Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2004

Year in Review: 2004

In 2004, many of the major players for the future of Iraq -- the Sunni insurgents, the foreign jihadists led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and Muqtada al-Sadr and his Madhi militia -- began to assert themselves, testing the extent of their power in post-Saddam Iraq. During the first half of 2004, due to the weak Iraq Governing Council and the imminent dissolution of the Coalition Provisional Authority, those who wanted to take advantage of this transitional situation did so -- in March from Muqtada al-Sadr, and in April by the insurgents and the foreign fighters in Fallujah. Then, on June 23, 2004, governmental power was formally transferred to the Iraqi Interim Government, with Iyad Allawi as prime minister. The second half of the year saw further challenges, in August from Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf and in November from the foreign jihadists in Fallujah. 2004 also saw an increase in the anger, disbelief, and bitterness from both the Iraqis and Americans as they responded, in turn, to the photos of abused Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and to the murder of the Americans whose bodies had been mutiliated and hung from a bridge outside Fallujah. Neither event shows the representative behavior of Iraqis or Americans, but those images nonetheless tapped into deep-seated fears for both sides.

The insurgents, mostly Sunni Ba'athists, continued to work with Al Qaeda in Iraq in an attempt to bring down whatever kind of government that the Coalition forces were trying to stand up. They offered logistical support to the jihadists in return for the lethality that the foreign fighters could bring against the government and Coalition forces. It was a relationship of shared goals -- at least it seemed so to the Sunni insurgents at the beginning -- and mutual support.

At the same time, the Shiites following Muqtada Al-Sadr, many of them having joined his Madhi militias, were attempting to push the Coalition forces out of Iraq and to assert their power over the Sunnis, now that Saddam Hussein had been removed from power. Muqtada Al-Sadr was also trying to secure a position of leadership over all Shiite Iraqis. His first move had come immediately after the fall of Baghdad when his followers murdered Abdul Majid al-Khoei, his rival, outside the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf. In the spring and summer of 2004, Muqtada Al-Sadr's militias seized several towns in an uprising against the weak Iraqi government. The US and Iraqi militaries fought back, forcing Muqtada and the Madhi militiamen to retreat to the mosque in Najaf. After long negotiations between Allawi, Sistani, and Muqtada Al-Sadr, a deal was reached that allowed the members of the Madhi militiamen to lay down their weapons and walk out of the shrine to fight another day. Both times that the Madhi militia had engaged the US forces they were crushed. In 2004 Muqtada al-Sadr learned the limits of his so-called Mahdi Army. He would never again challenge the US militarily head-to-head and, from then on, he sought different ways of increasing his power in the new Iraq.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had taken over Fallujah and were using the city in Anbar as a command center for their country-wide operations. It is also where they built IED factories, torture chambers, and where they filmed the beheading of the American Nicholas Berg. In April, responding to the murder and mutilation of four American contractors in Fallujah, the US forces surrounded and began an assault on the city, but by the end of the month a ceasefire was in place and the city of Fallujah was allowed to devolve back into a haven for both Iraqi insurgents and Al-Qaeda in Iraq. On November 7, 2004, three days after President George Bush was elected to a second term, the go-ahead was given for Operation Phantom Fury, Fallujah II. By the end of the operation, there was no question who had won the second engagement. Those foreign fighters who weren't killed fled to other parts of Iraq, many of them, over the next few years, eventually being killed by either Coalition forces or by members of the Awakening movement, former Sunni insurgents who realized that Al-Qaeda in Iraqi was killing far more of their people than Americans.

Like Muqtada al-Sadr and the Madhi militia, the foreign jihadists led by Zarqawi would never again attempt to engage the US military in set battles. They too had learned the limits of their fighting capacity. With that lesson learned, Zarqawi re-focused his tactics, increasing the suicide-bombings in the hope of fomenting a civil war between the Sunnis and Shia as the best way forward.

Although there had been much violence and bloodshed over the year, in December there was one hopeful outcome. After months of negotiations, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who had exhibited the extent of his power over Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf in August, was able to secure three dates for voting in the following year, 2005: legislative elections on January 30, a constitutional referendum on October 15, and finally a parliamentary election on December 15.


New Iraqi Bloggers for 2004:

Liminal -- January, 2004.
Majid Jarrar -- February, 2004.
Raed Jarrar -- March, 2004.
Ibn Alrafidain -- June, 2004.
Najma -- June, 2004.
Sara -- June, 2004.
Hiwa -- June, 2004.
Iraq Pundit -- July, 2004.
Kurdistan Bloggers Union (Dilnareen et al.) -- July, 2004.
HNK -- July, 2004.
Raghda -- July, 2004.
Salam Pax (Fat Whiner) -- August, 2004.
Rose -- August, 2004.
Anarki-13 -- August, 2004.
Nancy (Beth Nahrain) -- August, 2004.
Neurotic Iraqi Wife -- August, 2004.
Shaggy -- September, 2004
Ali Fadhil (Free Iraqi) -- December, 2004.

Of the three original friends -- Salam Pax, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, and Raed Jarrar -- Raed Jarrar had by far the worst English-language writing skills. His entries were often difficult to understand. Was he simply having trouble writing English? Was he drinking while blogging? Or was he just naturally nuts? "While Salam Pax has always been an ironist and Ghaith the most passionate critic of the Saddam regime," I wrote in an entry for Iraqi Bloggers Central, "Raed has been the most unpredictable and unstable, sometimes writing like an inebriated Italian futurist while at other times like a slightly medicated and thoroughly paranoid Hunter S. Thompson."

A few months later, Iraq Pundit, a blogger who could not be more different from Raed Jarrar, started blogging. Today he is still pumping out some of the best analysis of media coverage on Iraq. Up in Mosul, a teenager named Najma (A Star in Mosul) was the first of an entire family of bloggers to start writing. Today she is in college and has recently gotten engaged to -- believe it or not -- Bookish, another blogger.

Shaggy, the loner and absolute crazy diamond of the Iraqi blogosphere, had written one blog entry in May, took a four-month break, but then returned to blogging that September. Today Shaggy has become a farmer who spends time down on the farm in Shamiya and then back in Baghdad with his buddies. In July, Dilnareen and a few other bloggers started Kurdistan Bloggers Union. Salam Pax started a new blog in August, naming it, with his distinctive, self-deprecating humor, "Shut Up You Fat Fat Whiner." Ali Fadhil started his own blog called "Free Iraqi" at the end of the year.

In 2004 Iraqi Bloggers Central also began following the American milbloggers, five in particular: Jason (Iraq Now), Kevin (Boots on the Ground), Jeremy Botter (Letters from Iraq), Neil Prakash (Armor Geddon), and CBFTW (My War: Fear and Loathing in Iraq). Jason had been stationed in Ramadi; since his return to the US he has continued blogging at "Countercolumn." Neil Prakash, whose call sign was Red Six, later offered the "Armor Geddon" readers his account of a tanker's experiences in Fallujah II. The blogger we knew as CBFTW turned out to be Colby Buzzell, who would later leave the military and use his blog as the basis for his memoir called "My War."


Complete Series:

Part One. A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2003.
Part Two. A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2004.
Part Three. A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2005.
Part Four. A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2006.
Part Five. A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2007.
Part Six. A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2008-09.


Selected Blog Entries from IBC (Jeffrey):

CP = Check out comments page for that entry.

May 23, 2004. Faiza Would More Likely Vote for Bush than Kerry. CP
May 25, 2004. Mr. Peabody's Improbable History / Salam Pax, Raed Jarrar, and Gaith "G" Ahad. CP
May 26, 2004. Twilight Zone: Judge and Executioner. CP
May 27, 2004. War and Its Discontents.
May 28, 2004. Optimists versus Pessimists? CP
May 29, 2004. Revenge of the Secular Muslims. CP
May 31, 2004. Another Jeffrey Holmes Mystery: The Strange Case of Asmar Ahmad
June 1, 2004. Primary Sources: The War Diary of Faiza Jarrar.
June 9, 2004. Lisa from New York's Letter to Faiza.
June 10, 2004. Raed Jarrar: Saddam, Mein Fuehrer!
June 27, 2004. The Story of Three Iraqi Friends.
June 30, 2004. Fuzzy and Dangerous Logic.
July 10, 2004. A Vote for Al-Kerry is a Vote for Al-Qaeda. CP
July 15, 2004. An Iraqi Reviews Fahrenheit 9/11.
July 20, 2004. One Happy Iraqi: Hearts and Minds and ???? Support Operation Iraqi Boner. CP
August 3, 2004. Iraqis Respond to Attack on Christian Churches.
August 5, 2004. CBFTW Reports from Inside a Kill Zone.
August 6, 2004. AYS Addresses the Fat Stupid Man.
August 8, 2004. Three Cheers for Samir!
August 12, 2004. Muqtada Al-Sadr: "Time out! Time out!"
August 13, 2004. Our Man "G" in the Belly of Najaf.
August 15, 2004. Muqtada Al-Sadr's Infantile Dysfunction.
August 16, 2004. Sheriff Lee C. Talks Straight.
August 26, 2004. The Arab Parallel Universe Triumphs Again! CP
August 27, 2004. End of the Road. CP
December 17, 2004. Make That "One Thousand and TWO nights."
December 18, 2004. Who Are the Insurgents in Iraq?
December 29, 2004. Khalid Jarrar to Iraqis: Don't Vote!
December 31, 2004. Speak, Wise Sandmonkey!


Selected Articles, Blog Entries, and Documents from 2004:

Zeyad Kasim, "An Iraqi Family's Tragedy," Healing Iraq, January 8, 2004. CP

Steven Vincent, "Bloody Ashura: An American at a deadly bombing in Iraq," National Review Online, March 5, 2004.

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, "'This is the only fun the kids get - shooting at the US sitting ducks'," The Guardian, June 25, 2004.

Salam Pax, "Starting a petition to have Sadir in the next swim suit issue of [Nude & Hard]," Shut Up You Fat Whiner (website), August 12, 2004. (Salam Pax's response to Riverbend)

Zeyad Kasim, "Conspiracy Theories and the Ummah," Healing Iraq, September 16, 2004.

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, "In Hideout, Foreign Arabs Share Vision of 'Martyrdom'," Washington Post, November 9, 2004.

Steven Vincent, "The Power of Shame," National Review Online, December 13, 2004.


Selected Photographs and Videos:

PHOTOGRAPH: Muqtada al-Sadr.
VIDEO: Fallujah: Tankers Dream. Soldier-produced video from Operation Phantom Fury, Fallujah II.


Books Covering 2004:

Bing West, No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle of Fallujah (2005).

David Bellavia, House to House: An Epic Memoir of War (2007).

Patrick Cockburn, Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq (2008).

Donovan Campbell, Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood (2009).


Books Published in 2004:

Rick Atkinson, In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat.
David Zucchino, Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad.
John Keegan, The Iraq War.
Evan Wright, Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War.
Karl Zinsmeister, Dawn Over Baghdad: How the U.S. Military is Using Bullets and Ballots to Remake Iraq.
Jon Lee Anderson, The Fall of Baghdad.
Steven Vincent, In the Red Zone: A Journey into the Soul of Iraq.


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