Friday, February 29, 2008

Shaggy Daze

Several months ago I was doing some archival work in the Iraqi blogosphere when I came across a link to a blog that I had never read before called Baghdad Bacon & Eggs. Baghdad Bacon & Eggs? What kind of blog name is that, I wondered. Why is an Iraqi referring to pork? Well, the blogger called himself Shaggy, and I read a few of his posts. I soon realized that the author was as unusual as the blog title itself, so I decided to go back to Shaggy's first post and then read through the entire archive of blog entries in the order in which they were written.

On May 21, 2004, Shaggy typed out his first blog entry. He would only write that one entry for the month, and after that he wouldn't resume writing until September of that same year. But already in that single entry for May, which he titled "Slob log 14664," Shaggy signaled the kind of writer he would be:
Had the intention of viewing some blogs but end up making one instead. Maybe after this the website would let me see other people's blogs. But while I'm here, I might as well make the most of it.

It's 10:41 pm, the temperature is warm. I would appreciate some air-conditioning instead of the fan but since the electricity is cut and we're running on our little generator, I can't turn the a/c on.

I don't think I knew what air conditioning was until I came to this god-forsaken place 8 years ago. Well now I do, and have a better idea why my family migrated to the UK so many decades ago.

I am bored, my aim is to channel that boredom onto you and others like you who have reached this far.

Au revoiree.
And then three months of silence until September, when he starts his blogging career in earnest -- or perhaps, better said, in jest. While most of the Iraqi bloggers have been focused on the political events occurring around them, Shaggy remains one of the few true personal-diary bloggers. To my knowledge, the closest Shaggy has ever came to penning his philosophy of blogging happened in the middle of a blog entry from March 12, 2005, entitled "Attention":
So my blog got put on the 'Iraqi Blog Count'. Should I be yippeeing or not. I hate change. But after some short lived attention, I hope it would become just another link on a list.

I really don't see myself representing anything genuinely Iraqi. It can be granted that I'm Iraqi and that I'm living in Baghdad, but it ends there. Taking a quick glance at some of the other blogs, they're serious pieces of work and they do more to portray the situation in Iraq and the effects it has on their lives.

As for myself, the idea of this blog is more personal. It's supposed to be healthy to express one's thoughts and that's what I sometimes do with my blog. Other times, I'm just recording events that I go through which I would otherwise forget. And above all, I'm just using this as a way to kill time.
But there is no other Iraqi blogger who kills time and writes about it with such candor as Shaggy. He talks openly about everything in his life. "My balls stink," he writes in one entry. When he got his first commenter -- after seven months -- ("Yippee, I got my first comment :D), he was asked about the war. "The war wasn't scary as much as it was exciting for me," he said. "[Y]ou could say I've got a few screws loose."

Shaggy's personal biography is kind of complicated. While his family mostly lives in England, his father owns a rice plantation in Iraq (which one day Shaggy will probably take over). Shaggy himself grew up in three different countries: England, Lebanon, and Iraq. But as a student in the university in Baghdad he is in the odd position of having to learn Arabic as a foreign language for his coursework. "[I]'ve lived in iraq and lebanon for a total of 10 years," he writes in a December 29, 2004, blog entry, "and I can't read the bloody newspaper."

It's this honesty and his self-deprecating humor that always pull you back to Shaggy's blog. In one of his September, 2004, blog entries, for example, he had been complaining about a burning sensation in his anus. The next day, he informs his dear readers:
When I got home, Nahida hit me with the big one. The itchy sensation and the lump coming out of my rectum are the symptoms of Piles (Hemorrhoids). For me that was sufficient reason to freak out and get depressed. I spoke to a doctor on the phone and he prescribed some cream to relieve the pain, some laxatives, and some antibiotics, all of which Nahida promptly acquired. I then did a sitz bath which felt really good even though I did it all wrong. I'll get it right next time. I just hope that the operation if I have to do it isn't going to be as painful as I imagine. And boy this cream is great.
You might be wondering who Nahida is. Well, most of the time Shaggy never explained who she was. For a long time the only thing I could figure out is that she lived in the same house as Shaggy and that she and Shaggy were often engaged in some kind of low-level war about a variety of domestic matters. Much later, in a passing note, Shaggy would explain that she had been renting the upper floor of her Dad's house and therefore she kind of "came with the house." But if you become of fan of Shaggy's blog, as I am, you will get to meet not just Nahida, but Fozzy, Kiki, Zed, Od, Maz, Mos, Zaif, Nawf, K, Dina, Suzy, Shady, India, Miz, Hans, Dudu, and Fal, among others that I can't remember right now.

While Shaggy does not even pretend to expatiate on international politics or whether deconstruction's hegemony in the academy has now waned, he does have one very tangible claim to fame. He has written, I believe, the shortest blog entry ever recorded in the blogosphere. On March 31, 2005, Shaggy wrote this in a blog entry entitled "Sniff":
I stink.
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Shaggy's Excellent Adventures.

March 18, 2005, Splash that backside. Shaggy on the farm.
March 19, 2005, Blanks. Some people think Shaggy is smart; he corrects them here.
March 24, 2005, Idle Hands. Shaggy discusses which drugs are popular in Iraq.
May 5, 2005, Call me Sloth. Shaggy considers to what extent he is brain-dead.
June 5, 2005, A Moment To Gloat. Shaggy's Empire fights back. He receives an e-mail from Salam Pax.
October 5, 2005, I Go To The Loo. And Do Number Two. Shaggy tries to decide whether his shoes or socks smell more.
January 10, 2006, Off To The Farm Tomorrow. Shaggy recalls that he once gave his senile grandmother a joint.
April 7, 2006, Who In The World Is Nahida? Shaggy finally tells us all about Nahida.
June 15, 2006, I Think It's A Good Time To Pour Myself A Drink. "My balls stink," Shaggy writes, "but that's not inspirational enough."
June 20, 2006, Cockroach Roaming. Shaggy battles a cockroach, and Fozzy tells him about the "waiting Mahdi."
December 2, 2006, One Month On. Shaggy admits, "I'm happier here than anywhere else even despite all that's going on."
December 11, 2006, Sub Woofer Come. I'll let Shaggy explain this one. Abbas comments.
December 25, 2006, Last Of My Bottle Of Teacher's. Shaggy chats with Suzy by phone.
January 4, 2007, Why FMMM?. Shaggy Jr. objects to FMMM.
January 7, 2007, KitKat - Globalization's Victim. Shaggy warns his readers about Chinese-made KitKat bars.
February 9, 2007, We Got A Gun In The House. Shaggy tries to study; Nahida borrows a machine gun.
March 14, 2007, I'm Not Hungry Anymore. Like a breakaway republic, Shaggy declares independence from Nahida.
March 17, 2007, Elated. With a zit growing on his thigh and a nicotine patch on his arm, Shaggy suddenly feels elated.
April 24, 2007, Mouth Ulcer Painful. During a house search, an American soldier tells Shaggy that he likes his T-shirt, which reads: "I don't have a drinking problem, I drink, I get drunk, I pass out... No Problem!"
July 16, 2007, Back From The Plantation. Shaggy's car-trip down to Shamiya and the plantation.
August 9, 2007, I Went To Najaf. Shaggy, Nahida, and Fozzy spend the day in Najaf, where his ancestors are buried. "Someday I'm expected to be burried there too," Shaggy writes. "I really ought to check it out again sometime before I'm dead."
September 18, 2007, In Da House For Too Long Da Da Da. "I feel like a confused sixteen year old in a forty year old body," Shaggy writes.
November 23, 2007, Poink Poink Poink. Shaggy ponders the unwanted adhesive properties of Kleenex.

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HOUSEKEEPING NOTES:

I'm surprised to be saying this, but the new NYTimes Baghdad Bureau blog is very good. They provide a good combination of text, photos, and videos, and the layout is attractive. Check out Stephen Farrell's report from Diyala. Also new to the blogroll, you will now find Leila Fadel's Baghdad Observer, an in-house blog for the McClatchy newsgroup.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wayback Machine: The Original CMAR and his boy Jeffrey


I was planning to post this in May, but with the crap that's going on around Iraqi Mojo, I'd say now is the time.

The fourth birthday of Iraqi Bloggers Central is less than three months away. This makes IBC one of the oldest still-active blogs in the Iraqi blogger skyline. But IBC's birthday marks another landmark event that is closely tied to IBC's beginnings: the closing of the old Cry Me A Riverbend blog.

The original CMAR's site was intended to provide a central location for CMAR and and his readers to comment about blogs like Riverbend's and the Faiza Jarrar blog and those of her boys, none of which (at the time) provided comments. Me? I rarely commented. But I enjoyed reading the comments. The blog's comments were a random, free-swinging environment. I remember commenters like Original Jeff, DL, Bruno, and Leap Frog. But there was also this one totally mad S.O.B. Jeffrey -- New York, who stood out, even at CMAR's blog for his craziness and profanity.

Now a gang of thugs that didn't like CMAR's opinions, pieced together some of his references about himself and figured out who he was. Then they posted his address and place of work in the comments of the CMAR blog and in those of left-wing freak blogs. So CMAR decided the pleasure he got from his blog was no longer worth the risk. He shut it down.

They received many friendly "attaboys" at the freak blogs, including a special post from Raed Jarrar praising their success. For those who have followed him from the beginning, there is nothing ironic about this and Raed's "We Will Not Be Silent" campaign. Liberty has its limits, in Raed's opinion, which is the edge of his skin. I guess the cyber-punks were regretting that they couldn't join a gang in Iraq to shoot guys in shorts or beat women on the streets, and this was the best they had the guts to do. Different strokes for different folks. But I was thinking of Raed's praise for these punks when he contacted me, asking for my personal information so (he claimed) he could sue me. Raed has no fear of being public himself. He knows that the methods of his enemies are not those of his friends.

About 3 hours after the CMAR blog went down, I read about it, and immediately opened Cry Me A Riverbend II for no other reason than that I hate bullies. I sent an email to CMAR telling him about it and learned that Jeffrey -- New York had done the same thing for the same reason about 1 hour earlier.

I founded the Cry Me A Riverbend II blog with the idea that I would do everything to remain totally anonymous. Without a public identity, it could almost be like CMAR was still around. And no one could ever find a lever to make me shut down. Jeffrey took the opposite tack. His identity was already known, and when the punks tried to do to him what they did to CMAR, his response was "Bring it on".

As I said, I started blogging in a fit of indignation; not out of a desire to blog. I intended to only keep my blog running for a month or so just to make a statement. Jeffrey told me that he sort of felt the same way. After a month or two, he figured he'd drop the whole thing. It was a lot of work he said. He just enjoyed commenting, not blogging.

That was almost four years ago. Now IBC is a major gateway drug to Iraqi blogs in English.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

This Post Has No Title

Cue Elton John's "This Song Has No Title".

Not so long ago, Abbas at Catharsis issued a fatwa against this blog. Well, I am inviting all righteous believers to join me in my new Jihad against the Devil's own children, anonymous commenters.

Look, some people are new to blogs. I get that. So they post anonymously because they don't know any better. But the use of anonymous posting, even by commenters with an established identity among Iraqi blogs, has gotten severely out of hand.

Once upon a time, a blogger or even other commenters would have laid down the law with a persistent anonymous poster, telling him to get a name or get lost. Once upon a time, commenters placed great value on their online identities, taking offense at someone appropriating theirs on the same site either dishonestly or inconsiderately. However, in the last few months, it is impossible to keep track of threads in the comments on certain Iraqi blogs because of a debilitating infestation of anonymous commenters.

Once again, I'm not just talking about trolls or new readers here. I'm talking about people who are well-known on the blogs they are commenting on and elsewhere, or are at least regular readers of the blog in question. At one point, it became a Theater of the Absurd at Catharsis with two anonymous commenters arguing with each other.

There is a certain unhinged, regular commenter at 24StepsToLiberty whose name I will not invoke for fear of summoning her. This person was the first established commenter I noted choosing to deliberately post anonymously rather than use her name. She started doing this shortly after RhusLancia showed (using a screenshot) that she was denying holding opinions that she affirmed on other blogs. This leads me to believe that in many cases this behavior is not done out of mere rudeness or laziness.

No one can stop you from trying to go incognito (although it might be a little embarrassing to do that and find out people recognize you anyway). But if you want to do that, then just create a new identity rather than pollute a blog with "anonymous" comments. If you are unwilling to login with an ID to comment, you could at least sign a name at the bottom of the post, so I can reference you when I praise or fisk you. If you have a blogger.com site (like this one), and you use their built in comments (like this one doesn't), you can limit commenting to users with OpenID and Google IDs.

I enjoy reading the comments in blogs, so give me a break before I'm forced to take hostages.



And now that you've had your vegetables, it's time for dessert:

The Mudville Gazette is back after an unannounced haiatus.

After Mudville, The Long War Journal could be the second best online newspaper on The War at all of its fronts, including Iraq. Be sure to check out the current top story, Reconstructing relationships: Hawr Rajab:

Bruce Bailey, a USAID contractor working on a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team, put it this way: “A businessman told me a story: Al Qaeda came to his house and killed his son in front of him to force him to swear allegiance to him. Six months later, they came back and beheaded his six-year-old granddaughter ‘just to make sure.’ This country has been through a trauma that makes rebuilding very difficult.”

MSNBC's World Blog has been silent for over a month now, but its Iraq posts are always worth the read. And they link to IBC, so they must know what they're doing.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Nir Rosen's "Fistful of Dollars"

In "The Myth of the Surge," published last week in Rolling Stone, Nir Rosen recounts his recent experiences in the neighborhood of Dora in Baghdad, Iraq. Before examining the article's overall strengths and weaknesses, let's take a look at the first paragraph sentence by sentence and watch Nir at work.

1. It's a cold, gray day in December, and I'm walking down Sixtieth Street in the Dora district of Baghdad, one of the most violent and fearsome of the city's no-go zones.

Rosen adopts the historic present here from the outset to add immediacy to his narrative. A good choice to pull us into the opening scene. We feel as if we're standing with him on that street in Dora. And yet already in this first sentence, his use of the superlative forms of those two adjectives -- "the most violent and fearsome" -- sounds forced to my ear.

2. Devastated by five years of clashes between American forces, Shiite militias, Sunni resistance groups and Al Qaeda, much of Dora is now a ghost town.

The fronted adjective phrase, led by the participle "devastated," modifies Dora, a "ghost town," a compound noun with deep roots in the American West. It's possible that this description may be functioning on more than one level.

3. This is what "victory" looks like in a once upscale neighborhood of Iraq: Lakes of mud and sewage fill the streets.

I imagine that for most readers this sentence is simply jarring. How is it possible, one wonders, that Rosen's editors at Rolling Stone allowed him to begin editorializing so quickly into the article? Already in this third sentence one encounters the trendy sneer quotes around the word "victory." And what are most likely large puddles are transformed into "lakes." Why all the exaggeration? Is this a hardboiled Dashiell Hammett? No, I don't think so. Something else is going on here.

4. Mountains of trash stagnate in the pungent liquid.

Okay, "lakes" of mud are joined by "mountains" of garbage. Lakes and mountains. Where are we? Can there be a "river" of something far behind? Lakes and mountains. It's not a hardboiled urban story, that's for sure.

5. Most of the windows in the sand-colored homes are broken, and the wind blows through them, whistling eerily.

Broken windows? A wind that whistles eerily? Okay, I don't think there is any doubt now where we are. This is not just any cowboy movie. This is a Spaghetti Western! And at this juncture Ennio Morricone, the composer of Sergio Leone's films, would reprise the whistling introduction that he had used in "A Fistful of Dallars." Come to think of it, Rosen should have named his article "A Fistful of Dollars." One of the major themes of his article is how the Americans used fistfuls of dollars to buy off the Sunni insurgency, right?

6. House after house is deserted, bullet holes pockmarking their walls, their doors open and unguarded, many emptied of furniture.

Careful, Clint! You can almost hear the metal clang of a windmill, can't ya?

7. What few furnishings remain are covered by a thick layer of the fine dust that invades every space in Iraq.

Can't you just smell it? And this isn't your ordinary dust, either. Like the American military, it "invades every space in Iraq."

8. Looming over the homes are twelve-foot-high security walls built by the Americans to separate warring factions and confine people to their own neighborhood.

It might we worth mentioning here that those "looming walls" in fact saved a lot of Iraqi lives. Oh sorry! Back to the movie.

9. Emptied and destroyed by civil war, walled off by President Bush's much-heralded "surge," Dora feels more like a desolate, post-apocalyptic maze of concrete tunnels than a living, inhabited neighborhood.

Post-apocalyptic maze? Concrete tunnels? Nir, I think you're mixing your movie genres here. The standard imagery for urban dystopias and spaghetti westerns don't really work well together. And more op-ed in the opening paragraph. What were those editors at Rolling Stone smoking?

10. Apart from our footsteps, there is complete silence.

Clint, baby! Keep the hat pulled low so the sun stays out of your eyes. Watch your step!

*cue "Fistful of Dollars" whistled theme song*

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After that opening paragraph, one might expect having to trudge through the rest of the article, a polemic masquerading as journalism. But that is not what one finds at all. True, there are a few paragraphs where Rosen interrupts the narrative to insert unnecessary commentary, but for the most part Rosen sticks with his strength: detailed, on-the-scene reporting of individuals that we need to hear from if we want a better picture of what's going on in Iraq these days. The bookends of the article are Osama, the leader of one of the Awakening groups, and Capt. Arkan Hashim Ali, of the Iraqi National Police.

First we meet Osama, a Dora local, who now commands around 300 men who were former resistance fighters. Osama, Rosen writes, "speaks fluent English, wears jeans and baseball caps, and is well-connected from his days with KBR." Osama earned the respect of the Americans because his knack for locating both Al Qaeda members and IEDs. Rosen accompanies Osama and his men on a joint operation with the 2-2 Stryker Cavalry Regiment in Dora, where they first stop by a mosque, listen to the sheikh's request for a new generator, and then respond to a tip that leads them to arrest a guy named Sabrin Al-Haqir, Sabrin "the mean," an alleged Mahdi army leader. During this stretch of the narrative, Rosen shows us the complex relationship between the Sunni Awakening groups and the American forces who are now paying them for their service.

Next, tagging along with the 2-2 Stryker Cavalry Regiment, Rosen reports from the perspective of the Iraqi National Police, where we meet Capt. Arkan Hashim Ali, a "trim thirty-year-old Iraqi with a shaved head and a sharp gaze." Rosen accompanies Arkan and his men on an operation to arrest some individuals with ties to Al Qaeda. Arkan, Rosen remarks later in the article, is a "man in the middle." "He believes that members of the Awakening have the right to join the Iraqi Security Forces," he writes, "but he also knows their ranks are filled with Al Qaeda and other insurgents." His final meeting with the captain of the INP is in a van, where Arkan is afraid that someone might see them talking together. Arkan tells Rosen that the situation will not improve. "Thanks to the surge," Rosen concludes, "both the Shiites and the Sunnis now have weapons and legitimacy. And what can come of that, Arkan asks, except more fighting?"

"The Myth of the Surge" illustrates both Rosen's strengths and weaknesses as a reporter and writer. One of his strengths as a reporter is his ability to track down sources that have distinctive, strongly-held views on what's happening in Iraq, like Osama and Capt. Arkan in this piece. Rosen gets them to tell him what they really think. As a writer, when he sticks to what he sees and hears, he offers the reader well-chosen details, thumbnail descriptions, and often places us next to him on his assignments. While he has a tendency to buddy-up with characters whose moral compasses do not point to true north (more in his earlier pieces than this one here), his chosen sources add views that one does not normally encounter.

One of his major weaknesses as a reporter, however, is his inability to shake his dissident background and the deep-seated need to draw conclusions in accordance with his old, dog-eared copies of college texts on American imperialism. Also, he offers us just a slice of a very complex picture and then extrapolates far beyond what that evidence can support. Dora, for example, is just one neighborhood in a country of around 27 million people. At the same time that Rosen was riding around with Osama and Arkan, regular Iraqis in nearby neighborhoods were going about their usual lives. They too are part of the story and Rosen's article would have been much more persuasive if he had dropped the spaghetti western frame, removed the left-radical commentary, and added more balance to his dispatch by visiting and reporting from other neighborhoods.

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UPDATE: For your viewing pleasure from YouTube, here are the opening credits for "Fistful of Dollars." Lots of cowboys riding back and forth and the sound of fired pistols and rifles. Just imagine the Awakening Dudes on one side and the Mahdi Gang on the other. Nice.

And here's the final duel from "Fistful of Dollars." It's nine minutes long but well worth watching (great editing). The question for Nir might be who gets to play Clint Eastwood, Osama or Capt. Arkan.

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What the Hell Happened To Hammorabi?

When Hammorabi started, it was an informational blog analyzing events in Iraq. Then, just prior and after the bombing of the Golden Dome, Hammorabi began to call for the evacuation of US troops because they were preventing the Shi'a-led government from dealing sufficiently harshly with the recalcitrant Sunni Arabs. Then he closed his comments. Then, when the US blocked international actions to rescue Lebanon's Hezbollah from Israel, Hammorabi had a significant meltdown. His posts since then never carefully address anything actully going on in Iraq. They could easily have been published verbatim 3 years ago at the Zarqawi Fan Club blog (there's no such blog but let me know if someone starts one). Occasionally, he pauses to extoll the virtues of Shi'a belief.

It's just sad. What's more sad is that his posts are so off-the-wall, they wouldn't warrant refutation even if commenting were available.

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New Battleground Against AQI: Improving Iraq's Psychiatric Infrastructure

This might sound like a snarky shot at mentally deficient jihadis, but this the logical conclusion to be drawn from Rabia Altaf's last post at her Iraq FPA blog. She says:

Iraqi security officials have been ordered to round up homeless people, beggars, and vagrants in effort at preventive counter terrorism [due to the] suicide bombings...supposedly carried out by two women with Down’s Syndrome...but recent statements made by US and Iraqi forces indicate that this was probably not the case...However, they were noted to have suffered depression and schizophrenia. The fear is that Al-Qaeda will target these vulnerable people and recruit them to the insurgency, using them as suicide bombers.

In this vein, Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says that beggars and homeless people would be taken to state-run shelters, while the mentally disabled would be hospitalized.

Rabia gives kudos to this preemptive plan, but argues that the hospitals and shelters are so underfunded and understaffed that the plan is doomed. Well, maybe. However, first comes the need and then comes the money, in my experience. Funding is never preemptive. Hopefully, fear of al-Qaeda in Iraq will help win the argument for more of Iraq's public funds to go to hospitals. Yet, Iraq (like the rest of the Middle East) has suffered from the need to fix dozens of problems at the same time. So, psychiatric hospitals will probably not go to the top of the stack above military, police, electricity and sanitation.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Wait, that is an American flag."

Over on YouTube I came across a video clip of Khalid Jarrar talking about the situation in Iraq in general and also his family's reaction to American troops entering Baghdad on April 9, 2003. The YouTube clip is from Alive in Baghdad, a website of video interviews of Iraqis covering a variety of topics. Khalid's interview was originally posted there on December 25, 2005.

Asked by the interviewer about when he had first seen American troops in Baghdad, Khalid (at the 7:33 mark on the tape) recounts how, on the day that Baghdad fell, they had been watching Mohammed Al-Sahaf, the Information Minister, on TV. Al-Sahaf (aka "Baghdad Bob") was telling them that the Americans were being massacred at the borders of the country. Starting at the 8:15 mark in the clip, Khalid describes what happened later that day:
And then hours after that we were standing on the roof and we saw an Iraqi tank close to the point where we were standing, and then my brother said, "Wait, that is an American flag." And we were all shocked. It was the American army right beside us in the middle of Baghdad. Actually it was a very big surprise.
Exactly at this point in the clip, the 8:40-8:41 mark, Khalid's throat tightens up and he takes a big gulp to hold back his tears and then the video is cut. The clip resumes at 8:42 and Khalid's throat is still tight, but he continues:
I want to make it clear that, although the majority of Iraqi people were against Saddam -- we personally, me and my family were against Saddam from history -- but still at the same time, when talking about an American invasion of Iraq, we would defend Iraq, for sure, against whomever it is.
Khalid goes on to admit that they were shocked because the "unexpectable happened" and that the main feeling they had was "shock and humiliation." And they would remain in shock for several months. Many other Iraqis felt the same mixture of joy at having someone remove Saddam's boot from their necks but, at the same time, shame and humiliation because they couldn't have removed it themselves.

At the time of the interview, Khalid believed that only "the losses of money and men" would force the Coalition troops (the Americans) out of Iraq.

Or maybe Obama, he might add today.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Who Could Be Iraq's George Washington

First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen

Today is George Washington's birthday.

You know, after the Americans won their liberation from the British, political liberty was not a foregone conclusion. The consensus was that Monarchy (a "strong man") was the natural form of stable government. The appeals of intellectuals for democratic forms of government was seen as "radicalism". It just was not seen as workable. So when George Washington, shortly after his defeat of Gen. Cornwallis, returned to the Congress of the Confederation and surrendered his command to them, it was an historical earthquake. That event created a geological divide between the expectations of what was possible in government before and after it. Hearing that after his resignation, Washington would return to his farm, King George III said "If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world." He did it.

And that is why when the states began to work on the Constitution, Washington's blessing was considered indispensable. He was asked to preside as president of the Convention and was seen as the only universally trustworthy candidate to be the first President when it was ratified (especially since he had no children that might inherit his position).

Iraq's position right now is much like that of America in 1783. All its neighbors are watching it expecting...many hoping...for it to fail (not just its neigbors either). Worse, it lacks a huge ocean between it and its ill-wishers as the US had. So, is there a "George Washington" among the Iraqis? Did Saddam and his predecessors really kill them all?


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

And then there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it gave me a headache

Okay. This is starting to piss me off. Once again I was on the verge of writing an edgy, biting post with lots of pertinent links about how the Iraqi blogosphere has gone straight to hell with with ass-backwards whining about "Bush, Bush, Bush", "They destroyed my country", "Saddam's poor disbanded military", "those uppity Kurds strutting around like they're Diamond Jim", etc. etc. etc.

And once again, some Iraqi blogger has taken all the wind out of my sails with a genuine post about the present and future of Iraq. Referring to it in the comment of the previous post, M.H.Z. calls this last post, "the most optimistic post [he] ever wrote" (adding that, "we don't just need optimism, we need logic as well, they all work together"). That's great, MHZ. Now what am I supposed to do with all these damned hyperlinks I've collected?!?!

Go read it, but I'll tell you first why I like it and why I like MHZ's posts generally. No mention of the US. MHZ does not feel obliged (as some do) to only mention Iraq's problems if they can be contrived as coming via FedEx from the US or Iran. The last time he has discussed US policy in Iraq was in mid-June, and even then he was quite adamant about Iraqis owning Iraq's problems. If you can think of the future of Iraq as a play, in MHZ's last post, the Iraqis are the leading men and women with all the heroism and venality of humanity marbled in their flesh. The following things are (as they should be) just the background of Iraq now --or at best, character actors:

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Let's Look at the Numbers, Okay?

UPDATED: February 18, 2008

In the last seven days, according to the ICasualites website, from Sunday, February 10, 2008, to Saturday, February 16, 2008, 153 Iraqi civilians and Iraqi police/ military have been killed. During this same period, exactly 1 member of the American military was killed:

February 10 to February 16, 2008.

Iraqi civilian and Iraqi police/military deaths: 153
Coalition forces: 1


Let's take a closer look, day by day.

Sunday, February 10, 2008.
02/10/08 BALAD - A car bomb killed 23 people and wounded another 25 in a market in the Iraqi town of Balad on Sunday, the U.S. military said. A Iraqi security official put the death toll at 33, including women and children, with 35 wounded.
Most likely AQI.
02/10/08 NINEVEH PROVINCE - Five people, including a woman, were killed in clashes when gunmen attacked villages manned by neighbourhood policemen in the northern province of Nineveh, police said.
Most likely the so-called Iraqi resistance.

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Monday, February 11, 2008.
02/11/08 BAGHDAD - Two car bombs that exploded in southern Baghdad within a few minutes of each other on Monday, killed at least 15 people and wounded 45 others, Iraqi police said.
Most likely AQI.

*

Tuesday, February 12, 2008.
02/12/08 BAGHDAD - Two people were killed and eight others were wounded when four mortar bombs landed in a residential area in Doura district, police said.
Doura is a Sunni-dominant neighborhood, isn't it? Could be some of Muqty's group, I guess.

*

Wednesday, February 13, 2008.
02/13/08 BAGHDAD - Armed men hanged a three year-old boy during an attack on a school in Zaafaraniya district of southern Baghdad on Wednesday, police said.
Who hangs a three-year-old boy? Could have been either AQI or the so-called resistance.
02/13/08 SAADIYA - Five builders were killed and two wounded in an insurgent attack in Saadiya, 100 km (62 miles) west of Baquba in Diyala province, police said.
So-called insurgents, they say.

*

Thursday, February 14, 2008.
02/14/08 BAGHDAD - At least five people were killed and 33 wounded when a bomb in a parked car exploded in a popular market in the Sadr city district of northeastern Baghdad, police said.
AQI? So-called resistance? Again, either group could be responsible.
02/14/08 HAWIJA - Gunmen shot dead a member of a neighbourhood police patrol in a drive-by shooting in the town of Hawija, 70 km (40 miles) southwest of Kirkuk, police said.
Probably the former Ba'athist wing of the so-called resistance.

*

Friday, February 15, 2008.
02/15/08 TAL AFAR - At least four people were killed and 16 others were wounded when two suicide bombers wearing explosive vests blew themselves up at the entrance to a Shi'ite Mosque in the town of Tal Afar during Friday prayers, police said.
AQI.

*

Saturday, February 16, 2008.
02/16/08 BAGHDAD - A suicide car bomber at a checkpoint manned by U.S.-backed neighbourhood patrol policemen killed one and wounded four others including two civilians on Friday in Ghazaliya district, in western Baghdad, police said.
AQI.

*

Conclusion: AQI seems to be responsible for many of 153 Iraqi deaths for this one-week period in Iraq.

If the goal of the so-called resistance is to kill American forces, then they are either incompetent or lying. In this one-week period, a good number of the deaths are attributable to their actions while only ONE member of the Coalition forces was killed.

The combined efforts of AQI and the so-called resistance killed 153 Iraqis in one week and 1 American soldier. It could not be more obvious who they are really targeting.

*

UPDATE: February 18, 2008. I decided to break out the 153 deaths by manner of death to see if it would help us figure out which groups are most responsible for the deaths in Iraq during the one week that we have been looking at.

Car bombs: 43
Bodies found: 38
Gunmen/armed men/insurgent attack: 25
Bodies found in graves: 18
Suicide bombers: 17
Mortars: 4
Roadside bombs: 4


By looking at the details for each case, some of the bodies that were found in Iraq were kidnap victims and probably unrelated to any activities by AQI or the so-called resistance.

60 of the 153 deaths were due to either suicide bombers or car bombs. Gunmen killed 25 Iraqi citizens.

And where were these Iraqi citizens killed?

Baghdad: 61
Diyala: 51
Saladin: 22
Ninevah: 13
Kirkuk: 2
Babil: 1

And 5 decomposing bodies were found in Anbar.

Most of the violence in Iraq is contained primarily two governates, Baghdad itself and Diyala. During that week no one was killed, according to the ICasualties website, in 12 of the 18 governates.

I used this overview of the Iraqi governates as I tallied up the numbers by place.

*

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Khalid's Raised-AK Dance

Over at the Iraqi Blogodrome Laith announced that he has begun building a new website called "Furaty" (thread: Furaty). He added that any Iraqi may contribute and that "all subjects will be allowed except for encouraging violence." I don't think it should surprise you who was the first to show up and comment, right?

Khalid Jarrar, whose father is Palestinian/Jordanian and whose mother is Iraqi, immediately objected to the idea that they would not be allowed to encourage violence. He asked Laith to define what he meant by "violence." Laith responded that "violence" was "any act that may result in harming others." Khalid replied:
lets adjust that to: commit any acts that encourage hurting innocent civillians.

because, the first definition include prohibiting resistence, and i have to say that that wouldnt make it a free website but rather previosuly-directed one! i am one of people that support the resistence, as in using armed force in defneding one's self, family and properties, and land also. that could unfortunatly -and i mean that, not being sarcastic- harming any army that occupies my country. and that would be harming others! is that what you meant? or does my suggested adjusted definition more express what you meant?
Check out the rest of the comment thread over at the Iraqi Blogodrome. Khalid would like to have the option of urging the so-called resistance to kill American soldiers. It doesn't seem to matter to him that it was the resistance, in alliance with the foreign Jihadis and whom they sheltered and assisted for the first four years after the fall of Baghdad, that has the blood of tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens on their hands.

Khalid has been in Jordan for years now. So what's really going on back in Iraq? Michael Totten, just back from Fallujah ("The Final Mission, Part III"), once the heart of the so-called resistance, writes:
[Iraqis] are less anti-American than they were during the initial invasion in 2003 – at least many of those who have had sustained contact with Marines and soldiers. Sustained contact with the “other” breaks down bigotry all around, even in war zones.

The violent strain of anti-Americanism in Fallujah and the surrounding area has ebbed almost completely. People here know Americans are not the enemy. They know Americans protect them from murder and intimidation from the head-choppers and car bombers. They know Americans provide medical care to Iraqis hurt by insurgents and even to insurgents wounded in battle.

If the Iraqis who listen to the Marines' lectures on human rights and the rules of engagement ever took seriously the once common comparison between the American invasion of 2003 and the bloodthirsty Mongol invasion of the 13th Century, they certainly don't anymore. They may not absorb all the lessons of their coursework, and they may still resent the American presence on principal to an extent, but at least they know what Americans really are like as people and warriors. The class taught by Lieutenant Eric Montgomery wasn’t designed with public relations in mind, but it has that effect all the same.
Look at the photographs accompanying Totten's article. Does it look like these Iraqis want to kill the Americans there, as Khalid and Bruno suggest?

*

Slip into your BLACK PAJAMAS, Khalid! Now raise your AK! Dance, Khalid, dance!

That's right, pump that ol' AK in the air!

“Bil rooh, Bil Dem, Nifdeek ya Saddam”

(With life, with blood, we sacrifice for you Saddam).

“Bil rooh, Bil Dem, Nifdeek ya Saddam”

Yes, Khalid, like your brother Raed said, Saddam was your NATIONAL LEADER!

“Bil rooh, Bil Dem, Nifdeek ya Saddam”

Youtube videotape of Saddam walking in Baghdad during the final few days of his dictatorship. A crowd rushes up to him, kisses his hand, and start chanting "Bil rooh, bil dem, nifdeek ya Saddam."

*

HOUSEKEEPING NOTE: Sandybelle, Still Alive (My Letters to America), and Saminkie (Colors of Mind) have been added to the blogroll.

The Iraqi blogger formerly known as "Konfused Kollege Kid" has now changed his name to "Abbas Hawazin" and his blog's name to "Catharsis."

If you call him "Konfused Kid," he'll rip your head off, so get it right, okay?

*

Friday, February 08, 2008

A Couple Questions for Senator Obama

updated 2/10/2008: Senator Obama responds
updated 2/16/2008: two more from Obama's campaign, also Michael Totten on Obama vs Olmert

I
project that Senator Barack Obama will be the Democrat's nominee for the Presidential race. I also think, but I am not as certain, that he'll beat McCain in the election, too. So I am understandably worried about his plans for handling Iraq in his presidency.

Sen. Obama's plan, as contained here, is basically to remove all combat troops from Iraq at a rate of one to two brigades per month, commencing immediately, and completed in about 16 months. This would be coupled with intense "regional diplomacy" with Iraq's neighbors including Iran and Syria, a new constitutional convention, and continued strikes against al Qaeda in Iraq.

These plans concern me. I have a few specific questions for Sen. Obama that I'm particularly interested in finding answers to. I thought I'd pop over to his website and ask him in his "Answer Center":
Hello,

I have read Sen. Obama's plan for Iraq as presented on this site and have a few questions.

1) Sen. Obama's plan calls for removing all combat troops from Iraq at a rate of one to two brigades per month, commencing immediately, and completed in about 16 months. How does Sen. Obama plan to support the Iraqi parliamentary elections planned for the end of 2009? Does he anticipate that a strong US military presence will not be required to assist the elections? Does he plan to replace US forces with a regional or international security force to protect the elections? Or is he unconcerned with the security environment surrounding the elections? What other non-military support does he plan to offer the 2009 Iraqi elections, if any?

2) The Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army are making great strides in their capability to secure their country, aided by the "Concerned Local Citizens" and tribal "Awakening" movements (now "Sons of Iraq"). This will surely continue if the Government of Iraq makes good on its promises to integrate the "Sons of Iraq" into the regular security forces. However, their armor, artillery, and support capabilities are somewhat behind. More importantly, reconstruction of their air force is barely underway and a strong and self-sufficient air force is many years away. Does Sen. Obama plan to continue to have US air power available to support operations within Iraq following the 16-month withdrawal of combat troops? If so, will the level of air support be more, less, or the same compared to now? And if US air power remains available, where would they be based? How would Sen. Obama ensure that US air power is used to engage appropriate targets?

Thank you for your consideration of these questions.

Oops! I forgot one. One more time:
Hello,

I have read Sen. Obama's plan for Iraq as presented on this site and have an additional question.

1) On page 4 of Sen. Obama's plan, it says, "Obama would supply armed escorts to civilians who voluntarily choose to move from religiously heterogeneous areas to communities where they feel they will be more secure." What does that mean? Would these be American combat troops? If so, would this offer be extended only during the sixteen months they are present in Iraq following Sen. Obama's inauguration?

Thank you for your consideration of this question.

I'll update this if I happen to get a response. Does anybody else have the answers to these questions? Any other specific concerns he should address regarding Iraq?

Personally, I really hope he fudges his plans as soon as he gets the nomination and a better plan emerges from him, but we'll see.

update 2/10/2008:

I received the following from Senator Obama:

Friend --

Make a matching donationWe just learned that we won all three contests today -- in Louisiana, Nebraska, and Washington State.

We've now won 18 out of 28 states, with New Mexico still in the balance.

What's more, we also estimate that we at least doubled our delegate lead today.

Our momentum is strong, but another round of tough contests is about to begin.

Tomorrow, Democrats will caucus in Maine. And on Tuesday, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia will have their turn.

To win, we need to bring as many people into the process as possible. We're pushing towards 500,000 donors this year by March 4th, when Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont vote.

Now is the time to make your first online donation of $50 -- if you do, it will be matched by another supporter, doubling your impact:

https://donate.barackobama.com/match

This race is still extremely close, and we need your support to remain competitive.

Thank you for making this possible.

Barack

Donate

=======

update 2/16/2008:

I've received two more emails from the Obama campaign. One was another plea for contributions following last Tuesday's wins, and the other was about 'Superdelegates' and what I can do to make sure they back Obama. Obviously, submitting a question to him just added my email to their database. I don't expect an answer- a) I don't think there is one, and b) I suspect there's no time or interest in answering questions like mine, at least not now.

It's very interesting from the comments that many people think (and 'hope') that Barack will 'change' his stance after he's nominated and continued progress in Iraq will be harder and harder to ignore as the election nears. McCain will bury him in the debates on this subject but it won't matter much in the end.

Anyway, here's Michael Totten comparing Obama's plans for Iraq to Olmert's strategy in Lebanon in the Summer of '06:

Responsible political leaders and military commanders would be well-advised to analyze both approaches to assymetrical warfare and counterinsurgency, and to hew as closely as possible to the Petraeus model. Olmert’s is broken.

Senator Barack Obama, though, prefers the Olmert model whether he thinks of it that way or not. (Actually, I’m sure he doesn’t think of it as Olmert’s model, though basically that’s what it is.)

Totten reaches a similar conclusion to many of the commenters here and also 'hopes' that Obama will 'change' his position after getting the nomination:

Obama is competing in a Democratic primary race. Perhaps if he is elected commander in chief and no longer needs to appease the left-wing of his party he will reverse himself and keep Petraeus right where he is. Reality has a way of imposing itself on presidents.

I wonder: does anybody know of his fallback quote, the one where he loosely allows some wiggle room in his Iraq policy to which he can refer back to, like "I've been saying since Sep '07 (or whenever) that I'd be willing to re-think the way forward in Iraq"... or something like that?



Iraqi Blogs I Have Yet To See (But Want To)

Iraqi bloggers (in English at least) have yet to present certain key aspects of life in the New Iraq:

Anyone got another Iraqi blog they would like to read? Anyone know of a blog that fits one of these categories...in any language?

This list is meant to show that for the last 5 years, Iraqi blogs, especially those in English, have presented only a narrow slice of life in Iraq. English-speaking bloggers have been drawn, all but exclusively, from the well-educated, top layers of Iraqi society. As an example, they overwhelmingly supported Allawi in the December 2005 election -- but his candidacy barely registered at all in the final polls.

This fact is very frustrating to me. It is causing me to doubt the value of blogs to the New Iraq. I am coming to the opinion that Iraqi blogs are only valuable to Iraq in the way that aquariums and zoos are valuable to animals: as a method to keep non-Iraqis engaged in the important Iraqi Project.


Slicing Up the Pie

or Why Things Were Better Under Saddam

In the comments of Konfused Kid's last post:

[kid] This Iraq is fucked up, the old one was stable.

Well, Kid, it was stable for you. I realize, as you say, that you can only speak from your own POV, but look at Saddam's increasing obeisance to Sunni theocratic power. Look at his war against the Shi'a (and that's exactly what it was). Perhaps you and your sister could have avoided hardship in Saddam's Sunniland but...Oh what the heck. The following is from a conversation I had recently with a friend about the prospects of Sunni Arabs and Shi'a Arabs under Saddam:

LLoyd: 24StepsToLiberty has a point [when he says that Saddam's inner
circle included a lot of Shi'a Arabs and even Kurds].

CMAR II: It's an issue of statistics. Let's use Saddam's fabled inner circle as a model for the chance of a successful life in Saddam's Iraqi society.

Let's say 1) a full half of Saddam's inner circle was not ethnic Sunni Arab and 40% were ethnic Shi'a. Now, lets 2) assume there were 100 slots in Saddam's inner circle and 300 viable Iraqi candidates picked at random to fill those slots.

Now, Sunni Arabs are from 15-20% of the Iraqi population. Ethnic Shi'a Arabs are around 65%. Maybe more. So, 3) let's assume our random selection of candidates perfectly matched the statistical allotment of Sunni/Shi'a Arab:

Inner Circle = 100
Viable Candidates (based on education, experience, and connections) = 300
Ethnic Sunni Arab Candidates = 60 (20% of the viable candidates)
Ethnic Shi'a Arab Candidates = 195 (65% of the viable candidates)

Sunni Arabs selected for Saddam's inner circle = 50
Sunni Arabs left out in the cold = 10 (or 15% of the total)
Selected Shi'a Arabs = 40
Shi'a Arabs left out in the cold = 155 (or 79% of the total)

Extrapolating this to the rest of Iraqi society: You can see that in pre-2003 Iraq the prospects of a random ethnic Sunni Arab blows away those of an equally random ethnic Shi'a Arab (that is, to happen to go to the best schools, best neighborhoods, and to have a well-educated, well-connected family). If Iraq had a rapidly growing economy, these discrepancies would not be so stark. But it wasn't.

This is why so many Shi'a Arabs filling the ranks of Iraq's government look like ill-prepared, backward buffoons to the Sunni Arabs they pushed out: because many of them are insufficiently prepared. But that's the result of the backwards tribal societies of the M.E. where Sunni Arabs dominated every country except Iran for centuries (Iran is the same, only reversed).

This reminds me of the White Southern Americans' perspectives of their state legislatures during Reconstruction as newly enfranchised Blacks began taking leadership roles. However, your child is probably ill-prepared for adulthood when she is 18. But the only way to do it is to do it.

No matter how you slice it, a just accomodation in a non-sectarian Iraq means that life has to get harder for Sunni Arabs in Iraq than it was under Saddam. At least at first. And Iraqi Sunni Arabs will never again feel as well-off in comparison to their neighbors as they did under Saddam. Sunni Arabs need to start viewing themselves as Kurds and Chaldeans have always viewed themselves in Iraq: as a minority population who must accomodate themselves to the majority to secure for themselves (and other minorities) basic rights that prevent official persecution. That seems to be happening at last.

Nevertheless, Kid's recent posts are among the most honest and even-handed analysis of how a sectarian, us-vs-them environment in Iraq has empowered Saddam-love among Sunni Arabs and maintained a cyclic sectarian distrust even among non-religious Iraqis. It's almost as good as Ali's Let's Blame It on the Sunnis.


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Iraq's Next Prime Minister?

February 2nd, 2009. In the audacity of his first weeks in office, President Obama has announced he will make good on his pledge to bring hope & change to Iraq by withdrawing US troops immediately, even if it leads to genocide. However, in an out-of-the-box maneuver of audacious hopeful change, he has made a deal with the turbaned snakes, Iranian agents, thugs, and criminals of the current government (and Iyad Allawi) that stipulates that Iraq must choose a new Prime Minister immediately. And, the new Prime Minister must come from the pool of currently-active English-language Iraqi bloggers on the Iraqi Bloggers Central blogroll.

Who would YOU choose? And in the comments, WHY?



Which Iraqi Blogger should be Iraq's next Prime Minister?
Omar and Mohammed, ITM
Zeyad, Healing Iraq
Iraq Pundit
Hammorabi Sam
Ambassador Fayrouz
Baghdad Treasure
Omar, 24 Steps to Liberty
Iraqi Mojo
Konfused Kollege Kid
Marshmallow 26
Great Baghdad
M.H.Z.
Mohammed (Last of Iraqis)
Najma
HNK (Najma's sister)
Sunshine
Mama (Sunshine's Mom)
Caesar of Pentra
Anarki-13
Blog Iraqi
Shaggy
The Talisman Gate
AE Iraqi
Khalid Jarrar
Raed Jarrar
Alaa, the Mesopotamian
Neurotic Iraqi Wife
Riverbend
Layla Anwar
Other (list in comments!)
pollcode.com free polls
(sorry, only room for 30 answers...)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Holy Sh*t

Mentally retarded women used in the bombings of two pet bazaars, killing at 73 people in the deadliest day since the Surge began. It's possible they didn't even know they were being strapped with bombs.

If this sounds familiar, something similar happened on Iraq's first election day.

Iraqi Mojo posts an excellent round up on this story.


Iraq's Last Unity Flag


Arguably, it's the ONLY non-racist flag in Iraq's history. Some will assert that it is actually hyper-racist since it is enshrines three ethnic groups of Iraq. But in Iraq, you take what you can get.

From Wikipedia:

Following Abdul Karim Qassim’s 1958 revolution that deposed the monarchy, on 14 July 1959 Iraq adopted (Law 102 of 1959) a new flag that consisted black-white-green vertical tricolour with, in the middle of the white band, a red eight-pointed star with a yellow circle at its centre. The black and green represented pan-Arabism, the yellow sun representing the Kurdish minority, while the red star represented the Assyrian minority. This version of the Iraqi national flag is currently allowed to be flown in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, while the later versions of the Iraqi flag (with their Ba`thist and Pan-Arab associations) are not.

While the colors are associated with Arabism, for Iraq the colors red, black, white, and green were associated with the Hasshemite Arab Revolt that helped make Iraq an independent nation.

In 1963, Qassim was overthrown by AMERICA'S man in Iraq, Col. Salam Arif, who instituted the inequivocal, non-inclusive, Pan-Arabic flag:


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