lived peacefully with Shia tribes for centuries.
It didn't take long before they translated their rhetoric into violent action, they started to carry out ocassional kidnapping and assassinations against Shia men from neighboring tribes and even attacked Shia neighborhoods deep inside Baghdad after they acquired heavy mortars and katyusha rockets.
At this point we began to realize the true identity of those young men and we began to believe that they became part of al-Qaeda…

The Shia community showed restraint for a while but then their patience ended and the militias started to fire back…at us unfortunately.
The worst escalation happened last week when al-Qaeda snatched a relative of a senior Shia party official near his home, the militia of that party retaliated by kidnapping ten men of a Sunni tribe and there were also incidents of forced displacement on both sides…we don't know if a peaceful settlement can be ever reached.

O: Many other districts suffer from the similar tensions yet people still move around even at some risk, so why can't we go? Or is it that bad?

R: Beginning every afternoon several roadblocks are set on the one street leading to Baghdad and every couple kilometers you'll face a roadblock and gunmen of this or that tribe or sect. They do this to protect their communities and outsiders will be at great risk of being abducted or shot at.

F: Ok, I see that now but who are those troublemakers in the first place and how many are they that you can't stop them from getting you into trouble?

R: About a dozen…they belong to a few of the Sunni tribes and their chief is the son of former big head in Saddam's government.

O: Did you try to talk to them, intimidate them or do anything to dissuade them from keeping up their dangerous game?

R: We tried, first they told us they were protecting us from Shia death squads and they fooled many of people here with that claim but that's bull shit because now they are the reason death squads are after us.

F: That doesn't make any sense! You mean the entire tribe and neighboring ones can't control a dozen of militants?

R: The problem is that these people behead victims and mutilate bodies, they plant bombs and use dirty tricks…the tribe's men are not adapted to dealing with this kind of horrors.
When sheikhs met to arrange for reconciliation the terrorists sent messages telling the sheikhs they were "no longer wanted" and that they were "ripe" for beheading.
By the way this was the 2nd meeting between Sunni and Shia sheikhs, the first one was held immediately after the Samarra bombing, it was a purely local initiative without mediation from the government or clerics…we had been good neighbors for ages! The sheikhs signed a pact of honor that forbid bloodshed and displacement and that what kept sectarian violence away from the area…until those bastards came in.

F: But still, you know who they are and you can ambush them and get rid of them once and for all.

O, interrupting: Have you tried reporting them to the Army or whatever security force working here?

R: Some elders are considering such plans but many people are afraid of reprisal from other al-Qaeda cells in the region to which those guys might be connected. We are farmers and we have families to worry over. And No Omar, we didn't do that and even if we did we don't expect the authorities to respond to report about a cell of 10 militants in a dangerous orchard area when they're busy fighting thousands of them inside Baghdad.
Plus, any military operation here will certainly bring a lot of collateral damage to our homes and farms. Those bad guys have no respect for our lives and would do anything to remain at large.

(I learned later that day that one of the locals had more guts and confidence in the authorities than the rest and did contact the security forces but the man admitted to me that the operator who received his call kind of "terrified" him by the way he spoke and by his irrelevant uncomfortable questions about the identity of the caller while callers have the right to remain anonymous. Anyway, so far no measures have been taken in response to that tip).

Actually the conversation went much longer than this as we realized we had to spend the night at my father's cousin's place so we didn't have much to do but chat about the situation.
The next morning we tried again to go home but the street-safety forecast wasn't reassuring at all, long story short, we were able to return home only on the third day seizing the chance of a gap in the "enemy's" checkpoints.

I'm still keeping an eye on the developments over there and I talk to some relatives frequently over the phone and I encourage them to do something to put an end to this sad situation and expose the perpetrators. Most of them share my attitude but they say they're still studying the mechanism of action, one of them said "we need to revolt against them."

What I see in this case is that the majority is not interested in being involved in this kind of conflict but, at the same time action and reaction from gangs that do not represent the majority are capable of finding a rift among the lines of what normally is a peaceful community.

I truly hope things end in the way I and the majority of my people like, after all, bonds created and maintained over centuries are no doubt stronger than the evil doings and ill wishes of a few mad criminals.

Monday, August 28, 2006

If I had known…

Says Hassan Nesrallah giving us in the Middle East a topic for a new debate.
Reactions and evaluations to this statement and its timing vary a lot; supporters of Nesrallah consider it a move of courage to admit one's mistake and this is another "virtue" to add to the qualities of the Sayyed's persona as if he isn't yet satisfied with the number of titles he already "won" during the latest war and earlier wars.

On the other hand those who disagree with Nesrallah and his party consider the statement an admission of defeat and an evidence of the confused policy of Hizbollah and an opening for future defeats.

But I here would like to see what lies beyond "if I had known" and what's beyond what lies beyond "if I had known" to identify the dangers within that statement…

First of all I see neither the virtue of admitting mistake nor the transparency of a leader toward his followers in Nesrallah's words and I also do not see an evidence of accepting defeat.
What I see is evidence for a dangerous new type of arrogant despotism.
Nesrallah, by admitting he was wrong or "pleading guilty" in this manner is smugly defying law and taking light the Lebanese state and I'm positive he wouldn't have said that if he knew there was an institution to hold him accountable for what he did and said…

Simply this statement is a declaration that he does not expect prosecution for what he did.

Putting an end to the mess in Lebanon that was caused by an outlaw group can only be done from inside Lebanon and I see that the Lebanese government should use Nesrallah's words as evidence to file criminal charges against him and hold him accountable for every drop of blood that was shed and every building that was destroyed because of him "not knowing".
This is most necessary to save Lebanon from destruction at the hands of other Hassans who think that being unaware of the consequences is enough apology.

What I want is to someday in the near future watch Nesrallah saying "I didn't know Lebanon had changed so much since the cedar revolution and if I had known I wouldn’t have made that statement."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sticking to the essence of the plan…

I've been reading and hearing a lot about options "other than democracy" for Iraq being considered by Washington.
I couldn't find the time to search for the original report but I found this recent article that mentions the report and comments on it:

But last week came the new nugget: an anonymous "military affairs expert" attended a White House briefing and reported: "Senior administration officials have acknowledged to me that they are considering alternatives other than democracy. Everybody in the administration is being quite circumspect, but you can sense their own concern that this is drifting away from democracy."

Most interpretations for the anonymous statement expect those alternatives to be in the form of a coup replacing the current government in Iraq with a puppet government loyal to America and lead by a new dictator.
Since the whole story is built around a statement from an anonymous expert and since no clear scenario has been provided, I'm going to offer the Iraqi version of the story that also comes from anonymous experts but with a scenario that looks reasonably formulated from a structural point of view. The report was published on the Iraqi website of Sot al-Iraq, a website run by Iraqi intellectual mostly in exile.

The scenario or "plan" predicted by the author of the story says that the US is going to offer Iraqi military and government one last chance to control the situation and prevent the sectarian violence from turning into open civil war and suggests that America's decision to end in more troops to Baghdad was made to give PM Maliki's government a real chance to curb sectarian violence.

This "last chance" doesn't lack a deadline and according to the report the deadline is supposed to be somewhere between September and October, so if the military effort succeeds, plan B will be ruled out and the policy in Iraq will remain unchanged, probably even allowing the US to revive its plans of troop-level reduction by end of 06.

However upon failure of military efforts and if civil war breaks out the report says the following steps will be taken:

1-Declaring Iraq a zone of genocide and referring the Iraqi file back to the UN Security Council under resolutions 1483 and 1546.

2-After getting appropriate new resolution from the UNSC, the US and allies return to assume all security responsibilities in Iraq.

3-Dismising the current Iraqi government and parliament.

4- Appointing a US military leader for Iraq.

5-The constitution of Iraq remains active but with articles concerning governance suspended.

6-Appointing an Iraqi civil administration consisting exclusively of technocrats with no religious, sectarian or ethnic leanings to assist the US lead military administration in running the affairs of the country.

7-Holding general elections in the country under international supervision at least 2-4 years from the beginning of the implementation of the plan.

In a cruel environment like this and in the shadows of many shortcomings I can feel that many observers, and especially more among Iraqis tired of violence and incompetent leaders, find plan "B" attractive and I don't deny that I too was enthusiastic about it the first time I heard of it at a moment when the war reached its toughest stages with some radical powers doing everything to impose their plans on the rest and silence voices of any sort of opposition, but now that I took some time to think it over I found that this plan or any similar one will represent several steps backward and may even take us back to the time before the 9th of April.

On the domestic level in general, the doubts among the masses that America came only to replace one dictator with another and not to spread democracy will become a fact and will send a message that America hasn't changed its policies yet.

On the regional level that would be exactly what authoritarian regimes in the region want and would give them a chance to declare the war ended with a victory for dictatorships. The failure to prove wrong the theory that the middle east isn't yet ready for democracy will significantly add to the power and reputation of religious extremism which will become the only power antagonizing the dictatorships. However those dictatorships still feel they are capable of repressing, exporting or redirecting this extremism against mutual enemies like religious minorities or liberal groups…

So what can be done to make progress?

In my opinion we should continue along the basic objectives of Operation Iraqi Freedom in establishing democracy and the rule of law and offering enough protection for this democracy until it can sustain itself, i.e. what we need is an enhanced plan "A" based on determination to finish the mission.

I think the main duty of American troops who probably find themselves with little meaningful duties to do is presence itself. The mere presence of these troops is so important to stop the extremists and anti-democracy powers from disrupting the mission or halting it so as long as these troops are in Iraq those enemies will not have the capacity to alter the course to their benefit.

Still, those enemies will keep conducting their limited operations in order to deplete the resources and frustrate the Iraqi government and the coalition troops in the hope that this would lead a withdrawal of the coalition.

My assumptions come from reading and hearing what extremists of either sect say and from even direct personal conversations with followers of those extremists; on one hand there are the remnants of the Baath and former army and radical Sunnis who count on their ability to regain control like they did back in 1991 when they repressed the uprising with relatively little effort and those still have hope that they are able to exterminate or herd the untrained, not-accustomed-to-handling-power masses.

On the other hand the plans of radical Shia leaders seem to be more realistic given what they accomplished on the ground and given their ability to overcome the mistakes of 1991 by building political and military foundations in the provinces capable of directing action.

The point is that, for either group, the ambition to do something big to change the face of the country (that can be sparked by escalating a simple incident at any time) will face the wall of the coalition presence in Iraq and this can be seen clearly in the claims of these groups when they say that the American presence is hindering Iraq's effort to restore security while the fact is that the American presence is the obstacle stopping them from taking over the country and marginalizing if not eliminating their rivals.

In this manner, the mere physical existence of US troops in Iraq is doing a crucial service in protecting the newborn democracy.

What can be added here is some enhancements/corrections to the original plan "A"…

We the Iraqis should tolerate the results of our choices and this is a key point in the process of learning and practicing that seems to be our only means to make progress, so the next four years are going to be an important lesson for us on the importance of careful choice making and the American troops can help us finish this lesson by assisting the people and the government (its moderate reasonable powers) in reducing the influence of armed militias and disarming the community. This process will be no doubt long and tiresome but it's necessary since we have gone this far.

There's also another act, other than military force, that can support and empower democracy and pluralism, this is the free world's mission to support patriotic liberal powers in Iraq. These are the powers that radical and fascist powers want to deter and neutralize through assassinations, intimidation, Takfir or accusations with treason, all backed by effective propaganda machines funded by outside parties.

To make it simple, in addition to the presence of military forces we also need to garner all kinds of support to the liberal, secular, truly pro-democracy powers. It is no secret that Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria support extremists of both sects so why not America and other friends of democratic Iraq offer grater, or at least equal, support for the liberals/moderates?

In the brutal war the world is fighting against terror and extremism, many of the rules of engagement whether political or military need to be reconsidered and maybe changed from what had been known for decades and as long as the enemy is striking below the belt and fears or respects no referee, a new and improved policy should be adopted when it comes to offering support to allies.

This way the process can be lengthy, boring and difficult but success will be certain.
Of course there are no guarantees that results will change much for the best within only four years from now but definitely extremism will have the shorter end of the stick then and positive outcomes can be even further accelerated if the world took stricter measures to neutralize the hotbeds of extremism in Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Back from Egypt.

I'm back in Baghdad now after I spent a week in Cairo attending a seminar for bloggers and civil society activists that was sponsored by the Cato institute, American Islamic Congress and HamsaWeb.

It was really an interesting and informative experience to meet and talk to people like Dr. Palmer, Johan, Zainab and Jess and the training designed and supervised by Dr. Shafeeq (head of the American University in Kuwait) were particularly excellent in exploring the potential skills of the participants.

In fact what was even more fun was meeting that little crowd of active middle eastern young men and women as we shared similar goals and discussed similar concerns and tried to work out means of interaction to benefit from the wide variety of skills and experiences we built amid the rough situations in the region to be able to face the threats represented by the totalitarian regimes and extremism which both refuse to hear anything that opposes their backward vision which they seek to impose over the peoples.

This kind of confrontation isn't easy at all and I applaud the courage and determination of those young people as they work hard in their communities to gain their rights and fight for freedom and democracy in an environment that can only be called hostile to anything new or different.

My participation in this meeting renewed my hope and strengthened my feeling that we're not fighting this battle alone. The beautiful thing about the meeting is that everyone is looking forward to see the Iraq experiment unfold to something good that will reflect positively on all those who have accepted the Middle East to be their home.

On the other hand the destructive effect of the media-that abbreviated Iraq to a car bomb leaving away or ignoring the other good side of the story which is the birth of a democracy-was also clear. I was trying hard to clarify the blurred image asking the others not to judge something huge like the change in Iraq through events in a relatively very short time compared to the history of nations.
I agree that the positive sides I'm referring to may not be visible amid the smoke of war but I could clearly feel them as I traveled to another country like Egypt and listened to experiments from other countries in the Middle East and north Africa.

It may sound a bit odd but that's really what I felt in Egypt that I don't feel in my war-torn city; for the first time in 3 years I felt the restrains of government…I told one of my colleagues I feel safe in Baghdad despite the dangers, I may feel afraid of terrorists or random violence but I never fear the government and that's not only how I feel, Iraqis are not afraid of expressing their differences with the authority because we in Iraq have more or les became part of that authority the day we elected our representatives while terrorists and militias are nothing more than temporary phenomenon that unlike constitution and elections have no solid foundations.

Of course our democratic foundations need a lot of work to meet our aspirations but we are walking this road and none of us is willing to go back and maybe the three thousands that were murdered last month tell that Iraqis are ready to pay the price and fight to preserve and improve our achievements. The magnitude of the change explains the confusion in some of our steps but we have not given up and we're not ready to surrender, not yet.

Back in Cairo I was sitting in the hotel's garden reading a book when I was surprised by a man, who reminded me of one of Saddam's security guys, interrupting my quiet afternoon reading and telling me without any introductions "Don't believe them!".
"Who are they?" I asked "those people" he said pointing at the book in my hand and added "we have a very good system that is represented by the government and Islam. Maybe we need some minor improvements but those people want to blow up our culture, history and beliefs".
I could feel that these remarks would be followed by an informal interrogation with questions about my colleagues so I quickly ended the conversation and avoided going into details. However this came as a flashback from the dreadful era of dictatorship that I've forgotten over the past three years.

I could feel eyes following me and walls recording every word I say that for the first time in years I feel I need to watch my mouth in front a simple cleaning worker in the hotel who was cleaning up the conference hall after one of the sessions. He said "if you want to change know that we're on your side" it may sound like a friendly gesture but I got scared and my immediate response was "No, no! this is not about any change!"

I wouldn't worry about talking about a change when I'm in Iraq; pluralism is a fact here and every party is seeking a change of one sort or another but I was afraid to talk about a change in a place where only one opinion rules and dominates everything.

At that moment I felt the difference and wished I could immediately go back to Baghdad. I know the balance is a tough one but those who seek temporary safety will never get safety.

I believe this battle is worth the trouble and sacrifice and perhaps this time I have additional reasons that motivate me to carry on; it's the people who are looking forward to seeing us succeed and our success here makes the road shorter and less costly to walk for the rest of the region.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

This has got to be stopped!

What happened today in Baghdad was not something unexpected, almost every crowded religious ceremony in Iraq over the past few years was targeted.
In fact, every gathering of crowds of civilians makes a soft target that attracts attacks from one or another type of criminals and everyone here knows this yet no one found the will or determination to stop letting this happen over and over again.

It is true that the constitution of Iraq guarantees the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of practicing religion but when practicing these rights means putting people's life in danger and worse as it may escalate already exiting tensions then these rights need to be put on the shelf for a while.

Iraq is a country in a state of war with terrorists and extremists and those enemies must not be offered a chance to cause more death, inflict more damage on the society and provoke unfavorable reactions and that's why I believe it's the government's duty to protect lives and avoid offering the terrorists and extremists a free chance to use occasions like today's to further destabilize Baghdad.

What I'm trying to say is that Iraq is at war and the government has the constitutional cover through the "National Safety Law" to prohibit all sorts of mass gatherings that often end up with tragic loss in civilian lives until the governmnet is sure about its ability to protect such gatherings. Iraq is in an emergency situation therefore the government must not shy from making whatever decisions to protect the people and keep the society form frictions that might result in catastrophic outcomes.

I realize that this kind of ideas will be faced by firm opposition from many people but I urge them all to put the lives of their countrymen and women in their consideration.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The actual size of the Iraqi blogosphere.

It really surprises me sometimes that almost nobody knows the real size of the Iraqi blogosphere, and that even includes many Iraqi bloggers.

Yesterday my friend Zeyad expressed frustration by the little number of Iraqi blogs:

We also discussed where the Iraqi blogosphere stands in the midst of these developments. Iraq Blog Count lately counted its 212th Iraqi blog, which can be somewhat impressive, given that there were only 4 Iraqi blogs before October 2003, just before the launch of the second wave of Iraqi bloggers, which added exponentially to the growth of the Iraqi blogosphere.

But still, looking at Sifry’s [Technorati] data, one cannot help but wonder: is that all we can offer to the blogosphere? 212 Iraqi blogs?

The fact is, those 212 blogs listed here are only the tip on an iceberg as the mass of the Iraqi blogosphere remains unseen and grows below the surface and that's mostly because this mass is almost entirely written in Arabic and thus receives little if any global attention, although this may look like a weakness, it also means these Arabic-written have greater impact inside Iraq.

Now if you click here (and if you know Arabic of course) you'll see a list that stretches for more than 110 blogs that are not listed on Iraq blog count.

I was involved in the development of that service and the webmaster in charge of it is actually a friend of mine so I asked him for more details and here's what I got:

Total Number of Users: 1558
Total Number of Posts: 13458
Total Number of visits to all community members: 9 920 393

And knowing that this community was created on 15 Jan 2005, i.e. only 18 months old makes these statistics impressive in my opinion.

It's true that not all those 1 558 blogs are active ones but that also applies to the other 212 as it does to the 50 million blogs worldwide.

So to be accurate we should say that 212+1558= 1770 is the total number of Iraqi blogs as of now…Now that sounds better!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Cleaning up the house...

Speaker of parliament to be replaced :

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The head of the main Sunni bloc in parliament called Tuesday for the Sunni speaker of parliament to step down to help the stability of the unity government after Shiite and Kurdish parties insisted on his removal.

Frankly it's about time he submits his resignation or even be kicked out if necessary, I admit that he tricked us in the beginning with his sense of humor and show of humility but it didn't take a long time till he took off that mask and revealed his true ugly face.
His attitudes and statements were embarrassing in more than a few occasions at a time when that' the last this we need.

I can't guess who's going to replace him and if the replacement is going to be from the same bloc then choices will be limited but it's clear now that everyone has had enough of al-Meshhadani including his own bloc so there's a good chance they will be more careful with their nominations this time and choose someone who isn't a Hamas-type nutcase clown.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Forward Together: Stage Two

US and Iraqi forces conduct extensive security operation in al-Doura (hat tip:Pajamas)

Iraqi and Coalition forces are systematically combing through businesses and homes in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Doura as part of a continuing operation to stem the tide of violence plaguing the capital’s 6 million residents, U.S. and Iraqi commanders said Thursday.
more than 5,000 Soldiers have been conducting focused operations in mahalas, or city districts, of the Al-Doura area. He (Col. Michael Beech, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division) said every home and business within the targeted mahalas is being searched.

This sounds like encouraging news that the plan is going to deliver some positive results in extremely dangerous areas as al-Doura and the commanders are saying that similar operations will be repeated throughout the entire capital which is good, but I also have some concerns as to the durability of expected stability to be brought by this operation(s).
It is common sense that to keep an area secure after cleaning it, it will be essential to prevent a relapse that can happen when new criminals and weapons flow into that area from other places which is not unexpected since al-Doura for example lies at the south-western corner of Baghdad not far from the triangle of death which is where many criminals and terrorists operate in/from.

I think what US and Iraqi commanders are planning to do is to leave a force of certain size to guarantee that newly cleaned districts remain clean but I think this will also mean that after completing 5 or 6 operations like al-Doura's, there will be a significant amount of troops pinned to the areas after those operations are completed and this will mean that a lot of the striking power of US and Iraqi armies in Baghdad will not be available for further operations.

I think a better strategy would be to activate and empower the checkpoints at the entrances to the capital. In my estimation this will mean less pinned troops and more troops free to take action inside the city because these checkpoints already exist and what is needed is just to reinforce them and enhance their functionality and if this is achieved, then we can be sure that flow of weapons and militants into the capital from other areas will be controlled, meaning that when criminals and terrorists lose men or weaponry anywhere in Baghdad it will be very difficult for them to receive reinforcements from outside.

I'm suggesting that because the current performance and efficiency of checkpoints that are supposed to guard the entrances of Baghdad can only be viewed as poor by all standards. I have passed through many such checkpoints at different corners of the capital and vehicles rarely, if ever, get searched…and that's not right.

I will not talk about installing X-ray tunnels to scan vehicles or any sophisticated equipment but I will suggest that US and Iraqi commanders try to make those checkpoints at least as strict as those around Erbil where every single vehicle gets searched and every single passenger is asked for identification and I'm sure many of the commanders know what I mean and have seen how that works. All is needed is to increase the number of men and give them the suitable orders and maybe it will be a good idea to increase the number of lanes at these 'crossing-points' to avoid massive waiting lines from forming and that's all.

Sounds very simplistic I may agree but it worked for Kurdistan which almost entirely relies on paramilitary Peshmarga so why can't organized military do the same?

Update: August 15

Instead of reinforcing checkpoints on the outer circle of Baghdad, US troops are installing concrete walls and creating designated gates around/at the entrance to localized areas where the troops alongside Iraqi forces conducted extensive cordon_and_search operations:

On Tuesday, the US military said the Dura district of southern Baghdad had been walled in behind concrete barricades and fortified check points.
All vehicles in the neighbourhood are to be stopped by Iraqi police looking for "terrorists, bomb-making materials and illegal weapons,"

Now this looks like a method that has good chances for success, and I believe the chances will be much better if US advisors keep an eye on the performance of the IP units manning these fortified check points.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Meanwhile, in Basra...

Tension is once again mounting in Basra as the rift between the central government and the local administration grows deeper. Azzaman provides some disturbing updates on the situation where Iranian influence seems to be the reason for much of the troubles.

After the failure of the local administration represented by the provincial council in containing violence-which mostly took the form of sectarian murders and assassination of officials-and stopping the destructive smuggling of oil and oil products, PM Maliki ordered last week that security jurisdictions be taken away from the provincial council and handed over to a three-member 'emergency committee' chosen by the government in Baghdad.

The bad news is that reports say the provincial council defied the order and insisted that all powers remain in its hand but also pointed out that military leaders are apparently taking the side of Baghdad and seem willing to be under the civil command appointed by Maliki and this has alerted militias that belong to parties that make up the provincial council and news say militias are standing ready for any possible action by the military.

Other incidents in the city that targeted military officials seem to have a connection with this conflict between the dominant parties in Basra and the central government, this update on the earlier news of an Iraqi army senior officer suggests that orders to carry out the assassination came from Iran:

A top security official in Basra speaking on condition of anonymity stated that information obtained yesterday indicate that a death squad from an active militia in Basra are behind the assassination of colonel Qasim Abdul Qadir, the chief of management room of the 10th division of the army…the official said that orders for the assassination came from an intelligence body from across the borders…the source described the earlier military commander as a professional soldier who wasn't affiliated with any of the political parties in the city and was committed to the execution of the security plan ordered by PM Maliki…

I do not have a link for this (maybe one of you could find one) but I saw it on TV a couple days ago, I listened to ambassador Khalilzad talking about Iranian forces operating in Baghdad. He said that when he spoke at the ceremony of hand-over of security responsibilities to Iraqi forces in provinces north of Baghdad.
Now if Iranian presence in Baghdad is becoming evident, I can only imagine how big that presence is getting in Basra where access is much easier and where ruling parties keep good relationships with the neighbors to the east!

Another piece of news that I could not find a confirmation for elsewhere is talking about the Iranian revolutionary guards corps setting up training camps for Iraqi militiamen on the border strip between the two countries:

Sources provided matching accounts that Iranian authorities evacuated villages at the border strip in Arab-populated Ahwaz and turned them into training camps that receive and train militiamen brought from Iraq before returning them back to Basra to perform attacks against Iraqi forces and British patrols. Meanwhile Iraqi intelligence officials said members of Iran's revolutionary guard corps are hunting down dozens of Ahwaz-Arabs who are members of the Iranian opposition and have been residing in Basra for several years.
On the other hand the 'media center for Ahwazi revolution' mentioned that the regime in Iran is calling upon Ahwaz-Arabs to go fight in Lebanon with Hezbollah since they have the advantage of being native speakers of Arabic…villagers were also displaced from a 90 000 acres between Hwaizah and Muhammara in what is known as the "92nd armored division war game.

Even if that story isn't accurate, other incidents like the murder of 7 Iraqi soldiers at the borders east of al-Kut (saw that on TV, no link available) show that there is something bad brewing out there.

If those report are accurate then the whole thing doesn't look good and when we learn that even the British troops in Basra are not in good shape we can only expect more trouble to come.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Logic amid the sands...

Here in the lands of sands logic continues to find very little space in our way of thinking and is had been shrinking before a language of mostly false pride, dignity and sentimental slogans.

This is not unexpected in this part of the world where, for centuries, logic was and still being cast away to prevent a confrontation with ideas that might blow up our entire set of metaphysical beliefs that were passed from one generation to the other.

Those in power are of course the top beneficiary from this marginalization of science and logic, and in fact what pushed me to write today is an article I read in al-Sharq al-Awsat yesterday.
The writer of that article sarcastically demands that fighting in Lebanon continues until Israel is thrown in the sea and the writer wonders why Arabs are calling for cease fire while "we are winning" and why should Arabs stop the fighting while "we are achieving one victory after another…don't you follow our Arab media? It's just a matter of time till we defeat our enemy so why the cease fire?!" and the writer talks about how the legends of the Israeli army is falling apart before the faithful resistance and demands that for once we continue and allow a logical outcome for the conflict and to not be fooled by a truce with the enemy once again.

The funny thing is that the writer ends his argument by stressing that he was serious in everything he wrote.
Of course the satire and mockery was more than obvious and what makes the whole thing funnier (and sad at the same time) is that most of the commentators got excited and motivated and even used his words as further proof for the Arab victory!

Even the al-Arabiya channel in their daily press review didn't get the joke and used excerpts from the article alongside the usual daily boastful enthusiastic speeches about the Arab right and Arab might in this struggle…

No doubt our writer realizes that those in power in the region do not want to see a logical end for this conflict because then the bitter truth of numbers and results on the ground will wipe out the illusion of victory…all what these people want is a continuation of a low-level conflict that can be portrayed to the public as victory to justify and legitimize the concept of "patriot resistance" and "necessary leaders" so that the public stands behind those leaders and overlook or learn to accept all of their bad sides.

As it had always been the case logic can not find a place among us and "logic is heresy" said one Caliph a long time ago to shut up any one who dared disagree with his rule.

One of the forms of anti-logic propaganda common in this conflict as well as previous ones is the extreme exaggeration of one's capabilities and extreme understatement of the opponent's.
This exaggeration flows in our blood to the degree that makes us live in an imaginary world of our won making where we are always the bigger, the stronger and the better. What I find appalling is the use of vulgarity to demean the opponent to the degree that a superpower like America is described as a thief country stealing oil or to call a powerful country like Israel a "fragile mutant entity" while facts say that it's more advanced than all of its neighbors by all standards.

When I try to explain to someone (hypothetically accepting the idea that America is the enemy just to allow space for a discussion) explain that he needs to know his opponent very well if he wants to enter a confrontation that is not uncalculated, whenever I do this my attempts are viewed as demoralizing if not as treason and siding with the "enemy".

I used to (and still do) use numbers and statistics in my arguments because these lead to logical findings and this often either angers the person I'm talking to and makes him renew his accusations against me, or his jaw drops in astonishment by-for the first time-knowing some simple facts that are easily accessible for anyone willing to research but are also denied and ignored by fact-avoiding media and miserable school curricula.

For example so far I have never met one Iraqi who could answer the few simple questions I usually use in a conversation that begins with "they're stealing our oil". The questions are "do you know the GDP of the US?" or "do you know how much money the US military spends in Iraq alone?"
The common answer is "I don't know" and sadly the people I usually talk to have at least finished a college.
Then comes the other question "Ok, so do you know what Iraq's GDP is? Or the UK's or Spain's or Israel's or Iran's…?"

Almost in every case I get no answers from the people I talk to and when I then put the numbers in order I often get the "WHAT! Are we not rich then??" that sometimes even I begin to question those numbers but then my calculator always reaffirms again that we are poor.

A fellow Iraqi blogger suggests that if the people of Iraq get a small fraction of oil revenues with the rest going to the treasury of America, Iraqis will still be rich:

If a peaceful Iraq just gets to spend a small proportion of its oil wealth on its people while the rest goes to the occupier, Iraq can still be one of the riches countries in the region.

I do not question Salam's good will but I have to disagree with him, I will go farther than what he suggested and give every cent of oil revenues to the people and I will be even excessively optimistic and set a stable level for production and exports and sell the oil at the highest price oil ever reached. Now I wish my friend here and others who share the same belief do some simple math, calculate the total amount of revenue and divide it over the population of Iraq equally, and I challenge anyone who can show me a figure that says we're rich or that our only problem is that someone is stealing our money or oil.

Many of the people I reach this far with and see the numbers would respond in a way almost identical to all of them "then why did they come here? For the black of our eyes maybe??" and I hear this question over and over again from different people as if it was the smartest question that one doesn't need to think before saying. After all the point is in making the 'other' look bad.

Then I'd try with my humble knowledge to explain to the one I'm talking to that this is a world where interests are so closely connected regardless of geographical barriers and that a stable and prosperous middle east would be better for America's interests than a poor, troubled one.

What I'm trying to say here is that sometimes making people aware of simple and available statistics can change a mindset from "they came to steal" to "then why are they here?" and this for sure is a dangerous beginning for the ruling regimes in this region and this primitive language of numbers poses a threat to the dominant mentality because it leads to a few logical results that collide forcefully with the illusions being spread by the Arab and Islamic regimes and media institutions who hate logic even more than they hate the west.

The sad truth here is that fighting this misinformation is very difficult although I do see some encouraging signs and growing awareness among many thinkers and intellectuals here.
However the deepest problem here remains that the two institutions in charge of spreading information and forming the mindset of the population, that is the educational and media institutions are both in the hands of governments and I would never buy whatever being said about independent media in the Arab world; what happened here was merely adding new media networks that look independent from the first look to the already existing state-funded media.

But in fact and again taking a look at some simple statistics we find that the entire Arab media industry makes less than 1.5 billion dollars/year while consumes approximately 15 billions/year in return and this makes one think about who pays the difference. Moreover, the idea of starting a private TV or paper doesn't appeal to wealthy Arabs as it brings upon them the hassle of opposing the state's media, actually in general most wealthy Arabs would rather build a mosque when they get old than build a research center or a media network.

Another problem in the same regard is the status of emerging liberal political parties and movements that lack the proper funding compared to authoritarian parties, for example in Iraq the religious parties whether Sunni or Shia own dozens of satellite stations, radios and newspapers while people like Mithal al-Alusi or Laith Kubba or even Ayad Allawi can't even think of starting a TV channel like the SCIRI's 'al-Furat' or the Accord Front's 'Baghdad' and this is a point I'd like to discuss in detail later.

The biggest defect remains in the educational institution; it's totally monopolized by the government and surrounded by redlines imposed by clerics and woe to anyone who dares speak about reconsidering the history curriculum or call for making religion an optional class.

And so the educated and open-minded continue to fight a rough battle in the lands of sands and a logical scenario for how this battle is going to end is still far from sight…

Monday, August 07, 2006

The battle for Baghdad; the view from my alley.

The neighborhood where I live in Baghdad isn't exactly a safe one, actually the sector where it lies was classified by the authorities a few months ago as one of the hot red zones of Baghdad as it's been the place where a lot of violence occurred in the past few months.

When I try to play back the tape of incidents I recall at least one suicide bombing, several assassinations and kidnappings and many many attacks with mortars and roadside bombs and a few raids by the MNF or Iraqi army.
Overall almost no week passes without a few incidents in this more or less one square kilometer area.

The latest of these incidents was the sad assassination of a shopkeeper not far away from where I live and this made other shopkeepers in the neighborhood reconsider their job especially that all kinds of shops have been receiving threats or attacks in various parts of the capital.
One store owner didn't spend time to think and immediately moved his goods home and locked his shop, he told me to come to his home in case I needed anything "that's only for neighbors and friends, so don't tell anyone I'll still be working, ok?"

I wondered then what are all those road blocks and watch teams for? Those road blocks filled our streets and made getting home much like a walk through a maze that always surprises us with new blocks that didn't exist the day before.

Anyway, what made me extremely worried was the news that spread like lightning in the neighborhood, the news (or the rumor) says that leaflets were found in the neighborhood carrying threats to Sunni families and telling all Sunni residents to leave.
What the….!!

Do I and my family have to leave our home now? Impossible!

That was the first thing I thought of…No, I'm not running away, I'm not leaving the home I was raised in and I'm not abandoning my country…what do these people want from us?!

I sat for a while trying to recover from the shock and put my thoughts in order then I turned to the neighbor who brought the news "but wait a minute, aren't Sunni a majority in this area? It doesn't make any sense to receive such a threat…there must be something wrong"
I asked if he actually saw one of those leaflets and he said no, and I asked others who were talking about the threat but again no one had actually received a leaflet or read one with his own eyes.
However the hysteria mounted in the neighborhood and especially in the "central command" which is the mosque and its regulars who take care of organizing the watch teams and plan where road blocks are constructed.

With the assassination of the shopkeeper (who was by the way a Shia) the hysteria reached higher levels. I can't tell whether the assassination was a quick reaction to the threat or an implementation of the threat that hit the wrong target, I don't know but the two incidents seem somehow connected.
But what I really need to find out is whether that threat was for real and whether it's part of the wicked plan to partition Baghdad into a Shia east and Sunni west…I'm not sure but I do smell the escalation coming from local religious entities and I mean the mosque and the Husseiniya.

Regardless of that, ordinary people will panic and will find no choice but to listen to what the voices from the dark ages say because these are the only voices that possess some form of organization and because the police and army would rarely intervene in problems is a small neighborhood leaving the helpless citizen to feel that he's got nobody but his sect to give him the sense that he's not alone in the face of this threat.

The story goes on fast and the news caused new ideas for "security measures" to come from the "central command" of the neighborhood; a young fellow knocked on the door to tell us about the new measures and convince us to support it, he said the new measures will include gates at the entrance to each alley (the other end is already blocked) and the new gates will be manned by teams of two who will let in only the residents of a particular alley or someone the residents say to know and guarantee.
The young man asked us to contribute 10k ($7) in return for they service they are going to provide. The amount is technically nothing but I know such plans won't work just like the previous ones so I tried to argue but my father made the signal to pay the 10k and spare everyone the headache of an argument.

"We don't want to look like the ones obstructing their plans in a time of serious threats, their road blocks didn't work in the past and neither will these gates, so just let them see that for themselves with time. These rocks and palm trunks cannot bring security but identifying the bad guys can and son, we will enjoy security when we find the guts to do that" my father explained later.

So I paid the money, unconvinced that old retired officers and a bunch of teenagers can be trusted with our security. I think they are just glad they finally found something to fill their empty days with, but when you try to question the possible effectiveness of their plans or make suggestions they simply end the conversation and refer you to someone else higher in their "chain of command" and this confirms my doubts that former organizations still exist in addition to the emerging militias that represent a variety of parties and movements.

The whole scene reminds me of the "popular committees" that some Shia leaders were and are urging the Shia districts to form and I think adopting this policy by both parties will eventually lead to a large scale conflict.

I sat in the evening daydreaming about how I'm going to defend my home and family against intruders and I was a hero in those daydreams! I shot dozens of masked gunmen and saved myself and family from harm. It was a very strange feeling because I never shot at anything bigger than a pigeon and that was probably 15 years ago.
I don't know if I can really shoot to kill when the time comes but the feeling from the dream that I was determined to fight back and defend my home made me feel safe and gave me some relief, only then I was able go to bed and sleep.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Why is it difficult to demonize a demon?

I was reading the news stories this morning about the demonstration that was organized by Sadr in support of Hezbollah when one quote from a senior coalition official caught my attention. The story doesn't make it clear whether that official was general Abizaid himself or someone else but I hope it wasn't Abizaid or any official senior enough to influence the strategy of the coalition in Iraq especially at this critical stage:

General John Abizaid, the top US commander for the Middle East, said neighbouring Iran was arming Iraqi death squads, that militias have infiltrated the police and that more US troops are needed to bring Baghdad under control.

A senior coalition official, however, cautioned against treating the Mehdi Army as a monolithic entity, as it is a loosely organized body with only parts actively engaged in violent and illegal activities.
"We have to careful that we don't demonize Jaish al-Mehdi, because look at the polls -- Moqtada Sadr himself is an enormously popular figure. Why? Because he is thumbing his nose at the coalition," he said.
Abizaid, however, also warned against civil war.

(emphasis added)

In my opinion the part about being careful about "demonizing Sadr militias" because Sadr is "enormously popular" is meaningless after we saw (and see everyday) what Sadr is doing and what his intentions are, and in fact this being "careful" can be so harmful to the efforts of the coalition and PM Maliki in dealing with the issue of militias and of course to the hopes of millions of us in Iraq who want to see an end to the violence.

Popularity should be taken into consideration of course, yet it must not be viewed as a deterrent and must not be allowed to be used as one by the militias, and popularity polls even when they show that some leader or group enjoy wide support, they do not mean that we should allow these numbers to intimidate us and stop us from making the decisions or taking the measures that are crucial for the success of Iraq.
Let's look at it from this angle; Saddam enjoyed the same, if not more, popularity than Sadr does today (yes, Saddam was popular among more or less a million Iraqis not to mention popularity among other Arabs) and the same applies to Nesrallah, Ahmedinejad and Bin Laden who have millions of supporters among Arabs and Muslims, however we didn't find it difficult to "demonize" them, right?
I mean should we allow the bad guys to grow more powerful just because they are popular?! This is totally absurd…

According to this "senior official" we are supposed to think twice and be careful before tackling people like Sadr but my question is; if not now then when? Are we supposed to give them more time to grow more powerful and more popular?
We have seen some examples in recent history when crazy tyrants were not dealt with fast enough or powerfully enough whether by an external force or by their own people; putting an end to Saddam would've been easier if the decision was made in 1991 and dealing with Ahmedinejad immediately will be easier than to deal with him when he acquires nukes and disarming the Sadr militias would've been much more easier if the right decision was made two years ago.

After all, popularity polls do not necessarily reflect the truth and today's demonstration indicates that as well; see, instead of the million figure that Sadr was aspiring to see in Baghdad and out of supposedly 2 million Shia residents of Sadr city only 100 000 showed up and that's only after Sadr summoned demonstrators from the southern provinces and sent busses to fetch them and let's not forget that the demonstration took place in Sadr's own stronghold where it's supposed to take no effort from supporters to show up and march; technically they were asked to march in their own front yard.

Let's suppose that the 30 seats that Sadr's followers have in the parliament reflect his popularity, which is not true because they wouldn't have a chance to win 30 seats without joining the UIA and without Sistani backing them, but even then we have most of the remaining powers demanding immediate disbanding of militias. And these are the ones we should consider, not controversial polls of false popularity.

Some Iraqis including their elected prime minister and elected president said 'thank you America' while others said death to America and Iran is strongly supporting those who wish death to America, so what are you in America going to do while we still have the chance, still have the determined leadership and while there's still hope?

Will you stand with those who believe you came to help them, or will you let Iran remain free to push Iraq to doom?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Arab media, between Baghdad and Beirut.

Although we have greater issues to be concerned about here in Baghdad I feel I must talk about the Arab media and its deception campaign and that's because wars in both Lebanon and Iraq are largely the same.

In both cases the media functions not only as a means to deliver news but had long turned into an effective weapon that is not the least interested in objectivity or factuality. The Arab media shamelessly sided with terrorism (or resistance from their perspective) and this propaganda machine funded by the evil powers in our region continues poisoning the minds of their Arab audience to feed the totally needless hatred towards the world.
I'm frankly tired of all this, tired of showing defeats as victories and tired of all the lies about power, heroism and legends…lie, lie, lie and then lie again and add some flavor to the report with some poetry or irrelevant words of wisdom and turn that report into a commemoration of a fading era of countless defeats.

I wish the world could see what we are watching here and know the truth about this war, if what you outside the middle east are watching is news, know that here we are getting lies, deception, propaganda and slogans in the outfit of news and analysis, all for the purpose of keeping the region and especially Arabs in the seemingly forever lasting dream that is directed to keep them on the same side with terrorists and , sooner rather than later, collapsing regimes.

Our media and its dishonorable message is cornering the citizen in his home 24/7/365, it portraits all others as enemies and terror as resistance, it alienates the other voice and reflects only one perspective in a horrendously similar manner as if all media networks signed the same code of no ethics, as if all of them are only a changing face of one entity. The Arab media is one that approaches sentiments and ignores facts in order to foster a feedback that contains more hatred and less reason.

Perhaps the peak in the destruction curve inflicted by the Arab media on the Arab mind was in the exploitation of the Qana tragedy, I heard the news about the casualties among children and civilians and I knew that the armies of mourners were already being summoned, that incident was exactly what the media was looking for, a funeral to mourn our bad luck as we say here.

I was horrified by the ugly scenes of extracting the dead children's corpses from beneath the rubble. That scene was a disgusting act of begging for sympathy and an attempt to sell the dead childhood to serve an evil cause.
I doubt it that they were sad in their hearts, in fact I could feel them laughing inside as they found a chance they weren't even dreaming of, they found the scene they could use to support their sick theory that the other side is a an enemy of life and to invoke the tears and sentiments of support for their war which they like to describe now as a genocide against Arabs and Muslims.

This is utter absurdity that challenges reason and diverts the view from the real criminal, the children-murdering butcher Nesrallah.
Don't ever think those criminals were hurt by that scene…No ladies and gentlemen, you are wrong if you think they were, they are just using the death of children as fuel for their propaganda machine and if they really care about the children and the innocent we would've seen similar angry reaction and uproar to what they show now when more than a hundred of children were massacred in two terror crimes in Baghdad in 2004 in Hay al-Amil and 2005 in New Baghdad.
The murderer in those crimes was not a pilot unsure of what was inside a building and it wasn't midnight either, no, the criminal went purposefully straight into a crowd of children celebrating a new project in their neighborhood or receiving candies and gifts.

Why did the hearts of "the honorable, the clean and the faithful" not shed a single tear or at least shiver for a short second? Why did the UNSC not hold an emergency session and why there were no demonstrations in the so called Arab street?

I tell why, it's because the murderer was Arab and Muslim and holding him responsible would've blown away the ideology of "resistance"…and to me the criminal in Qana is the same and I wish the people here open their eyes and identify the real criminal, it is Nesrallah and Saddam and al-Qaeda who used and keep using civilians as human shields.

This cruelty and cowardice did not surprise me, it only disgusts me more…
And I wasn't surprised when all Arab channels, except for al-Hurra, ignored or refused to air the video taken from the Israeli jet following the katyusha launcher as it entered the building. Maybe the video was wrong, and maybe it was fake but the media here deliberately refused to offer the audience a chance to compare accounts and hear what each party had to say and so they broadcast footage of the corpses over and over again allowing no space for anything that might raise controversy in the minds of the Arab viewer.

I know some will call me a traitor and accuse me of standing against the "resistance" but I do not care about that any more, after all what do you gain if you win the whole world and lose yourself…

I will not allow anyone to deceive me or fool me again and I hope more of my people open their minds and see what lies and denial brought upon us.

We need another ' June 67' more than anytime in the past because like that defeat put an end for the days when pan-Arabism was in the top we are now in need for another defeat that wakes the region up and open its eyes to see the danger of terrorism and extremism and remove it from the top and put it where it belongs to.

Again I hope to see no half-solutions because we have had enough. I do not want to see the terrorists and their allies open their mouth when the war ends to brag about how "courageous and devoted" they were in defending the faith and the nation.
Meanwhile, let Europe argue for another decade to agree on a definition for terror…I thank God it isn't Europe handling this war, the cowardice and reluctance of Europe disgusts me as much as the Arab media does.

The entire world must realize that this war is every one's war and not only the middle east's, and when the terrorists wage their war in Baghdad and Beirut, the two capitals that practiced democracy, they are telling us that they do not want the change to succeed.
It is not because democracy is bad that Baghdad and Beirut are under attack now but it's because the enemies of democracy and liberty are so evil, so cruel and so determined to deny us the right to build a true democracy, therefore we must face them with greater determination.
Let us identify the real murderers and eliminate them from amongst us with no mercy if we want to enjoy real and long-lasting peace.