Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Another close call today in my neighbourhood in Baghdad. It was showered with over 30 mortar shells from nearby Shi'ite districts after news of the attacks against Shia pilgrims in Diyala got out. One shell tore through a bedroom on the second floor of my grandmother's house, which is next to ours. No one was hurt, thankfully. Another hit a nearby house and killed our long-time neighbour who was on the roof.

U.S. soldiers, who have cordoned the district for the last few days, knocked on our door at 6 a.m. My family was asleep and they didn't hear it. The U.S. soldiers then went to my grandmother's house next door and stayed for four hours, drinking tea and chatting with my uncle. My uncle, a former army officer and a fierce Arab nationalist, seems to have told the American soldiers all about the history of Iraq's colonisers, all the way back to the Mongols and Hulago. My family said the American soldiers, who listened attentively to my uncle's story, apologised and told him that they did not want to be in Iraq either but they did not have much of a choice.

UPDATE: My brother should not be seeing this terrible stuff.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

So What Happened in Najaf?

The Sadrist account: Nahrain Net, a Sadrist website, quotes anonymous sources from the Hawza and security officials in Najaf that an armed group named “Jund Al-Samaa’” (the Army of Heaven, the Soldiers of Heaven, the Soldiers of the Skies) were amassing in palm groves at Zarga, north of Kufa, and that they were plotting to take supreme Shi’ite clerics in Najaf, including Sistani, Ishaq Al-Fayyadh, Ya’qubi, Mohammed Al-Hakim, and Muqtada Al-Sadr, as hostages in order to use as a bargain to control the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf. Allegedly, a list was found with the group that contained names of senior clerics in Najaf and Karbala, and that Muqtada was number two on the list after Sistani. They added that the group was coordinating with Ba’athists and Al-Qaeda and that they have received logistic and monetary backing from Saudi Arabia.

The Iraqi Health Minister’s account: Health Minister Ali Al-Shammari (Sadrist Bloc) revealed that over 123 militants were wounded in the battle and that they were being treated in Najaf’s hospitals. Militants killed were “in the hundreds,” most of who are of unknown identities. The group’s military commander was killed in the battle and he was identified as Dhiaa’ Abdul Zahra Kadhim, a man from Hilla.

Ahmed Du’aibil, Media Spokesman of the Najaf Governorate (SCIRI): 250 – 300 militants were killed in the clashes at Zarga. “16 terrorists” were detained, including two Egyptians and a Saudi.

The Iraqi News Agency quotes an unnamed Iraqi security source that the group’s leader is Ahmed Kadhim Al-Gar’awi Al-Basri (Ahmed Hassan Al-Basri), born 1969, and was a Hawza student of Sayyid Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr (Muqtada’s father) in Najaf. He left to Iran right before the war and declared himself the vanguard of Imam Al-Mahdi, leading to his imprisonment by Iranian authorities for heresy. He was released and returned to Iraq after the war and he started preaching in Basrah, where he also put under house arrest by Iraqi authorities. His schools and husseiniyas in major cities in the south were closed and vandalised by Iraqi security forces and the Scorpion Brigade of the Interior Ministry Commandos detained several of his followers in Najaf last week. The source added that 140 militants were captured in the clashes yesterday.

SCIRI’s Buratha News Agency quotes a source in the Dhu Al-Fiqar Brigade, which fought the militants yesterday, saying over 1,000 “terrorists” were killed and 50 detained, with 200 “brainwashed women and children.” He added that the area was full of corpses and a large amount of ammunition and weapons was confiscated.

Deputy Governor of Najaf Abdul Hussein Abtan (SCIRI), as quoted on Al-Iraqiya TV: “Hundreds of terrorists have been killed, and hundreds detained. Their brainwashed families were also at the location and we are moving them to another place and clearing the killed and prisoners to complete investigations. Our information indicates that foreign groups funded this operation, but they used false slogans and recruited naive people in order to destroy holy Najaf and to kill the great clerics as a starting point and then to move to control other governorates. That is what their slain leader, who called himself the Imam Al-Mahdi, told them.” The deputy governor first said the group’s leader was a Lebanese national, but later he identified him as Dhiaa’ Abdul Zahra Kadhim, from Hilla. It seems there were no journalists to point out this contradiction to him in the room when he made this statement.

Najaf Governor As’ad Abu Gilel (SCIRI): The group was led by a man named Ali bin Ali bin Abi Talib. Their planned attack was meant to destroy the Shiite community, kill the grand ayatollahs, destroy the convoys and occupy the holy shrine. He identified the group as “Shi’ite in its exterior, but not in its core.”

Another unnamed captain in the Iraqi Army, quoted by Buratha News Agency: “The leader who was killed claimed he was the Mahdi. He is in his forties and is from Diwaniya. Many Arab fighters were captured including Lebanese, Egyptians and Sudanese.”

Major General Othman Al-Ghanimi, Iraqi commander in charge of Najaf quoted by AP: Members of the group, including women and children, planned to disguise themselves as pilgrims and kill as many leading clerics as possible. The group’s leader, wearing jeans, a coat and a hat and carrying two pistols was among those who were killed in the battle. Saddam’s Al-Quds Army, a people’s militia established in the late 1990s, once used the same area where the group was based.

Ahmed Al-Fatlawi (SCIRI), member of Najaf Governorate Council, quoted by AP: "We have information from our intelligence sources that indicated the leader of this group had links with the former regime elements since 1993. Some of the gunmen brought their families with them in order to make it easier to enter the city. The women have been detained.”

Colonel Ali Jiraiw, spokesman for the Najaf police, quoted by the Guardian: “The group which calls itself Army of Heaven had established itself two years ago in farms near Kufa. But it ran into trouble with the Jaish al-Mahdi militia loyal to Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, who has a base in Kufa and who regards the group as heretical. The group is led by Sheikh Ahmed Hassan Al-Yamani, and its followers believe in the imminent return of the Mahdi, a messiah-like figure whose coming heralds the dawn of a kingdom of peace and justice."

So let me get this straight. The Iraqi officials can't agree on who they were fighting or who their leader was, so how did they figure out all these colourful details about "brainwashed women and children" and the intentions of killing all clerics or bombing the shrine or taking over the shrine, etc.?

Also, alleged eyewitnesses said they saw fighters in "Afghan robes." What is an Afghan robe, anyway? I doubt someone from Kufa would know an Afghan robe when they see it. Also, why doesn't the government produce the evidence that foreign fighters have been captured?

SCIRI’s website posted this photo of the group’s leader, and another of him lying dead in the battlefield.

Alleged photo of Jund Al-Samaa' leader, according to SCIRI
Slain leader of Jund Al-Samaa', according to SCIRIAnother story that is surfacing on several Iraqi message boards goes like this: A mourning procession of 200 pilgrims from the Hawatim tribe, which inhabits the area between Najaf and Diwaniya, arrived at the Zarga area at 6 a.m. Sunday. Hajj Sa’ad Nayif Al-Hatemi and his wife were accompanying the procession in their 1982 Super Toyota sedan because they could not walk. They reached an Iraqi Army checkpoint, which suddenly opened fire against the vehicle, killing Hajj Al-Hatemi, his wife and his driver Jabir Ridha Al-Hatemi. The Hawatim tribesmen in the procession, which was fully armed to protect itself in its journey at night, attacked the checkpoint to avenge their slain chief. Members of the Khaza’il tribe, who live in the area, attempted to interfere to stop the fire exchange. About 20 tribesmen were killed. The checkpoint called the Iraqi army and police command calling for backup, saying it was under fire from Al-Qaeda groups and that they have advanced weapons. Minutes later, reinforcements arrived and the tribesmen were surrounded in the orchards and were sustaining heavy fire from all directions. They tried to shout out to the attacking security forces to cease fire but with no success. Suddenly, American helicopters arrived and they dropped fliers saying, “To the terrorists, Surrender before we bomb the area.” The tribesmen continued to fire in all directions and in the air, but they said they didn’t know if the helicopter crash was a result of their fire or friendly fire from the attackers. By 4 a.m., over 120 tribesmen as well as residents of the area had been killed in the U.S. aerial bombardment.

The Islam Memo website says an American NBC cameraman and an Iraqi journalist named Aws Al-Khafaji were trying to reach the area to film the battlefield but were prevented by a security force from the Najaf governor’s office to leave their hotel in Najaf. The website also quotes Sheikh Khalaf Abdul Hussein Al-Khaz’ali, who said the government killed 33 members of his tribe and that they described them as Al-Qaeda. A delegation from the Hawatim and Khaza’il tribe are allegedly negotiating with the Najaf governor to retrieve the corpses of 70 tribesmen, including women and children, still kept at the Najaf Hospital. The delegation threatened with “grave consequences” if the corpses are not delivered to the tribes within 24 hours. A source from Diwaniya said that 57 bodies have reached the city and were buried in the Hawatim tribe cemetery, west of the city, Monday afternoon. The website published a list of the names of those who were killed from the tribe.

Both the Hawatim and Khaza’il tribe are anti-SCIRI and anti-Da’wa. Last July, they threatened to kill any of their members who join the Mahdi Army or the Badr Organization. SCIRI, on the other hand, accuses the tribes of being Ba’athists and Saddam loyalists.

And, by the way, the Western media is confusing Ahmed Al-Hassan with Mahmoud Al-Hassani Al-Sarkhi, another Sadrist drop-out. They are not the same person, but they lead similar movements. Here is the background of Al-Sarkhi.

Monday, January 29, 2007

U.S. Likely Duped in Najaf Clashes

The official U.S. and Iraqi story about what happened in Najaf today, which was swallowed and propagated by news wires (and apparently also the New York Times), is complete nonsense. First of all, they can’t even decide whether they were fighting Sunni insurgents or a “violent Shi’ite cult,” as Reuters’ unnamed self-appointed expert put it in their story. Secondly, the U.S. and Iraqi descriptions don’t match and both contain gross inconsistencies; Najaf’s governor, As’ad Abu Gilel, who is a member of the pro-Iranian SCIRI, said they were Sunni insurgents, including Pakistani and Afghan fighters, plotting to stage an attack against Shia pilgrims commemorating the holy month of Muharram in Najaf, and to possibly attack the Shi’ite clerical leadership that is based in the old city, around the shrine of Imam Ali. Then he turned around and said they were local [Shia] loyalists to ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, probably referring to the Shi’ite tribe of Bani Hassan around Kufa, which facilitated the assault by Saddam’s Republican Guard against rebels in the 1991 Intifada. (The Bani Hassan tribe is despised by major Shi’ite political parties, and residents of Najaf scornfully refer to their town of Al-Abbasiya, across the Euphrates from Kufa, as Al-Ouja, which is the hometown of Saddam Hussein near Tikrit. Many members of Bani Hassan also supported Sadrists in their 2004 uprising.) A U.S. military source confirmed that 250 “insurgents” were killed and several other militants were captured, including a Sudanese. An Iraqi security source, however, as well as the local Iraqi media, identified the militants as members of a Shi’ite splinter group called Al-Mahdiyoun or Ansar Al-Imam Al-Mahdi, which if true means the U.S. military was once again duped into doing the dirty work of SCIRI and other Shi’ite factions – and, I daresay, Iran – for them.

The Mahdiyoun, or Mahdawiya, as they are called in Iraq, are a very small fringe Shia movement with scattered followers in major urban centres in the south, such as Basrah, Amara, Nasiriya, Samawa and Kut. Their leader is Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan, a former disciple of Muqtada’s father Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr from Tannumah in Basrah, and who declared himself the promised Al-Yemani, who according to Shi’ite lore is the vanguard of the twelfth Imam Al-Mahdi (Shi’ite messiah-like figure) and who will prepare for his return. I won’t go into the theological details, but it suffices to say that Ahmed Al-Hassan claimed to have met the Imam Al-Mahdi, that he is infallible, that he is more knowledgeable about the secrets and meanings of the Torah, the bible and the Quran than anyone else, that the Star of David is also the star of Imam Al-Mahdi and the descendents of Prophet Muhammed and that it should not be defiled by Muslims. He opposes the occupation, elections and the constitution because he considers himself the rightful ruler. And he contests the authority of supreme Shi’ite clerics, such as Sistani.

Al-Mahdiyoun banner and sealsAl-Hassan also wrote letters to major word leaders, some included below:

To Sayyid Ali Khameni,

You are required to immediately hand over the rule in Iran to the vanguard of the Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him), otherwise you would be considered in disobedience of the orders of Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him). The honourable Iranian people in the land of Al-Rai – which irrigates the earth at the end of time – should enable me to rule the land of Iran.

Ahmed Al-Hassan
Vanguard and messenger of the Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him) to all people
Supported by Gabriel, guided by Michael, victorious by Israfil

To the people of Iraq,

The land of discord; Yes, there has been no prophet or messenger sent to Iraq who was not killed or expelled by the people of Iraq. You are required to enable the vanguard of the Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him) to rule Iraq, otherwise you would be considered in disobedience of the orders of Imam Al-Mahdi Mohammed bin Al-Hassan (peace be upon him). My father, Imam Al-Mahdi Mohammed bin Al-Hassan, has ordered me to give those who disobey him either the sword or death under the rule of the sword.

Ahmed Al-Hassan

To the president of America, Bush, or whoever holds his position,

It is I who you have seen in your sleep, and you will see me even more. You are required to unconditionally withdraw your military power from Muslim land or, I swear by the One and Only, I will throw America – the iron monster that has stomped on the kingdoms of earth – into the pits of hell, as Daniel (peace be upon him) was told in the Torah. You will hear from me again, and you should know that America will be pushed to my right in the Kingdom of Heaven, and I will crush it, God willing.

Ahmed Al-Hassan

He has also issued statements calling on all Iraqi political parties, leaders and Iraqi tribes to pledge allegiance to him or they will suffer in hell. But, as I said, he barely has a few hundred followers scattered all over the country, and I doubt that he would come up with something as foolish as attacking Najaf, because actually it was his movement that has been under attack lately by Iraqi security forces, heavily infiltrated by SCIRI in the south. Last week, his main office and husseiniya in Najaf was raided and destroyed with several of his followers detained by the Aqrab (Scorpion) Brigade of Interior Ministry Commandos. The same happened to his offices in Basrah, Amara and Karbala, days ago. Al-Hassan himself was placed under house arrest in Tannumah, Basrah, by the Iraqi government some months ago.

I suspect this whole campaign is a result of Al-Hassan’s strange, unorthodox teachings and his defiance of the mainstream Shi’ite religious and political institution, including, most importantly, Iran. The movement’s detractors claim the group has engaged in obscene behaviour such as walking naked in public or hosting group sex orgies in husseiniyas and mosques, in order to “provoke” the Imam Al-Mahdi to return, or that they are Saddam loyalists who were planted just before the war by the regime to undermine the Najaf clerical authority, with some even claiming the group is Israeli or supported by US. radical Christian movements.

The “preemptive” crackdown against Al-Hassan – like that against Mahmoud Al-Sarkhi months ago, which I wrote about here – bears all the signs of U.S. Shi’ite allies (SCIRI and Da’wa) fooling the U.S. into supporting them in their intra-Shi’ite struggle to control the south. This is even more shocking because these “cults,” as crazy as they may sound, have never carried arms or posed a threat to anyone; their activities are restricted to theological debate and polemics with other Shi’ite clerics and movements. The fact that they may have a few armed followers means nothing. Virtually everyone in Iraq is armed to the teeth. This might actually turn out to be a massacre against some harmless cultists. If true, then congratulations to the U.S. for carrying out Iran’s dirty deeds in Iraq yet again.

Najaf and Kufa mapUPDATE: I can't take the idiocy of the media any more. ABC News just described Al-Mahdiyoun as a "doomsday cult" with both Sunni and Shia members preparing to attack the shrine of Imam Ali and Shia clerics in Najaf. Ummm. Four years in Iraq and you still can't get the obvious facts straight? No wonder Iraq got into such a mess.

Hint for the U.S.: There are no "bad guys" and "good guys" in Iraq. Everyone has dirty hands. It makes no sense for you, nor is it going to improve anything in Iraq, to side with one bad guy against another, just because you're so confused that you can't differentiate between friend and foe. Just please remember that. The trick is to reach a settlement where all the "bad guys" are satisified and agree to behave as "good guys" again. Otherwise, just forget about it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

2007 Bloggies Award

Healing Iraq has been nominated for the 2007 Bloggies Award in the Best African or Middle Eastern Weblog. Show us some voting love.

2007 bloggies

Friday, January 26, 2007

No Quorum for Months

Iraqi Parliament has failed to reach quorum since October 2006. Understandably, it's hard to attend parliamentary sessions when you live in the Green Zone, or the Rashid Hotel, or Amman, or Dubai, or London. MP Adnan Al-Pachachi, who spoke from Dubai, complained that their salaries can only afford 20 security guards, while they need at least 40 to make it from the Baghdad Airport to the Green Zone. I wonder how many security guards Pachachi would need if he were to venture on the streets of Baghdad, which he probably hasn't seen in decades.

Funny, too, that he would complain about the salary. Iraqi members of parliament receive up to $120,000 in salaries and benefits, or about $10,000 a month, plus the additional salaries of 20 security guards - which most MPs choose to pocket instead. Actually, the first bill Iraqi MPs (of all sects and ethnicities) passed unanimously was the one in which they defined their salaries, privileges and benefits. That session was conveniently closed to the media. Perhaps you should also know that the average salary for a civil servant in Iraq is $150. A day labourer would make less than half of that. And you would be considered quite well-to-do if your salary is $400 or $500.

Shame. And this is what they call a "democratically-elected government."

Iraqi parliament fails to reach quorum***

Meanwhile, Iraqi refugees are piling up in Jordan and Syria, except they are regarded as tourists, since Jordan is worried about the consequences of the word "refugee." Soon, Iraqis might not even have that luxury. I often tell my family to come up with a plan to leave as soon as possible before Syria - the last remaining outlet for Iraqis fresh out of the country - decides to close its borders as well when it becomes too much of a strain.

Here is my post on Iraqis in Jordan when I was in Amman last summer.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Yesterday’s barbaric bombings that targeted the students of Baghdad’s Mustansiriya University are the latest in a long series of dark stains that will mar the history of Iraqis for a long time to come. It was the first all-out, wholesale targeting of college students whose only sin was attempting to finish their higher education – perhaps to flee the disaster-stricken country later, or to seek better jobs to support their families.

Over 80 students were robbed of their future by fanatics bent on revenge and destruction. No one can fathom what was possibly in the mind of those who planted a car rigged with explosives in a college’s parking lot, where students carrying their lectures and books gather to wait for their minivans and buses, maybe in hopes of returning home to study for tomorrow’s exam, or maybe to share a meal or tea with loved-ones. Nor can we understand what the man who waited, while watching the devastating scene of torn limbs, pools of blood, amid fire and smoke and the smell of burning flesh, and fleeing students after the first explosion, then pressed a button to blow himself up was thinking. What were the perpetrators hoping to achieve?

Can you imagine the scene? Try. Think of your own schools, your own college campuses. Think of how you would feel if your own son or daughter had to go to school in the hell that is called Iraq. Think of what you would do if you heard the news that the school was bombed.

Eyewitnesses said cell phones were still ringing urgently in pockets and purses lying around human body parts. Try to imagine the person on the other line.

A man searched for his son and finally found his head and torso, but no legs. “Where is his other half?” he asked, before he started shaking with violent sobs.

Over here, the above scenes elicit a 20-second sound bite in the news, perhaps immediately followed by dog food or deodorant commercials. At best, politicians would use it in talking points, to justify even more bloodshed and destruction.

Sucked up in a sectarian vortex they can never escape, students in Iraq face enemies from all sides. Sadrist militias took over this particular university a long time ago. Posters of religious symbols filled lecture halls. A black religious flag flew above the university’s main tower. Girls were told to cover up, not just in veils, as was the case last year, but in ‘abayas, or full Islamic body garb. College texts were tampered with. Student unions became fronts for militiamen, who replaced former Ba’athist unions and threatened students and professors alike for any reason. Professors were kicked out, because they were of the wrong sect or political ideology, and many were abducted and assassinated. Just days ago, there were rumours that three female students from the university were kidnapped, tortured and raped before they were killed by militiamen. However, some students insisted to complete their studies, even though attendance rates in Baghdad have fallen to less than 30%. Dozens of academics were abducted and went missing in one recent incident when gunmen in police uniform stormed an educational institution.

As if all that was not enough, Sunni insurgent groups distributed pamphlets recently, calling on college students and professors to boycott their universities. Ironically, they called it a “campaign to support our scientists and students in Baghdad universities.” Students were warned not to attend their classes because universities have turned into headquarters of militias and death squads. “Save the lives of our professors and dear students from the rejectionist government of Maliki and their death squads,” one pamphlet said. “It is prohibited to attend after this announcement.” Another one featured a photo of the very main gate of Mustansiriya University, where the bombings took place yesterday, reading, “From these universities, our scientists graduated. And today they are killed on their gates. There is no solution to stop the bloodshed except by boycotting.” “God willing,” said another, “we will work to cleanse universities from these filthy groups.”

Ansar Al-Sunna fliersIn response to these fliers, PM Maliki, who hides behind the concrete walls of the Green Zone, threatened to expel students and professors that did not continue to attend their schools. Many families decided not to send their kids, anyway, and professors are still trying to flee the country, but many more have no other option but to go on … until the criminals strike.

Both my brother and sister are still college students in Baghdad. I can’t stop thinking of them.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Update on Nabil

My younger brother Nabil is very close to receiving his student visa to New Zealand, which should be during the next few days. He has been enrolled as a student in the University of Auckland and will be taking a foundation course and an IELTS examination. If he passes, he will be eligible to complete his studies in pharmacy. If not, he will finish the one-year foundation course and then re-apply.

Nabil has not left the house in Baghdad for weeks as roadside bombs are exploding right on our doorstep and bodies are piling in the street, but he is very excited about this opportunity to leave and start anew. My sister returned to Baghdad to finish her last year of college but she has been unable so far to reach it. Once Nabil is out and my sister returns with her husband to Amman, my parents will be in an easier position to plan their own retreat. Their first priority was to get us all out.

The family that has gracefully sponsored Nabil in New Zealand has also helped a female classmate of his to enroll in the same school. They will probably be taking the trip together from Baghdad to Amman to NZ and will keep each other company during their stay. My only concern is that Jordan is not allowing young Iraqi males to enter the country, but I hope that Nabil's papers will be proof enough for immigration officers that he is in transit.

We are still very short on the funds and I'm going to be forced to divert some of my own living expenses here to help Nabil leave Iraq and get settled in New Zealand. Please consider hitting the tip jar on the right sidebar or at Nabil's blog to assist us with this next step. You have helped me in the past and I'm asking you now to help me save my brother's life and to ensure him a new future.

Stories from Iraq

I recently posted a link to Konfused Kid's Omar's Odyssey, the story of his friend Omar, who escaped near execution by a Mahdi Army death squad. Kid now posted Ali's Illiad, the story of a businessman who escaped possible execution by insurgents in Ramadi with just sheer luck and the help of a sympathetic truck driver.

The Iraqi Roulette also has a story about an abducted cousin, which ended happily - or at least as happy as it can get in Iraq.

Semiramis is a new Iraqi blogger who intends to be the chronicler of the Iraqi blogosphere.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Splendid. We have another Ralph 'Sure, it's bad but they love us there' Peters in town. She's even posting tear-jerking photos of impoverished Iraqi kids in Baghdad's slums begging American troops for sweets and footballs, and of course the obligatory shot of the Iraqi kid with a small American flag. The triumphant 'You won't see this in the MSM' moment. Oh, how heartbreaking.

On the other hand, I wonder if any bloggers are going to investigate whether that photo was "staged."

Man on the moon

One of the most amusing rumours to result from the Saddam execution spectacle was the claims by some Iraqis that they saw Saddam's smiling face in a beret on the moon. Someone even went to the trouble of posting an image to prove it.

There was a similar situation when former Iraqi president General Abdul Karim Qassim was executed shortly after Ba'athists took control of Baghdad in the 1963 coup. Sighting of the Za'eem's face on the moon infested Iraq at the time, especially among the impoverished slum-dwellers of Baghdad.


On an unrelated note, here is a post I had two days ago on the Washington Post's Postglobal blog about the troops "surge."

Monday, January 08, 2007

Saddam's burial

Scenes from the burial of Saddam Hussein's corpse in his hometown of Al-Ouja, near Tikrit, as seen on Salah Al-Din TV.

It looks like a regular Iraqi burial to me, except that there is a larger number of people - presumably members of Saddam's tribe, Al-Bu Nasir - present than what was reported in the media. They pray a last prayer for him in which the cleric describes him as the "martyred hero." Then, the camera cuts to a scene where people are opening the casket to reveal Saddam's face and shouting frantically. When they are burying him, some people are yelling, "Farewell Akhu Hadla." (Akhu Hadla means "Hadla's brother," which is a tribal name carrying meanings of courage, chivalry and generosity.)

UPDATE: Another Saddam video has surfaced on the Internet today. This one, also shot by a cell phone camera, shows Saddam's corpse in a shroud and the wound on his neck.

UPDATE: I don't know who is translating for CNN but again, like the Times with the execution video last week, they got most of the conversation in the video wrong. Here is the transcript they posted in their story:

Man 1: "Quickly, quickly please, take one picture."

Man 2: "Yes, I hear you."

Man 1 (raising his voice when the video continues longer than a still shot would have required): "Come on, what's the matter?"

Man 2: "I hear you, I hear you."

Man 1 (to a third man): "Abu Ali, come on and deal with this."

Man 1 (apparently irritated over the length of time Man 2 is taking): "Come on, habibi ... I'll say this one time politely otherwise I'm going to get real angry."

Man 2: "I hear you."

Here is what was actually said in the video:

Man 1: "Quickly, quickly. I'm going to count from one to four. One ... Two ... Ha, Abu Ali. Come on, habibi. Just a moment. Mercy be on your family -"

Man 2: "I'm coming."

Man 1: " ... You're going to bring us a disaster ..."

Man 2: "I'm coming. I'm coming."

Man 1: "Just a moment. One moment. Abu Ali ... "

Man 2: "I'm coming."

Man 1: " ... Abu Ali, you take care of this. Abu Ali."

Abu Ali: "Come on. Come on."

Man 1: "Ya habibi, ya aini (my dear) ... "

Man 2: "That's it. I'm coming."

There's not that much of a difference in meaning, but there was no mention of taking one picture or a guy threatening to get angry. It just looked like they were afraid to get caught.

My whole point is that whoever is translating for CNN and the NY Times is not doing a great job.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Capt. Jamil Hussein

The Associated Press is reporting that the Iraqi Interior Ministry has acknowledged today that the "mysterious" Captain Jamil Hussein is in fact an active member of the Iraqi police force.

Both the Interior Ministry and U.S. CENTCOM had denied his existence following an AP report on the burning of six Sunni people in Hurriya a few weeks ago. He now faces arrest for speaking to the media without authorisation, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

The current Iraqi government has crossed a dangerous line in its attempts to silence its critics. Closing independent satellite channels that are not cheerleading for them, and issuing arrest warrants for police officers who speak to the media.

What's next?

UPDATE: I've been following the exchange in the blogosphere over this issue for a while. It unfortunately descended into a juvenile contest over who is right and who is wrong, and it eventually boiled down to a right vs. left argument. Just as there are many bloggers who can’t wait for a chance to jump over the media, for whatever reasons, the media, by the same token, too often haughtily considers itself above reproach, as in the case of the Associated Press when it dismissed serious accusations as “ludicrous.”

I was just discussing this today with some classmates who were unfamiliar with the story. The AP should come clean about the whole affair, I told them, and admit that it was misled by its Iraqi stringers if that proved to be the case, because its very credibility was on the line.

The blogosphere focused on the identity of Capt. Hussein, claiming he was a manufactured source, but now some are saying this is a secondary issue and that they were really concerned about the truth. Give me a break.

Capt. Hussein was not the sole source for the story, as some bloggers have said. AP only quoted him after the alleged incident made its rounds on local Iraqi message boards and was circulated extensively by SMS messages in Baghdad. The Sunni tribal sheikh who first mentioned the story on Al-Jazeera was later “visited” by an Iraqi Defense Ministry delegation and then he sinisterly retracted his account. AP reporters returned to Hurriya and corroborated the incident from several eyewitnesses, some who, understandably, refused to be named. A few residents denied though. It could be that the Shia residents denied the story taking place, because they sympathised with the Mahdi Army, or it could be that the Sunni residents just can’t wait for another chance to point out the barbarity of Shi’ite militias. Commentators in the West often overlook these nuances. The same when they readily accepted the denials of the Interior Ministry and CENTCOM. They don’t remember that the same ministry denied the allegations of torture last year before the Jadiriya prison scandal was uncovered.

I have heard from friends in Baghdad that they have seen a cell phone video of the burning incident and that it was broadcast on Zawra TV. They couldn’t get me the clip when I asked for it, though. Mosques have been burned before in Baghdad, so I also can’t see why that would be surprising to some American bloggers. Just check my YouTube page on the sidebar for examples.

Could the whole incident be just an urban legend, given the highly polarised environment in Iraq today and the total lack of trust between the Shia and Sunni communities in Baghdad? I would say it’s totally possible, and there have been many occasions of outlandish accusations made by both sides of the conflict, to the extent that it is hard to discern the truth of what is happening. That is why we have to rely sometimes on Internet postings, rumours, word of mouth, and incomplete reporting. The alternative would be no news stories, as it is a bit absurd to ask for media organisations on the ground in Iraq to apply Western standards in their reporting. Yes, sometimes sources have to be bribed, local stringers often have to be blindly trusted, and relying on anonymous sources has to be the norm because everyone fears for their life.

There have been many cases of sloppy and incompetent reporting from Iraq. Just a few days ago, the NY Times in its rush got most of its story about Saddam’s final words wrong. And it didn’t even bother to post a correction the next day when the cell phone video recording was out for the whole word to see. Actually, the coverage of Saddam’s execution has been the worst reporting by Western media in Iraq since 2003. The stories were full of erroneous translations of what was said in the video and many other discrepancies.

American bloggers were astounded that it took so long to verify that Capt. Hussein exists. What they don’t see is that it is almost impossible for an independent party to just walk into the Khadraa’ police station and ask for the man, otherwise the NY Times or the WaPo would probably have done it. I personally tried to convince my sources in Baghdad to locate the man and they told me I was crazy to make such a request. Another thing that bloggers haven’t considered is that all this controversy may have well caused Capt. Hussein to reject any further media exposure and go underground. I’m sure Capt. Hussein was pretty far from interested in having his photo and identity put out there just for some far away American bloggers to prove a point in their ideological debate. And I’m sure he doesn’t give a rat’s behind about APs credibility either.

The question that should be asked, by bloggers and the media alike, is why the Iraqi government persists to shoot the messenger - Al-Jazeera TV, Al-Arabiya TV, Zawraa TV, Salah Al-Din TV, Sharqiya TV, the guard who filmed Saddam's execution, and now Capt. Jamal Hussein - instead of going after the people responsible for the atrocities?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Omar's Odyssey

Iraqi Konfused Kid tells the untold: Omar's Odyssey, the story of a survivor of a Shi'ite death squad in Sadr City. Must read.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Reactions to Saddam's execution in the Iraqi blogosphere

Sami - Iraqi Thoughts:

I am still shocked even after watching hours of TV. Its funny how as I grew up this was the man I hated most in my life and have always wanted him killed but for some reason the feelings of joy were not what I expected. There are many reasons for that but I think mainly the fact that this ended up being an Al Dawa political party fight versus Saddam is what saddens me. Al Dawa where the political party involved in Dujail, the first case Saddam was tried on was Dujail (in my eyes a big mistake) but that was on the orders of former Iraqi PM Ibrahim Al-Ja'afari who comes from the Al Dawa party. Coincidentally the warrant was signed by Al-Maliki again from the Al Dawa party and finally exclusive footage of Saddam's dead corpse was shown on Al Dawa's TV channel Baladi. I just wish that he could have faced all the charges against him, but I am no politician and maybe they couldn't wait any longer. Finally I don't think the situation will change in Iraq much because the people who hate Saddam or love him are all still going to have the same deep hatred and divisons towards each other. Unity isn't about being the same but about accepting each other's differences and the way Iraqis act that does not look like happening any time soon.

Iraq Pundit:

Saddam has long been a dead man walking, and I don't care about him or whatever hell he has gone to. My concern is how his well-deserved execution will affect the continuing crisis in Iraq. Most of those around me feel the same way. An older relative who long ago fled Iraq thought of Saddam as the man who signed tens of thousands of death warrants. And even younger relatives who never lived under Saddam regard him as a man undeserving of sympathy. All of us are focused on seeing Iraq's current agony come to an end.

24 Steps to Liberty:

The scene basically dismissed my life, my emotional sufferings, my sleepless nights under Saddam Hussein's regime and it dismissed any respect to what I've been through. Watching Hussein walking to the gallows was what reassured me that the "liberation" wasn't for the Iraqis to enjoy, but for an invasion to allow the exiles, especially the Mullahs, to take revenge. What's next? Does it mean my family will be safe now that Saddam Hussein is dead? Does it mean the Iraqis will stop hating each other and killing each other? There are no more Shiites and Sunnis slaughtering each other? [Ironically Hussein is accused of provoking sectarian conflict in Iraq!] Did they [Iraqi government and their advisors] think killing Saddam Hussein will unite the Iraqis and solve the problem? The answer to those questions is: No. And they don't care!

Dr Fadhil Badran - Iraq4Ever:

The assassination of Saddam Hussein has killed the last hope of peace in Iraq. I think, this assassination has been planned by Iran, Israel, and Britain; those players used the US as a fire-catcher! Iran chose to assassinate him on the 1st. day of Al-Ad'ha to say that the Eid is not on the 30th of December, which means that Muslims are not unified, and of course because Saddam had stopped the Persian dream to occupy the Arab countries in the gulf area. Israel has chose the way of assassination by Hanging him to make revenge for the Israeli spies who were hanged in Baghdad in 1969. Britain insists on the assassination for the revenge of Saddam Hussein nationalization of the Iraqi petroleum in 1971. The only losers in this event are the Iraqis and the American soldiers in Iraq.

Treasure of Baghdad:

Although I expected it, I was shocked when I heard it. I felt I want to cry but my tears were mixed, tears of happiness and sadness at the same time. Memories of my life under Saddam flashed back in my mind like a train moving fast. An important chapter of our life is finally over. I felt happy because finally the one who suppressed us is gone and forever now. However, I felt sad because his execution is going to increase the blood bath that is already taking place. I felt sad because Saddam was replaced by more tyrants instead of one. Iraq is not a free country yet. Iraq is suffering from Mullahs and Sheikhs who most of them are religious extremists who are trying to take back Iraq to hundreds years back. Sunni and Shiite extremists who are in the government and parliament now are the ones who are imposing their religious ideas on people and in a country where most of its cities were secular. If someone criticizes them, they kill him. So what's the difference? Saddam is hanged and so should the ones ruling Iraq now.

Read the rest here.