Monday, May 08, 2006


An Open Thread

I was told by friends that the previous post was too heavy with comments and took a long time to load.

This post is to keep in touch.


Let me start this off by a few personal remarks about life in Iraq at present:

A ‘usual’ day:

Yesterday started with an sms message on my mobile from my brother who is now in Jordan asking if my young son went to school. It turned out that there were three (later confirmed to be only two) car bomb explosions in Adhamiya, the district where his school is. It took some doing to get in touch with him to make sue that he was safe.

He came back in the early afternoon visibly shaken. The minibus bringing them back from school was only a few meters away from a police car with two policemen standing on either side. A car from across the road slowed down, two men with machine guns shot the policemen. My son saw the man nearest hit by two - one in the chest and one in the leg – and fell down and started bleeding. He was only a few meters away. It was his closest encounter with a violently dying human being. He is only sixteen and a half.


A conversation I hear frequently these days runs roughly as follows:

- “My son was taken yesterday.”
- “By the new security forces?”
- “No, by the Americans”
- “Well, that’s better!”

I think that gives you an idea of what people are going through. Now the American army has informed most neighborhoods in Baghdad that they can attack Iraqi security forces if they come late at night unaccompanied by the US army. Most neighborhoods are now barricaded at night… just like those “looting” days immediately after the fall of Baghdad.


It has been a while since I last went to the farm. The last time I was held up for more than four hours in a single place. The farm was not functioning anyway since most of my share croppers had left.

While there was one check point in Saddam’s time, now we have 18, no less. Each is manned by a separate ‘security force’. They were detaining or killing people almost at their whim. In a single day, I heard about six people I knew who were taken at these points and turned up the next day in the morgue. One of them was a police officer!

I now conduct most of my ‘tribal business’ by ‘phone!! That’s progress!

An email conversation with my niece who lives in the States

She suggested that I contact Oprah who she said was very supportive of Iraq and Iraqis. I said the sight of those silly women yelling and screaming their heads off always got me depressed.

She wrote back: “you cannot select your audience! Fat cows or skinny models, the goal is to educate people.”

I replied: “It’s not the ‘fat cows’ I’m worried about; if the ‘skinny models’ start yelling their heads off, my wife may get uncomfortable! I think I told you once about someone who sent me a ‘hug’ over in an email. Well, you know who wasn’t at all happy.” ;)

I'll forgo the usual commentary on how bad Iraq is these days. We all know.

But I will say: CONGRATULATIONS on your book! I hope it is the first of many! This is the motivation I need to finally set up some sort of account to buy over the internet. That is a must - have.


On Oprah : I wonder if she is worth talking to. She has the distinct impression that people are anti American because they have been brainwashed by the biased foreign media ... as opposed to first hand encounters with US foreign policy.

On the email 'hugs' ... LOL, you wouldn't be the first Iraqi I know of who has gotten into trouble over email correspondence. And ... if your wife is as good a cook as you said she was, well, you'd better be careful! ;)

Thanks for updating, btw. My connection as also awful.

Thanks very much, Abu. That's much better.
"I though about posting a photo but decided against it; I want a certain gentleman to pay to see it!"
Oooh! How mercenary! Are you picking up capitalistic attitudes from your American guests?
Best wishes from one backward country to another.

Hello Abu Khaleel,
At the risk of repeating the obvious, stay safe. All the bloggers seem to be making plans to get their families to safety.
The Algerian sectarian war lasted for 10 year!

I wonder if the people of Baghdad could maybe rally around Alaa Al-Tamimi, the Mayor of Baghdad? He doesn't have charisma but he needs to project a more confident image for the city. It's PR but the people need a leader.
Of course, you'd make a good mayor too, Abu.

I hope you and your family will emerge safely from these terrible days. After reading Riverbend's last post, and this, it sounds like the hardest thing to hug close to you is hope itself.

May peace come to your nation soon.

Ya Abu Khaleel,
Many congrats on the book. I definitely plan to buy a copy.

I close with the Ugaritic blessing which seems so very timely:

Il yshlmkm wyghrkm
May God give you peace and guard you
Be Well,
Bob Griffin

Abu Khaleel:

Congratulations on the book, I plan to pickup a copy. I hope all is well and that the sectarian violence has begun to abate in your area.

On that note, I was curious as to your reaction to the follwing AP piece, "Dressed in outfits ranging from business suits and ties to traditional Arab robes and head scarves, the tribal leaders and Sunni Arab, Shiite and Kurdish clerics met at Al-Hashimi mosque in northern Baghdad. At one point, they knelt on a carpet to pray together in a unified ritual."
Are the members of this group truly influential across sectarian lines? Is this just a meeting of supporters of the political groups in the new government? Are they sincere in calls for an end to the sectarian violence? The link to the full article is .


Fom Circular

Just looking at the Lulu site again, I gather that one option is to download Abu's book as a 2.5 MB PDF file, at pretty nominal cost. Seems like a good idea, has anyone tried it?
The "preview" facility actually provides the Table of Contents, most of which looks very familiar, plus the whole of Abu's preface or introduction, which is very interesting.

Why do I feel the preface, and probably the whole book, may turn out to be more of any elegy or memorial for a society, for a culture, that is doomed to collapse into total chaos? I can't see any good news, any progress or recovery, coming out of Iraq. All I can see is a "tipping point" towards an inevitable downward slide into disintegration.

Certainly the Army of Occupation seems powerless now to control or influence events - all they can really do is watch, and carry on with their casual and random killing.
And I don't accept that this was all the fault of the Bush cabal, or a few crazed neo-cons. Through their lack of curiosity, their lack of protest, the whole conquering nation are collectively responsible. Mark-in-Chi-Town's global policeman, with his limp rubber truncheon, his corruption and greed.



To be fair, my wife is not that oppressive. She actually said that she didn’t mind as long as the whole thing remained within the realm of the internet ;)

Oh, remember when I told you that Juan Cole’s perspective may have been influenced by his Lebanese experience? A couple of days ago I had a most refreshing exchange with him (some of it was in Arabic!). I expressed the same sentiment to him (not very diplomatic, I know… ). I can tell you that the man knows a lot more than he shows in his writings. I was extremely impressed by both his knowledge of recent Iraqi history and of the intricacies and the changes taking place on the ground as well as by his balanced assessments.


Thank you. In Arabic, those words would be:

Ilahi ysallimkum wyihriskum

Fascinating how close they are, isn’t it?

“Hello” Anon,

Thank you… but no thanks!

Alaa who?!! I’m only joking! As you say, the poor fellow simply does not have the charisma. On the other hand, few of our neo-politicians do (with Talabani being a notable exception :) I’m afraid it is now a function of external backing and monetary funding.

But there are already many thousands of local leaders in the country! When conditions permit, you will see them in action. I see them doing noble work away from the media or the government every single day!

As to sectarian war, although I can see hardening of positions and people seeking the ‘shelter’ of their own lot, I am still confident that Iraq is different: too much mixing and too many channels.


Thank you.

I didn’t address this subject much in my blogs (for fear of boring readers) but I referred to it several times in greater detail in the book. I will give you some excerpts here at the risk of them being read by a certain gentleman who is adamant about a certain issue!!
Tribal Changes over the past few centuries:

Like any other social system, tribes and tribal relations are subject to change.

Over the past three centuries, there was a significant shift of tribal relationships in Iraq.

In the 17th century, Iraq was under Ottoman occupation. The wali (governor) of the time, a forward looking man called Midhat Pasha wanted to introduce some agrarian reform. He allocated large areas of agricultural land to tribes.

The main aim was to encourage nomads to settle down through land ownership to settle down and to quell their frequent uprisings.
That intention was no doubt noble enough. However, the administrative system was corrupt and inefficient. Not more than 50 years passed and most of the land somehow ended up being ‘owned’ by a few tribal chiefs and others with influence in Baghdad or Istanbul… who were not even sheikhs. For a number of reasons, the problem was more acute in the south.

A feudal system was born.

Tribesmen were now employed by those landlords as peasants. Very soon afterwards, those people were turned into something like serfs. There were many stories of injustice and tyranny.

That unjust system was unfortunately continued under the British occupation where agricultural land was used to buy allegiance and as rewards for services rendered

In the second half of the twentieth century there were drastic developments, both economic and political.
• Agrarian reforms limiting maximum area of land ownership limited those people’s power.
• During and after the 1958 coupe / revolution and the ‘progressive’ and nationalistic regimes that followed, tribes were seen as a backward force. Up until then, Iraqi legal code had allowed for tribal means of resolving conflicts. That code was summarily abolished. Sheikhs fell out of favor.
• The relatively rapid spread of education and expansion of the cities and city life gave many people of the country and the desert an alternative mode of life. They could now survive and even do well outside their tribal confines. Baghdad and other cities expanded at a frightening rate. Some of those people were absorbed in urban life and their ties with their tribes became almost forgotten or only nostalgic, sentimental remnants of heritage and lineage.

As a result, for the past half a century, the tribal relations have taken a more equitable form. The relationship between the individual and his tribe has become a ‘more voluntary’ social contract based on mutual benefit. A tribesman is defended by his kin if he contributes to the collective system. Many – most – people choose to do so.

The relationship between tribes and their chiefs also became different. In many instances, members of the tribe became richer, more educated or more influential than their sheikhs. Others were in most cases economically no longer dependent on those sheikhs. The tribal sheikh consequently became more as a first among equals again. His guesthouse was a meeting place where problems could be addressed; he was a focal point for collective consensus and action. His authority became more moral than physical and tangible. Many sheikhs, in their capacity as ‘representatives’ of the welfare of their tribesmen and as arbitrators for their conflicts retained much influence on these people’s lives and remained generally respected. But there was a limit.

During the early phase of the Baath rule, tribal relations were severely discouraged. There was a time when the use of a surname that reflected tribal or town links was prohibited. Yet, the structure of the tribe remained. People in the country kept using their tribal codes, including revenge, arbitration, tribal reconciliation etc.

Following the 1991 uprising in the south, there was much chaos, looting and lawlessness in the cities. Tribal areas however remained generally calm.

Saddam Hussein, being a shrewd political operator, recognized the persisting significance of those tribes as a political force. He did much to reverse earlier Baath policies and began to give tribes ‘more respect’ through local Baathist machines. He had tribal chiefs attend numerous ‘audiences’ with him. He gave them gifts and money handouts. He tried to organize them into categories (of A, B etc!!)

Tribes were gaining importance not only in rural areas but also in cities. Those city people who had tribal connections attempted to make use of those connections to gain some benefits. With the weakening arm of government and the forces of law and order during the sanction years, this became more pronounced. It almost got out of hand.

Another emerging influence was that of the clergy. The clergy were always highly respected in tribal areas, particularly in the south. However, after the invasion, those clergy who were politically active and who were affiliated with some of the new militant ‘religious’ parties became more, much more, influential than the local sheikhs.
I was dismayed at the lack of teeth of some of those southern chiefs. I once blamed such a friend for being so ineffective against the new religious and sectarian forces. He said that whatever work that took him weeks to do, could be undone within an hour by a political clergyman.

This is sad. These people are natural local leaders. Their effect, locally, can often be most beneficial to the community.

After three years of the invasion and ensuing chaos, most tribes in Iraq are now being subject to two main opposing forces. The older generation, the ‘appeasers’, saw the enormity of the forces facing them: the American army, the new police and army, the new powerful sectarian political parties and did their best to convince their people to work with these forces. The younger ‘rebels’ would have none of that. Some were nationalistic and joined remnants of the old Iraqi army; some joined one of the many emerging militant ‘religious’ groups; some saw opportunities in other venues. These people became a power to be reckoned with in much of central, northern and western Iraq.

I also gave very short profiles of six tribal leaders I personally know to give an idea of their standing, influence and its limits with their tribes… to put things in perspective.

Not tempted yet, Circular? On the other hand, if I keep quoting like this, none of you will need to buy the book :)

Wish you wouldn't post at the same time as I do, Abu. Very confusing.
Some of what you say has resonances here in NZ - the older Maori tribal elders working patiently towards resolution of colonial grievances, the younger hot-heads becoming dismissive of them and seeking direct protest action. Fortunately there's not a religious element involved!
Some of the young hot-heads are now Members of Parliament.
But do tribal influences and values have any relevance in the madness that is Baghdad today?

Obviously that was me, Circular.


It seems we posted at exactly the same time. What are you doing staying up so late? Guarding against kiwi death squads?

Your remark and the effort you took to visit the Lulu site seem to indicate that mountains do move after all… at least in Kiwiland!!

Regarding Baghdad… the poorer areas do have a tribal connection of some sort, but tribes cannot move in the city. Their effect is felt on an individual level.


You wrote: "Through their lack of curiosity, their lack of protest, the whole conquering nation are collectively responsible."

Of course by quite similar logic, you and all Kiwis (along with the Aussies) are collectively responsible for the failure of "RAMSI" to politically and economically stabilize the Solomon Islands, for the rioting after the recent election there, and for the forced emigration of ethnic Chinese families from the Islands.

The Kiwis and Aussies have had a presence in the Solomons for almost three years now. Why can't they keep the violence and ethnic cleansing by the local citizens under wraps? Applying what I shall now call "Circ's 1st Law of Collective Guilt," I now must hold all Kiwis and Aussies collectively responsible. Shame on you, Circ, for not personally devising the precise remedy for all the political, economic and social ills of the Solomons in those three years. When you had done so, you had the responsibility to vigorously protest the erroneous Kiwi and Aussie governments' policies which you should have perceived would, inevitably, result in inter-communal violence.

You will note that I have rejected a portion of "Circ's 1st Law of Collective Guilt," that is, the accuser’s right to indulge in off-color, name-calling as to the collectively guilty. Of course, my rejection of this bit is required by our host's request for civil discourse.

Very Snarkily Yours,

The last one, of course, was me.

Quite Unsnarkily,


The difference, Mark, is that the Kiwis and Aussies (and the Fijians) did not invade and conquer the Solomon Islands by their own unilateral choice or decision. They are there legitimately at the specific request of the United Nations and of the Solomon Islands government.
It is quite possible that in the long run their mission will fail, just as a UN mission might have failed in Somalia, for example - this sort of peacekeeping exercise is usually a bit of a gamble, for obvious reasons.
Such a failure might reflect on the competence of the UN forces, but it raises no issues about the motives or intentions of the Governments and nations involved.
To compare the Solomons (or better still East Timor, a significant ANZAC/UN peacekeeping success) with Iraq is indeed, as you say, snarky in the extreme.
It's also unwise to sling off at the Aussies. They are one of your few remaining allies in Iraq.


Abu Khaleel!

CONGRATULATIONS on your book! I'll check out the online e-book tomorrow, it will be the first time I buy an e-book :)

Be safe/



Yes, I know that the RAMSI troops were asked to go to the Solomons and that the military intervention was appropriate under International law. I am also quite prepared to concede that the legality of the Iraq invasion, in contrast, was debatable at the very best. My point, in my prior post, was that the RAMSI mission has been less successful than one would have hoped. Are Kiwis not, by your theory, collectively responsible for this or does the collective guilt theory only apply to military failure or incompetence when American troops are involved.

You should consider, prior to answering my question, that the armed intervention in Kosovo by NATO forces was of equally dubious legality, since no security council resolution explicitly authorized that use of force. Although technically illegal, the Kosovo intervention is considered by most International legal experts as being just and appropriate (although it is amusing to watch those legal experts who assert the intervention was "legal" twist the law in an attempt justify that view). As one or more permanent members of the Security Council may veto a proposed moral and just collective military intervention for quite immoral reasons, I find distinctions made solely on the basis of "International legality" to be less than compelling in assessing moral culpability.

Perhaps another historical example will better illustrate my point. The U.N. Security Council approval of the collective defense of South Korea, after the brutal invasion by the North, was only possible because the Soviet Union’s representative accidentally blew its opportunity to veto it. Had the Soviet's representative vetoed the South Korean defense resolution as instructed, would that have made the collective defense of the South any less just or morally appropriate? If the veto had been made as intended, should the rest of the world left the South Koreans to a miserable fate?

For these reasons, your "legality" justification for failing to apply "Cir's 1st Law" to the RAMSI military failures in the Solomon’s doesn't hold water. Perhaps then, it is time to reconsider that theory.

I think that there is a more important difference between you and I, Circ, that is, I truly believe that we are on the same side (all snarkiness aside) on the vast majority of issues of international import (in this regard, please note that I do wish for the U.S. to be stuck in the role of international policemen, I merely recognize the reality that, in many cases, the U.S. will be the only country with sufficient military infrastructure and hardware to rapidly project power into certain corners of the globe). You, on the other hand, appear to want to turn me and every other American (at least any of those who don't agree with all your opinions on Iraq, i.e., we "bastards") into your enemy. This seems to me to be a myopic approach.


When I suggested that Abu open a new thread, I didn't mean necessarily a new forum for debate - that may not be what he wants.
However, until he objects: I'd rather not get into all sorts of historical comparisons - Korea, Yugoslavia, etc. I think it is sufficient to say this.

WHEN a NZ government invades and occupies one of its small Pacific neighbours, for trumped-up reasons, and bungles the occupation thereof, and NZ troops treat the locals with casual brutality (and pigs might fly - half the Kiwis in the Solomons are unarmed policemen):
AND the majority of Kiwis do not protest very strongly indeed, to the point of civil unrest:
THEN I may concede your point.

But until then, anyone who defends this macabre disaster may not be my enemy exactly, but I don't think I'd want him for a friend.

Hey I loved this, in yesterdays Boston Globe.

"BAGHDAD -- Some American troops in Iraq have been their 'own worst enemy,' unintentionally creating new insurgents by treating the Iraqi people in a heavy-handed or insensitive manner, according to the US commander in charge of day-to-day military operations.

Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, in a weekend training session with troops and in an interview afterward, said that he found a need to reemphasize to soldiers that they should use reasonable force and treat Iraqi culture with respect, in part because the insurgency has persisted and grown.

''We have to understand that the way we treat Iraqis has a direct effect on the number of insurgents that we are fighting," Chiarelli said after the seminar with about three dozen soldiers and Marines at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad. 'For every one that I kill, I create almost 10 more.'"

Duh. So what was your first clue, Sherlock?
This is the world's default policeman?

And I agree with Dahr Jamail:

"It is only when more people in the U.S. begin to fathom the totality of the destruction in Iraq that one may expect to hear the public outcry and uprising necessary to end the occupation and bring to justice the war criminals responsible for these conditions. Until that happens, make no mistake: all of us participate in a new Iraq, our hands dyed in the blood of innocents."

I bet Abu Kahleel agrees with him too.



Thank you! But a word of warning first: My book does not seem suitable for Iraqi ladies. So far, I am aware of 3 who read the book. All three “complained” that it made them cry!


I must agree with you regarding Circular’s use of that word!

May I ask if you, as an individual, have any feelings of guilt about what your country did to mine?

Sorry Circular, I posted my comment before seeing yours. And yes, I agree with Dahr Jamail. I have just asked Mark a question along the same line.

We've got to stop meeting like this.
To save you speculating, I am not staying up late. It is 10.30 in the evening here. Time for the second vodka, not the death squads.
I will be interested in Mark's answer to your question.

Abu Khaleel:

As to guilt, yes, I do feel a measure of guilt for the bungling of the occupation by the Bush administration. They have made many, many mistakes in that regard. As we Americans elect our government, our individual duty is to put pressure on the government to change its behavior when it is short sighted or incompetent, and if those efforts are not effective, to change the government. Since the Bush administration is less responsive to public pressure than most, such efforts have met with limited success, which leaves elections.

Due to the length of terms of office, changes of administration cannot be made rapidly, under the U.S. system. There is no such thing as a "no confidence" vote to oust the executive branch of government under our system. This has made our system less flexible on a short term basis, but relatively more stable in the long term than some other democratic systems. Bush had the good fortune that the U.S. election was soon enough after the invasion that the full extent of his administration's bungling of the occupation had not been fully realized by a signficant number of voters. Bush was also assisted by the incompetence of his opponent, who did not articulate a credible alternate policy for Iraq, other than “I would do things differently.”

It is my view that the Republican party of George Bush faces a significant loss of legislative power in the mid-term elections this fall. A large part of that loss will be due to the failure of Bush’s Iraq policies. This loss will occur unless the Democratic Party overplays its hand by supplying too much highly partisan "red meat" to its far left wing in order to energize them. Such highly partisan attack tactics tend to offend centrist voters and could cause a back-lash. Thus, in my view, Bush's party will soon be paying for the sins of his administration in the mid-term election. Accordingly, the U.S. system appears to be working in the slow, grinding manner for which it was designed. As you probably know, the system was designed to spread power between branches of the Federal government (and further between the Federal and the state governments) to prevent a “tyranny of the majority.” Where you have a stubbornly ideological President, like Bush, major adjustments to policy in our system often take a great deal of time.

Where Circ and I will part company concerning U.S. mistakes in Iraq, is the seminal issue of whether the international community should have acted at some point to remove Saddam's regime. It is my view that this should have been done during Gulf War I, irregardless of whether such a move would have exceeded the scope of the U.N. mandate for the use of force (of course it would have been better to get such an authorization in advance). One reason I held this view was that, the only real alternate course of action for the international community was to slap a sanctions program on Iraq (the Bush I administration's hope that Saddam would be purged internally seemed to me, at the time, to be an unwise gamble). Predictably, that sanctions program turned out to be far more painful for the average Iraqi citizen, than for the regime. For these reasons, it is my view that the biggest mistake the U.S. made in Iraq was not the invasion itself, but to scrap established plans for post invasion occupation and stabilization in favor of a neo-con inspired “occupation light” approach. The failure to utilize existing plans and to provide the necessary levels of troops and resources to restore some semblance of order and security as rapidly as possible was clearly a monstrous mistake.

On the other hand, I do recognize that a significantly larger initial U.S. military foot print would have caused those in the reflexively Anti-American crowd, like Circ, to cite the size of that foot print as evidence of American colonial intentions (this points out another major flaw in Bush’s handling of the Iraq invasion, that is, the failure of their diplomatic efforts to build broader international support for removing Saddam). The choice to thinly resource the occupation was, in my view, not primarily motivated by this concern, but rather it was a deliberate attempt by Rumsfeld and his cronies in the administration to illustrate his vision of the future of U.S. warfare in which reliance on technology limits the need for heavy armor and large numbers of troops. While the Rumsfeld approach was quite successful during the invasion, it was disastrous for establishing security during the occupation. See the sound analysis of Bush Administration errors by Larry Diamond at .

I feel a lesser tug of guilt concerning the current Iraqi-on-Iraqi sectarian violence. Given the violent and repressive nature of Saddam's regime, the suppressed rage of some of the formerly oppressed Iraqi Shia and the inevitable infiltration in post Baath Iraq by at least some Takfiri terrorists, some level of inter-communal violence was likely to have occurred no matter how power passed from the Saddam or one of his son's to more a representative form of government. Of course, had the U.S. properly resourced the occupation, the level of violence might have been significantly reduced, although it seems likely the Mahdi army (or some other Shia militia manned by poor, disaffected youth and lead by a demagogue) and Takfiri terrorist groups would have caused some level of trouble for other political groups under almost any other post-Baath scenario.

Further, contrary to some popular conspiracy theories, I do not believe that the U.S. military has been actively stoking inter-communal violence to justify its continued presence in Iraq. In fact, I believe that Larry Diamond is correct is asserting that Rumsfeld had planned to pull almost all U.S. troops within a year. As purposefully extending U.S. troop presence in a hot war zone would be political suicide for Bush's party, it is highly doubtful that he would adopt such a strategy.

"As to guilt, yes, I do feel a measure of guilt for the bungling of the occupation by the Bush administration."

But not for the fact of the occupation. I still consider that it was vitally and urgently necessary to charge in headlong, despite the fact that Iraq posed no immediate danger to anyone or anything except itself, and despite the fact that there were any number of other troubled nations in need of our altruistic and humane intervention. Anyway, history

"... has made our system less flexible on a short term basis, but relatively more stable in the long term than some other democratic systems."

And if a few hundred thousand innocent ragheads have to be sacrificed on the altar of the long-term stability of US democracy, they should feel privileged. Same goes for their country being ruined while we fluff around.

"On the other hand, I do recognize that a significantly larger initial U.S. military foot print would have caused those in the reflexively Anti-American crowd, like Circ, to cite the size of that foot print as evidence of American colonial intentions."

Despite the fact that we are erecting the largest embassy in the world, in a huge fortified enclave, and building enduring bases the size of small cities, our footprint is teensy-weensy, really.

"I feel a lesser tug of guilt concerning the current Iraqi-on-Iraqi sectarian violence."

Because if we had done our occupation properly, Circular would have protested at the size of the necessary footprint. Therefore anything that's gone wrong in Iraq is the fault of reflex Anti-Americanism. Nothing to do with any fault in ourselves.

In summary, nah, I don't feel much guilt. Any mistakes were made by the Republican administration, not by my country. Just like it wasn't America that won World War 2, it was Roosevelt and the Democrats.

You've just been a victim of American Tribalism, Abu. Don't take it so hard!

Guess Who

Continued from above (in the absence of anyone else wanting to say anything?)

Mark. Taken to its logical extreme, doesn't your position imply that America, the nation, Americans, the people, were not responsible for anything that happened in Vietnam? That was Johnson and the Democrats, and then Nixon and the Republicans. But not America?
Do you think you might have a problem selling that point of view to a Vietnamese?

Here's something I've been thinking about:
The countries most similar historically to America are the "white" Dominions of the British Commonwealth - Canada, Australia, New Zealand. Like America, they grew from European settler origins into capitalist societies with long histories of stable democracy. (And of more or less brutal displacement of the original inhabitants along the way.)

In these countries, the annual homicide rates seem to be about 2 per 100,000 people, similar to most European countries.
In America, the homicide rate seems to be between 8 and 12 per 100,000, depending on where Google takes you. (The rate for the capital, Washington, is apparently at Columbian levels.)
Imprisonment rates seem to be about 120 to 140 per 100,000 (with NZ as the worst, oh dear.) Again, Europe is similar or better.
America appears to imprison over 800 per 100,000 citizens.

If I've got these figures roughly right, what are they telling us? That from similar beginnings, America has become, or perhaps has always been, a much more violent and lawless society than those most like it? Which are now among the most civilised on earth, by most accepted measures?

(Hey, I note that my city, Auckland, recently moved from 8th to 5th place in the Mercer "quality of living" index of world cities. 4 of the top 12 cities to live in, according to Mercer, are in the "white" Dominions - Vancouver, Auckland, Sydney, Wellington. Highest-ranked US city is Honolulu, at 27th.)

In short, if we're going to have a self-appointed policeman in our unruly little global village, does it matter that he seems to be a bit of a brutal slob? Not among the best-dressed? In need of a wash and shave?

Now I'm not being "reflexively Anti-American," I'm trying to be reasonable and objective.
But aren't Iraqis like Abu entitled to ask these sorts of questions, in view of the last three years?
Poor Baghdad now rates dead last, number 300-and-something, among the world's cities.


Abu Khaleel,

Congragulations on your book! I have downloaded the book and look forward to reading it once I am done with exams.

All the best,

P.S. For those who are considering downloading the book as a PDF, it worked fine on my computer.

Hmm. A big juicy thread full of thoughtful Abu Khaleel, Circular and Mark comments. I will read and respond at the soonest.

Abu Khaleel:

I have downloaded your book and have worked my way through a large chunk of it. As I had been reading most of your Glimpse of Iraq blog as it was posted, I was concerned that I would find it boring to read through much of the same material again. I must say that this concern was unfounded, since you have added enough new material (updates for older entries) to make it all seem fresh and since I find that I appreciate both your writing style and storytelling abilities even more upon a second reading.

Perhaps, if your self-publishing experiment turns out well, you should give up the farm and devote your energies to full time writing.


I'm curious as to whether anyone on this blog is willing to comment on the extent to which the current problems in Iraq can be attributed to interference by Iran and/or Syria. Perhaps Mr. Khaleel can comment.


[abu k] “I was extremely impressed by both his knowledge of recent Iraqi history and of the intricacies and the changes taking place on the ground as well as by his balanced assessments.”

Well, I always find Cole to be a good source of information. American enough to be representative of a substantial US view, and informed enough on the ME to give me the balanced US view on the region, not to mention the ins and outs of the ME. If he has YOUR endorsement well, that’s a gold star on his forehead so far as I’m concerned.

Btw, you should go to Raed’s blogspot Raed in the Middle to see a photo of Raed telling Richard Perle his fortune. I was cheering wildly at the picture under the headline.

[mark] “Applying what I shall now call "Circ's 1st Law of Collective Guilt," I now must hold all Kiwis and Aussies collectively responsible.”

That sounds tempting, but a little simplistic to hold all Americans as responsible for the Iraqi fiasco, (as Circular seems to advocate) not unless we consider society as a single unit, as opposed to a fractured mass which is held together by government. I think “collective responsibility” is difficult territory to tread. What if many people are simply too unaware or misinformed or uncaring (wrapped up in personal life) to realize the enormity of the crime their country is committing? How can I blame these people? On the other hand, is it their social obligation to find out what their government is doing, and if they don’t agree with it, to stop it?

A few hooks baited with juicy worms to catch some thoughtful debate …

Mark, you said: “Bush had the good fortune that the U.S. election was soon enough after the invasion that the full extent of his administration's bungling of the occupation had not been fully realized by a significant number of voters.”

Does this mean that you now agree with Abu Khaleel’s “Curtains of Light” analogy, wherein he basically (and generously) excused the US public from collective culpability because they were manipulated / misinformed by the media? Or am I misinterpreting what you are saying? What if you are right and the US public was fully and truthfully informed? Wouldn’t Circular be right in assigning collective responsibility?


[Mark] “Where Circ and I will part company concerning U.S. mistakes in Iraq, is the seminal issue of whether the international community should have acted at some point to remove Saddam's regime.”

Where you and I part ways is in assessing what the US’s true intentions are. You seem to buy into the “democracy for export” theory, whereas I buy into the “democracy as smokescreen” theory. As far as I am concerned, events have vindicated my view that America is (as usual) looking for a pliant client state rather than a genuine democratic government. (I was even recently shown proof of Sadr’s villany due to the fact that he refused to allow US “advisers” into “his” ministries. First, what are US advisers doing in the ministry of a sovereign state, and second it is not his ministry.)

I believe that if the US were truly honest in the professed “democracy for export” intent, it may even have pulled this off. But it is not, and it did not.

(This assumes, of course, that “democracy for export” is a valid excuse for waging war on a country, a whole other debate.)

[mark] “As one or more permanent members of the Security Council may veto a proposed moral and just collective military intervention for quite immoral reasons, I find distinctions made solely on the basis of "International legality" to be less than compelling in assessing moral culpability.”

The same way you argue that a moral intervention turned out to be better than a legalistic procedure in Kosovo (and there is some merit in this argument) I would point to Iraq where a legalistic adherence to law would have been better for the Iraqi people than a morality – based invasion which has ultimately flopped.

While I don’t unilaterally dismiss the idea of a “moral intervention” as wrong, I do regard international law as a significant protector of the weaker countries. If you feel that international law is being used more as a tool of the powerful –eg - Russia than a parallel course for moral action, then would it not be better to reform the international institutions to reflect this, rather than to dismiss them entirely?

At this point, who knows the answers. Who has any idea of who their enemies are? Even the Iraqi police might be working side-by-side with their own enemies.

At the point when one country uses force to inflict an ideal upon another, even if it is an ideal as fundamentally pure and "good" as democracy it ceases to BE democracy and becomes totalitarianism. When a democratic government wages a war against the wishes of the vast majority of its constituents it ceases to be a democratic nation. The problems of America lie in the hypocritic nature of our leaders.

As an American I feel it is my duty NOT to vote. It has become nothing more or less than an attempt to choose between the lesser of two evils. Well, I refuse to choose between the choices I am given.

However, were I living in a fledgling democracy such as that which is struggling to grow in Iraq, despite (or inspite of) the infertile political soil, I would hold it as my highest duty to vote and even to run for office despite the risks to myself or my family. I would make it my goal, my crusade, to attempt to bring the disparate factions of a fragmented land together, if for no other reason than to present a unified and cohesive attack against the invaders which threatened my land.

One day I am sure that will happen, and when it does the United States will leave Iraq not in defeat, but in victory because then, and only then will Iraq truly be free to persue its own destiny.

Good to see you back, Abu, and congratulations on the book. I'm looking forward to some more ranting, however. ;-P

I thought I'd get the ranting started myself.

The newest American hypocracy!

In the land of the free they are attempting to pass legislature which will limit portion size at restaurants. Now not only will we get overpriced undersized meals but they will have a LEGAL reason for doing so!

This is in an effort to combat the "obesity epidemic" which is currently plaguing America. Not only are the "founders of freedom" not allowed to imbibe whatever beverage they want until they are 21 years of age, even though they are considered an "adult" three years prior to that most arbitrary of ages, able to be bound by legal documents, tried and jailed with older, more physically developed people, executed in states with the death penalty and, most importantly, eligible for the draft where they might be forced to choose between fleeing their nation, going to jail, or having to fight a war where they could potentially die or be maimed, and most likely will have to kill, but now we are not going to be allowed to eat as many fries at McDonalds as we might like or have a drink in a cup large enough for a mediumsized person to bathe in.

While this might seem a minor broach on our freedom to many, it is but another example of the "democratic" America gradually becoming a totalitarian state. It began with gun control, moved through cigarettes, and abortion laws, and now is being fought on the grounds most Americans will feel the hardest. Their stomaches.

All this will mean is fat people will begin to order multiple meals. Which means they will have to spend more money, which will only enrich the very people that are contributing to the downfall of their health.

As an American it is my god given right to slowly kill myself in whatever manner I might choose. Whether it be by binge drinking, smoking through my trachiotomy with the aid of my iron lung, or eating McDonalds until my fat ass can't get through the door and they're forced to remove a wall to drag my stinking corpse from the bed where I happily ate myself into an early grave. A very LARGE grave.

The problems of this nation cannot be solved with legislature! When will people learn this? The only thing that will get fat people to lose weight is their own sense of preservation. Instead of showing television shows about idiots carving their bodies into grotesque characatures of the human form, start showing people the dangers of drinking, smoking, and eating until they feel like they're going to explode then just a few bites more.

While this may seem trivial to a country that is currently being restricted in their very movements, and live in fear of imminant, unavoidable and random death, I believe it is very telling of how American democracy works. If America demands that Iraq be democratic, so be it. Take democracy and make it your own. Fight for the freedoms which have been denied you for so long. Fight to be free to say what you wish about your leaders, even to their very face. Fight for the right to worship whatever invisible power you wish with whatever rituals you might find appropriate.

Then DO NOT LET THEM TAKE AWAY THESE FREEDOMS! Not even a little. Allow your legislators to meet once, maybe twice a year to hash over the problems that have arisen in that time. DO NOT PAY THEM! Make them work for a living for God's sake! That is how American democracy was meant to function. What do you think an "emergency session of congress" originally meant? It meant, "Oh crap, there's an emergency! We'd better call congress together from their various states so they can deal with anything that needs dealing with." The rest of the time they were lawyers, and judges, and businessmen in their own respective communities.

Beware the dangers of Amerocracy. They will give you all the freedoms you could ever want. Then they will take them away one reasonable piece at a time. They will pass a law and you will think, "Oh, that's not so bad. People shouldn't be allowed to carry machineguns. Pistols would be much safer." Or, "No, the average citizen should not be allowed to own tanks or aircraft carriers. What do they need those for?"

Well, I'll tell you. The second ammendment was created so that we, as a free people, would be able to fight a government that becomes overly oppressive. It exists so that the threat of effective revolution will act as a check against a legislative class that is out of control. This ammendment was DEMANDED by the original colonies because they did not want to have to face the same troubles they had in attempting to arm themselves against the British. Which, I might add, they revolted against for far less cause than we have today. They were tired of paying taxes to a decentralized government that did not care for their needs and wished to govern themselves.

Remind you of anything? The amount of taxes we pay today are far greater than anything paid by the revolutionaries. In that time the only taxes amounted to sales tax. If you did not buy or sell anything, you did not pay a tax. There was no property tax, or income tax. Imagine a world in which you could live for free as long as you were able to care for yourself!


Anyway, I hope this rant is acceptable, Abu. This is "An Open Thread" after all. ;-) This may seem like a break from my usual pro-American retoric, but I assure you it is not. If you care to look back you will see that I never implied that America was a perfect place which all countries should seek to emulate. Infact, I believe I have tried to show that "democracy is the worst form of government. Except for all the others." And I have not been preaching "America is Beautiful" but acceptance and tollerance, and self-reliance for the Iraqi people.

I hope you were not lumping me in with your "American Super-Patriots." I take my fake Iraqi blog name from a quote from Thomas Jefferson. "The Tree of Liberty must be watered, from time to time, with the blood of patriots and traitors alike."

Well, I am a patriot. And if there comes a time when my blood will help America return to freedom than I will gladly shed that blood and count myself fortunate if we succeed. But something tells me that the only liquid spilled will be ink on parchment for this revolution.

As a child I wanted to be a knight, even though I knew it was impossible. Then I heard the saying, "The pen is mightier than the sword." It was then that I decided to become a writer.

I've enjoyed dueling with you Abu, ;-) and if I have managed to sway you at all, to make you more accepting of americans and helped you to realize that we are not all your enemy, that we are simply people just like you then I know I have done the world a service because I believe you will become a great voice for your people. I believe you MUST.

Until the next atrocity gets your blood up then . . .

American Patriot,

Please do vote! While I probably would diagree with a gerat many of your legislative ideas, we need voters who are willing to think about and study about the issues, who are not going to simply parrot what they've heard on Fox, CNN, or NPR. I'm tired of American Republicans not sounding like Republicans, and Democrats not sounding like Democrats.

We don't need an America (or an Iraq, or...) where everyone thinks the same way. We need an America where we can expect reasoned (and probably passionate) debate, where disagreement is not sufficient cause for the accusation of treason. We need an America where we can assume that not everyone will agree with the President (whoever he or she might be), and that is not necessarily considered a problem.
(We need an America where people take pride in their work, and not just their paycheck)

Sermon over. Refreshments will be served at your nearest coffee shop.

Be Well,
Bob Griffin

What we need is an America which is not fast becoming a capitalistic fuedalism. With universal education we made huge bounds toward creating a society where the average citizen could rise to make a better life for him or herself. We had a society in which every child was given an equal chance.

In theory anyway. Minorities were often neglected in the system which is why equal opportunity laws were passed. Now, however, in an era where most american children do not think along lines of color or race, these laws have become a hinderance which only segregates the minority population.

It has also caused many colleges and universities to broaden their requirements. This means that a college degree is now a requirement for any job that is not part of the labor or service industry. Which basically throws free education out the window.

More and more american students are pursuing degrees in art and entertainment related fields, while in China and Japan nearly 80% of college level students are seeking degrees in scientific and engineering fields. Soon the term "American enginuity" will be obsolete. I predict the first flag planted on Mars will be Chinese, but the astronauts will be listening to American pop music on their Japanese made ipods.

As author Neal Stephenson said in his book "Snow Crash" there are only a few things americans do better than anyone else in the world. "Software, music and movies, and pizza delivery."

I fear the day when America is reduced to the entertainer of the world. Though, with presidents like the last two, it may be too late.

The lines demarking Democrat and Republican have certainly thinned over the last decade. I find this a good thing. Let us not forget the farce of Clinton's impeachment in which all but two republican representatives voted for impeachment and all but a half dozen or so democrats voted against.

I will vote when a leader worth voting for arises. We need an Andrew Jackson. A president who will take charge of the situation and whip our legislature into shape for a term or two.

Like Rome we will become a dictatorship before a true Republic takes power once more.

It has already begun. Reality television is our Colosseum.

you're okay abu?

I am sorry for having been out of touch but I have been pretty much occupied with another violent episode in that rural area for most of the past two weeks. Some of you may recall that long and boring account of the conflict between the two tribes I mentioned earlier and described at great length in the book. I thought was over a few months ago. Well, it flared up again.

There were three days of violence during which 16 people were killed (not counting members of the security forces), 6 were injured and 23 ‘detained’ from both tribes.

On the first day, some 25-40 Gurran men (incited and assisted by militia outsiders) attacked Obaid and killed 2 men. Obaidis, who were on guard, struck back almost immediately and killed 12 of the attackers.

The following day, Iraqi security forces attacked Obaid area. There was a fierce battle that lasted several hours.

The third day, the US army attacked in full force with helicopter gunships and fighter planes. The assault lasted for 10 hours (8am – 6pm).

Later, it transpired that the US army was misled.

The issue is far from over but you may be happy to know that the effort to ignite sectarian conflict in that little corner failed again, like last time. And, again, it was contained. At the moment, efforts are underway for reconciliation and arbitration.

American Patriot,

Interesting points. I never regarded you as an enemy. I have already identified the people I see as enemies to Iraq and to America (and to the rest of mankind) as “Fifth Americans”. I will be delighted to take up this debate soonest.


I have already written separately. I’m ok, thank you.

Hello Abu Khaleel,

I'm an American. I suppose I fall somewhere between a #2 and a #4 on your categorization system, but, as you said, it's not easy to lump people together under generalizations. I myself wouldn't even try to make generalizations about the opinions of my fellow countrymen because they run across the whole spectrum.
I just wanted to congratulate you on your thoughtful blog. You are so well versed in American opinions and events that I have to imagine you either have lived in the U.S. or have spent a good amount of time there.
I send my sincere hopes that life improves in Iraq for everybody there. I think most Americans really wish the best for the Iraqi people and I have to hope that most, like myself, feel some sense of responsibility for the future well-being of Iraq.
On behalf of myself and other Americans who share my opinion, I apologize for the U.S. errors in Iraq and misjudgements that have allowed some terrible series of events. It seems clear to me that the U.S. severely underestimated the complexity of Iraqi society and the depth of social divisions that have brought a lot of bloodshed. No doubt it is only the Iraqis themselves who can take the reins of this situation and find solutions. God willing, that is what will happen.
I'm not sure what the best U.S. policy going forward is. A lot of people here profess to know. Whether the U.S. should withdraw or stick around to try to help should be for the Iraqi people to decide in a democratic manner....maybe through a referendum.
I think that is the only way a credible policy can be built there.
Best of luck and thanks for your continued updates!

That's a great discussion.

I am only seeking for world peace.
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