Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2008-09

Al-Mutanabbi Street, December, 2008.

Year in Review: 2008

From the time of the destruction of the Golden Mosque in February, 2006, to the middle of 2007, when the surge led by General Petraeus began to successfully reduce violence around the country, Iraq's future hung in the balance, on the brink of an all-out sectarian war. In 2008, thanks to the relative calm that had been granted to the Iraqis and the Americans working with them, Iraq began to rebuild. The al-Sarafiyah Bridge, which had been destroyed a year earlier by a suicide car-bomber, reopened on May 27, 2008. On November 11, 2008, the Imams Bridge reopened, where three years earlier hundreds of Shia pilgrims had died. And on December 18, 2008, al-Mutanabbi Street, the ancient booksellers' row where twenty-six people had been killed by a car bomb, was once again open for business.

From 2003 to 2006, each Ramadan had seen an increase in Iraqi fatalities; in 2007, and then again in 2008, Ramadan, while not free from insurgent activity, was calm compared to the previous years. In Baghdad, with the increased security, many shops and restaurants reopened for business, and some of the former nightlife returned to the capital. Also, in 2008, some of the Iraqis who had left the country during 2006 and 2007 were now beginning to return.

In the spring of 2008, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki decided to send the Iraqi military to Basra to rout of the Sadrist factions there. Although the beginning of the operation was inauspicious, the Iraqi military soon brought their training to bear on the Jaish al Mahdi and Muqtada al-Sadr was forced to stand down. Muqtada al-Sadr is currently in Qom, Iran.

On November 16, 2008, a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was approved by the Iraq Cabinet and then signed on the following day, allowing the US forces three more years to stay in Iraq. What will happen over the next three years in Iraq, no one knows. Al Qaeda in Iraq is still capable of brutally murdering Iraqi citizens. And the fundamental question of whether the majority of Iraqis will join and support a representative system of government remains open. But, in 2009, like 2005, the people of Iraq will have more chances to vote. In 2009, they will participate in provincial elections in January and then national elections in December.

Year in Review: 2009

On January 7, 2009, an estimated two million Shia pilgrims walked through the Iraqi city of Karbala to celebrate Ashura, which had been forbidden under Saddam Hussein's rule. In contrast to the violence of 2004, this year's celebration was peaceful, with Shiites from around the region coming to Karbala to take part in the most important day of their faith.

On January 31, 2009, Iraqis voted in provincial (or governate) elections. In contrast to the provincial elections in 2005, this time there were no boycotts, another measure of political improvement and engagement in the process of representative governance.

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New Iraqi Bloggers in 2008-09:

Baghdadentist -- January, 2008.
Iraqi Translator -- March, 2008.
Sam (Interps Life) -- April, 2008.
Touta -- October, 2008.
Violet -- August, 2008.

Khalid Ibrahim (Iraq Blog Updates) -- April, 2009.

For long-time observers of the Anglophone Iraqi blogosphere, the sharp decline in new bloggers in 2008 prompted much discussion and debate. Why the decline? Was this a temporary or a long-rage trend? Where will the new bloggers come from?

In this tiny 2008 class of new bloggers, Touta stands out as the most engaging, combining the narrow focus of some of the other personal-diary bloggers with occasional commentary on politics and society at large. Sam (Interps Life) and Sami (Iraqi Translator) have described what it's like to work with the Americans as an Iraqi; however, they have not posted recently. Violet is a young woman blogging from Mosul.

This month, Khalid Ibrahim, an Iraqi exile living in Dublin, started a new blog along the lines of Iraq Blog Count and Iraqi Bloggers Central to cover the daily blog entries from around the Iraqi blogosphere.

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Summary of the Iraqi Bloggers (2003-2009):

Over the last six years, in the Anglophone Iraqi blogosphere, there have been around one hundred or so Iraqi bloggers. Currently, around forty of them are actively blogging -- have posted an entry in the last three months -- while the other sixty or so have stopped. Of those who have stopped blogging, some kept a blog for only a few months ("G. in Baghdad") while others posted for several years (Riverbend).

Among the Iraqi bloggers, Kurds (Kurdo, Dilnareen, Hiwa) have been represented along with the majority Arab bloggers. Looking at the religious backgrounds of the Arab bloggers, we find Arab Christians (Fayrouz, Marshmallow 26), Sunni Muslims (the Fadhils, Zeyad Kasim), Shia Muslims (Eye Raki, Mojo), and some with mixed backgrounds (Salam Pax, Raed Jarrar). By age, we find a couple middle-aged Iraqis (Alaa, Faisa Jarrar) and quite a few teenagers (Touta, Sunshine). The majority of Iraqi bloggers, however, appear to be in their twenties and thirties.

While the Iraqi bloggers are a tiny subset of the Iraqi population -- 100 out of around 27 million people -- their views are diverse, often in conflict with each other, on any number of issues central to the past, present, and future of Iraq. Some couldn't wait to watch Saddam's ouster, while others -- like Layla Anwar -- lament the day that Saddam Hussein was forced to vacate Baghdad. On this and a wide range of other issues, the Iraqis bloggers surprise by the range of their responses. While living under Saddam Hussein's police-state tyranny, none of these various opinions, of course, would have been voiced without the fear of imprisonment.

By sex, male Iraqi bloggers are over-represented, with around two-thirds of the Iraqi bloggers male and one-third female. But some of the most distinctive Iraqi bloggers, it should be noted, are women. Riverbend, Chikitita, and Touta quickly come to mind. Layla Anwar, of course, is by far the most impassioned and articulate defender of Saddam Hussein and his regime.

By education, the Iraqi bloggers are not representative of Iraqi society as a whole. In Iraq, around 60 percent of all adults (15 and over) are illiterate. The Iraqi bloggers, in contrast, are not only literate in Arabic but also in English. This reflects most likely their family's class background and the fact that most of the Iraqi bloggers are from the larger urban centers, Baghdad and Mosul being the two most common. Many of the Iraqi bloggers either have college degrees or are currently enrolled in a university, either in Iraq or abroad.

Since 2003, many of the Iraqi bloggers have left the country, some due to security concerns and others for better educational opportunities. Most of those that left ended up moving to the United States: Raed Jarrar (through marriage), Seyad Kasim, Ali, Omar, and Mohammed Fadhil, AYS, Omar Fekeiki, M.H.Z., and Bassam Sebti. Alaa moved to Canada, and Abbas Hawazin relocated to Jordan.

With the relative calm since the success of the surge, some of those who left have started to return to Iraq. Salam Pax and Morbid Smile, for example, both completed graduate degrees -- in England and the United States respectively -- and are now back living in Baghdad. Caesar of Pentra left for a short time but is now back in Iraq finishing his college degree. It remains to be seen how many Iraqi bloggers will return to Iraq.

Over the last two years there has been a decline in the number of new Iraqi bloggers. Whether this is a temporary drop or the beginning of a longer trend, nobody knows at present. For the last six years, however, no one can deny the passion and effort shown by the Iraqi bloggers, starting all the way back with Salam Pax blogging from inside Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and the small community who followed the Iraqi bloggers and joined the thousands of debates, all of us part of a rich discussion that is still going on today.

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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.

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Selected Entries from IBC:

CP = Check out comments page for that entry.

2008

January 10, 2008. Decline and Fall of the Iraqi Blogosphere? Jeffrey. CP
January 14, 2008. Self-Criticism or Self-Hatred? Jeffrey.
January 20, 2008. Snow Day in Baghdad?! Jeffrey. CP
January 22, 2008. The Lancet Study Farce and Iraq The Model. CMAR II. CP
February 8, 2008. A Couple Questions for Senator Obama. RhusLancia.
February 17, 2008. Let's Look at the Numbers, Okay? Jeffrey.
February 24, 2008. "Wait, that is an American flag." Jeffrey.
February 25, 2008. Nir Rosen's "Fistful of Dollars" Jeffrey. CP
February 27, 2008. This Post Has No Title. CMAR II.
February 29, 2008. Shaggy Daze. Jeffrey.
March 5, 2008. Chikitita's Return. Jeffrey.
March 13, 2008. Kagan versus Rosen on the 'Surge' RhusLancia. CP
March 16, 2008. Why Didn't Saddam Admit That He Worked for the CIA? Jeffrey.
March 18, 2008. Iraq Operation Five Year Roundup. CMAR II. CP
March 26, 2008. Operation Fix Muqty. CMAR II. CP
March 29, 2008. Operation Fix Muqty II. CMAR II.
April 5, 2008. Why Is the Power in Iraq so shoddy after 5 years and 3 1/2 Billion American Dollars. CMAR II.
April 7, 2008. The Fools! They think they can win....by winning! CMAR II.
May 5, 2008. The In T View: Hayder Al-Khoei: I Believe Muqtada al-Sadr Ordered My Father's Murder. Mister Ghost.
May 30, 2008. Racism is in the Eye of the Beholder. RhusLancia.
June 3, 2008. A Silence That Speaks Volumes. Jeffrey.
August 5, 2008. Life Goes On in Iraq. Jeffrey.
August 6, 2008. Re-examining the Victory In Iraq. CMAR II.
December 23, 2008. Merry Christmas, Layla Anwar! Jeffrey.

2009

January 9, 2009. Reading Resolution 1859. Jeffrey.
January 31, 2009. Democracy in the Heart of the Middle East. Jeffrey.
February 8, 2009. Can You Use Your American Express Card in Falluja? Jeffrey.
March 2, 2009. The Bloggers and the Speech. CMAR II.
March 5, 2009. IraqPundit on the Juan Cole and the Kurds. CMAR II.
March 31, 2009. The Personal and the Political. Jeffrey.
April 7, 2009. Greetings from New York City. Jeffrey.
April 10, 2009. Greetings from Iowa! Jeffrey. CP
April 3, 2009. Other Blogospheres, Other Worlds. Jeffrey. CP
April 13, 2009. Greetings from Phoenix, Arizona, USA! RhusLancia.
April 19, 2009. The Defenestration of Comrade Nir Rosen. Jeffrey. CP
April 20, 2009. Greetings from Austin, TX. CMAR II.
April 23, 2009. Get Yer IBC Swag!! RhusLancia.
April 24, 2009. Top 10 Best Iraqi Bloggers of All Time. CMAR II.

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Selected Articles, Blog Entries, and Documents from 2008-09:

2008

Abbas Hawazin, "Travesty of Human Thinking," Catharsis (website), January 26, 2008.

Al-Rasheed, "The New Iraqi Flag," Great Baghdad (website), January 29, 2008. CP

Nibras Kazimi, "'In Aid of Our Brothers in Gaza,'" Talisman Gate (website), February 18, 2008.

Abbas Hawazin, "The Myth of Sunni-Shia Unity," Catharsis (website), February 23, 2008.

Nir Rosen, "The Myth of the Surge," Rolling Stone (March, 2008).

Jeffrey Schuster, "Nir Rosen's 'Fistful of Dollars,'" Iraqi Bloggers Central (website), February 25, 2008. CP

Michael J. Totten, "Hope for Iraq’s Meanest City," City Journal, Spring 2008, vol. 18, no. 2.

Michael Yon, "As Iraqis stop living in fear, end of Iraq war is at hand," New York Daily News, July 20, 2008.

Iraq Coalition Casualty Count (website), "Hostile/Non-Hostile Deaths: 2003-09." [chart]

Musings on Iraq (website), "How Many Have Died In Iraq And By What Means?," May 1, 2009.

Michael J. Totten, "Iraq at the End of the Surge," Commentary, December 8, 2008.

2009

Omar Fadhil, "New Iraq Emerges from Tyranny and War," Iraq the Model, January 9, 2009.

Sam, "The Story Of Interpreter Shitty Life...," Interpreters Life (website), March 1, 2009.

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Iraq Bibliography:

Ajami, Fouad. The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq (2006).

Anderson, John Lee. The Fall of Baghdad (2004).

Atkinson, Rick. In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat (2004).

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

Bogdanos, Matthew. Thieves of Baghdad (2005).

Buzzell, Colby. My War: Killing Time in Iraq (2005).

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

Cerf, Christopher and Micah L. Sifray. The Iraq War Reader: History, Documents, Opinions (2003).

Chandresekaran, Rajiv. Imperial Life in the Emerald City (2006).

Conroy, Capt. Jason and Ron Martz. Heavy Metal: A Tank Company's Battle to Baghdad (2005).

Coopman, John. McCoy's Marines: Darkside to Baghdad (2005).

Fick, Nathaniel. One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine (2005).

Garrels, Anne. Naked in Baghdad: The Iraq War as Seen by NPR's Correspondent (2003).

Gilbertson, Ashley. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer's Chronicle of the Iraq War (2007).

Gordon, Michael and Bernard E. Trainor. Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq (2006).

Hoyt, Mike and John Palattello (eds.). Reporting Iraq: An Oral History of the War by the Journalists Who Covered It (2007).

Jamail, Dahr. Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (2007).

Kartorsky, Bill and Timothy Carlson. Embedded: The Media at War (2003).

Keegan, John. The Iraq War (2004).

Kraus, Ian. Elvis is Titanic: Classroom Tales from the Other Iraq (2007).

LeMoine, Ray, Jeff Newmann, and Donovan Webster. Babylon by Bus (2006).

McGeough, Paul. In Baghdad: A Reporter's War (2003).

Murray, Williamson and Robert Scales, The Iraq War: A Military History (2003).

O'Donnell, Patrick. We Were One (2006).

Packer, George. Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq (2005).

Pax, Salam. Salam Pax: The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi (2003).

Ricks, Thomas E. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (2006).

Ricks, Thomas E. The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (2009).

Riverbend, Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq (2005).

Riverbend, Baghdad Burning II: More Girl Blog from Iraq (2006).

Rosen, Nir. In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq (2006).

Shadid, Anthony. Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War (2005).

Smith, Ray L. and Bing West. The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the First Marine Division (2003).

Spinner, Jackie and Jenny Spinner. Tell Them I Didn't Cry (2006).

Trofimov, Yaroslav. Faith at War: A Journey to the Frontlines of Islam, from Baghdad to Timbuktu (2005).

Vincent, Steven. In the Red Zone: A Journey into the Soul of Iraq (2004).

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

West, Bing. The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq (2008).

Wilding, Jo. Don't Shoot the Clowns: Taking a Circus to the Real Iraq (2006)

Wright, Evan. Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War (2004).

Yon, Michael. Moment of Truth in Iraq: How a New 'Greatest Generation' of American Soldiers is Turning Defeat and Disaster into Victory and Hope (2008).

Zinsmeister, Karl. Boots on the Ground: A Month with the 82nd Airborne in the Battle for Iraq (2003).

Zinsmeister, Karl. Dawn Over Baghdad: How the U.S. Military is Using Bullets and Ballots to Remake Iraq (2004).

Zucchino, David. Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad (2004).

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