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Sunday, April 11, 2004

Baghdadskies continues in Baghdadskies 2 

Thursday, April 08, 2004


9 APRIL 03

The U.S. is a clever, benign nation - but brash and naive in certain respects. The reason why the Stars and Stripes ended up covering Saddam's statue in Firdos Square on 9 April 2003 - before it was removed and replaced with a less decorously tucked in Iraqi flag - is that the U.S. does not seem to have officers in charge of its soldiers at critical times. Do they spend enough time educating these soldiers, as the British Army does, into what they are doing?

The flag, surviving 9/11, was the biggest public relations disaster the Americans could possibly have thought up: though the spin was ratcheted up several notches on both sides of the Atlantic a few days later to try to persuade us that it was winning the war that mattered, not little mistakes involving the pride of Iraqis (= who ought to be grateful and shut up). And this public relations disaster, all because the U.S. appears to keep its soldiers in blissful ignorance of the reasons why they fight and, by all accounts, where they are fighting. Some "grunts" interviewed on TV seemed to be unsure which country there were fighting in. Arabs everywhere will be making cynical jokes about The Flag and 9/11 for years to come. And all because many U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq appear to have no idea of the for what and the for why.

I stick by the principle of what I said then. I supported the liberation of the Iraqis knowing the stated reasons for the invasion were bogus. I had lived in Baghdad in the '50s as a pre-teen and wanted to imagine the wonderful Iraq I knew back again. Not yet.

I was a bit harsh on the officer corps of the US Army, but still remain mystified as to why no one made more of this flag fiasco. I still think it is a symbol of how lacking in understanding the US is of Iraq and the Iraqis. I still think many of those soldiers thought they were dealing with 9/11 by entering Baghdad. I think many of them probably still do.
I still think Iraq would be further forward, a year on, if the US had not made so many mistakes in the first year of occupation. Being an old cynic, the chaos theory might be as good an explanation as any. Invasion Lite failed and Occupation Lite will fail too.


repost from 9 April 03

"Look at me, Haraj"
"I want to see your eyes."
"Ohhhh..." [turns away in embarrassment]
I stand by his side looking at him as he turns away and then I look quizzically at Mum. She later tells me that his eyes are like Meltis' Fruits (This is a make of soft fruit jellies available in the UK at the time)

Haraj lived in a big house diagonally across from us. We two played in the street. One day when I was alone, playing in the driveway, another boy appeared offering me a large drawstring bag of marbles for 50 fils. I begged Mum for the money. She is soft hearted so she agreed. Cock of the walk, I took up the challenge of a game of marbles.

The game they played involved scooping out a shallow hole the size of a large fist in the sand of the should-have-been pavement, against a garden wall, standing 4-5 feet away on the roadside curb and throwing marbles into the hole. There were several effective techniques: straight into the hole, bouncing of the wall or off the ground. If you threw two - and they went in - your opponent had to pay you two; if one or both didn't go in, they were both his. The choice of how many you threw was up to you: one wimpish; two, safe; three risky; four suicidal (or brave, depending on how one looks at it).

I recall, soon after I bought the marbles, Haraj, an Iraqi boy and me playing in the boiling sun until I lost every single marble in that bag - fifty at least. When I went in for supper I dare not tell Mum I had lost them all. It slipped out a few days later.

Haraj once invited me to his house when everyone was out. They were Armenians and this street in the Armenian quarter. They were middle class business people. The thing I remember most vividly was a row of hand-made shoes that belonged to his grandfather. I had never seen rows of shiny shoes like that before. Haraj explained that he wore one pair a day. That way they lasted for years.

I feel as if there was an old violin, or was told about one. The feeling I have of being in the house, cool marble floors, old furniture, ornate pictures, special smells, is there in my head but I cannot describe what I think I saw apart from the row of shoes.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The chaos theory in action 

Mark LeVine, assistant professor of history at the University of California, Irvine. Co-editor, with Pilar Perez and Viggo Mortensen, of Twilight of Empire: Responses to Occupation (Perceval Press, 2003) and author of the forthcoming tentatively titled, Why They Don't Hate Us: Islam and the World in the Age of Globalization (Oneworld Publications, 2004).

"It is perhaps hard for Americans to understand their occupation of Iraq in the context of globalization. But Iraq today is clearly the epicenter of that trend, and in this context chaos is king."

Thursday, April 01, 2004

UK Muslims dazed and Britains confused 

I wrote it straight down. On the premier British news and comment programme on Radio 4, "Today", interviewer John Humphreys asked the usual sort of "where do your loyalties lie" sort of questions of a pillar of the British Muslim community, who dodged and weaved so annoyingly that Humphreys sounded if he was going to blow a fuse.
The answer that made any sense, which I wrote down was short:

"Co-operating with the authority (i.e. authorities) against other Muslims is apostasy."

reference > al-muhaajiroun

Well, he said it.

And for those of us who want a rational debate on the thorny issues in the Middle East, we do not want British Muslims to attempt to conflate Islamo-fascist terrorism of the Al Q variety with other issues like Palestine, in order to avoid debating the difficult problem for many British Muslims: the seeming necessity to feel kinship with other Muslims no matter what they say or do, simply because they happen to be Muslim. I believe that hero-worshipping people who do bad things just because of a shortage of Muslim role models and heroes, is a way to make sure that Islam really does go down the tubes in the future.

Some British Muslims are arguing strongly now that the State by clamping down on a few terrorist suspects (9 arrests and half a ton of explosive in South London) is turning every Muslim into a suspect, and that Muslim youth has enough problems with lack of work and being excluded from mainstream society, without being targeted because of their religion. A lot could be done to passify these feelings by equalising religions in Britain, under the law.

Muslims should recognise and admit they are very lucky to live in Britain, or to have been born in Britain. Any young Muslim going to, say, Pakistan, his home country, to visit relatives, would soon appreciate the vastly greater opportunities they have here. They would surely recognise the law in this country protects them far better than in their country of origin. Can you imagine the Pakistani government allowing back young Christian boys from a "Guantanamo Bay" and for their Home Office Minister to say they were no danger to the State? They would kick them straight out without any questions asked!

It is not difficult to see how hard done by Muslim youth might turn inwards to their religion, rather outwards towards the wider community. But if you turn in on yourself such that you become a people within a people, then the big question is, Where do your loyalties lie? To the Faith you adhere to or to your adopted or birth country? The problem with Islam is people look upon it as a "State" because it is so comprehensive. But it does have a weakness. All "legalistic" religions have the same weakness. If you chip away at the regulations, you are chipping away at the faith itself. By the same token one would have thought Judaism, another legalistic faith, might also be sensitive to criticism.

Currently they are being asked to be treated if their religious faith was an ethnicity Opendemocracy > "Muslims and European multiculturalism" . Muslims in Britain are from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, and from that perspective rather than the more influential religious one, must see that they are minorities in a large population. They have to empathise with the wider population and try to see how they might feel in similar circumstances if threatened by some form of international terrorism, say from Christian fundamentalists, in their "home" countries.

The fact that the message has recently gone out to the mosques to prevent Muslim youth being indoctrinated by extremist groups such as Al-Muhaajiroun, indicates how seriously the Muslim elders take the possibility of the majority population turning on ethnic groups who happen to be Muslim.

Up to now Muslim leaders in Britain have tended to concentrate on saying (1) Islam is peaceful (2) injustices done to Muslims by the West are the cause of problems in the world, particularly the Middle East.

The nub of the apostasy argument as argued by Al Muhajiroun is (quote) :

"... the Messenger Muhammad (saw) said: Stand with your Muslim brother whether he is an oppressor or oppressed? and when asked ?How can we stand with him if he is an oppressor?? the Messenger Muhammad replied ?Stand with him to prevent/stop him from his oppression? [i.e. through advice etc?] Note that the Messenger did not say ?Hand them over to the non-Muslim oppressors, who will condemn them under their own man made law so that they can be locked up?"

So what advice have the Good Muslims of Britain or anywhere else to pass to Osama Bin Laden and Dr. Ayman Al Zawahiri with a view to "Standing with" them to "stop their oppression" ?

Have we too meekly allowed the suggested superiority of Islam down our western throats? Certain Muslims go on TV and radio to churn out half digested and understood interpretations and re-interpretations of the Koran, Hadith and other commentaries. We have been unable to respond intellectually for fear our criticisms be construed as racist and or anti-Muslim. After all, there is constant debate about what the Koran means in the Muslim world. It is is certainly not static. There is no reason why non-Muslims cannot debate Islam with Muslims. Muslims find no difficulty in criticising the inferiority of Christianity. When Muslims tell Christians they believe Jesus was merely a prophet, Christians do not point accusing fingers and make threats (we can't issue fatwas). Because Muslims do not believe in the Trinity, Christians do not threaten them with dire retribution for insulting their Christian God.

In Christianity, too, it is "the sin not the sinner", but there are sins and there are sins. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda terrorists have committed sins of too great a magnitude to be considered in the same way as everyday sinning folk (lying, stealing, cheating, an occasional murder or three) in the "sins not the sinners" category. To say anything else is insanity. It makes a mockery of the moral and ethical basis of all religions. It debases them and turns them into cultish in-groups.

A starting point for a more measured approach to the facts and arguments might be the essay by Tarq Madood in Opendemocracy titled, "Muslims and European multiculturalism".

No longer in denial ? 

It is sometime true that an old newspaper cutting can come in handy. One I filed the other day from a dusty box certainly comes into that category. "Britain in in denial about angry Muslims within", written on 4 November 2001 in the The Sunday Times) by Melanie Phillips, a well known right-of-centre Columnist, it argued first that we must wake up to the fact that there was a war on, and then that both British Muslims and the host community:

"...have got to change our attitudes dramatically - and fast. It's not enough for moderate Muslims to say their interpretation of Islam is the majority view. They've got to show this is true by putting their house in order. If they really are in the majority, then let's them deal robustly with the minority who have hijacked their religion."

The recent decision to both discourage rogue Immams from inculcating anti-western proganda in susceptible young Muslims, and help the security services to identify suspicious people operating in and around Mosques, is a first step but goes a long way from the outright condemnation of Islamo-terrorism and a call to all young Muslims to keep away from fringe elements.

As Phillips goes on to say:

"For they have to make a choice. Islam is a proselytising religion that does not distinguish between the spiritual and the temporal. So allegiance to Islam takes precedence over loyaty to a non-Muslim state. What makes this so explosive is the huge number of Muslims in the rest of the world and the power gained for Islam from terror-promoting states such as Syria and Iran.

Now moderate British Muslims must choose. If, as they claim, they accept that British citizenship means primary allegiance to Britain, they must state unequivocally that the first duty of British Muslims is not to the global Islamic nation. They must throw out those immams who, by preaching that the war against the Taliban (and Al Q, ed.) is like Hitler's invasion of Europe, are inciting their young men to treachery. If their religion has been misrepresented by a minority, the moderates can no longer just wring their hands about it. They must prove that the reasonable majority is in control.

As for the host community, it must start taking seriously the widespread hatred of Britain amongst the Muslim young.....at the same time, liberal Britain has got get real and ditch the multiculturalism that is now a menace to life and liberty."

The various arguments about multiculturalism are explained by Tariq Madood in Opendemocracy.

swapping Husseins 

Great Guardian piece by replacement Baghdad Blogger Ghaith Abdul Ahad

The modern Voltaires amongst you will be tearing your hair out and laughing like drains in equal measure. Though, to be honest, beyond the tragic-comic images of over-heated young students on the campus, I fear that this tripe will get worse before it gets better. Unless an Iraqi government lays down the law (as it were) pretty quick, then self appointed "clerics" will be dictating how people may or may not act in the arbitrary way described in this trail marriage example. Though, this right to trial marriage may already have existed. I seem to recall examples of it in Iran.

It reminds me of an explanation of the Virgin Birth. According to a renegade Australian academic, Barbara Thiering, Jesus's parents Mary and Joseph, as members of the Essene sect, were entitled to have a similar type of trial marriage, whose purpose was to ensure the fertility of the bride, before marriage proper was entered into. The author, in her book "Jesus the Man", says:

If it happened that during the betrothal period and before the wedding, the passions became too strong, and a child was conceived, then it could be said by a play on words that "a Virgin had conceived". The woman was still a virgin legally, but not physically.

To an atheist with a fondness for the concept of God and a persistent interest in all things religious and theological, the whole book is wonderful with its concept of persher. Everyone says she has no basis for her assertions and that the persher technique is wrong, in that should only apply to contempory documents, and cannot be used retrospectively.

The Essenes were very prescriptive, even insisting that a man ought ideally to marry at the age of thirty six and try to pop a sprog in September (i.e. three years before he was forty (if the child was girl the husband had to stay away for three years, then return to renew his marriage. If the child was a boy, he has to come back after six years!) This might explain why Jesus was wandering around all the time with no sign of a wife. No wonder He wanted to create a universal, inclusive religion.

So beware Iraqis.... you might end up as rule bound as the Essenes. Remember laws by man for man.....

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Hillary and Tenzing 

I was going to start this personal memory with a recollection that was stimulated by recently accessing a site to do with the economic/commercial concerns of Iraq. Before I do so, I think I ought to congratulate Faiza on starting her Arabic course. I hope you will keep putting up vocab and useful everyday phrases. I would love to learn tp speak Arabic again.

I remember my father, this would have been in our second year in Iraq, earnestly employing a home tutor to teach him Arabic. My elder brother, in the meantime, was having accordion lessons (we happened to have one) from an East European gentleman. Neither stayed the course. Father was expected to master written as well as spoken Arabic (a bit like trying to memorise Pitman's shorthand!), eventually giving up in frustration! Elder brother, like all teenagers, couldn't be bothered to persevere, though he certainly had a musical bent, later learning the cello.

I was the one - at five or six years old - who learnt Arabic in the streets. I could converse in quite fluent, if basic, Arabic and was often asked to act as interpreter. Now, I confess I struggle to remember much, except some nouns (matches, plane, car, counting 1- 20,etc) and what to call an Iraqi if you want him to slit your throat. This ought not to be so (forgetting languages not wishing to die), because, when you are young, two languages are intermingled in the brain, hence bi-lingual; whereas, if you learn a second language when adult, the first language is surrounded, doughnut-like, in the brain by the second. So the brain-scan studies show us.

Trade Fair 1954 

Father's company, IAL, was exhibiting, or had representatives, at the Baghdad Trade Fair organised by the Federation of British Industries. I went with father. There were masses of people. At one point, after trailing round a bit bored, I wandered off on my own. It was starting to get dark. As I walked down one of the paths between the exhibition tents, I saw ahead of me a large film screen, so naturally, was drawn to it. They were showing a film of the successful conquest of Everest by the team lead by Edmund Hillary. This was a big event in 1953. Rather incongruous this, in retrospect : a little six year old English boy in Iraq, watching a film demonstrating the vestiges of empire mentality!

New Babylon : A Portrait of Iraq Desmond Stewart & John Haycock, Collins 1956 

"Crowds gathered round the working television sets, the earth-moving machines, the swirling washing-machines, Cartier's discreet little kiosk displaying £25,000 worth of jewellery. But the pavilion that was most crowded was the one organised by the Industries of Iraq. Even to one who had been in the country a long time, it was a surprise to see how much is made by Iraqi industries; much of the workmanship rough, but covering an immense range: cigarettes, soap, cloth, iron drain covers and irrigation pumps made from scrap. For pure quality, Iraqi skilled labour was still best shown by exquisite writings from the Qur'an done on wood by a Baghdad carpenter."


Father went off several times to the north of Iraq at around this time, prospecting for suitable sites for radar stations, which IAL was involved in setting up. He was a stickler for "doing the right thing". I distinctly remember him bemoaning the fact that the Iraqi Air Force was being sold the less good of two then available radar systems. He would never have made a businessman! A man of principle.


A piece in an NYT obituary/biography of Alistair Cooke caught my eye:

"His political outlook was probably best reflected by Stevenson.
In "Six Men," he compared him to "that estimable order of Americans -- Henry Clay, Robert E. Lee, Norman Thomas, Learned Hand, perhaps Wendell Willkie -- who left a lasting impression by the energy of their idealism, but who were never quite strong enough or ruthless enough, in the pit of the political jungle, to turn goodness and mercy into law or policy." He wrote, "Adlai Stevenson remains the liveliest reminder of our time that there are admirable reasons for failing to be president."

"...to turn goodness and mercy into law or policy". Funny, those with the brains, ability and "goodness and mercy", who would best serve their country as politicians, never seem to.

It is easy to see why the second-rate and unprincipled always seems to get to the top of the political greasy pole: they are the type who live by the "principle of shifting principles". They can spend all day, in parliament and television studio, swearing on their mother's grave that the policy they are introducing is "best for the country", while knowing perfectly well it is not, retiring at last to a sound, untroubled sleep.

Saturday, March 27, 2004


An article by Nir Rosen which I was directed to by long extracts in Juan Cole's latests posts.

Is this Shia technocrat Chalabi? 

Guardian 27 March 2004, Jonathan Steele in baghdad

Friday, March 26, 2004

Ahmad Chalabi 

This 26 March 2004 New York Times piece on Chalbi's current position is an interesting insight into the shifting tides of Iraqi politics post 9/3(2003).

I didn't know his organisation was being paid a retainer by the Dept. of Defence to keep a tab on things. I wouldn't have thought this was a very good way of ingratiating himself with the Iraqi people. The big question is whether he is corrupt. And if his basic modus is entrepreneurial, whether he is the right person to be Prime Minister, even in the short-term. I wonder who is up for President?

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Rashid Street 

Looking for street maps of Baghdad I came up with this atmospheric 2003 piece from Al Ahram.

A way forward 

I have posted up the text of the interim constitution and with it an article by Juan and Shahin Cole on Women in the constitution.

Last night on the BBC2 TV programme, "Newsnight", Salam Pax did a piece (the second so far) on the Shia celebrations in Karbala. I am not sure but I think he was saying he was Shia, though he seemed constitutionally unsuited to blood-letting in general. Taken on the surface, the ritual bloodletting is a bit alarming to an outsider. But there is something majestic about the rituals - bloody or not - and the beliefs that underlie them. I see no difference between the blood of Christ - as illustrated in Mel Gibson's latest film - and that on the backs, chests and heads of the Shia adherents in Karbala. Then I am not a blood symbolism type of person.

What I am is a rationalist, and I have already argued that, in the short- to medium-term, Shia political parties might take power. However, I also think this will not work well for Iraq as a whole in the long-term. As the secular political parties build themselves up, they would be well advised to plug the women's rights angle. This in the one issue where they will be demonstrating, clearly, a way their prospecti (if that is the plural of prospectus) are different from the Shia parties, who will, one assumes, continue to envisage a lesser role for Iraqi women "in politics and in life" because of their interpretation of the Koran, Hadith and other commentaries.

If the secular parties wish to become politically effective they will have to find "clear water" between their policies and those of the Islamic Parties, without causing or increasing social tensions by the very fact of having modernising programmes. To choose women's rights would seem, at first sight, not the way to go for the secular parties while not offending Islamic sensibilities.

The Islamic parties, with their traditional views on women, will initially persuade their supporters to stick with them, vote-wise, but if the secular parties plug away at the women's role argument, despite the inevitable counter argument that this was "anti-Muslim", Iraqis as a whole will see the secular parties are the right road to take. So, although all Iraqi political parties will have pretty much the same economic proposals (because they have to in a modern world), the Islam Parties will be unable to shift their position on women, in the light of political necessity, when they see they are losing public support, because this will undermine the Islamic basis of their politics.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004


Hi everybody,

Tuesday 22 March 1200H

Abu Hadi's first letter is now up on baghdadjournal

* You can get to this from the main page link below, or the side link (top left).

** Any problems accessing it from the links, try typing in the whole website address


into your web browser, then remember to save the website in your favourites for the next visit.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Abu Hadi  

Messages will be coming through from your friend at baghdadjournal.blogspot.com

The link is at the top right, for your convenience.

what do islamists mean when they talk about democracy?


Lee Smith, who apparently lives in Brooklyn and Cairo (Is this man a Gulliver?), asks this question in Slate, under the title, One Immam, One vote.

There are several important links and references to book titles.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Abu Hadi  

Messages will be coming through from your friend at baghdadjournal.blogspot.com

The link is at the top right, for your convenience.

Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri 

I posted this link a few weeks ago to a long, interesting and informative article in The New Yorker about this Egyptian doctor who is said to be the brains behind Al Qaeda. It is well worth a read for anyone keen to understand much of the history of the Middle East (in particular, but not exclusively, Egypt) from the days of Saddat (and before). And, more importantly, to try to get a handle on the motivation of people prepared to kill indiscriminately in the name of God, who I understood to be merciful.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

new link 

Re-oranising my hard-drive, I came across an article by Henry Pachter in Logos. The link to the home page is now up. There is an author/ index page, which lists alphabeticaly, from which you can find many older articles discussing the Middle East and Iraq. Pachter 's piece,Who are the Palestinians?, takes us through the whole history and is useful for anyone coming to it this question for the first time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

repost > from Saturday, March 29, 2003  


1953. Our first house in Baghdad was a single storey Californian style villa, with walled garden, on the eastern edge of the old colonial estate in Alwiyah, where Gertrude Bell may have lived for a while in one of those mud-walled, whitewashed colonial bungalows in large, luxuriously verdant gardens. I think they had thatched roofs.

Memory is as much about what you have forgotten as what you recall; and recall is effected by how well you retained what you saw and heard. My recollections are visual: there are no conversations, or, if there are, they are silent movies and I've no idea what they are saying! Attempts to dredge up what I have stored away usually starts with visualising where I roamed as an adventurous boy. Strange how clear some of the roads are and then, suddenly, there is whiteness: I didn't go further down those streets; no matter how hard I try there is a fog across the road that I can't see beyond; the cartoonist suddenly stopped drawing.

There were floods in the winter of 1953/4 (Spring or Winter?) We were taken by car to an overflowing canal, probably where Saddam City is now, to watch soldiers in brown uniforms and other volunteers, fill brown sacks with brown earth to shore up brown bursting banks under a brown drizzly sky: the first really exciting thing that happened in my life. I can still conjure up how petrified I felt at the rapid swirling water.

Mr. Gargoni owned the villa, which was rented to IAL, the company father worked for. From time to time Mr G. visited us, usually in the early evening. I have a black and white photo of Mr. Gargoni, mother and me (taken by father who was a keen photographer) standing together, in semi-silhouette, on the covered, marble paved front veranda. Mr. G. - balding and exceedingly round and jolly - standing with one leg on a step, leaning slightly forward, looking up at me in a most kindly way while holding my hand. I remember nothing of the event itself: I know the photo by heart in every detail as if I remember being there.

Baghdad summers were too hot to do without air-conditioning. In our later houses we had an electrical one, but at Gargoni's house we had what had probably been used for thousands of years: a wooden frame hung with palm fronds fixed to the top of the window frame, tilted outwards at the bottom, with water from a hose trickling down it. This would have only been on the bedroom window. In the day you had to tolerate the heat.

I started at the kindergarten that year. Europeans and middle-class Iraqis sent there children there. The headmistress was English. She put the fear of God into me, a very timid, quiet boy. We went across half a mile of dusty waste ground every morning to get to it: another large colonial mud bungalow with tree lined garden, and shrubberies.

In what I think was caused by the flooding, several peasant families moved onto the waste ground opposite us, building mud "serifa" huts with palm frond roofs. I do not remember this immigration being questioned in our house: everything happened and seemed natural. We knew they were poor, but we never asked what they were doing there or expressed any fear at their presence.

I remember as clearly and emotionally as if it was now, standing alone in silence and awe (though not shock), on a warm summer night outside the front gate in my cowboy waistcoat with pistol in holster, slung low over hip, looking up at the clearest night sky with the brightest stars I must ever have seen, when suddenly four comets zipped and fizzed across my field of view at slightly different angles, one after the other. For some reason I can't remember ever telling anyone what I had seen. Perhaps it was too good to share.

Friday, February 13, 2004

some more background on Iraq Debate 


"A scholar argues that Bush's doctrine of preemption has deep roots in American history."

Laura Secor, Globe Staff, 2/8/2004, summary of Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis' thinking, plus counter arguments


Opendemocracy 5 February 2004

Iraqi realities, American dilemmas: a New York debate

"What political choices should the United States now make in Iraq? Christopher Hitchens, Mark Danner, Samantha Power and David Frum debated recently in front of a packed New York audience. James Westcott was there."

Summary of debate with links details

murder and mayhem 

I am sure I was not the only person to feel shocked to the core and very, very upset to see the pointless carnage in Baghdad and environs in the last week. One particular thing jerked my heart strings: a UK TV reporter interviewed a recruit - a man in his 40s who said he was an engineer - who in broken English explained that he loved being an engineer, but that he loved Iraq and knew he had to become a Police man. Of course there are few if any jobs, so many are being forced to join up to feed their families. But that does not take away the courage required to do so. Everyone of them knows the risks they are taking.
Many people have pointed out the idiocy of having queues of recruits standing - to all intents and purposes in the street - while waiting to be processed. But there is something else. Everyone knows what is going on and can pass the places, dates, times to the bombers. I would have though an out-of-town, more rural location would be better for the processing to go on.
It does make you wonder whether the conspiracy theory going around a few moths back that the US deliberately invaded Iraq to draw the terrorists into a fight, might not have an element of truth in it. Not necessarily that it was in the plans, but when the military/intelligence people saw how many Jihadists were coming across the borders, it would be easy to imagine them saying: "Let them come." Why didn't they close the borders properly? They will indeed be easier to deal with in Iraq than in Munich or Frankfort or Bradford, but the Iraqis are paying the ultimate sacrifice in the process. Without being parti pris, it is obvious the Americans see Iraqi civilian security as a very low priority. The US soldiers are still in full battle gear! In other words they are not working enough like policemen yet to comprehensively protect the population. It is evident from the TV screens that they do not see it as their primary role. This is a self - defeating notion because it will make the Iraqis more and more determined to see the back of them. Or, at least off the streets and into barracks in the outskirts of the major cities.

The occupation forces have proved particularly inept at humint and are not very good at finding who these terrorists are. I said right at the beginning of my website in March/April last year, we needed to send in a large contingent of western police men (who would be retired men in their late forties from the US and Britain) to actually walk the streets with young Iraqi recruits. Those who have been sent in are instructors. They are getting up to speed with the training from what I can see on the TV. But Bremer is relying on elements of the old security and intelligence services of Iraq to provide them with information on the trouble makers. This strikes me as excessively silly or cynical. These people will have complex relationships and loyalties with members of the former regime (including continued covert funding from the remnants of the Ba'ath... the country is probably still awash with dollars that were there before April 9 2003.) In other words it will be too easy for the worst of the Iraqi intelligence personnel being employed by the Americans to behave like characters in a Le Carre or Len Deighton novel, double and triple dealing for maximum personal benefit, knowing that their services will not be required sooner than later.
It might have been easier to pay a third-party Arab state to do the intelligence donkey work. I can't suggest who, but at least they would be Arabs, though presumably easily identifiable by their non-Iraqi accents. However, to have infiltrated hundreds of non-Iraqi arabs into the streets of Baghdad to listen to what was on the grape vine would have been more effective than relying on heresay, gossip and rumour.
After all, it was "evidence from a single source " coming from a disaffected Iraqi - the 45 minute claim that Bliar so fervently argued was important - that allowed him to take British troops into Iraq. Sometimes I imagine he actually believes he won the war - ridiculous since British forces were only about 5% of the total sent in. Though to all account they did a very good job and didn't kill as many innocent civilian Iraqis as the Americans, a figure reputed to be in the region of 10-15,000.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Bernard Lewis's influence on US Middle East policy 

This WSJ article on Bernard Lewis, the British born historian, might be described as a primer on current US Iraq policy. It is is quite balenced, mentioning Edward Said's "Orientalism" as well.

at worldinquiry.blogspot.com beat me to it on this one, quoting from it at length.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

"Say no more... [tap nose]...nudge-nudge, wink-wink -- Monty Python 

Anthony Barnett's article in OpenDemocracy is a favourite of mine.

What can the ordinary guy say that hasn't already been said more fluently by others about my Prime Minister's dubious leadership in foreign policy over Iraq? But here we get more to the nub. I do not need to repeat Barnett's notions in my words. Read it for yourself.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

What took them so long? 

Women in Iraq Decry Decision To Curb Rights - Council Backs Islamic Law on Families

Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 16, 2004


Riverbend also talks long and hard on this one. When you hear this retrograde thinking, it becomes clear that the religious groups realise they will have no power in the New Iraq, so are trying to gather some to themselves before it is too late. However, as this article and the young lady say, it is turning the clock back in a way which will benefit no one and create social divisions that have not existed for the best part of half a century.
Though refering here to Iraq, the principle of "Laws by Men for Men" has to apply right across the modern world. The Ayatollahs have to recognise that the wide variation in interpretation of Sharia means it is worthless in a unified state. Trying to impose outmoded, arbitrary legal systems will do nothing to settle the affairs of countries like Iraq which needs stability not conflict.
Trying to impose Sharia can therefore only really be seen as an attempt to bolster Belief, in the face of an increasing scientific and secular mindset. It is sadly still not possible to say democratic principles holds sway across the world as they obviously should. There has to come a point when the UN Charter is radically changed to ensure unelected groups can't take countries over for their own narrow interests and end up wrecking them for no sensible purpose.
People are progressively arguing in the media that democracy as we know it in the West is not going to happen in Iraq. This is because they expect it to happen overnight, in the form we experience. It will not happen overnight. The Iraqis need to thrash this through for themselves, to work out what they want and what they can realistically hope to achieve. If the US can give them a breathing space of 4-5 years in which to do this, all to the good. If the Islamic Parties push through elections too quickly, as Sistani is demanding, they may take power - if the US lets them - in the initial stages. But soon enough secular parties will grow to a point where the Islamic Parties are pushed back to the position they were in before.
This is why the US has to be clear as to how it will respond to an initial take over (by fair election) by backward looking Islamic Parties who everyone - inside and outside Iraq - can see will not be in the overall interests of a progressive, free, modern, economically viable Iraq.

Thursday, January 15, 2004


Can you be racist about a Muslim? 

Excellent article on Islamophobia by Theodore Dalrymple - provoked by the debate on UK talk-show host Kilroy-Silk's outburst on "the Arabs" in the Express newspaper last week.

heroic Iraqis 

New York Times

Colourful piece on two heroic Iraqis

I'll give 'em £10 towards a robot [ rubber tracked things they used in Northern Ireland]

What about y' all?

Can someone organise the funding?

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


"The National Intelligence Council has begun a project that will help uncover the most important influences that will shape our world to the year 2020. This ambitious, yearlong study will engage a broad range of foreign and domestic experts who will be challenged to think in new and provocative ways about the forces that will drive global developments"

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