Saturday, November 27, 2004


Sunni and Shiite Iraq - Intermingling

[This is a complex issue and I feel like someone about to take a walk through a mine field. But I believe it may be necessary to give readers a "feel" of some of the complexities of "Sunni-Shiite" Iraq today. This post may be confusing to some readers. It is not for the faint-hearted.]

Sect Conversion

Changing from sect to sect does not require anything else besides declaration of intent and following the practice of the new sect. This conversion takes place all the time. It has been taking place for 1400 years.

On a large scale, it happened in Iran in the 18th century when their Shahs converted and it happened in the 19th century in the south-eastern provinces of Iraq.

On an individual level:

• It is a common practice for people to become Shiite when moving to live in a predominantly Shiite area or vice versa. It happened constantly for the past 1400 years. It happens all the time today.

• In the Shiite doctrine, if someone dies leaving only daughters, then his inheritance goes completely to those daughters. In the Sunni doctrine, the person's brothers get a share. This has been a frequent cause for conversion for such people – mainly in the cities. [One notable case that comes to my mind is a member of the now-defunct Governing Council who was generally regarded as "representing" secular Sunnis. This gentleman has only three daughters and has converted to Shi-ism.]

• In Islamic marriage, the dowry is in two parts; one part is paid to the wife in advance. The second part is called the deferred dowry. In the Sunni doctrine, this is paid in the case of divorce or death, whichever comes first! In the Shiite practice, this has to be paid on demand to the wife, at any time of her liking! In practice, this is hardly an issue as failed marriages are few and far between. In mixed marriages (which are numerous, especially in "mixed" areas) this question comes up and has to be agreed upon. In such marriages, there is no requirement for any of the partners to convert. The difference in sect between husband and wife is a constant source of family humor.

Divided Loyalties

The allegiances of an Iraqi, like other people in other countries, cover a wide framework of beliefs and considerations. These include: Self, family, tribe, religion, race, town, nation, political doctrine and economic doctrine. Many of these factors are present in the consciousness, or sub-consciousness, of most of us. We only differ in the relative importance we give to each. The difference is in the mix! I cannot even begin to categorize such a complex structure for the wide spectrum of Iraqi people but will refer to these in the context of the issue discussed.

Kinship Factors – The tribal "half" of Iraq.

Of the conversion factors listed above, the most important factor to keep in mind in today's Iraq is the first. This has to be regarded in the context of the tribal nature of much of rural Iraq (and many of the smaller provincial towns… and even parts of the larger towns). Such conversions, over centuries, have led to a large number of tribes being of both denominations - some with a Shiite majority, others with a Sunni majority.

The important point is that the loyalty of many of these people to their kin is something fundamental in their make-up. They usually maintain considerable ties and contacts and are frequently brought together through tribal arbitration councils, paying respect in deaths, allegiance to respected tribal chiefs (who can be of a different sect), etc. This very significant factor is almost always overlooked by many two-color Sunni-Shiite analysts (including some Iraqis) when discussing the sectarian problem in Iraq.

[In one notable instance, members of a large "conglomerate" of tribes, the Muntafik in the Nassereyyah and Basrah provinces, are predominantly Shiite. Their tribal chiefs for the past three centuries, the Sa'adoun family, are Sunnis. Now that family has headed those tribes by choice, not by force! Confusing? I'm sure it is!]

I will go as far as to say that for many of these people, fighting their kin over a sectarian dominance is unlikely… and even if such a thing is started by some overwhelming factor, there are so many channels between them that blood ties will ultimately come on top.

Confusion with geography

Many people in Iraq think they can tell a Shiite from a Sunni from his or her accent or attire. I have heard and seen this so many times. The differences these people refer to are usually geographic in nature and have little to do with sect. People from southern provinces usually use a different style of head-gear (igal – smaller and thicker) and have a different accent from people in the western regions for example (in fact, each province has its own dialect, much like many other countries).

The "mixed" half of Iraq

This can be illustrated by looking at people who live in "mixed" areas. Time and again I was struck by how difficult it is to tell people apart. They usually have the same accent, the same dress, social customs and the same mannerisms.

An anecdote as an illustration:

I once attended a meeting of people in such an area in July after the invasion. I knew many of those present and I started reflecting on this matter… This one's son is a Baathist, this one's son is with the resistance, this one's brother was executed by Saddam and so on and so forth. Most people of one sect were related by marriage to others of the other sect. There was so much in common between those people that being a Shiite or a Sunni had to take a lower priority to those common factors!

I honestly cannot see these people killing each other for religious sectarian reasons.

"Mixed" Baghdad

This even applies to Baghdad, the melting pot of Iraq. Inner Baghdad (the old city) has a number of traditionally predominantly Shiite districts and predominantly Sunni districts. The peripheral districts (most of them grew within the last 50 years) usually reflect the nature of the region most people come from.

But generally, most of Baghdad is so thoroughly mixed that it would be extremely difficult to think of the people there being involved in any sectarian or civil war with any sound degree of rationality. It is just not possible. As I write this, I think of my own neighbors – Sunnis and Shiites all around! People used to make many jokes about it… on both sides (but not during the past year! Those jokes simply disappeared! You may find this odd… but this is more worrying to me than all the "expert" analyses I read!).

In most of "urbane" Baghdad and other large cities, neighborly and neighborhood relations dominate over kinship and tribal bonds.

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of Baghdad. It has a quarter of the whole population of Iraq. Culturally Baghdad sets the pace for the whole country.

In addition to Baghdad, the mixed regions include the provinces of Diala, Babel and, to a lesser extent, Basra. These comprise approximately half of the Arab population of Iraq.

Cultural and Political Mix

I have already referred to the complexity of Iraqi society. In addition to the "blood" relations that play an important role in the loyalties of many people, there is a large secular segment in Iraqi society. Well into the 1980's, this segment was the leading force that shaped the political climate in Iraq. People who are pan-Arabists, communist, humanist, simply secular etc. etc. are generally people for whom the Sunni Shiite question, even if present, would by necessity take a lower consideration than those doctrines and their commitment to them.

At the other end of the spectrum, a Shiite country person from Deywaneyyah in the south would find a lot more in common in terms of values, customs and even costumes with a Sunni tribesman from Ramadi than with an urbane fellow Shiite from Baghdad. A Sunni Arab Nationalist would identify more with a Shiite pan-Arabist from Basrah than a fellow Sunni communist, and so on and so forth. All these bonds and loyalties extend beyond the two-color façade of the over-simplistic Sunni Shiite divide.

To add further confusion to this post… it is quite natural to come across an Iraqi communist (who is a committed atheist) who thinks of himself as a Sunni or a Shiite. This also widespread among seculars! They regard Sunni-ism and Shi-ism more as a "culture" than a religious sect.


I am not saying that differences do not exist; on the contrary, they do. There are major differences and genuine grievances. For example, many middle-class Shiites genuinely feel that they have had less than a fair prospect of important jobs or promotions because they were Shiite. Many people in Kut, for example, feel that their town was not developed like other Sunni parts in Iraq because it was a Shiite area.

What I'm saying is that it is difficult for these differences and grievances to lead to civil war. It is my belief that even if such a thing is started, the channels and links available between the various groups will facilitate a relatively fast resort to reason and reconciliation. It would not lead to a chaos much worse than the present one! There would not be a blood bath deeper than the present one!

Update – January 2007:

The above may sound like an unreasonable assertion under the present conditions of senseless sectarian violence engulfing Iraq (and the ‘mixed’ areas in particular). There has been much debate over whether the ongoing Iraqi-Iraq strife was a civil war or not. Oddly, the US administration, the Iraqi government and the national resistance all agree that it is not! This is not as perplexing as it seems. The explanation is that it is not a civil war in the sense that large segments of the public attack each other. To this date, there has not been a single significant sectarian incident involving ordinary people! It is still a civil war in the making, through a persistent campaign of sectarian assaults... by forces of darkness. On the other hand, considerable polarization of the population has been taking place. Ordinary people’s attitudes are showing increasing signs of ‘hardening’ and sect animosity.

Thursday, November 25, 2004


Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq - Basics

[There has been a lot of talk lately of potential Shiite-Sunni strife in Iraq. No doubt there will be more in the coming days. I thought an outline of the basics would be in order at this stage, to dispel some of confusion that exists in the minds of many in the West. This post may not make interesting reading but I feel it may serve as a useful reference or a simplified guide.

I am not a religious expert by any means. The following account is drawn from my own limited personal knowledge. I stand to be corrected by those more knowledgeable. In any case, my modest knowledge may be sufficient for the intended purpose.]

An Overview of Basics

Saunnah and Shi'a are two sects of Islam, very much like Catholicism and Protestantism.

Sunni – roughly refers to adherents to the precedence set by the Prophet Mohammed. They are more or less the "orthodox" Muslims. There are four major Sunni sub-sects. The overwhelming majority of Iraqi (and probably world) Sunnis follow the Hanafi doctrine. This is named after the revered scholar Abu Haneefa who is buried in the Adhameyyah district of Baghdad - hence the special significance of the attack by Marines and ING forces on the mosque where he is buried last Friday.

Shiite – roughly means "followers" or "cohorts" of Imam Ali, the Prophet's cousin, protégé and son-in-law. Shiites believe that Imam Ali (and his sons) should have succeeded the Prophet in running the affairs of the Muslim nation. Imam Ali, the fourth Caliph (successor) moved the Islamic capital from Medina near Mecca to Kufa in Iraq. He is buried in Najaf - hence the religious significance of Najaf. The desert city actually evolved around his shrine. Najaf has what is probably the largest cemetery in the world. Most Shiites (religious and not) prefer to be buried there.

The technicalities of theological differences may not be of much interest to most of the readers and will therefore not be mentioned – only differences relating to the present day topics will be briefly outlined.

One notable difference worth mentioning is that Shiites believe in the Resurrection of the "Absent 12th Imam", who disappeared in childhood and who, on his return, will fill the earth with Peace and Justice. He is called al Mehdi - hence the name "Mehdi Army" of Moqtada al Sadr. The site of his disappearance is in Samarra, in the heart of what is now known as the Sunni triangle!!

Sunnis generally go to mosques; Shiites go to Husseineyyahs. A Husseineyyah is, for all intents and purposes, a mosque where, in addition to the usual prayers and services, additional services are performed in mourning of the Imam Hussein [Imam Ali's son and Profit Muhammad's grandson who is buried in Kerbala and who is much revered by most Muslims but particularly by Shiites for his heroic stand for what he believed in, in the face of certain death. In an uneven battle, he and all 72 of his extended family were massacred].

Another notable difference is that the Shiites, being generally outside governance for the past 14 centuries, have developed strict and independent academic rules for the hierarchy of their clergy, and consequently hold them in higher reverence. Rise within the hierarchy is primarily on academic theological merit, determined by peers. The Sunnis, on the other hand, as a rule, have their clergy appointed by the powers of the day and are therefore generally, but not always, regarded as almost "government officials". Consequently, contemporary clergy are not held with the same regard.

For centuries, the "Hawza" in Najaf has been more or less the Supreme University for the Shiite clergy world-wide. Senior clergy had much sway over the religious Shiite population all over the world. During the past 30 years, two factors led to a significant shift in the role of the Najaf Hawza: one was the continuous pressure and harassment of the Saddam regime; the other was Khomeini's revolution in Iran. For decades, the Hawza in Qum, Iran played a more significant influence than Najaf, especially in Iran. The once-supreme influence of the Najaf Hawza on Iran's Shiite population is now much reduced.

Devout Shiites generally willingly pay the equivalent of 20% of their yearly profits to the clergy of their choosing. Similar donations used to come from all over the world. This of course means considerable liquidity at the disposal of senior clergy. There is nothing equivalent to this in the Sunni doctrine, apart from sporadic donations by philanthropists.

Sunnis are a majority in the Arab and the Muslim world. In Iraq, Shiites are a majority. The vast majority of Kurds are Sunnis. Turkmen are mostly Sunni.

Within the Arab population of Iraq, the Sunni and Shiite doctrines are not related in any way to any ethnic or racial differences.

As with other sects in Islam, there is no question regarding the ultimate source of all their belief: it's the Koran – the word of God. One source, one book, one code – differences are in the interpretation of things not specifically mentioned. All sects also agree on the precedence set by the practices established by the Prophet Mohammed (the Sunnah) except for some differences regarding the reliability of different source and references.

Differences stem from questions of details of practice or life, government, marriage, inheritance, minor differences in prayer time, determining when the moon is born, etc.

I will try to address some of the other Sunni-Shiite aspects of life in Iraq in future posts.

Saturday, November 20, 2004


Fallujah Done... Next!

For the first time in six months I find myself at loss on what to say next… not for lack of things to say – I can write a few posts a day for a few years and not get through what I have to say… if I had the time. It is not that.

I am at loss because I do not know whom to address or how! Sometime ago, someone wrote that my problem was that I was addressing several Americas at once. This is probably true. Somebody else once wrote that I will find myself repeating myself many times, which is also true.

The other thing is that I was really almost thrown off-balance by the Fallujah campaign. Although I was expecting such an outcome… yet, the grotesque scale of destruction, the total lack of any respect for human life, the short-sightedness of short-term policy gains at the expense of enormous long-term disasters, somehow leave me discouraged and depressed.

Less than an hour ago, I was listening to someone from the US army saying that he believed that the foreign fighters they were after had left Fallujah before the onslaught!!! Really!!

Well then, what was all that bombardment, killing and the leveling of a whole town about? Now we are told that Fallujah is no longer a safe haven for terrorists. Thank you very much. What about those 300,000 people many of whom are now homeless, and only God knows how many dead? Wasn't there another way to deal with that situation? I'm sure there are at least ten different ways to handle Fallujah's problem with much less "collateral damage". But the US administration and the Iraqi Interim government in their infinite wisdom had obviously decided that this was the best way. We are even told that there have been no civilian casualties in Fallujah!

Then there was that fuss about that marine shooting the injured man in the mosque. So much of the American public seem to believe only what they see on their TV screens. Do you want to hear 200 more criminal stories, all witnessed by more than one person? I have just posted one such story in my other blog, just as an example. What do these stories prove? They only prove that there are many trigger-happy killers wearing US army uniforms or black-clad lunatics fond of beheading people on the loose in Iraq today. One problem (a "few bad apples") is yours. The other was introduced by your administration's incompetence, meddling and mistakes. In both cases, innocent people are paying the price.

Too many Iraqis know of too many such "incidents" committed by those few bad apples . How do you think they feel? Yet, some Americans try to justify such acts by saying that other criminals are doing worse things. Under what code of conduct do the acts of criminals or lunatics justify the behavior of civilized nations in a similarly barbaric manner? Superior declared ideals? Noble ends justifying any horrible means?

In all this commotion about single "incidents", the size of the tragedy itself is almost overlooked, swept aside… or maybe even forgotten.

I can also see my country being subjected to so many visible and invisible dangers. I spend so much of my time trying to understand some of these forces and fathom some of the depth of the various internal and external threats. So many noble and evil forces all intermingled in a haze of false pretences and disinformation.

I went to the farm with the hope of clearing my head. The long walks, the good weather and the peace and quiet in the countryside this time of the year usually do wonders to my mood… but it was no use.

[Incidentally, there was not much to do at the farm. For the past 17 days, there was not a single minute of electricity. For the past six months, there was literally not a drop of water in the irrigation channel. No planting. The barley season is lost (as was the corn season before). The wheat season is unlikely!]

I cannot see any way out of the quagmire we are both in – not through current policies. A comment poster, Circular, so appropriately quoted Macbeth in a comment on a previous post:

I am in blood stepped in so far, that should I wade no more
Returning were as tedious as cross over.
Things bad begun make good themselves by ill.

The nomination of Dr. Rice to the State Department says a lot about where this administration is heading, and I don't like it. I was secretly hoping that the mainstream Republicans might have pressurized Bush to moderate his policies or use a better team in return for their support during the campaign. Evidently that was wishful thinking on my part. To me this is disappointing and somewhat bewildering.

I am becoming more convinced everyday that the US should leave Iraq as soon as possible. All those potential dangers of internal civil war and those threats from neighboring countries look almost tolerable in comparison to the criminal errors of judgment and incompetence displayed by this administration. I am almost certain that, left to our own devices, our losses would be less. Even the threat of terrorism to us and to the rest of the world would be less.

Look at the Moqtada episode for example. Recall all the bloodshed and the bombing of populated areas in Najaf and Sadr City and all the violence in Kut, Amarah, Nasireyyah and Basrah. Were there any foreign terrorists in Najaf? Was all that bombing and destruction and loss of life necessary? A sick old man, armed only with the respect of other people, worked out a compromise that, within a few days, took everybody back to square one! What did all that violence achieve? Bringing Moqtada to justice? Disarming and disbanding his army? If you think so, you are in mistaken.

How can I convince "super-patriot" Americans that the "cowboy methods" used by their administration have created worse problems than the ones they were supposed to solve. These methods themselves are a major problem.

This might be something worthwhile to debate in depth… not that it will make an iota of difference. Perhaps I should not post anything when I am in such a black mood! But then again, what difference will that make?

Saturday, November 13, 2004


The Fallujah Slaughterhouse

Assorted Thoughts While Guns Do the Talking

Microscopic vision:

I really was alarmed by how some "humanists" were yelling about some evidence of slaughterhouses (please note the "s") found in Fallujah. To them it was justification enough that their administration was doing the right thing in Fallujah.

Yet, these people fail to see the huge slaughterhouse (no "s") called Fallujah. I don't know how many houses the first "s" refers to (2, 3, 10?). I know that the second slaughterhouse (with no "s") refers to some 50,000 houses.

Please zoom out.


Confusing disinformation:

We are now being told that the people of Fallujah were asking the US army to bomb their houses because they were taken over by terrorists. Apparently all that precision bombing over the past weeks was not precise enough.


Yet another approach in the propaganda war is that other Iraqis (mainly Shiites in the south) are happy about the new Fallujah massacre. We are even given a list of unreasonable demands made by the Fallujans that no self-respecting government could meet, as an explanation for the breakdown of talks!

Yet another attempt at creating, or frightening people from, a sectarian civil war? One of the first groups to declare solidarity with the people of Fallujah was the Shiite Moqtada people.

Having said that, this time I can detect more dangerous Sunni-Shiite under-currents and polarization. It is that much more worrying.


When our Interim PM was reading his statement authorizing the all out attack on Fallujah, I couldn't help feeling that the sentences he made in Arabic were translated from English.

This reminded me of a Japanese joke in the 1940's:

First Japanese: "Have you read the new constitution?"
Second Japanese: "No, have they translated it to Japanese?"


Isn't there something strange about the media silence regarding what is happening in Fallujah? Even the normally aggressive al Jazeera is uncharacteristically relatively quiet!

I am told that in Chicago this is called "clout".


A city of 300,000 – some 200,000 have fled their town… 100,000 civilians are still there.

I can only wonder at the incredible degree of precision those cluster bombs and artillery shells must have to avoid civilian casualties!!


Revenge is often so expensive.


Imagine what the war of liberation of Iraq would have been like had Iraqis really resisted the invasion in March 2003.


More than 200 American soldiers dead and injured so far in only four days of fighting and 600 hundred Iraqi "insurgents" killed according to the US army. But how many civilians? How many women and children?

Why should anyone care? That's not important in the great fight against terror, is it? A few hundred innocents dead for such high ideals "is peanuts" as Americans would say. Besides, they were given the chance to leave their homes, weren't they?

Something that is worth paying so much for, in Iraqi and American blood, has to be worthwhile! We will have to wait for future events and developments before assessing its true worth. Alas, I fear that the attention span of many people would have been expired by then.


"Freedom" and "Democracy" have been turned into vulgar words when mentioned by US officials. What a pity!


Now, we are entering a new phase: the beginning of the end. America has only two choices left: subdue the whole of the Iraqi people through shear force… or call it quits.


Arafat's Death

Imprisoned by the Israelis in his own headquarters for more than 3 years, the American administration refused to deal with him, hoping to marginalize him. He was not acceptable to them. He was a terrorist.

There was the leader of a state, without a state, dead, shrouded in the flag of Palestine, carried on the shoulders of French soldiers. The ceremonies in France, Egypt and Palestine were those fitting for a head of state and a leader. Most channels around the world were busy with the event of his death. The BBC gave continuous live coverage of all proceedings. I found their commentary generally emotional and touching. Scores of heads of states and senior political figures from around the world paid their respect.

Nothing has symbolized the isolation of America from the rest of the world than the death of Yasser Arafat and the reaction of most of the world to his death. [Something has to be done about the rest of the world.] The tragedy is that I think most Americans are either unaware or don't care.

What has this got to do with Iraq?

Two things:

1. The man was democratically elected, regardless of what you think of him and
2. The "other" people who did not like him regarded him as too moderate!

The next time you hear someone from the American administration talking about democracy, remember Yasser Arafat.


US Election Results – An Iraqi Perspective

Most Americans Don't Care!

Quite a number of readers have written to me in disenchantment, some even apologizing for, the election results! I can understand their disappointment over those results and the choice of a president they didn't elect. Almost half of America did not vote for Bush they said. Quite true. However, I have to look at it differently. Here is how I see the election results:

40% ... did not vote.
31% ... voted for Bush (roughly 51% of the 60% who voted)
29% ... voted for Kerry (roughly 48% of the 60% who voted)

More than 70% or more than 136 million Americans effectively voted for Bush or did not care to vote (for a variety of reasons but I cannot expect that many of them cared much for what is happening in Iraq).

I also venture to guess that not all those 29% who voted for Kerry had Iraq uppermost on their minds. There are so many other important economic, political and social issues at stake.

Is it a coincidence that 80% of US army personnel voted for Bush?

Conclusion: about 4 out of 5 Americans do not care about the massacres, the chaos or the incompetence taking place in Iraq or about the devastation of Iraq or about what the rest of the world thinks about America.

This is so fair and appropriate – a similar percentage of Iraqis do not care much for the American presence in Iraq, or believe that the Americans are sincere about why they are here.

Monday, November 08, 2004


Fallujah Again?

[If you have been following the comments in the last post, you would have noticed that the debate was drifting towards the subject of Fallujah. It seems to be on everybody's mind. I thought I might just as well address the subject in a post to provide some background. My other agenda can wait.]

The American army seems poised to go after the "terrorists" in Fallujah. In preparation of the killing ground, older people, women and children are urged (allowed?) to leave the town. All others, including all males between 15 and 45 are apparently fair game and can be labeled as terrorists.

Problem: The official reason is that terrorists are taking refuge in that town and holding the people hostage. They are hiding among civilians.

Solution: Storm the place and "kill 'em all" in true Western movie cowboy tradition.


Why Fallujah? – Background:

Contrary to popular myth, Fallujah as a town was not on the best of terms with Saddam Hussein. Fallujans did not resist the American army during the invasion. In fact, the taking of Fallujah was quite orderly.

What happened then?
Much of the explanation is in the make-up of the town and its geographic location. A mixture of rural values carried over by first-generation immigrants, a reasonable level of education, closeness to metropolitan Baghdad, fierce patriotism, disillusionment with secularism, disappointment with secular pan-Arabism and some fear and contempt of Western "decadence" claiming to be civilization… to name a few factors.

Islam is the only thing many of these people know and trust to show them right from wrong. Already a conservative environment, Islamic revival began to take shape in the late 1980's. In the 1990's fundamental movements such as Wahabism and Salafism began to emerge in an anti-Saddam public mood. The previous regime fought those trends relentlessly and ruthlessly but in vain. Having been extending roots and operating underground during those oppressive years, operating under the American administration of the occupation was much less of a challenge.

Like much of the rest of Iraq, these people were beginning to be dismayed with the US obvious incompetence in running the country (Oh, those mistakes again!) and the US soldiers' disregard to their culture and sensitivities.

A few examples: forceful entry into homes – which is equivalent to murder in their social code; frisking of women by young male soldiers –almost unthinkable to some of them; searching of personal possessions in family quarters of their homes – actually seeing their women's under-ware being handled by strangers is regarded by some of them as something worse than being killed!; pushing, shoving and insulting the much-revered father or husband in front of his family; pointing guns at people with the finger close to the trigger when in patrols etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

[I can almost hear some of those people used to living in cultural bubbles gasping in amazement: are these people nuts? Well, these are their values and it's their country, isn't it? They may look at some of your values with equal disgust. I challenge anybody to bet that the USA or the rest of the world combined can change these beliefs in the next two decades!]

Many of those acts were naturally done by the US boys without any intent to insult or offend. They didn't know any better and it's not their fault that nobody told them anything different. There was no time! The liberation of Iraq, the toppling of Saddam and the seizure of those weapons of mass destruction could not wait! [I honestly don't know up to this minute why there was so much hurry – apart of course from "political" timing considerations.]

Regardless of what stereotype people in the west have of the mosque. In those chaotic times, many of those mosques (very much like in Sadr City) quickly turned into caring community centers. Philanthropists usually donated to mosque imams they trusted. Those people took care of the poor, of those in need and supported hospitals. Some of those people were fundamentalists, but none were terrorists (in the Al Qaeda sense), at least as far as the local population was concerned.

How did it all start?

In April 2003, schools were opening again in many parts of Iraq. It was purely on the initiative of parents and teachers, many of whom worked unpaid for several months. A school in Fallujah was used as army barracks; a delegation of locals went to have a word with the US army. They were ignored. People demonstrated. Soldiers claimed someone fired at them. They shot and killed 13 (some say 17) demonstrators.

Ordinary people were convinced so early that the Americans were actually invaders who didn't even care to evacuate a school to let their sons and daughters continue with their study… and were prepared to kill more than a dozen people in a peaceful demonstration without any accounting (that they saw) or even the pretence of one.

That was the origin of all the bad blood.

How did it escalate?

A year later, a gang of villains in Fallujah killed and mutilated four security contactors. Fallujah was put under siege. In what was widely regarded as a mass-punishment act of vindictiveness the city was shelled and bombarded for three weeks. More than 700 people were killed (including some 200 women and children). It was a massacre.

The US army could not take the town. They probably could, militarily speaking, but that would have been politically even more expensive. Most of Iraqis' hearts were with Fallujah. Remember that those incidents coincided with the outbreak of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

The end result was a massive loss of life with not a single positive result. It was a disgraceful performance both militarily and in human terms. Most people in Iraq regarded Fallujah's stand as a victory. The US failed to take it. My personal guess is that the Fallujah massacre and the stand of the people of that small town against the mightiest army in the world will be long remembered in the collective memory of Iraq.

Are there any terrorists in Fallujah?

Quite honestly, I don't know! I haven't met anyone who's met anyone who's seen any terrorist in Fallujah. I'm not saying that there aren't any. I don't know. Are there any terrorists, killers or bank robbers in your town?

But there are many resistance fighters (of the regular type) in Fallujah. From the account above, I hope that that is understandable. Many of these fighters are acting under or belong to some Islamist umbrella. They are not regarded as terrorists. They are supported by the general population as freedom fighters (and will still be regardless of the outcome of the intended campaign).

Now the terrorists that you have in mind don't ware special badges and do not advertise their acts of terrorism. These people can easily pass as religious people (especially in a predominantly conservative, religious, "redneck" Sunni area). Ordinary people do not necessarily know of their existence in their midst. It takes investigation and intelligence (of a higher caliber than that we have seen so far) to find them, not remote bombing or another invasion.

Also, strategically speaking, Fallujah is at the edge of a desert. Coming and going between it and Syria, Jordan or Saudi Arabia is not much of a problem if you are not conspicuous-looking. On the other hand, it is so close to Baghdad – where a comparatively massive city would be an excellent place for losing oneself and where there are so many lucrative targets! I wouldn't be surprised if there were some.

Zarqawi? Well, the first time I personally heard of the name Zarqawi was a few weeks before the invasion. There were no terrorists of the Al Qaeda type in Fallujah before the US liberated us.

Again, a spiral and not a circle – it has a beginning. The invasion brings terrorists into the country. The Iraqi people get "collaterally" killed to rid them of the terrorists. America is again "proven" to be evil. More terrorists come into the country…

President Bush himself declared Iraq to have become a battlefront against world terrorism. Thank you very much!

What is likely to happen?

If the present plans go as scheduled, then we are likely to see siege and bombardment, resistance, death or melting away of insurgents and… naturally a lot of "collateral damage".

What about Ramadi, Kirkuk, Yousufeyyah, Latifeyyah, Haswah, Baquba, Baghdad etc. etc.? Will scores of Iraqi towns and cities be given the same treatment? Or do they all draw their violence from the terrorists in Fallujah?

Will the people of Fallujah and of Iraq be grateful to the US for ridding them of terrorists in this manner?

Will anyone in the US be blamed if things get worse after Fallujah is subdued? Probably not. "It would have taken God-like predictive skill to guess", wouldn't it?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


Iraqi Reflections on US Elections

It seems by now clear that a majority of the American people have voted for Bush and for the Republicans. Although Kerry and the Democrats have not yet conceded defeat, it is evident that the popular vote has gone to Bush. More Americans have voted for him than those that did so in 2000. The Republicans also have increased majorities in both houses, which is also quite indicative of the American public's will.

It looks to me like an endorsement of this administration's policies. Bush in fact has a clearer mandate from the American public than the one he had before.

As an Iraqi, although I have to respect the choice of the American people expressed through a democratic process, I don't have to be happy about it!

To me it means an approval of "pre-emptive wars", of taking the "war to the enemy camp" (which means me, my family and my country), of more chaos in Iraq, of Abu Ghraib, of Halliburton; of the bombings and killings, of incompetence, of continued neo-con influence, of unilateralism, of disregard to world opinion, of trying to dominate the world instead of leading it, of more religious antagonism, of more animosity towards Europe and of the ascendancy of fear over hope.

There is one hope left. It has been said that American presidents keep their eyes on re-election in their first term and on history in their second. Well, I am sure that history will judge President Bush very harshly indeed. To change that judgment, he may need to change his administration's policies rather drastically. Given the past performance, that is not an easy task. To do that he may need to be born again… which is not that impossible. He's done it before!

Looking at it another way, I know that if democracy is implemented in Iraq (something that I am advocating) then I would not like the results… I know that even before any elections take place. The fact that I don't like the results does not contradict the fact that I like the process and would still fight for it.

Monday, November 01, 2004


Cronycracy Will Not Work

Seeking Solutions (5)
Where do we want to go? (iii)

A lot has been said about bringing democracy to Iraq and to the Middle East. It has been said that democracy is the best safeguard for security and stability in this volatile corner of the world which holds lands sacred to many people around the world… and oil, sacred to modern civilization.

This is a noble cause of course. It would do wonders to this part of the world… if it is the right kind of democracy!

Democracy as I understand it (and I hope that you agree) is government by the people! (In Iraq, we have the additional requirement that government by the majority must not lead to "democratic" oppression of our multitude of minorities – but more on that later).

Democracy, for so many people in the States, sometimes seems to mean government by friends of the US government; cronycracy! This may sound far fetched, but look at what the US administration has been doing in trying to achieve "democracy" in Iraq.

This mentality is a remnant from the cold war that prevails in the US establishment. Many obnoxious systems of government loyal or friendly to the US are regarded as tolerable and sometimes even good. President George W. Bush said this clearly in one of his speeches a couple of years ago. At the time, I hoped that he meant to rectify the situation. Every political maneuver in Iraq since the invasion confirms that the old view prevails. Another lie? More probably institutional doctrine.

Every effort made by the US government to try and stabilize Iraq through political means has failed, and will continue to fail, because of this view of democracy. Well, it is immoral of course. It is also wrong in that it will lead to disasters. Why? People will simply resist it. Germany, Japan and Korea? There are so many differences… some of them have been referred to earlier. This is a long story.

To tell you the truth, I can live with cronycracy for a while if the system is designed to move to a democracy sometime. In Iraq the prospect of that happening is slim for a number of reasons:

Some of the people used in the US-engineered cronycracy are corrupt. There are several regional powers that are funding numerous political groups. Some of these groups do not have the welfare of Iraq as a priority. What's worse, these various groups are entrusted with the design of the system of elections. They will simply entrench. You can see that in every piece of legislation implemented in Iraq so far.

Therefore the system designed will not lead ultimately to democracy.

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