Monday, December 19, 2005


Road to Anti-Americanism

In my early writings on this blog, I was careful to distinguish between the American people and the American administration when I criticized US policies in Iraq. Attack after attack came from American super-patriots. I started calling them American Saddamists because they could not distinguish between country and ‘leader’. However, more recently I started using the word America, just like them… and just like many other millions across the world to refer to the whole of the USA.

I wrote this post with a heavy heart, fully aware of the existence of millions of Americans who do not fit the gloomy picture the post portrays… but sometimes it may be more useful in the long run to face ugly conclusions.

I know that decent people, due to their very nature, will understand.


Fifth Americans are vocal again! They kept a relatively low profile during the recent ‘scandal’ episodes of Libby, white phosphorous and torture… These days, with the ‘successful’ elections in Iraq, they are up again - hailing the administration’s wisdom, foresight and steadfastness. They are full of praise, not only for themselves but also for the Iraqi people. They are also on the attack. Super-patriotic Americans are quite fond of labeling their adversaries “anti-American”. They simply cannot understand why anybody could be anti-American.

I have attempted to answer this question, from an Iraqi perspective. In other words: Is it possible for a rational Iraqi to view America as an enemy state?

How dare I do that even before the election results are out? The answer to that can be found in my previous post. I have deliberately chosen to do so in these days where pro-administration Americans are euphoric, in order to remind those Americans who suffer from the short-memory syndrome that seems to be prevalent in America that world history is somewhat longer than that their attention span.

However, the essay is too long for this blog. I have therefore posted it elsewhere. This post is merely a pointer to that essay.

I expressed the view from a relatively mild, secular, generally pro-western point of view in the hope that some Americans may see some of the reasons for the birth of a new wave of “Anti-Americanism” in the making.

The sad conclusion is that America can be justifiably seen as an enemy of Iraq. I say America, meaning the United States of America, because this includes the three American components that can be seen responsible for the devastation of Iraq:

1. The successive American administrations, in charge of the American government. They have a decades-long history of policies and acts of aggression against the people of Iraq.

2. The American army that has been the tool through which the American administrations have implemented their policies in Iraq.

3. The American public who, through ignorance, indifference, acquiescence or active support, was ultimately responsible for it all.

Americans are invited to reflect honestly on the idea that if a mild outlook can lead to such a dim view of America, then what conclusions would a fierce nationalist, a deeply religious Muslim or a person with violent inclinations may reach?

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Iraqi Elections II

Bremer’s appointed Iraq Governing Council set the tone, defined the major players in the political arena and defined the rules of the game through the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL).

The previous elections in January of this year took place in that environment and resulted in a highly polarized, ethnic and sectarian assembly. Not surprisingly, two major forces emerged: Shiite religious fundamentalist parties and an ethnic Kurdish bloc dominated by the two larger parties, run by war lords. Both blocs are a far cry from the political parties one desires for a modern state.

The “Shiite” religious alliance parties are the most vocal against sectarianism. Yet, they did more than anybody else to promote sectarianism, except perhaps for Mr. Zarqawi and the US administration. The two Kurdish parties cry out loudly against ‘backward’ Arab Nationalism. Yet, the cornerstone of their existence, drive and policies is Kurdish Nationalism. In any case, they have maintained their grip on Kurdistani politics, apart from the rebellious Kurdistan Islamic Union and a few other small fish. I would have thought democracy is all about choice!

Both blocs have little regard for democracy beyond lip service. Both blocs have now entrenched. However, both are destined to have fewer seats in the coming Parliament. On the other hand much of what they wanted to accomplish was already done.

It is the end of yet another phase in this unfolding ugly drama. It is more serious this time: a new phase of democracy. This is no longer an “interim government” or “interim assembly”. This will be a fully fledged Legislative and Government that are meant to last for 4 years. Cronycracy Phase III?

Differences and Similarities

The major difference is that Iraq is no longer a single electoral district. The new Elections Law divides Iraq into 18 provinces. Provinces are assigned a number of seats each, which is an improvement. The number of assigned seats is not totally fair, but it is nevertheless a major improvement.

Those major players allowed it because they probably feel that they can now hold their own under such a system. The resistance to making the country into the 275 districts needed to elect the 275 members of the parliament was at one time baffling, given that the country is already administratively divided into those districts. It is no longer so. Now we all know. Perhaps this will be done when those parties have entrenched further and feel that they can secure winning at the local level after they have entrenched further.

In these coming elections, some things are the same, namely, the major players and their rather vague agenda; their true agenda being somewhat different from their declared policies.

As before, we are told that the number of candidates is around 7000. Again, it is only with some difficulty that anyone can find out the names of those candidates! Those interested can find some details at the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq website. Also, the number of slates is not much less. In Baghdad for example, the number is 106, as opposed to something like 112 in the last elections. And there are no secret candidates this time. I only detected one such case. Nevertheless, it is still extremely difficult to know more about most of those candidates or what they stand for.

A notable difference this time is that the competition between the various political parties is much fiercer than last time. Venomous accusations of wrongdoing and corruption are rife. There has also been some campaigning violence.

Shifting Players in Shifting Sands

A few interesting features of this election differ from the last one in terms of the team players.

Sistani: There were several ‘semi-official’ reports a few weeks ago that Sistani encouraged people to participate in these elections and to support “strong religious parties”. That could only mean one thing: the Shiite slate… and consequently sectarian polarization. A few days ago however, new reports started to emerge that the old man was taking a completely impartial stand. The position is still ambiguous. Opposing sides are claiming different things. The Shiite slate people are saying the slate was “formed” under the supervision and the blessing of Sistani. He would have to make a clear statement of his position in the next few days if he wants his position to be unambiguous.

Muqtada al Sadr has now officially joined the fundamentalist Shiite parties. That slate is no longer just Shiite, but religious Shiite. He had actually joined the same slate in the previous elections after the intervention of Sistani following the Najaf confrontation and secured and was given 21 seats in the present assembly and a couple of ministries. However, that was done very quietly since that change of stance was too sudden for most of his followers. This time it is out in the open. Personally, this has been a major disappointment. Although his followers come from Shiite slum areas, he managed for more than a year to distant himself from sectarian groups. On the contrary, he stood firm with Fallujah in assault I of April, 2004 and had considerable connections with “Sunni rejectionists”. Much of that change was Sistani’s doing.

It is interesting that Mr. Chalabi, the neocons’ man in Iraq and who played an important role in forming that religious fundamentalist Shiite bloc, has now left them to run on his own. The “official” reason given is that Chalabi wanted more seats than the other parties were willing to give him. Incidentally, he was joined by the monarchists!!

Many of the rejectionist “Sunnis” are now taking part. As I can see, there are two main slates representing these:

The major player for those “Sunnis’ seems to be Islamic Party coalition (who boycotted the last elections after their demand for a postponement was not met) which has a “Sunni” stance and colors. They do seem to have a favorable electorate in mixed areas and in the western provinces. This will lead to further sectarian polarization of Iraqi politics. In fact, with them being part of the process, the ethnic and sectarian polarization of politics will be complete.

Another emerging player is Saleh Mutlag, a man who made a name for himself by fiercely opposing the Constitution draft… to the extent that ‘the other side’ vetoed his participation of the ‘reconciliatory’ conference in Cairo held under the auspices of the Arab League. He seems to have some following.

But the man of the hour so far seems to be Allawi. He has managed to reshape his alliances by inviting minor ‘secular’ players who did not do well in the previous elections, but he is making it perfectly clear who is running the show. TV campaigning is heavily “personalized” portraying him as the needed strong, charismatic leader. His slate is simply known as the Allawi slate.

His list certainly makes interesting reading. The names cover the whole spectrum from Communists to staunch capitalists, but they have two characteristics in common: secularism and a pro-occupation stance.

Allawi, a Shiite himself, has also cast his lot strongly against the “Shiite” parties. He went as far as saying that these people were doing worse things than Saddam. [They made their own opinion of him perfectly clear on his canvassing visit to Najaf recently. Protestors stoned him and threw tomatoes at him. He claimed it was an assassination attempt.]

The two Kurdish parties naturally look favorably at him. He is already a signatory to the issues that they deem most important: Secularism, the Constitution and the particular Federal system of government that they want. In addition, they know that he is the American favorite. They can do business with him.

But the important thing is that many ordinary people, Sunni and Shiite, are looking favorably at him. He is posing as the “secular” politician. I am constantly surprised by the number of people, ordinary Iraqis from all walks of life, in Baghdad, the mixed areas and the western provinces who are supporting him - far more than during the last elections. They see him as the only one capable of standing up to the “Shiite” religious, pro- Islamic Iran fundamentalists, who has a chance of having a say in forming the next Parliament and the next government. Many people have already forgotten, or chosen to forget, that it was he who sanctioned the bombing of Fallujah II and Najaf; that his interim government saw the introduction of corruption to an unprecedented level; and that he is self-confessed CIA man. We have a saying that reflects this mood and that we hear repeatedly these days. It says something like: “He who sees death accepts fever”.

With something like $40 million in US backing, he managed to secure around 40 seats last time. I have no idea of the financial backing he is receiving now (he seems to have no shortage of funds)… however, he is expected to have much better fortunes this time around.

That was the arena, and these are the players.

Conspicuously absent from the arena (again) is one Jwad al Khalisi, a Shiite scholar of some standing, but who is strong in his opposition to sectarianism and the occupation. Although quite active, he is given very little exposure in the media! The other major figure absent is Ayatollah Ahmed al Baghdadi, a senior Shiite cleric who is strongly critical of the occupation. On the Sunni side, the influential Association of Muslim Clerics is also absent. All are against the elections as a matter of principle, maintaining that no elections can be free under occupation.

And the winner is…

Within the internal US rivalry, it should be clear by now that the CIA / State Department coalition has beaten the Neocon / DoD alliance... or so it seems so far. This has been true for some time.

Within that race itself, I don’t know who the “winner” will be, whether Talabani will be President, whether Allawi will form the government, whether Chalabi will keep his Ministry of Oil for the Neocons or whether Solagh will keep his Ministry of the Interior… but I already know two of the losers: Iraq… and America.

This may be a strange thing to say with the strong march of “Democracy” gaining a foothold in the country, but Iraq has been proved to be a strange, perhaps even bizarre, place for many people… particularly those who have difficulty learning.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Saddam Trial

The Theater

This is one trial where everybody knows the verdict! So, the process itself is what becomes of interest to most people.

I never liked theatricals. I followed the fiasco of the first and second hearings. They gave a very poor impression of the court and the judge. They both lacked what one would have liked to see in terms of dignity, class and firm fairness. However, content-wise things began to improve with the third sitting. There was more concrete business to conduct.

The prosecution’s performance was visibly shabby and professionally sub-standard. We had repeatedly heard and read about 12 tons of documents, large teams of investigators collecting evidence and preparing the case over months of hard work. But to see the end result of all that huge effort (and no doubt, huge sums spent) was more than disappointing. To see them take what should be a water-tight case and make a mess of it makes me wonder what will happen when other, more controversial issues are examined.

The defense’s performance also appeared to be clumsy. Perhaps they intentionally gave the floor to the defendants to cross-examine witnesses. They also managed to effectively score a number of legal points concerning the legitimacy of the court itself. The court’s defense of itself and its own legitimacy was rather weak. That brought home the question of legitimacy of political and legal proceedings while the country was still under occupation.

But I began to have more respect for the judge’s tolerance and handling of transactions within the court, though he still lacked the required authority and firmness to control proceedings. The atmosphere nevertheless looked more like a tribal arbitration sitting than a formal court. That judge would make a good tribal sheikh.

Some people didn’t like that. I felt it gave the whole thing an ‘Iraqi’ flavor! And why not? People like theatricals and show business stuff! The fact that what should be a grave and somber occasion, a trial of an episode of history, was turned into a circus must be of secondary importance. People must be entertained.

Then and now

I followed the first prosecution witness closely. He talked a lot, but little of what he said was new to me. I must have heard similar first hand accounts dozens – no, hundreds – of times in the past two decades. That witness’s account was not out of the ordinary.

I also happened to pass close by the town of Dujail on numerous occasions in that critical period. I had purchased a few pieces of farm machinery from a government establishment in that region. Some of them had to be repaired locally before being transported. I can say that I was witness to the bulldozing of those lovely date palm tree orchards. I still clearly remember thinking that that was exactly what Israel was doing in Palestine. We also heard many stories. Later, even the name of the district itself was changed to al Fariss – the Knight (obviously a reference to Saddam)!

But what I kept thinking about throughout the narrative was that those horrible things that witness was recounting (which I do not doubt for a minute) have also been taking place in Iraq since the invasion. Similar, and sometimes worse, atrocities are taking place and up to this minute.

It is better to prevent than to punish later, much later. We can do little now about Saddam’s atrocities. They are indeed history that left behind the suffering of people affected by them. Let Saddam get whatever he deserves. He is certainly getting a better deal than he gave any of his opponents. But isn’t there something that we can do about atrocities being committed now?

Will those atrocities be brought to justice, ever?

Perhaps in another 20 years… when they have become mostly forgotten history to most people except, of course, those who had to endure their trauma.

Public Platform

Right from the start, the judge allowed a few political points to be scored wittingly and unwittingly! For example, during the first hearing, one of the defendants - the judge who passed the death sentence on some 148 people for their attempt on Saddam’s life - was asked for his identity by the judge. The man replied that at that moment he had no identity because his igal (head band) was removed from his head before going into the court. The good, but simple, Kurdish judge ordered his igal to be brought to him. There was a delay of a few moments while that was done.

This little episode may have looked innocent enough. It wasn’t! With that little ploy, that man scored a very important point with millions of viewers in Iraq and elsewhere. The significance of the igal as a sign of pride and dignity to millions of people from a certain cultural background cannot be overestimated! I have already written that knocking someone’s igal, or even insulting it, may carry the penalty equivalent to murder in Iraqi tribal code. This may sound incredible to some people, but it is nevertheless true. Very few people remembered that that man never wore an igal when he was in office!

A few days later, I mentioned that incident to a friend, a man who was raised in Baghdad and who has spent three decades abroad. He failed to see any significance in the event. The judge acted decently and compassionately, he said; the man wanted his igal, the good judge gave him his igal; what was the harm in that? I can’t say I blame him for missing a point he was not even aware of. The thing is that the point was scored with people who knew the significance of the little incident. [Incidentally, that same friend called a fortnight later to express his displeasure with the judge’s performance!]

Saddam was always a man of cameras and TV. He thrives under the lights. He himself also scored a few points. On the face of it, he was talking to the judge; but really he was addressing people outside the courtroom. He was given a platform to address many millions and he made the best of it.

Sectarianism again?

Another significant point brought out in those proceedings is the ever-present sectarian issue. Dujail lies in what has become known as the ‘Sunni Triangle’. But I knew that Dujail was a mixed town. However, in almost all news broadcasts in almost all channels, pro- and anti-war, the city was described as ‘Shiite’. That infuriated me!

During his account, that first witness mentioned name after name of people who were ‘detained’ tortured or executed and they were thoroughly mixed Sunnis and Shiites. He did not utter a single word about the Sunni-Shiite issue. Later on, it was also evident that that witness, although obviously a devout Shiite, was himself mixed. His mother who was imprisoned was a Sunni, originally from Fallujah. When the witness mentioned the help given by decent man from Ramadi during the ordeal, Saddam sarcastically remarked “A Sunni?” The man snapped back something like “Sunnis are my maternal uncles… and that honors me!”

Yet, the media keeps insisting about circulating the sectarian issue. Take this excerpt from Associated Press, written by someone with an Iraqi name:

“The Tuesday hearing began after a dramatic, often chaotic day Monday when for the first time, Shiite victims of a 1982 crackdown confronted the former leader and his lieutenants. They are on trial for the killing of more than 140 Shiites in the town of Dujail north of Baghdad and could be executed by hanging if convicted.

“Despite the sometimes free-for-all atmosphere Monday, the trial's first witnesses offered chilling accounts of killings and torture using electric shocks and a grinder during a 1982 crackdown against Shiites.”

This is not just clumsy reporting. It is factually wrong. Why is this insistence? I cannot help feeling that it is intentional.

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