February 28, 2008

Success

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, addressed throngs of Shiite worshippers in the holy city of Karbala on Thursday, the commemoration of the 40th day after the martyrdom of the grandson of the prophet Mohammed, Hussein.  As they chanted, "Ali w'yak Ali," Ali we are with you Ali, referring to the revered cousin of the prophet Mohammed, Maliki declared that reconciliation had been achieved.

"We said 'national reconciliation among the sons of Iraq' and it succeeded," he told the crowd. "Iraqis once again became brothers, cooperating and loving one another. Harmony and loving has returned as it was. Now there is unity instead of civil war."

When he said it, our Iraqi staff chuckled. Yes the unidentified bodies in Baghdad have dropped, but violence has crept back up slightly, this month and the last, in the capital. The first day of February at least 99 people died in coordinated bombings here and when Shiites walked to Karbala, at least 40 died in a bombing at a roadside tent that offered refreshments to the pious walking to Karbala.

One of our Shiite Iraqi staffers asked if Maliki would go to Adil, a restive Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad where Sunni insurgents still operate and Shiites know they are not welcome. Maybe he can check out Hurriyah where Sunni residents have not returned. They were run out of the neighborhood in 2006 and some men were burned alive.

Maybe he can ask the more than 88,000 mostly Sunni contractors that work with the U.S. to fight Al Qaida how they feel about the reconciliation effort. Many of them are former insurgents, very few have been absorbed into the government. People complain now that many act as warlords, in each neighborhood the law is in their hands.

He may want to see what's happening in Basra where Shiite groups battle for power with bullets or ask the tribal sheikhs who are being targeted for turning on Al Qaida.

Things are a bit better, but is this victory?

 


February 26, 2008

Rulers of Iraq

We walked into the Iranian embassy today to interview the ambassador. It was built 70 years ago and reoccupied by the Iranian mission after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. My translator looked at me as we walked through the double wooden doors to interview the Iranian Ambassador.

"This is the second ruler of Iraq," she said.

I looked at her.

"After Crocker," she said, referring to the U.S. Ambassador. She never mentioned the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al Maliki. She expressed what most Iraqis feel, Iraq is a tug of war for power between Iran and the United States.


February 24, 2008

Karbala

Hundreds of thousands of Shiites are walking to Karbala. Many of the roads in the capital are blocked as pious Shiite Muslims make the about 50 mile-trek to the holy city where Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Mohammed, was killed.

On Thursday they commemorate Arbaeen, the anniversary of the 40th day after Hussein's death. Imam Hussein, his family and his followers who were killed were beheaded. On this day over 1300 years ago their heads were returned to their bodies. 

The most pious go on foot in memory of the slain figure. Since the 2003 invasion nearly every year there has been blood. This year is no different.

In Iskandiriya, a town within what was known as the Sunni triangle of death, the place where Al Qaida ruled and blood shed was the norm, at least 27 pilgrims were killed today and 50 were injured when a suicide bomber walked into the crowd. Police expect the death toll to climb by tonight. In Baghdad three were killed by grenade attacks. Arbaeen falls on Thursday, thousands more pilgrims will take to the street this week.

In Karbala, already throngs of Shiites had reached the shrine, pounding their chests in mourning for Hussein.

Tomorrow three of our staff members plan to walk. I asked them to stay, worried that another bloody bombing might take place. But the bombings won't stop them, it is their religious duty.   


February 20, 2008

Where'd they go?

Yesterday the Ministry of Interior said they'd clear the streets of beggars, the mentally disabled and the mentally disturbed.

The plan was to make sure the bombing that took 99 lives on Feb. 1 would not  be repeated. Officials say the two female suicide bombers were duped by Al Qaida into blowing themselves up. First the U.S. military said they appeared to have Down Syndrome based on the images of their damaged heads, blown from their bodies. Then, the U.S. military said they suffered from schizophrenia and depression. Later this month in a seperate attack, a woman who "looked like a beggar" according to officials, approached a shop front shrouded in her dusty Abaya, a long flowing black cloak, and blew herself up in central Baghdad.

So what was the solution? To round them all up and put them in shelters, hospitals or jail. Today the intersections of central Baghdad, where forlorn women and their young children typically pawn candy, gum, tissues or balloons were empty. The spokesman at the Ministry of Interior said they took no one off the streets. They all stayed home today.


February 19, 2008

Who's the Man?

On Dijla (Tigris) Radio in Iraq, listeners were asked to call in and tell the nation who was the man they most admire.

The names varied. Some cited Adnan al Dulaimi, a leading member in the largest Sunni political bloc in Iraq, who's been accused of dallying in terrorism.  Others cited Gamal Abdel Nasser, a crucial figure in recent Middle East history, known for advancing Arab nationalism and standing up to British colonialists during the Suez Crisis.

But it was this answer that was most interesting:

"Maliki. He turned Al Qaida into the Sahwa," the caller said.

He refers to the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and the now at least 88,000 strong U.S. contracted, mostly Sunni Muslims, who are fighting Al Qaida in Iraq. The U.S. military now calls them the Sons of Iraq, before that they were the Concerned Local Citizens.

Most of them are former insurgents and many people say a lot of Al Qaida are now part of these groups, paid to stay out of trouble.


February 12, 2008

Update

Hacker SoSo's protest is over. The site is back to normal with the smiling Iraqi President in front of the Iraqi flag and the words "Republic of Iraq."


"To The Iraqi Government"

Defaced_3 A nifty Iraqi hacker found a way to protest the government here with the government's own tool. The Iraqi Presidency Council's website has been hijacked by  someone who calls himself SoSo H H Lion.

Instead of the latest news from the Presidency Council a statement exclaims "Defaced!" in English and in Iraqi slang lashes out at the government.

The statement titled "To the Iraqi government," is graced with the old Iraqi flag and the Iraqi national anthem plays to the complaints.

The flag was recently replaced with an interim flag so that the government could fly the Iraqi flag in the region where they will host a pan-Arab parliament meeting. In Kurdistan the flag is seen as a symbol of the genocide committed against them under Saddam Hussein.

Eventually Iraq will chose yet another flag to represent them. But many Iraqis, like hacker SoSo, are angered by the change. To them it is a symbol that preceded Saddam Hussein and they believe it represents them.

The hacker asks, "A question; what are you doing for the country besides theft, looting and killing the people?"

Here are some excerpts from the statement which I suspect will soon be removed:

"Mention one thing that you did and the people will say 'God have mercy on the government's parents.' Of course you know very well that Iraqis are dying by the thousands. If one person died from the parliament or the ministries wouldn't the world turn upside down? Wouldn't it?"

"You left militias and the problems of the country and came to the symbol of Iraq, the Iraqi flag, and changed it. This is the flag that we raise everywhere and we are proud of it. This is the one we used to wrap our martyrs who sacrificed their souls for the sake of this country."

"It is sure that you will say, according to your media, that terrorism, the nation's enemies, Iraq's enemies and supporters of this and that sabotaged the website.

"These are your tricks. But the ones who sabotaged the site are Iraqis and we belong to our country not to anyone else.

"We know very well that this will not change anything but we are expressing the feelings of all Iraqis...Hopefully consciences will awaken."


February 07, 2008

She's Back

Jolie_2 Six months ago one of our Iraqi staff members, Mohammed, ran into my office with a goofy grin on his face.

"Finally we have good news in Iraq," he said.

"What is it?," I asked.

"Angelina Jolie is here," he answered.

Well she's back. The Hollywood bombshell returned to Baghdad to "bring awareness" to the refugee and internally displaced people crisis in Iraq.

The U.N. Goodwill Ambassador dropped into Iraq for the second time to meet with U.S. and Iraqi officials including the Prime Minister of Iraq and General David Petraeus. I assume it's a lot easier to get those appointments when you starred in Lara Croft Tomb Raider.

Maybe a little star power will make everything right, I don't know.

There are over two million people in Iraq displaced from their homes. Another two million are outside of Iraq. While some have returned it is a trickle and not a flood. Among those who have returned some only returned to be forced out again by new groups that control neighborhoods.

There is no real plan to resettle these people if and when they return. Squatters have taken over many displaced families' homes. In many cases militias are now deciding who can and who can't return to neighborhoods including the praised awakening councils, who are largely credited with helping reduce violence in parts of Iraq. The councils or Concerned Local Citizens are U.S. contracted mostly Sunni groups paid to protect their neighborhoods. Many of the members are former insurgents.

Here's what Jolie told CNN about the situation:

"There's lots of goodwill and lots of discussion, but there seems to be just a lot of talk at the moment," Jolie said. "What happens in Iraq and how Iraq settles in the years to come is going to effect the entire Middle East, and a big part of what it's going to effect, how it settles, is how these people are returned and settled into their homes and their community and brought back together and whether they can live together and what their communities look like."

Well there you go Angelina Jolie said it. Iraq is very important to the future of the Middle East, people need to stop talking and start fixing. Here's a link to the CNN transcript of the Jolie interview in Baghdad.


February 01, 2008

The Head

At least 65 people were killed today in two bombings, one in a bird market and the other in a pet market. My first thought when I heard was children. The image of a father relenting to a young son's pleas for a puppy ran through my head. I imagine that some child thought they were finally getting a pet they wanted and instead were faced with the reality of Iraq, blood.

In the bird market one man described a father running with his bleeding son. The blood was "flowing like a river" he told us and the father did not know where to go. Exhausted he fell to the ground and wailed until someone came to help.

Two women suicide bombers were the apparent cause of the explosion in the al Ghazil pet market in downtown Baghdad and a bird market in a Shiite neighborhood in the southeast of the capital. When the bodies were gone people covered the remains of flesh on the road with pieces of cloth.

We cannot run pictures that are too graphic, no pictures with blood and gruesome remains, no pictures of things that most Iraqis have seen at least once and often many more times than that in the almost five years of this war.

When the head of the female suicide bomber was found in the al Ghazil pet market, Iraqis filmed it on their cell phones.

A man lifted the head of a woman by her brown hair and with blood seeping from the severed neck he placed it gingerly into a shopping bag. Dead birds and animals were gathered up and put into a dumpster. Cleaners swept away the pools of blood, shop owners began to repair their shops once again and life went on.

Below is the video. But before you click on it, I warn you it's gruesome and if you can't handle blood don't watch this.

Download d981d98ad8afd98ad9880003.3gp


January 25, 2008

935

Cpreport

Nine hundred and thirty five _ that's the number of "false statements" made by the U.S. administration about the dangers of Saddam Hussein in the two years following 9/11, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity.

The report is the most in depth look at the number of times President George W. Bush and his administration made blatantly false statements in the media and in public speeches. Hundreds of times they said Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. Hundreds of times they linked Saddam Hussein to Al Qaida. Both turned out to be false. Osama Bin Laden considered the secular dictator in Iraq a heretic. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found.

The report has a searchable database and tracks the slow trend of lies dating from 9/11, to the invasion, to Sept. 11, 2003.  The lies peaked in February and March, the month before and the month of the invasion of Iraq.

The question is, did the administration knowingly lie to the public, to the United Nations and to Congress to bring us to where we are today?

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein is gone. Billions of dollars have been spent, thousands of U.S. soldiers have died and the tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died.

In 2004 Bush admitted no weapons of mass destruction were found and in 2005 he said this:

"It is true that Saddam Hussein had a history of pursuing and using weapons of mass destruction. It is true that he systematically concealed those programs, and blocked the work of U.N. weapons inspectors. It is true that many nations believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. But much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As your president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. Yet it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power."

So in 2005 the original reasons for the war were gone, the imminent danger of the dictator was proven untrue and the new reason for the war was solely to remove the dictator.

Of course none of this information is new but the report is the most extensive database of the false information spouted by the administration pre-Iraq invasion.

Bush alone made 232 of these statements, according to the report.

Here are some samplings:

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." Vice President Dick Cheney -- August 26, 2002.

"The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. . . . This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year." President George W. Bush -- September, 2002.

In July 2002, Donald Rumsfeld had a one-word answer in response to reporters who asked whether Iraq was connected to Al Qaeda terrorists: "Sure." The report adds "An assessment issued that same month by the Defense Intelligence Agency (and confirmed weeks later by CIA Director Tenet) found an absence of "compelling evidence demonstrating direct cooperation between the government of Iraq and Al Qaeda." What's more, an earlier DIA assessment said that "the nature of the regime's relationship with Al Qaeda is unclear.’”

"We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories," Bush -- May 29, 2003 in an interview with Polish TV.

"What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources," Colin Powell to the United Nations Security Council -- February 5, 2003.

All statements were proven untrue. What did they know when? The full report is here.


ABOUT THIS BLOG

Baghdad Observer is written by McClatchy journalists staffing the Baghdad bureau.

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