Wednesday, March 28, 2007

U.S. general gives bleak assessment of Iraq

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a retired U.S. general and adjunct professor at the Military Academy, recently returned from a trip to Iraq and has written a surprisingly candid report on the situation. You can find the full report here.

I agree with most of his assessment, except his rosy description of the current security operation. Also, like most U.S. military officials, he is mistaking the recent infighting between tribes in the Anbar Governorate and Al-Qaeda as a turning point in the insurgency and support for the U.S. or the Iraqi government. But he recognises, correctly, that the only road to success in Iraq is through reconciliation.

Key excerpts:
Iraq is ripped by a low grade civil war which has worsened to catastrophic levels with as many as 3000 citizens murdered per month. The population is in despair. Life in many of the urban areas is now desperate. A handful of foreign fighters (500+)--and a couple of thousand Al Qaeda operatives incite open factional struggle through suicide bombings which target Shia holy places and innocent civilians. Thousands of attacks target US Military Forces (2900 IED’s) a month--primarily stand off attacks with IED’s, rockets, mortars, snipers, and mines from both Shia (EFP attacks are a primary casualty producer)--and Sunni (85% of all attacks--80% of US deaths—16% of Iraqi population.)

Three million Iraqis are internally displaced or have fled the country to Syria and Jordan. The technical and educated elites are going into self-imposed exile--a huge brain drain that imperils the ability to govern. The Maliki government has little credibility among the Shia populations from which it emerged. It is despised by the Sunni as a Persian surrogate. It is believed untrustworthy and incompetent by the Kurds.

There is no function of government that operates effectively across the nation--not health care, not justice, not education, not transportation, not labor and commerce, not electricity, not oil production. There is no province in the country in which the government has dominance. The government cannot spend its own money effectively. ($7.1 billion sits in New York banks.) No Iraqi government official, coalition soldier, diplomat, reporter, foreign NGO, nor contractor can walk the streets of Baghdad, nor Mosul, nor Kirkuk, nor Basra, nor Tikrit, nor Najaf, nor Ramadi--without heavily armed protection.

The police force is feared as a Shia militia in uniform which is responsible for thousands of extra-judicial killings. There is no effective nation-wide court system. There are in general almost no acceptable Iraqi penal institutions. The
population is terrorized by rampant criminal gangs involved in kidnapping, extortion, robbery, rape, massive stealing of public property--such as electrical lines, oil production material, government transportation, etc. (Saddam released
80,000 criminal prisoners.)

The Iraqi Army is too small, very badly equipped (inadequate light armor, junk Soviet small arms, no artillery, no helicopters to speak of, currently no actual or planned ground attack aircraft of significance, no significant air transport assets (only three C-130’s), no national military logistics system, no national military medical system, etc. The Iraqi Army is also unduly dominated by the Shia, and in many battalions lacks discipline. There is no legal authority to punish Iraqi soldiers or police who desert their comrades. (The desertion/AWOL numbers frequently leave Iraqi Army battalions at 50% strength or less.)

In total, enemy insurgents or armed sectarian militias (SCIRI, JAM, Pesh Merga, AQI, 1920’s Brigade, et. al.) probably exceed 100,000 armed fighters. These non-government armed bands are in some ways more capable of independent operations than the regularly constituted ISF. They do not depend fundamentally on foreign support for their operations. Most of their money, explosives, and leadership are generated inside Iraq. The majority of the Iraqi population (Sunni and Shia) support armed attacks on American forces. Although we have arrested 120,000 insurgents (hold 27,000) and killed some huge number of enemy combatants (perhaps 20,000+)-- the armed insurgents, militias, and Al Qaeda in Iraq without fail apparently re-generate both leadership cadres and foot soldiers. Their sophistication, numbers, and lethality go up--not down--as they incur these staggering battle losses.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Iraqi Refugees in Amman

A photo of the endless queue of Iraqi applicants outside the UNHCR's headquarters in Amman, Jordan, taken yesterday.

A long queue of Iraq refugees at the UNHCR's headquarters in Amman, Jordan.
Konfused Kid reports that undercover Jordanian security officers are randomly questioning Iraqis on the streets of Amman to find out if they are overstaying their residency. Some of my friends say they are afraid to leave their apartments.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Hometown Baghdad and other links

Hometown Baghdad is a new website that features short, compelling video documentaries of the lives of several Iraqi youth in Baghdad. Filmed completely by Iraqis, it follows the lives of Adel, Ausama and Saif, three college students, and their families, as they brave the streets of Baghdad, people who have nothing to do with the conflict going on in the country but who were sucked up in the madness nevertheless. They are the people behind the headlines and the numbers you so often see in Iraq coverage (50 Iraqis killed, 100 Iraqis wounded, 600 thousand Iraqis dead, 3 million Iraqis displaced, etc). It is classic citizen journalism from the front in Baghdad, despite Adel's slightly annoying Americanised accent. One of them is a despairing dentist! I have never seen anything like it before. This is their YouTube channel, which you can subscribe to.

Four years later: Alive in Baghdad brings the thoughts and reactions of a wide range of Iraqis on the fourth anniversary of war.

Vice magazine, a controversial arts and culture publication based in New York, has a new Iraq issue written completely by Iraqis. Both Nabil and I contributed stories, photos and graphics for the issue.

Baghdad Treasure interviews several Iraqi and American bloggers on their opinions on the war four years later.

And be sure to check Iraq Slogger for daily in depth Iraq coverage. You can always check my daily column there if I don't post here for a while (you can find it here but scroll all the way down for most recent).

Monday, March 19, 2007

Scenes of Baghdad

Images of Baghdad after the start of the security operation. Most images are from the Sunni-majority Adhamiya district.

The Al-Nidaa' Mosque in Adhamiya

The Al-Nidaa' Mosque in Adhamiya
Part of the Tigris in the Sifeena neighbourhood in Adhamiya seperating it from Kadhimiya

Part of the Tigris in the Sifeena neighbourhood in Adhamiya seperating it from Kadhimiya
The Imam Al-A'dham Street in Adhamiya

The Imam Al-A'dham Street in Adhamiya


The storeowner in this photo had his store blocked with bricks to keep out looters.




The Sheikh Omar Mosque and cemetery in central Baghdad from the Mohammed Al-Qasim highway

The Sheikh Omar Mosque and cemetery in central Baghdad from the Mohammed Al-Qasim highway Antar Square near the entrance to the Adhamiya district


The once popular Al-Jandool (Gondola) pizza restaurant at Antar Square

Al-Dilal Square near the former Saddam palace at Adhamiya. It had large copper Arabic coffee pots on those pedestals.

The abandoned former Youth Ministry building at Tahreer Square, just across the Tigris from the Green Zone, bombed in 2003 and still stands in ruins


The abandoned former Youth Ministry building at Tahreer Square, just across the Tigris from the Green Zone, bombed in 2003 and still stands in ruins
An abandoned playground near the police station in Adhamiya

An abandoned playground near the police station in Adhamiya

The commerical Imam Al-A'dham Street in Adhamiya as it looks today. It is lined with concrete blocks and barriers leading to the Imam Abu Hanifa mosque and shrine

The commerical Imam Al-A'dham Street in Adhamiya as it looks today. It is lined with concrete blocks and barriers leading to the Imam Abu Hanifa mosque and shrine

The Mohammed Al-Qasim highway near the Waziriya District

The Mohammed Al-Qasim highway near the Waziriya District

The Sahha Square near the shrine of Imam Abu Hanifa in Adhamiya. The closed bridge is Al-A'imma Bridge (the bridge of the Imams), which was the scene of the stampede that killed over a thousand Shi'ite pilgrims heading to Kadhimiya on the other side of the river in August 2005


The commercial Omar bin Abdul Aziz Street in Adhamiya


The commercial Omar bin Abdul Aziz Street in Adhamiya



Notice the pockmarks from gunfire on almost every building


Notice the pockmarks from gunfire on almost every building

A street corner at the Raghiba Khatoun neighborhood in the Adhamiya district


A street corner at the Raghiba Khatoun neighborhood in the Adhamiya district


Scenes from the Jami'a district and Al-Rabi' Street west of Baghdad:






Iraqi poets and writers gather at Mutannabi Street in mourning

The destruction at Mutannabi Street
At the scene of the Mutannabi Street bombing, Iraqi poet Jabbar Muhaibs put a wooden crate on his head to mourn the death of cultural life in Baghdad. "The light will not be lit here again," he said. Then, Muhaibs, a lecturer at the Baghdad Fine Arts Academy, leapt atop a burnt out car and recited: "What has happened to the poems and the poetry, all covered in blood and lying with the scattered souls and the bodies beneath the rubble?"

Iraqi poet Jabbar Muhaibs put a wooden crate on his head to mourn the death of cultural life in Baghdad

The Shahbandar Cafe near the Sarai Market at Mutannabi Street

The Shahbandar Cafe near the Sarai Market at Mutannabi Street

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Memorable quotes on the Iraqi people

(By publishing these historical quotes, I am in no way agreeing with their content or endorsing them. I just thought they would be interesting to translate and share. Some of them are often cited by Iraqis and Arabs to show that Iraqis are ungovernable or unfit for self-rule. That is not my intention here.)

“The people of Iraq have exhausted me. There is not one strategy I use against them that they have not already beaten me to. I cannot conquer them, and I have no other choice but to kill them to the last man.” – Alexander the Great, in a purported letter to his tutor Aristotle.

“May ugliness and grief befall you. You have become objects. You are invaded, but you do not invade. You are plundered, but you do not plunder. Allah is disobeyed, yet you are content. If I order you to deploy against them during the days of heat, you say, ‘This is the worst of the heat. Give us time until it is over.’ And if I order you to deploy against them in the winter, you say, ‘This is the season of bitter cold. Give us time until the cold has been shed.’ All of this to flee from heat and cold. If you flee from heat and cold, then, by Allah, you will flee even more from the sword. O’ you semblance of men - not men - with the intelligence of children and the wits of anklet bearers, I wish I had not seen you nor known you. By Allah, knowing you has brought about shame and resulted in repentance. May Allah fight you. You have filled my heart with pus and loaded my chest with rage. You have made me drink one mouthful of grief after another. You have corrupted my counsel with your disobedience and abandonment.” – Imam Ali bin Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, and founder of Shi’ite Islam, addressing Iraqis.

“O’ people of Iraq, I have hated you and you have hated me. I have loathed you and you have loathed me. May Allah give me a better people, and may He give you a worst ruler.” – Imam Ali bin Abi Talib, addressing Iraqis.

“I have won, by the God of the Kaaba!” – Ali bin Abi Talib, when he was stabbed to death in the Kufa Mosque, Iraq.

“Their hearts are with you, but their swords are against you.” – Al-Farazdaq, an Arab poet, warning Imam Hussein bin Ali when he was on his way to Karbala, Iraq, to join his supporters against the Ummayid Caliphate.

“O’ people of Iraq, How quick you are to commit atrocities and then ask about absurdities. You kill the son of the Prophet’s daughter, and then you wonder about mosquito blood?” – Abdullah bin Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet, when he was asked by an Iraqi if mosquito blood spoils one’s prayers.

“O’ people of Iraq, O’ people of blasphemies after debaucheries, treacheries after betrayals, and whims after whims. If we send you to the frontlines you flee and betray. When you are frightened, you are hypocrites. When you are safe, you are defiant. You are ungrateful for blessings and unthankful for favours. Was there ever an errant or tempter or a disobedient seeking your deliverance, or an oppressor needing your support, or an outlaw asking for your aid that you have not accepted his invitation, answered his cry, and flocked to him in groups, light-armed and heavy-armed, horseman and infantry? O’ people of Iraq, Was there ever a troublemaker, rioter, croaker or rebel that you have not followed or supported? O’ people of Iraq, Have you not benefited from sermons? Have you not been suppressed by incidents? Has Allah not intensified His burden on you? Has He not given you a taste of His searing sword and His painful wrath?” – Al-Hajjaj bin Yousif Al-Thaqafi, Governor of Iraq under the Ummayid Caliphate.

“O’ people of Iraq, I see heads that have ripened, and now is the time to reap them. And I will be that reaper. By Allah, I can almost see the blood between the beards and turbans. Now, the Prince of Believers – May Allah grant him longevity – has scattered his quiver and examined his arrows. He found me the strongest and bitterest of them all, so he threw me at you, because you have long wallowed in discord and lain on the beds of perversion. By Allah, I will strip you like trees are stripped of their bark, and I will bind you together like wood for a fire, and I will hit you like stray camels, and I will strike you with each other like Marwa stones. By Allah, I keep my promises. O’ people of Iraq, you are like ‘a township that dwelt secure and well content, its provision coming to it in abundance from every side, but it disbelieved in Allah's favours, so Allah made it experience the garb of dearth and fear because of what they used to do.’ The Prince of Believers has directed me to give you your salaries and to deploy you against your enemy with Al-Muhhalab bin Sufra. I swear by Allah, if one of you stays behind three days after taking his salary, I will smite his neck.”

“Read the Prince of Believer’s message, boy,” Hajjaj ordered. The boy read, “In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful. From the Prince of Believers Abdul Malik bin Marwan to the Muslims and believers from the people of Iraq. Salamu Aleikum (Peace be upon you) …”

“Stop reading, boy!” Hajjaj yelled. He then turned to the people in the mosque. “O’ people of disunity, hypocrisy and bad manners, the Prince of Believers greets you and you do no return his greeting? Are these the manners that you were taught? By Allah, if I stay here, I will teach you your manners, and you will straighten up or I will leave a handicap in the bodies of each of you. Read the message again, boy!”

The boy read the message again, and when he reached the greeting part, everyone in the mosque shouted back, “And peace and the mercy of Allah be upon the Prince of Believers.”

“Iraqis are a people of deliberation and piercing insight. But insight brings prospecting and research. And with prospecting and research come defiance and libel, giving preponderance to men over others, distinction between leaders, and showing the defects of princes. Iraqis have always been described as disobedient and rebellious against their leaders.” – Abu Uthman Al-Jahidh, al-Bayyan wa al-Tabyeen.

“The land of Iraq is where the horn of the devil appears, and it is where sedition outbreaks, and estrangement is also in the East.” – Ibn Al-Jawzi, The Merits of Baghdad.

“In the light of the events of the last two months there's no getting out of the conclusion that we have made an immense failure here. The system must have been far more at fault than anything that I or anyone else suspected. It will have to be fundamentally changed and what that may mean exactly I don't know. I suppose we have underestimated the fact that this country is really an inchoate mass of tribes which can't as yet be reduced to any system. The Turks didn't govern and we have tried to govern - and failed. I personally thought we tried to govern too much, but I hoped that things would hold out till Sir Percy came back and that the transition from British to native rule might be made peacefully, in which case much of what we have done might have been made use of. Now I fear that that will be impossible.” – Lady Gertrude Bell, 1920, The Letters of Gertrude Bell.

“We as outsiders can't differentiate between Sunni and Shi'ah, but leave it to them and they'll get over the difficulty by some kind of hanky panky, just as the Turks did, and for the present it's the only way of getting over it. I don't for a moment doubt that the final authority must be in the hands of the Sunnis, in spite of their numerical inferiority; otherwise you will have a mujtahid-run, theocratic state, which is the very devil.” – Lady Gertrude Bell, 1920, The Letters of Gertrude Bell.

“I’m afraid the people of Iraq will slaughter him, like they slaughtered his grandfather Al-Hussein.” – Sharif Hussein bin Ali, the Hashemite ruler of Mecca, when an Iraqi delegation asked him to appoint one of his sons as monarch of Iraq in 1920.

"Regrettably, I can say there is no Iraqi people yet, but only deluded human groups void of any national idea. Iraqis are not only disunited but evil-motivated, anarchy prone and always ready to prey on their government." – King Faisal I, writing in his memoirs shortly before he died in 1933.

“There are only two political parties in Iraq: the Sunni party and the Shia party.” – Tawfiq Al-Suwaidi, Iraqi Prime Minister, 1929, 1930, 1946, 1950.