Saturday, May 29, 2004

The new Iraqi PM a man for all seasons 

Gosh, you allow those Iraqis to make decisions for themselves and see what happens - everyone's confused:

"The Bush administration appeared to be caught off guard and somewhat confused yesterday after the Iraqi Governing Council nominated a physician with longtime CIA ties as the post-occupation prime minister. Officials in Washington scrambled to respond after the Iraqis took the public lead in a process that was supposed to be run by a U.N. envoy."
Hence the UN's visible enthusiasm:

" 'It's not how we expected it to happen,' chief U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York. But Eckhard said that 'Mr. Brahimi respects the decision'."
In fact, the Iraqi Governing Council seems to have made a decision set to displease a large proportion of interested parties. Allawi is a Shia, but too secular; a well connected political player rather than a "seasoned technocrat"; an ex-Baathist, but he's been in exile for too long; he's too close to the United States and Great Britain; heavily involved with "Western intelligence services, and already being fingered for providing faulty WMD intelligence.

What's interesting is that despite all this the Iraqi Governing Council made Allawi its choice. How did this happen? Must be all that money his friends have spent lobbying the US government. Still, maybe they didn't lobby the right people.

"Survivor: the Iraqi Governing Council" - how's this for a new reality show?


Unreality TV 

Just when you thought that reality TV couldn't get any lower. This from my own backyard:

"Reality TV will invade the federal election campaign when members of the public are given the chance to run for the Senate in an Election Idol format. Channel 7 is considering a program in which non-partisan contestants from each state pitch themselves and their ideas to the electorate each week.

"They will be judged by a panel of political experts - former PM Bob Hawke is rumoured to have been approached - but viewers will get to decide the winner. Candidates will be reduced to one by viewer voting before that person runs in the real competition - for a position in the Senate."
As we all know, young people are just enthralled and fascinated by the political process - why, during the primaries and election season it's almost impossible to tear them off TV. So I'm sure this will be a huge hit. What's next "Survivor: Guantanamo Bay" and "The Apprentice: Enron"?


Trial by media 

"Guardian" (of course) doesn't like the treatment that the soon-to-be-extradited to the US Muslim cleric and hatred-inciter Abu Hamza is getting from American tabloids: "Guilty as charged in frenzied trial by tabloid." It would be nice of course if the left was at least consistent and accorded the same presumption of innocence (and presumption of humanity) to, say, American soldiers accused of prisoner abuse - or American soldiers generally - or Americans generally.


Friday, May 28, 2004

He's innocent, but is he funny? 

Meanwhile in France, "[a] comedian who gave the Nazi salute while dressed as an Orthodox Jew on a TV sketch show has been cleared of anti-Semitism by a Paris court. Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala's sketch mocked Israel's policy of building Jewish housing on Palestinian land."

According to the comedian's lawyer the court recognised his client's "right to criticise the policies of a state and not be branded an anti-Semite, even if this state is Israel".

Why "even"? Unless the lawyer thinks that Jews control the policies of other states, too? Seeing the lawyer's French, that's probably not too far off the truth.


Another step towards Islamic Reformation? 

This one has slipped under the radar (at least my radar) a few weeks ago:

"Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf called on religious scholars to re-examine strict Islamic laws which rights groups say discriminate against women and non-Muslims, state media reported.

"Musharraf... also announced the establishment of the country's first officially sponsored national rights commission.

"The president called for a review of the blasphemy law, which imposes the death penalty for defiling Prophet Mohammad and the Muslim holy book the Koran, and the strict Hudood Islamic laws, which mostly deal with crimes of adultery and rape."
As Germans say, one swallow doesn't make a spring, but it's an encouraging sign, nevertheless. I hope that it goes somewhere. Just like the Shia university that's not afraid of modernity, which I mentioned in my "Good news from Iraq" segment.


Kerry bashes Bush and alienates allies 

John Kerry is trying to outflank George Bush from the right on the war against terror:

"[Kerry] criticized Bush for failing to kill or capture Osama bin Laden during the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, for taking a 'kid glove approach' to hunting down terrorist money and for coddling Saudi Arabia. 'To put it simply, we will not do business as usual with Saudi Arabia,' Kerry said. 'They must take concrete steps to stop their clerics from fueling the fires of Islamic extremism'."
Whoa, Mr Kerry, go easy on that darn neo-con talk. Kerry also said this about the Bushies:

"They've looked to force before exhausting diplomacy, they bullied when they should have persuaded, they've gone it alone when they should have assembled a team."
Kerry seems to be going backwards: last year it was a "fraudulent coalition", now it's the US going alone. Kerry had this to say about America's allies: "There was a time not so long ago when the might of our alliances was a driving force in the survival and the success of freedom... We extended a hand, not a fist." Sadly, by firstly calling them frauds and now making them disappear altogether, Kerry has neither extended a hand nor a fist to true allies like Great Britain, Australia and Poland - he extended his middle finger.


Fisking "The Australian" and those anti-war conservatives 

Speaking of Daniel Drezner, I noticed his earlier post "Where are conservatives on Iraq?" where he analyses a piece by Reihan Salam in "The New Republic Online" (unfortunately available only to subscribers), who in turn notes that increasing numbers of conservatives are starting to be critical either of the war in Iraq generally, or at least of President Bush's handling of the war and post-liberation.

As it happens, "The Australian" has today published a collection of quotes from prominent right-of-centre opinion-makers, "Right turns on an unnecessary war". There is no doubt that among the general chorus voicing objections to either the means or the end (or both) of the liberation, lately we can hear more and more of the conservative baritone section coming through. But as I was reading through "The Australian"'s compilation I was struck by how disingenuous it was.

John Mearsheimer, an University of Chicago political scientist, for example, is quoted as saying that "Bush's handling of foreign policy - particularly the decision to invade Iraq - has turned me and other realists into some of the administration's sharpest critics." True, but foreign policy realists have been against invasion of Iraq right from the beginning (take Bush Sr, or his foreign policy team members like Brent Scowcroft). Mearsheimer himself has been against the war way before the war actually started - you can find his position here and here. So what's the news?

Francis Fukuyama gets quoted too. But Fukuyama has been critical of Bush's foreign policy for quite some time too. Another quotee, Fareed Zakaria, as early as August 2002 thought that the Americans might have problems implementing successful nation-building in Iraq, and strongly recommended the UN involvement in reconstruction. Again, hardly a change of heart on his part. Robert Kagan doesn't have a change of heart either (far from it), he's just noting that some others do.

David Brooks might be quoted as saying that "It's not too early to begin thinking about what was clearly an intellectual failure," (the actual piece here, and even that is not a wrist-slashing stuff) but he's not quoted as saying that while "[n]o other nation would have been naïve enough to [try to bring democracy to the Middle East] this badly... [n]o other nation would be adaptable enough to recover from its own innocence and muddle its way to success, as I suspect we are about to do." Again, hardly "Right turning on an unnecessary war."

Then there is George Will with "[t]his administration needs a dose of conservatism without the prefix." The problem again is that Will has been saying almost exactly the same thing only one week into the start of the war in March 2003. Again, what's the news?

Which leaves CNN's Crossfire moderator, Tucker Carlson, with his "I supported the war and now I feel foolish." He does seem to be the only one quoted in "The Australian" piece who did change his mind on Iraq. But if Tucker Carson is the only one that "The Oz" can find to support their argument, then we can all take a deep breath and go back to whatever we were doing before.


The joy of blogging 

Daniel Drezner has got a delightful little piece about the joys (and the obsession) of blogging. As the "New York Times" article he refers to says, "[a] few blogs have thousands of readers, but never have so many people written so much to be read by so few." A tad unkind maybe, but there's no doubt that new technology had done much to democratise the news and opinion business over the last few years - overwhelmingly for the good, I'd say from my extensive experience as a (two-month) veteran of the blogsphere. I have a feeling too, that we're just seeing the beginnings of the blog phenomenon; there's a lot more to come.

From an economic perspective, the blogsphere (and more generally the whole news and opinion aspect of the internet) strikes me as a great example of free market in action. So while it may be true that "never have so many people written so much to be read by so few", with time, competition will keep sorting out the best and the brightest, so that increasingly more and more will be writing for bigger and bigger audiences. As always, consumer will be the winner. It will be fascinating to watch.


Australian jihad news 

Niner Charlie reports on the discovery of the private email address of an al Quaeda's associated Jemaah Islamiah terrorist mastermind Hambali. Not that Hambali (being in US custody) is going to access his email account anytime soon, but just imagine all the spam now accumulating there. If al Qaueda is ever short on funding, they'll have plenty of business offers from Nigerian businessmen to choose from.

Meanwhile, Izhar Ul-Haque, the Sydney medical student who confessed to training with another al Quaeda associated terror franchise, Kashmiri Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), has been freed on bail:

"[New South Wales] Supreme Court judge Peter Hidden yesterday released Mr Ul-Haque for $200,000 surety, the surrender of his passports and a promise not to contact the friend who allegedly introduced him to LET."
According to Justice Hidden, Ul-Haque poses no threat to society. This is rather strange seeing that Ul-Haque associated with other terror suspects both while in Sydney and overseas, and had returned to Australia with a suitcase of notes on "weapons as diverse as rocket launchers, landmines, targeting devices for tanks and multi-purpose machineguns." But Justice Hidden obviously must have had his reasons.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, another Aussie jihadist, Jack Roche has been convicted of planning a major terrorist act. But as Gnu Hunter says, if it was up to the usual suspects he would not have been even arrested.


A good Friday morning 

A warm welcome to all the new readers - I hope you'll enjoy this blog and keep coming back.

Just a quickie for a warm up this morning (Australian time). Last night I caught with the corner of my eye a news story about the continuing defiance of al Sadr's supporters in southern Iraq. Unfortunately I don't know which news service the footage came from, but it showed plenty of close-ups and waist-up shots of some very angry young men chanting slogans as they carried a coffin of their comrade who died fighting the Americans. It all looked pretty typical, until the story's editor made a mistake of including a quick cut to a wider shot of the proceedings, which showed that there were no more than about 20 angry Sadrists involved. Gosh, it couldn't be another one of those pathetic staged photo opportunity that the Western media keep portraying as the "Arab street" in action?


Thursday, May 27, 2004

Democrats "sceptical" of threat warnings 

Surprise, surprise:

"President Bush's political opponents have given a sceptical reception to a new warning that al-Qaeda may be close to staging an attack in the US."
This is, of course, a no-win situation for Bush; if there is a terrorist attack, he'll be accused of not doing enough to stop it (distracted by the war in Iraq, and all that); if there is no attack, he'll be accused of crying wolf, and worse still, doing so for political purposes (to distract from waning popularity, and all that (hell, Clinton used to start wars to distract from waning popularity; Bush might be the first president who might be forced to have a highly public affair with an intern to distract from a war)).

But I'm digressing. As the report continues,

"The president's Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry, said homeland security should not be part of the rhetoric of the campaign."
Unless it's anti-Bush rhetoric. "Bush-slept-on-the-job-and-all-we-got-was-this-lousy-S11", anyone?

"We deserve a president of the United States who doesn't make homeland security a photo opportunity," said Kerry. "We deserve a president who makes America safer."
But while we're at it, how about not making the gun issue a photo opportunity instead, Mr Kerry? Or Latino education? Or your Catholicism? Or your whole campaign?


Sex and (political) death in Washington 

Unless you live inside the Beltway the chances are you probably haven't heard - and don't give a shit - about the latest "scandal" to rock Washington: the story of Jessica Cutler, a 24-year old receptionist at a Republican Senator's office, who's been moonlighting as a hooker and have detailed her encounters on (what else) a blog. Jessica's now been fired, but I'm sure she'll have a great career in the media or the entertainment industry, at least for 15 minutes (whatever happened to Monica Lewinsky?).

Do I have an opinion on the Cutler affair? Not particularly, except to note that small and isolated capital cities such as Washington and Canberra tend to develop an insular and incestuous culture, aided and abetted by the resident media, which turns everything into an in-joke or a scandal (or in this case, an in-joke scandal). Hence Iraq becomes all about "getting" a general responsible for the Abu Ghraib abuse, and S11 turns into a rush to pin the blame for the intelligence failure on the Bushies. And if all that sometimes becomes too tedious, there's always a 24-year old staffer who sleeps around for money.

I'll leave the final comment to Michelle Malkin:

"Cutler, who aspired to be a journalist, spouted: 'I'm sure I am not the only one who makes money on the side this way: How can anybody live on $25K/year??' When I was 24 and making less than that, I did it by eating Spaghetti-O's, Ramen noodles and Swanson pot pies for dinner; driving a Toyota Tercel with no air conditioning; and sleeping on a $30 futon. I did it the way most parents teach their daughters to succeed: through hard work, thrift, faith and perseverance."
You're such a square, Michelle. That way you'll never get a write up on Wonkette, and isn't it everyone's life ambition to get there?


Neo-conservatives, global warming and victims of communism 

...don't have much in common (although I'm sure that somebody could come up with a great conspiracy theory linking all three) except I've noticed these three good opinion pieces today.

Zachary Selden writes about "What Europe Doesn't Understand: Neoconservatism is neither neo nor conservative. It's just American":

"There is a pervasive sense that American foreign policy is being driven down a radically new path by a small band of ideologues who have virtually hijacked the policymaking process... [The reality is] that certain individuals associated with the neoconservative label have been particularly articulate in expressing a set of policies that flow from two ideas that resonate deeply in American public opinion. The first is a belief that the United States has a responsibility to spread its vision of individual liberty. The second is that the primary and perhaps exclusive task of the federal government is to protect its citizens from external threats."
Despite a strong isolationist streak in American culture, the United States has always been a messianic nation. Europe, embarrassed about its own past overseas forays, has trouble understanding why anyone else would want to bear the proverbial "white man's burden" nowadays (minus the racist connotations), and what's more, be proud of it.

The "skeptical environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg trashes the Hollywood blockbuster "The Day After Tomorrow", pointing out some not very sexy reality:

"For the cost of implementing Kyoto in just one year, we could permanently provide clean drinking water and sanitation to everyone on the planet. Yet it is unlikely that [the film's director] Emmerich will cast Brad Pitt creating sewerage systems in Kenya for his next glamorous movie. Nor is he likely to tell us the tale of governments investing in malarial vaccines or global conferences removing trade barriers.

"Yet these are the stark options that policy-makers face every time they spend a dollar destined to ease human suffering.

"In an ideal world, we would be able to achieve everything - we should halt global warming and eradicate corruption, end malnutrition and win the war against communicable diseases. Because we cannot do everything, we need sound reasoning and high-quality information to defeat the hysteria of Hollywood."
Hollywood, which seems to be increasingly living in a world of virtually unlimited film budgets, doesn't seem to understand that the rest of us have to prioritise our resources. Lomborg has also touched on Hollywood's blockbuster mentality, which deems sufficiently important only those real world issues that can be turned into great films with lots of fancy special effects. While you're at it, check out Lomborg's new initiative to turn the world's attention to real environmental problems.

And John J Miller writes about an idea whose time has finally come:

"The centerpiece of the new World War II Memorial here--set to open formally on Saturday--is called Freedom's Wall. It bears 4,000 gold stars commemorating the 400,000 Americans who lost their lives in the conflict. 'Here we mark the price of freedom,' says an engraving.

"Nearly two miles to the east, on the other side of the Capitol, there soon may rise a memorial that marks the price of tyranny--specifically, the 100 million people said to have died during the Cold War. If a federal planning board approves the site in July, the Victims of Communism Memorial finally may have a home at the intersection of Constitution and Maryland Avenues, NE."
In case you forgot, communism was another misunderstood ideology that the American military-industrial complex spent years and countless lives and trillions of dollars fighting, before it decided to impose its neo-imperial vision on the Middle East and torture some prisoners.


Good news before handover? 

Does he have any more places to withdraw from?

"Radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr had agreed to withdraw his militia from Najaf and hand the city back to Iraqi police, raising hopes for an end to weeks of fighting that threatened some of Shia Islam's holiest sites, the Government's national security adviser said."
We'll of course wait and see how the situation will unfold - al Sadr might just be trying to survive until June 30, after which date he's hoping that the Iraqi authorities will be too weak to forcefully deal with him. In the meantime he's bleeding men, although unfortunately that's probably the only resource he can afford to keep losing at the moment.


Wednesday, May 26, 2004

What's next? "Al Quaeda - the musical"? 

The "artz" world strikes again:

"London's theatrical world is no stranger to political plays, but a new work opening this week has taken an original approach - telling the story of Britons held at the US-run Guantanamo Bay detention center by using their own words.

" 'Guantanamo, Honor Bound to Defend Freedom,' which opened Monday night at the well-respected Tricycle Theater in the northwest part of the capital, explores the plight of British men held at the center in Cuba.

" 'We've put together a show which is using the transcripts of interviews with British detainees, families of detainees, detainees who came back, some lawyers and some military people from Guantanamo,' said the play's director, Nicolas Kent."
A play about 67 British citizens who have died on September 11 unfortunately won't be able to use "their own words" as they are all dead.


They're not Americans, so it's alright 

UN peacekeepers, coming soon to an Iraqi town near you:

"Teenage rape victims fleeing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo are being sexually exploited by the United Nations peace-keeping troops sent to the stop their suffering.

"The Independent has found that mothers as young as 13 - the victims of multiple rape by militiamen - can only secure enough food to survive in the sprawling refugee camp by routinely sleeping with UN peace-keepers."
But that's alright, at least the UN peacekeepers don't put men on a leash.

There's more. And here's some of my earlier musings on the topic.


From Baghdad with love 

A nice little interview with Salam Pax, the original Iraqi blogger, "Guardian" columnist, internationally published author and soon to be subject of a movie.

Salam, as everyone's probably aware by now, is far from an uncritical admirer of the United States, and he's got plenty to say about what went wrong post-liberation. Yet after all the criticism, there is time for a deep breath:

"So what are the good things? What is wonderful about Baghdad today? His face lights up. 'The streets, full of things to buy. All the newspapers – some of them make you angry, some make you laugh, some are silly, but people are saying things.'

"Most of all, he says, the pride of his people. 'The best moment, best moment ever, was the announcement of the governing council. They're useless, 25 people who I know will be able to do nothing but, never mind, they're there. And the concert after that, people singing the new Iraqi national anthem. It makes the hairs stand on my neck every time I hear it'."
Little things, like free choices and greater options, freedom to speak and not to speak, undegraded national symbols. It's a post-totalitarian recovery syndrome; media wouldn't understand.


Mr President, tear down these walls 

"Guardian" and President Bush finally agree on something - kind of. This, from the British leftie daily's architecture correspondent Jonathan Glancey :

"Among those buildings deserving to be trampled deep into the desert sands is Abu Ghraib prison, which the US president, George Bush, last night announced would be demolished in the wake of the torture scandal."
Alas, the reason is more the prison's latest history, rather than its Saddamite past:

"There is no need for anyone to be shown around this horrid place in the future. What would they expect to see? Bodies hanging from walls? Traces of blood and semen? Those grins for the camera? Green gloves?"
Is that all that went inside Abu Ghraib?

And I was hoping that just this once "Guardian" and W might agree. Then again, if it had finally happened I would be worried about W's judgment.


Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Good news from Iraq, part II 

You've seen the first installment - now prepare for the sequel. Because guess what? There's more good news from Iraq that every day slips under the radar or gets lost among all the bad publicity. So, after the phenomenal response to the first "Good news from Iraq", and back by popular demand, here's more good news from Iraq that you might have missed while reading about prisoner abuse, Chalabi, prisoner abuse, Chalabi, al Sadr, prisoner abuse, bombed out wedding, Chalabi and prisoner abuse.

(I coped some criticism that some of the reports I quoted in the first round-up weren't very current, so this time, with some very small exceptions, the news is from the last few weeks.)

REBUILDING THE SOCIETY: Democracy is moving forward, step by step. "[O]ver time, the councils have been encouraged to get involved in decisions that affect their lives - be they building health clinics, providing subsidized cooking fuel or setting up US-style neighborhood watches against crime - and some progress has been made. Councilors across Iraq have taken more initiative while their US facilitators have grown more passive by design," writes "Christian Science Monitor" (kudos to that newspaper for being the only one to consistently cover the reconstruction of Iraq).

If you're wondering why the process can be sometimes so difficult, bear in mind the price those good civically-minded Iraqis have to pay: "An official at the Baghdad City Council says 52 neighborhood and district councilors have been killed since the middle of last year" (quoted in the same story). Now think what shape the local government would be in your area if councilors were being regularly gunned down. Then spare a thought for the brave Iraqis. And while you're at it, read this op-piece by Mark Steyn about building Iraqi democracy from the ground up.

In other news, Iraq will have its first post-war census. One that won't be used as a political exercise: "Several counts were carried out when Saddam was in power but many Iraqis say they were tempered with in order to advance the ruling Baath party's political and economic pursuits. The results of these counts are now being disputed by Kurds and the majority Shiite Muslims in the country."

With Iraq now freed from Saddam's tyranny, exiles are flowing back in, many of them rich in skills and expertise and keen to pass them onto their fellow countrymen and women - we're talking about people like Maysoon Patchachi and Kasim Abid who are opening a film school to train Iraqi artists.

While we're on the topic of higher education, bet you never heard of a new high-tech Shia university at Hilla, south of Baghdad. "Through a radical program to educate young religious leaders Qazwini [the university's founder] and his students want to make Islam synonymous with tolerance, human-rights and democracy, while they have little time for the Shia establishment led by Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf whose they feel offer little guidance for dealing with contemporary life... 'Some religious people who want to represent Islam want to return us to the Middle Ages'," says one of the students. " 'Islam must deal with the issues of contemporary society. They should focus on today's issues such as globalisation, democracy and modern life'." Are we seeing the beginnings of Islamic Reformation?

Elsewhere in Iraq, efforts to become a normal country continue. In a region where having visited Israel can prevent you from being let into Arab countries, this next Kurdish initiative seems particularly enlightened: "Iraqi Kurdish Jews who migrated to Israel are free to visit relatives in northern Iraq, a Kurdish leader said... 'Muslims and Jews in Iraq were connected through marriage - and those who visit Iraq are not Israeli only but Iraqi Jews'." The report goes to say that "at least 100 Israeli companies are vying to set a foot in the [Kurdish] region" - which would be a first.

Lastly, read about Rasool Sharif, a podiatrist and an owner of the Foot & Ankle Clinic in Naples, Florida, who is traveling back to Iraq, to run for the President in 2005, possibly with Ayatollah Sistani's blessing.

RECONSTRUCTION: How about that economy? "It's the Iraq you don't hear about, one with falling unemployment, rising wages, lower interest rates and higher foreign investment". In fact, the economy is going so well, that hundreds of thousands of Iranians are believed to have crossed into Iraq since the fall of Saddam, looking for work, setting up businesses and buying property.

As always, the Kurd-controlled areas are doing particularly well: "The Kurdish local government in Arbil, run by Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party, has drawn up plans for a major facelift of the ancient city. Projects worth $300 million are in the pipeline which, according to the local Municipalities Minister Abdulmuheimen al-Barzani, are expected to turn Arbil into a modern city." Amongst those plans - some of the largest supermarkets in the Middle East. And while the Kurds are going very well, Baghdad is bustling with construction work, with huge demand for building materials driving prices up.

Overall, "[t]he Trade Ministry has registered more than 2,000 Iraqi and foreign firms since the fall of the former regime more than a year ago. The ministry has scrapped regulations the ousted leader Saddam Hussein had issued to give favorable treatment in trade matters to firms and countries supporting his domestic and political agendas. The ministry says it now purse what it describes as 'open door policy' under which all firms, regardless of their origin, are welcome to contribute in reconstructing the country." Oil for Food? What was that?

Some readers took me to task about relying on the official electricity generation figures and targets: apparently the goalposts keep being moved. That might well be the case - but just before you get too self-righteous about the Coalition authorities not doing enough to provide sufficient electricity, bear this in mind: "Across the flat landscape of the southern provinces, there lies row upon row of electricity pylons with their tops broken and bent. Some are the result of sabotage to stop electricity generated in the south of Iraq flowing to Baghdad. Others have been stripped of their copper for resale." Rebuilding the grid is difficult enough without constant sabotage. Then there's also the problem of additional demand, as Iraqis can now afford to buy electrical equipment like air conditioners. Oh, and the fact that terrorists are targeting Western contractors who are trying to rebuild the infrastructure.

The situation is similar with oil production: "There has been a significant rise in attacks aimed at disrupting oil output and exports, the Oil Ministry says. 'Rarely a day passes without a terrorist attack on one of our installations,' the ministry said in a report... Ministry officials say they were hoping to lift output to more than 3 million barrels a day by this time of the year but 'terrorist operations' have scuttled their efforts." Still, there's good news: "The Southern Oil Company has boosted output to 2.1 million barrels a day, the rate it had reached shortly before the United States toppled Saddam Hussein's regime last year. Officials at the company describe the new production level 'a miracle' because the war and subsequent looting and sabotage had wreaked havoc in almost all facilities." A miracle indeed. Memo to the left: after your neigbour's house gets regularly broken into, and vandalised and trashed, you don't complain of your poor neigbour that he lives like a pig.

In other economic news, according to a survey sponsored by the Center for International Private Enterprise (an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) of four hundred small business owners and managers in twenty Iraqi cities and smaller towns, "[a]fter three decades of state domination of the Iraqi economy, small- and medium-sized businesses in that country are poised to rebuild Iraq's private sector." Iraq's small business entrepreneurs overwhelmingly predict a stronger economy in the short term, and are planning to expand.

Meanwhile, the Iraq American Chamber of Commerce and Industry is offering Iraqi businesswomen an opportunity to participate in the Business Internship Program, to help them learn management and business skills while working in the U.S. business environment. Read also this post on how Fullbright scholarships are trying to build better understanding between Iraqi and Americans.

HUMANITARIAN EFFORT: Iraqi education system is being rebuilt - slowly: after years of neglect under Saddam and post-liberation looting, of "14,924 schools in Iraq... 80 percent of them (11,939) need some sort of repair following the looting when the former regime fell. Some 40 percent (5,970) need major rehabilitation and 9 percent (1,343) are in need of demolition or rebuilding." USAID has already spent $74 million through primary education activities and approximately $70 million through secondary education activities on its Year 1 Education Program.

And while we're on the topic of education, foreigners are now allowed to open and operate private schools in Iraq. Under Saddam, foreign schools were expropriated and education nationalised.

Speaking of USAID, it has been working with the Coalition Provisional Authority, the United Nations, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund to assists Iraqis in reconstructing their country on literally hundreds of projects. All with almost nil publicity. Why bother about 2,358 schools rehabilitated countrywide or rebuilding key bridges when there's a new photo of prisoner on a leash to be published?

World Bank is also doing a lot of largely unpublicised good work: "In addition to improving the infrastructure on the ground, such as the rehabilitation of 700 schools, the Bank is focusing on building up the country's' human capital, through training programs for Iraqi civil servants, business women and private commercial bankers, and providing policy advice."

The health system, just as the education system, is in similar need for a radical overhaul: "Iraq's healthcare system, once the Middle East's leader, has become the most deprived in the region, according to both Iraq's Health Minister and a high ranking World Bank official... '[T]he country has been pretty well cut-off for the last 10 to 20 years'." However, "the situation could rapidly improve if oil revenues over the next year are directed to boosting health care. In addition, the 2004 budget for health care is now $950 million ($40 per person), compared to $16 million (less than 75 cents per person) in 2002. For the whole country, the WHO estimates that $20 million per month is all that is needed to keep the health system functioning."

While you're at it, why don't you read a bit more about restoring the fragile marsh ecosystems so that Marsh Arabs can return to their traditional ways. Here's how Western expertise and local knowledge make it all happen.

OUR TROOPS ON THE GROUND: No, they don't all torture prisoners and shoot civilians, although you'd be forgiven for thinking that's the case. "This is my third deployment with the 1st Marine Division to the Middle East. This is the third time I've heard the quavering cries of the talking heads predicting failure and calling for withdrawal. This is the third time I find myself shaking my head in disbelief... Nothing any talking head will say can deter me or my fellow Marines from caring about the people of Iraq" - read the whole piece by this Marine intelligence officer.

By the way, if you were concerned about the practice of "hooding" prisoners, spare a thought for prisoners who are not hooded and when released become victims of reprisals by Iraqis who believe them to be members of the old regime: one such man "was seized, tied to a post and had all of his teeth pulled by a baying mob armed with pliers. The teeth were placed in a plastic container and handed back to the man, before he was marched across to where his wife and child were waiting. He was executed in front of them with a bullet through the back of the head." Doesn't make hooding such a bad idea, does it?

Back on the streets, the Coalition forces are under constant threat as they move through "rough neighbourhoods". In response, this: "To placate the nearly two million Muslim Shiites living in a poor Baghdad district, US troops have earmarked $51.7 million to upgrade its devastated utilities." Other units, such as the Alabama National Guard's 214th Military Police Company, have other pursuits in Iraq: "We played a major role in establishing the first Baghdad Police Academy. We succeeded there and we handed it off to others up and running. We graduated three classes of police officers, with 1,000 to 1,500 in each class," says Company's Sgt. Frederick White.

Meanwhile, "Australian troops are winning the battle for hearts and minds in their sector of strife-torn Baghdad by 'adopting' the children of the local kindergarten."

And the actor Gary Sinise, who played Lt Dan in "Forest Gump" had this to say after visiting Iraqi hospitals: "I also saw a beautiful interaction between our Soldiers and the Iraqi children. The kids I saw on my second trip to Iraq with Wayne Newton in November 2003 were loving our Soldiers and were so grateful to them for having liberated them from Saddam Hussein. It was a tremendous feeling to see these children hugging and kissing our Soldiers, cheering them with the thumbs up sign and in broken English saying, 'I love you'... Good things are happening over there [Iraq]. On the nightly news it looks like all hell is breaking loose, but I know, from being over there, there's another side to the story."

SECURITY SITUATION: Fallujah still quiet. And down south, al-Sadr keeps losing ground, withdrawing from Karbala, and being squeezed in Najaf.

This report on another strategy to combat violence: "This week the army tried a new approach to silence Iraqi guns: Buy them. In their first program of its kind in Baghdad, American troops engaged in a weapons buyback program. It began on Saturday and was so popular that it was extended for another two days. By Tuesday night hundreds of Iraqis had been paid $761,357 for 56,536 items, from bullets to assault rifles to mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, according to the military." How capitalist of the Americans.

Have you heard of a new Iraqi militia called the "Black Flag"? Until yesterday, neither have I. Possibly because they are not anti-American. "Twenty men slinging Kalashnikovs, Sterling sub-machineguns, and an assortment of pistols sauntered down a main street in the Baghdad neighborhood of al-Adhamiya one recent Friday afternoon ready for business. As locals watch anxiously, the men tore down pro-Baathist and anti-Coalition posters, a common sight in this pro-Saddam district. Then they replaced the posters with leaflets of their own, vowing attacks on 'terrorists'." The militia claims it has 5,000 members coming from Sunni, Shia and Kurd groups. Al-Sadr's Mehdi Army coincidently is also said to have a few thousand members, but it gets lot more publicity - maybe Black Flag should start killing Americans.

There it is for now. So thank you, ladies and gentlemen for visiting. Hope you're feeling a bit better. As always, please let me know if you hear of more good news. And while you're at it, don't forget to have a look at my new competition - "Remaking the Middle East" - c'mon, I'm sure you've got some great ideas on how to make that region actually work.


A conspiracy theory to end all conspiracy theories 

This just in:

"US officials suspect Iran duped the US into invading Iraq by slipping bogus intelligence to Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC), The Guardian newspaper reported today.

" 'Some intelligence officials now believe that Iran used the hawks in the Pentagon and the White House to get rid of a hostile neighbour and pave the way for a Shia-ruled Iraq,' it said in a front-page dispatch from Washington.

"Quoting a US intelligence official, whom it did not name, The Guardian said Chalabi's intelligence chief Ara Kariim Habibi had been a paid by Iranian agent for several years, 'passing intelligence in both directions'.

" 'It's pretty clear that Iranians had us for breakfast, lunch and dinner,' it quoted an intelligence source in Washington as saying. 'Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the US for several years through Chalabi'."
But hang on - wasn't the existence of weapons of mass destruction supposed to have been just an excuse for neo-cons to invade Iraq and colonise the region? So how was the US duped if it was going to invade anyway?

I wonder how the mainstream media, which has staked so much on the claim that "Bush LIED!", will react to this conspiracy theory. After all, if the Bush Administration was duped by the Iranians via Chalabi, then it must have honestly believed in the intelligence they were getting. So Bush hasn't LIED. Then again, every which way the media wins - if he hasn't LIED, then he's an IDIOT for allowing himself to be fooled.


Monday, May 24, 2004

"The recent abuse at Abu Ghraib is a joke to us" 

"They called all the prisoners out to the courtyard for what they called a 'celebration.' We all knew what they meant by 'celebration.' All the prisoners were chained to a pipe that ran the length of the courtyard wall. One prisoner, Amer al-Tikriti, was called out. They said if he didn't tell them everything they wanted to know, they would show him torture like he had never seen. He merely told them he would show them patience like they had never seen."

"This is when they brought out his wife, who was five months pregnant. One of the guards said that if he refused to talk he would get 12 guards to rape his wife until she lost the baby. Amer said nothing. So they did. We were forced to watch. Whenever one of us cast down his eyes, they would beat us."

"Amer's wife didn't lose the baby. So the guard took a knife, cut her belly open and took the baby out with his hands. The woman and child died minutes later. Then the guard used the same knife to cut Amer's throat." There is a moment of silence. Then Idrissi says: "What we have seen about the recent abuse at Abu Ghraib is a joke to us."
Ibrahim al-Idrissi, in case you were wondering, is the president of the Association for Free Prisoners, a non-government group documenting the abuse of prisoners by Saddam Hussein's regime (yes, Dorothy, there was prisoner abuse in Iraq before the Americans came in). Read the whole article. The key word is perspective.


"Pendulum pundits" 

A few days ago I (again) commented on the loss of heart among the pro-war crowd in light of recent setbacks and scandals. Read Michael Young's take on the topic in "Reason", as he chastises "pendulum pundits" (get it?) for misunderstanding Iraqis.

"The shortcoming of the pro-war crowd in Washington is that in their zeal to topple Saddam Hussein, they never read up on the world they were entering into—particularly the ways of the Arab market, or souq. One doesn't have to like or be liked in the souq, but one must stand up for his end and avoid retiring when there is still room for compromise. Much like their anti-war foes who have an interest in proving the 'quagmire' theory right, the pendulums are having trouble reading the dynamism in Iraq. Things may be bad for the U.S, but the Iraqis realize that once the bargaining ends, everybody loses.

"Arab societies, like many others, have always bought breathing space by negotiating with those in authority. Even Saddam had to play patronage politics to stay in place. The U.S. is in a similar position today. It alone has the power of the purse, but with a difference: it has not stifled the Iraqis, nor has it reacted to the armed groups in the 'Sunni triangle' and southern Iraq with mass repression. For Iraqis, the June 30 transfer of power deadline is real enough that some are fighting to gain the most out of it; those with whom the U.S. has already dealt, such as Ayatollah Ali Sistani, prefer to secure their gains through a peaceful transition...

"Iraq's ambient instability comes partly from the fact that virtually everyone there expects something to happen come June 30. Where the Iraqis are concerned with agreeing a price, the anxious pendulums still think in terms of 'winning hearts and minds'."
I hope that Young is right. One thing's for sure, as my grandmother used to say: things are never quite as good or quite as bad as they say they are. Come June 30, it will be fascinating to watch Iraq try to stand on its own two feet.


What axis of evil? 

From "The New York Times":

"International inspectors have discovered evidence that North Korea secretly provided Libya with nearly two tons of uranium in early 2001, which if confirmed would be the first known case in which the North Korean government has sold a key ingredient for manufacturing atomic weapons to another country, according to American officials and European diplomats familiar with the intelligence."
Whether or not it really is the first known case of North Korea selling "a key ingredient for manufacturing atomic weapons", Kim's paradise has been quite a little proliferator for quite some time.

MEANWHILE, in other "Axis of Evil" news, "The Iranian government has criticized U.S. policies in Iraq and says it wants coalition forces to leave as soon as possible." I bet they would.


"Iran's supreme leader on Sunday appointed a former captor in the 1979 hostage crisis as the head of state-run radio and television. Conservative Ezzatollah Zarghami, 45, was promoted by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from his post as deputy head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Zarghami was among militant students who overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 embassy staffers hostage for 444 days in 1979."
And this, from a poor country cousin of the Axis of Evil:

"Kuwaiti Islamist missionaries (Du'aat) enticed Kuwaiti teenagers with the idea of Jihad, urged them to take part in the Iraqi resistance against the Americans, and arranged their passage to Syria. There, the teenagers met clandestinely [with trainers] who prepared them for combat and secured their crossing into Iraq via the Syrian border." (via MEMRI)


And they had me fooled... 

This will come as a shock to the public:

"Those convinced that liberals make up a disproportionate share of newsroom workers have long relied on Pew Research Center surveys to confirm this view, and they will not be disappointed by the results of Pew's latest study released today.

"While most of the journalists, like many Americans, describe themselves as 'moderate', a far higher number are 'liberal' than in the general population.

At national organizations (which includes print, TV and radio), the numbers break down like this: 34% liberal, 7% conservative. At local outlets: 23% liberal, 12% conservative. At Web sites: 27% call themselves liberals, 13% conservatives.

This contrasts with the self-assessment of the general public: 20% liberal, 33% conservative."
And then you wonder why the prisoner abuse story just keeps running and running, Iraq is turning into another Vietnam, and wherever Bush turns there's more bad news.


Sunday, May 23, 2004

Stupid Golden Palms and other sorry excuses of an award 

Repeat after me: the decision to award Michael Moore Palme d'Or for best film at the Cannes festival is not political. Not at all. It can't be, can it? The jury wouldn't stoop that low? Not Quentin Tarantino and friends...

In his acceptance speech Moore has this to say: "I want to make sure if I do nothing else for this year that those who have died in Iraq have not died in vain."

Is he talking about American soldiers by any chance, or "the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen," i.e. the brave Iraqi resistance?

Among the reactions

"The White House refused to be riled today by a decision to award the Cannes film festival's top prize to a documentary harshly critical of US President George W. Bush and his decision to invade Iraq.

" 'It's a free country. It's what makes America great. Everyone has the right to say what they want. And beyond that, we're not going to comment,' White House spokeswoman Suzy DeFrancis said."
The media obviously hoped that the White House will be riled. Oh well, there will be another occasion, I'm sure.

BY THE WAY: Moore has still got this offer on his website:

"If you are a soldier currently serving in Iraq and would like a free copy of either Dude, Where's My Country or a Bowling for Columbine DVD, please send us an email including your full name, your address in Iraq and all other information we need in order to get it to you."
Of course, as Suzy DeFrancis mentioned above, America is a free country - American soldiers have a right to read and watch whatever they want, and Michael Moore has a right to spend his money whichever way he wants to. I'm sure a percentage of the troops currently in Iraq don't want to be there; I'm also sure that there would be more who would no longer want to be there after being exposed to Moore's work. But that's not the point - they are in Iraq because of their orders, and these orders are not going to change because suddenly they would rather be somewhere else. So what exactly does Moore think he's going to achieve by demoralising the American troops serving in Iraq - a mutiny? mass disobedience? God only knows, but whatever it is it will do nothing to bring about Moore's objective of ending the war.


The abuse bandwagon rolls on 

A week ago I wrote that in the media's rush to exploit the prison abuse "quagmire", two separate issues will increasingly become confused and blurred: the sado-sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by some American guards, and the use of special interrogation techniques. I wish I could say I was wrong.

This from the "Washington Post":

"A military lawyer for a soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib abuse case testified that a captain at the Baghdad prison said the highest-ranking U.S. military officer in Iraq [Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez] was present during some 'interrogations and/or allegations of the prisoner abuse'."
To be fair to the "Post" they write further down in the story that "[s]o far, clear evidence has yet to emerge that high-level officers condoned or promoted the abusive practices," but what about their earlier "Post" story about Sanchez' October 12 memo, which other news sources are gleefully describing as a "potential smoking gun" implicating American military leadership?

The memo in question gave interrogators the control over the "lighting, heating . . . food, clothing, and shelter" of detainees, as well as gave intelligence officials and the military police more scope to "manipulate an internee's emotions and weaknesses." Watch over the next few days, how simulated sex acts and men on a leash will magically blend with sleep deprivation and stress positions to form one sadistic orgy of torture and abuse sanctioned from the very top of the military structure.

And to keep the story going, there's a "Vivid new set of abuse photos" seemingly almost every day. And then there's also new "Abuse Video [that] Shows POW Torment." Doesn't the media increasingly remind you of adolescent boys swapping baseball cards? "I'll give you the one with the dead guy if you give me the one where they're all in a pyramid", "Bummer, not another one with bags over their heads", "Wow! The prisoner covered in excrement! That will be worth at least ten dogs!" Remember the olden days when the Americans were condemned for releasing the photos of dead Uday and Qsay Hussein because the pics "communicate[d] an acceptance of violent images not welcome in other times, a willingness to rejoice over death, a suspension of general norms"?

In amongst the frenzy, there are some rare voices that try to maintain perspective: "Veterans: Iraqi Abuse Photos Pale In Comparison To Abuse In Past Wars [And] Military Experts Say Reality Of War Uglier Than Most Imagine." Well, who would have thought! But the media seems to be afraid that to help explain and understand is the same as to help excuse, so we can't have any of that.


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