Category Archives: great britain

gertrude of arabia: british intelligence officer

The Daily Beast Clive Irving

06.17.14

Gertrude of Arabia, the Woman Who Invented Iraq

The story of the British intelligence agent who rigged an election, installed a king loyal to the British, drew new borders—and gave us today’s ungovernable country.
She came into Baghdad after months in one of the world’s most forbidding deserts, a stoic, diminutive 45-year-old English woman with her small band of men. She had been through lawless lands, held at gunpoint by robbers, taken prisoner in a city that no Westerner had seen for 20 years.It was a hundred years ago, a few months before the outbreak of World War I. Baghdad was under a regime loyal to the Ottoman Turks. The Turkish authorities in Constantinople had reluctantly given the persistent woman permission to embark on her desert odyssey, believing her to be an archaeologist and Arab scholar, as well as being a species of lunatic English explorer that they had seen before.She was, in fact, a spy and her British masters had told her that if she got into trouble they would disclaim responsibility for her. Less than 10 years later Gertrude Bell would be back in Baghdad, having rigged an election, installed a king loyal to the British, re-organized the government, and fixed the borders on the map of a new Iraq. As much as anyone can be, Gertrude Bell could be said to have devised the country that nobody can make work as a country for very long—no more so than now.The Middle East as we know it was largely the idea of a small coterie of men composed of British scholars, archaeologists, military officers and colonial administrators who were called the Orientalists—this is the “orient” according to the definition first made by the Greeks, meaning everything east of the Mediterranean as Alexander the Great advanced to seize it.For decades, beginning in the mid-19th century, the Orientalists had explored the desert and found there the ruins of the great powers of the ancient world—Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia. Through archaeology they revealed these splendors to the modern world and, from their digs, stuffed Western museums with prizes like the polychromatic tiled Ishtar Gates of Babylon, moved to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, or the Cyrus Cylinder, containing the Persian king Cyrus’s new creed of governance as he conquered Babylon, shipped to the British Museum.

They wondered why such resplendently rich and deeply embedded pre-Christian urbanized cultures ended up buried by the drifting sands of the desert, completely unknown and ignored by the roaming Arab, Turkish and Persian tribes above. The many glories of Babylon, for example, lay unexplored not far from the boundaries of Baghdad.

The Middle East as we know it was largely the idea of a small coterie of men composed of British scholars, archaeologists, military officers and colonial administrators who were called the Orientalists.

Among the explorers, a state of mind developed that was patronizing and paternalistic. If they had not made these discoveries, who would know of these great cities? If Arabs took the artifacts it would be, to these men, mindless looting; if the Western scholars shipped them home, often in vast consignments, it was to preserve them for posterity.

The Ottomans had managed Arabia through a decentralized system of provinces called valyets, run by governors they appointed. Tribal, sectarian and territorial conflicts made it a constantly turbulent place, despite the hammer of Ottoman rule. Under a more centralized system the place would have been ungovernable. But the Turks never entertained the Western idea of nation building, it was as much as they could do to keep even a semblance of order.

The Orientalists thought differently. The Western idea of nation building was the future of Arabia. As World War I drew to its end and the Ottoman Empire collapsed, the Orientalists saw an opportunity to bring modern coherence to the desert by imposing new kingdoms of their own devising, as long as the kings would be compliant with the strategic interests of the British Empire.

Into this coterie of schemers came two mavericks, both scholars, both fluent Arab speakers, both small in stature and psychologically fragile, both capable of extraordinary feats of desert exploration—a young man called T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, a more seasoned connoisseur of the desert life.

Both had been recruited before World War I to gather intelligence on the Ottomans. Both were hard to accommodate within a normal military and diplomatic machine and so ended up working for a clandestine outfit in Cairo called the Arab Bureau, which was more aware of their singular gifts and more tolerant of their habits.

Bell’s epic desert trek in 1913-14 was already legendary. Her objective had been a city called Hail that no European had reached since 1893. Under the cover of archaeological research, her real purpose was to assess the strength of a murderous family called the al Rashids, whose capital Hail was.

The Rashids had been kicked out of Riyadh by the young Abdul Aziz bin Abdurrahman al Saud, otherwise known as Ibn Saud, who was to become the founder of Saudi Arabia.

Despite the rigors of the terrain, Bell was as susceptible to the spiritual appeal of the desert as others like her young protégée Lawrence. “Sometimes I have gone to bed with a heart so heavy that I thought I could not carry it through the next day,” she wrote. “Then comes the dawn, soft and benificent, stealing over the wide plain and down the long slopes of the little hollows, and in the end it steals into my heart also….”

When she reached Hail, the Rashids were suspicious and put her under what amounted to house arrest in the royal complex.

But as a woman, Bell enjoyed an advantage over male colleagues that she was to deploy on many missions: molesting or harming women was contrary to the desert code of conduct, even in a family as homicidal as the Rashids. For a week or so, Bell was warmly entertained by the women of this polygamous society, and the women’s gossip provided a rich source of intelligence on palace intrigues, of which there were many. From this she was able to see what her British minders valued: That the Rashids were yesterday’s men and the Saudis would likely be a formidable and independent power in Arabia. The Rashids released her, and she went on to Baghdad, Damascus, and home to London.

It was inside knowledge like this that put Bell in an influential position when the war ended and the European powers decided how they would carve up Arabia. Lawrence had committed himself to the princes of the Hashemite tribe, notably Feisal, with whom he had fought against the Turks, and promised Damascus to them. But unknown to Lawrence, a secret deal had been cut with the French, who wanted control of the eastern Mediterranean and were to get Damascus while Britain would fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire by re-drawing the map of Arabia.

The British were more aware than the French of the importance that oil would assume. Syria, the new French subject state, was unpromising as an oil prospect. The first Middle Eastern oil field began pumping in Persia at the head of the Persian Gulf in 1911, under British control, and geologists suspected, rightly, that vast oil reserves lay untapped in both Persia and Iraq.

While Lawrence left the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 stricken by the guilt for a British betrayal of his Arabs to which he had not been a party, Bell was sent to Baghdad, where Feisal was to be given his consolation prize: the throne of a new Iraq.

As well as the prospect of huge oil reserves, this new Iraq was crucial to the lines of communication to the great jewel of the British Empire, India. And, ostensibly, it was the diplomats and generals of the Indian administration who ran the show in Baghdad. But they depended on Bell as an expert and a negotiator, fluent in Arabic and used to the schisms and vendettas of the region. In fact, many of the decisive meetings as the British struggled to create a provisional government took place in Bell’s own house.

On August 23, 1921, at a ceremony in central Baghdad, Feisal was installed as the monarch of Iraq, even though he had no tribal roots in the country to assist his legitimacy. “We’ve got our king crowned,” wrote Bell with relief. And she made a claim about this election that would be echoed decades later by Saddam Hussein, that Feisal had been endorsed by 96 percent of the people, even though he was the only candidate and the majority of the population was illiterate.

Indeed, Bell was so carried away with her confidence in the nation she had helped to create that she crowed: “Before I die I look to see Feisal ruling from the Persian frontier to the Mediterranean.”

In reality, the Iraqi borders had been arbitrarily drawn and disregarded 2,000 years of tribal, sectarian, and nomadic occupation. The Persian frontier was the only firmly delineated border, asserted by mountains. Beyond Baghdad the line drawn between Syria, now the property of France, and Iraq was more cartography than anthropology. Nothing had cooled the innate hostilities of the Shia, in the south, who (in a reversal of the current travesty in Baghdad) were virtually unrepresented in Bell’s new assembly, and the Sunnis to the north, as well as the Kurds, the Armenians and the Turks, each with their own turf. Lawrence, in fact, had protested that the inclusion of the Kurds was a mistake. And the desert border in the south was, in Bell’s own words, “as yet undefined.”

The reason for this was Ibn Saud. Bell wrote in a letter to her father, “I’ve been laying out on the map what I think should be our desert boundaries.” Eventually that line was settled by the Saudis, whose Wahhabi warriors were the most formidable force in the desert and who foresaw what many other Arabs at the time did: Iraq was a Western construct that defied thousands of years of history, with an alien, puppet king who would not long survive and internal forces that were centrifugal rather than coherent.

For a while, Bell was the popular and admired face of the British contingent in Baghdad. An American visitor pleased her by calling her “the first citizen of Iraq.” The Arabs called her “Al Khatun,” meaning a noble woman who earned respect. She went riding and swimming every day, somewhat diminishing the benefits of that by chain smoking in public. She also made no secret of the fact that she was an atheist. It seemed that she was more comfortable in the company of Arabs than she had been among her peers in Cairo.

Lawrence, for example, while respectful of her scholarship, thought that Bell “had no great depth of mind” and politically was a poor judge of people and “changed direction like a weathercock.” Sir Mark Sykes, a crusty diplomat who had colluded with the French to give them Damascus, was more defiantly a misogynist. He called her “a silly chattering windbag, an infernal liar, a conceited, gushing, rump-wagging, blethering ass.”

Sometimes Bell revealed a dark self-knowledge. In 1923 she wrote to her father: “At the back of my mind is that we people of war can never return to complete sanity. The shock has been too great; we’re unbalanced. I am aware that I myself have much less control over my own emotions than I used to have.”

By then she had only three years to live, and was becoming frail from overwork. She described her routine in a letter: “I get up at 5:30, do exercises till 5:45 and walk in the garden till 6 or a little after cutting flowers. All that grows now is a beautiful double jasmine of which I have bowls full every day, and zinnias, ugly and useful. I breakfast at 6:40 on an egg and some fruit…leave for the office by car at 6:55 and get there at 7…”

As well as administrating in the manner of a colonial official, she often acted like a viceroy, receiving a stream of tribal sheiks, Arab officials or simply citizens with grievances. The king had to be managed, as he sat in his garden “in full Arab dress, the white and gold of the Mecca princes.” But she also devoted much of her time to a personal passion: creating the Iraq Museum in Baghdad where she gathered a priceless collection of treasures from the world of antiquity—reminding herself and the Iraqi people how the earliest urban civilizations had flourished around the Tigris and Euphrates.

There were, though, other loves that belied the appearance of a desiccated, workaholic spinster. She lived with the memories of two passionate romances, both thwarted.

At the age of 24 she became engaged to a young diplomat but her rich industrialist father deemed it an unsuitable match and, in the compliant Victorian manner, she ended it. Her second affair was far deeper, tragic and, in its effects, everlasting. She fell in love with Colonel Charles Doughty-Wylie, a soldier with a record of derring-do with appropriate movie star looks. But Doughty-Wylie was married, and as long as the war occupied them both neither could see a way out. Bell was, however, completely besotted:

“I can’t sleep,” she wrote to him, “I can’t sleep. It’s one in the morning of Sunday. I’ve tried to sleep, every night it becomes less and less possible. You, and you, and you are between me and any rest; but out of your arms there is no rest. Life, you called me, and fire. I flame and I am consumed.”

He responded in kind: “You gave me a new world, Gertrude. I have often loved women as a man like me does love them, well and badly, little and much, as the blood took me…or simply for the adventure—to see what happened. But that is all behind me.”

Doughty-Wylie died in the amphibious assault on the Turks at Gallipoli in 1916—ill-conceived by Winston Churchill as an attempt to strike at the “soft underbelly” of the Ottoman Empire.

Bell died at her house by the Tigris in Baghdad in July 1926 at the age of 57.  She had taken an overdose of barbiturates, whether deliberately or accidentally it was impossible to tell. Lawrence by then was a recluse, in flight from the road show devised by the American journalist Lowell Thomas that had turned him, as Lawrence of Arabia, into the most famous man on Earth.

But it was Gertrude Bell, who was never a public figure, who had left the greater mark on the Middle East, for better or worse.

King Feisal, who had been ailing for some time, died in Switzerland in 1933, at the age of 48, to be succeeded by his son Prince Ghazi. The monarchy was brought down by a pro-British military coup in 1938, a regime that would ultimately mutate into that of Saddam Hussein’s in 1979.

 

 

© The Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University
© The Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University

“Coming towards me was a party of camel riders. They were clearly all Arabs, except one who seemed to be a woman. It was Gertrude Bell. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a well-­dressed Englishwoman, looking spick and span in spite of her weeks of desert travel. I never forgot that first striking impression.”  Sir William Willcocks,1914

An advisor on Arab affairs during World War I, she was the only woman with a diplomatic role at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and the only woman (invited by Winston Churchill) at the Cairo Conference in 1921.

In 1925, Bell drafted a new Law of Antiquities which safe-guarded Iraq’s right to hold onto excavated artifacts. She championed education for Muslim girls, helping to establish one of the most progressive educational systems in the Middle East.

Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) was part proper Victorian and part modern woman. The precocious daughter of a wealthy industrialist family from northern England, her life was a series of “firsts”:

  • The first woman to receive highest honors in Modern History at Oxford
  • The first person to climb all the peaks of the Engelhörner range in the Swiss Alps
  • The first woman to do a solo journey into the uncharted Arabian desert (traveling by camel for 1500 miles across Central Arabia in 1914)
  • The first female Intelligence officer employed by the British Military
© The Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University
© The Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University
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mc cain is clueless re: iraq, says cockburn

DEMOCRACY NOW:

  Cockburnweb

Iraq Correspondent Patrick Cockburn on the US-Iraqi Clash Over the Status of US Troops

 

The Bush administration is leveraging tens of billions of dollars in seized Iraqi assets to force the Iraqi government to accept several demands in a long-term deal on keeping US troops in Iraq. The demands have included maintaining fifty-eight permanent military bases in Iraq, immunity for American troops and contractors, a free hand to conduct military operations without Iraqi approval and control of Iraqi airspace. We speak to journalist Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent, who broke the story last week. [includes rush transcript]

JUAN GONZALEZ: Following outcry by Iraqi lawmakers, the Bush administration is now offering limited concessions in its demands for a long-term “status of forces” agreement between Iraq and the United States.  

The deal sought by the Bush administration, details of which were leaked to the press, were seen as a way of extending the US occupation of Iraq indefinitely. The demands included maintaining fifty-eight permanent military bases in Iraq, immunity for American troops and contractors, a free hand to conduct military operations without Iraqi approval, and control of Iraqi airspace. According to the London Independent, the US is now lowering the number of bases it wants from fifty-eight to “the low dozens” and says it is willing to compromise on legal immunity for foreign contractors.

The negotiations are being held before the UN mandate authorizing the US occupation expires at the end of the year. The Independent of London reported last week the US is leveraging tens of billions of dollars in seized Iraqi assets to push through its demands.

AMY GOODMAN: British journalist Patrick Cockburn broke this story last week. He is the Middle East correspondent for the London Independent and has reported from Iraq for many years now. He is the author of several books, including The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq. His latest is called Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival and the Struggle for Iraq. Patrick Cockburn joins us now from Washington, D.C.

Welcome to this country, Patrick.

PATRICK COCKBURN: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you lay out for us exactly what the deal is and how you uncovered it?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, this is an extraordinary, important development in Iraq. It really will determine whether Iraq is an independent country or not. Or will it be a client state of the US?

As you reported, the US negotiators were demanding initially fifty-eight bases. They’re not calling them permanent bases, though that’s exactly what they are. The bases might have, let’s say, an Iraqi soldier outside and a single strand of barbed wire, in which case the Iraqis will supposedly be in charge of their defense, so it won’t be an American base. But everybody knows that it is.

Then there’s the question of immunity for American soldiers and Iraqi contractors, i.e. they won’t come under Iraqi law. And the US will also control airspace and have various other rights.

Now, although Ryan Crocker and President Bush are saying Iraq under this new agreement will once again be a sovereign nation, most of the rights we associate with a sovereign nation will be in the possession of the US.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the reaction in Iraq among the various forces there, as news of this has begun to dribble out?

PATRICK COCKBURN: There’s been an explosive reaction, because this is a deeply divisive demand by the US. There will be some Iraqis who will be willing to accept it, mainly maybe the Kurds. There will be others in the government who will do it. But there will be many other Iraqis, almost certainly a majority, who will see this agreement as showing that the Iraqi government is a puppet of the US. It will delegitimize it. It will lay the basis for a further deepening of the war in Iraq. So it’s an extraordinary—you know, Iraq is full of spurious invented turning points, but this really is a turning point for Iraq.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, your article suggests that Prime Minister al-Maliki himself is opposed to major parts of this proposal?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yes, I mean, he’s—mostly can see the downside for himself, that this is going to go down real badly with a lot of Iraqis, including people in his own majority Shia community and including people in the coalition of parties which make up his own government. And one of the senior members of his own party was saying the Americans have asked for immunity for everybody and everything, apart from the dogs they bring to Iraq. So this is not very good news for him.

But on the same time, he and his government feel at the end of the day they depend on the US, and they’re under very intense personal pressure from President Bush and Dick Cheney’s office, according to Iraqi officials I’ve spoken to, and it will be difficult for them to stop this happening. And they’ve been given a deadline of the 31st of July.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, how is the US leveraging billions of dollars to try to force through this agreement?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, the Iraqi reserves, the Iraqi money, is in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The reason it’s there is historical and rather surprising. It dates from 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and there are still really sanctions against Iraq as a danger to the rest of the world. That money, about $50 billion, is in the bank. But there have been many court cases brought against it. It’s protected currently by a presidential immunity. And what US negotiators in Baghdad have been implying to their Iraqi counterparts is that if they don’t cut a deal on American terms, then that presidential immunity might lapse at the end of the year, and the Iraqis wouldn’t be able to get their hands on these massive reserves, which they need very badly.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Patrick Cockburn. He broke the story of the US proposal to Iraq that the US is pushing through right now, which includes more than fifty military bases. Now, can you explain that? And also comment on John McCain, the once again controversial comment he made about war. This time it was on NBC. He was talking about—when asked when he thinks US troops will return from Iraq, “That’s not too important. What’s important is the casualties in Iraq. Americans are in South Korea…Japan…in Germany. That’s all fine.” But talk about that and these bases.

PATRICK COCKBURN: You know, I’ve been going to Iraq since 1977. I spend much of my time there. I think it’s frankly a fantasy world, because Iraq—most Iraqis don’t like the occupation. There’s nothing surprising about this. Most—few countries do. So long as there is a US army there, there’s going to be resistance to it. And this current agreement will probably increase the level of violence. Now, the number of American soldiers being killed has dropped from maybe three a day to one a day, but it could go right up again at any moment.

I think Senator McCain’s idea that somehow with the end of the road, with a pacified Iraq, where you can have a United States Army sitting there, wholly accepted by the local population, and that there will be no armed attacks on it is a complete misunderstanding of the situation, you know, and it’s part and parcel of what he’s been saying for a year, that the situation in Baghdad is better than has been reported. I mean, honestly, I wish it was. I wish I could go out and report this, but—and he has the advantage—but he’s wrong. And it’s so dangerous. It’s still very difficult for reporters to really get around Baghdad and stay in one piece.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Patrick Cockburn, I’d like to ask you, in our headlines we mentioned this new attempt by the US military in Iraq to begin utilizing or turning over areas now to Shiite militias, as well, to patrol, similar to what they were doing with the Sunnis in Anbar and other areas. Your response to this increasing reliance on not even the Iraqi military, but on militias by the US military to basically pacify areas of Iraq?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah. This is based on what happened in Anbar province, this enormous province west of Baghdad, about eighteen months ago, when there was a reaction among the Sunni tribes against al-Qaeda in Iraq. The US Army has been trying to replicate that in other parts of Iraq, mostly in Sunni areas, and they’ve been trying to now in Shia areas. A lot of this is hiring—getting local guns for hire and paying them. But first of all, these people are often—outside Anbar, are sometimes local bandits. They may have some loyalty to their employers, the US government, but they certainly don’t have any loyalty to the Iraqi government.

I think that by doing it in Shia areas, this is going to create local civil wars. Most of these people don’t have—in Shia areas, don’t really have much support. I mean, there’s a desperation for jobs, a desperation for salaries. You can always hire a man with a gun in Baghdad. But I think this is very divisive and will lead to fighting, lots of killing, if they try and introduce this in places like Sadr City, where Muqtada al-Sadr’s followers, the Mahdi Army, has mass support. There are—a lot of dead bodies are going to start turning up in the side streets.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, if this is pushed through before this president leaves office, how does it bind a future president? And what is your assessment of what these presidential candidates in the United States are suggesting for the end of war in Iraq?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, you know, they’re describing it as a security agreement and saying, well, we have such agreements with eighty countries. But, I mean, this is frankly baloney. I mean, the other countries do not have an American army present which is under continual armed attack. It’s a very different type of agreement. And of course the reason they’re saying this is that they don’t want to submit it to Congress, and they also don’t want to submit it to a referendum in Iraq. In both cases, it might go down.

I think that the candidates—I mean, what strikes me, being in Washington, is the degree to which America is absorbed in the presidential election, and Iraq has been far too much on the margins of the news, as if nothing new was developing there or the situation might be bad but it’s not getting much worse, while these enormously important developments are taking place, which are laying the basis for future violence, for future wars, not exactly going through on the nod, but they’re being smuggled through. Their significance is being downplayed by the US ambassador in Baghdad, by the administration here in Washington. And this is taking place while the whole focus is on the presidential election here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And how essential is this security agreement for a possible extension of the United Nations mandate in Iraq?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, they could extend it six months. They could extend it longer. I mean, the United Nations could certainly do this. I don’t think there’s an enormous problem there, though it leaves lots of issues hanging in the air. In some ways, bringing up this over the last—initially, there was a lack of attention in Iraq to what was happening. Now there’s an explosive reaction as details leak out about this agreement. So, there are more Iraqis, including in the government party, saying on the record, “Well, maybe we don’t need the Americans at all if our sovereignty is going to be so compromised.”

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick, could you explain this refusal to lift the UN designation of Iraq as a threat to international security, which started with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, even though Saddam Hussein has been executed, that makes it easier for claims against Iraq, like particularly from corporations?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah. I mean, there are these series of measures against Iraq which were originally, you know, were enforced in 1990, when Saddam invaded Kuwait, but these have all remained pressures on Iraq over the years. This diminished formal sovereignty has made them vulnerable to legal charges, means they don’t quite have control over their own funds.

For instance, last year—I mean, theoretically these funds are all controlled by Iraq. But last year, the senior Iraqi financial officials told me that they wanted—all these funds are denominated in dollars. The dollar was sinking. The Iraqi finance minister in Central Bank thought, right, we wanted to denominate these. We don’t want to take the money out of New York. We want to denominate some of it in other currencies, in Euros, in gold, in whatever else, which won’t lose its value. And the US Treasury said, no, we don’t want that, because that will make the dollar look bad. So they couldn’t do it. And they were telling me a month or so ago they thought that this decision by the US Treasury had cost them $5 billion.

So, this is part of a pattern that you have the US making formal obeisance to Iraqi sovereignty, an independent nation, but in practice having minute control over everything that the Iraqi government does.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, we want to thank you very much for being with us. His brand new book is called Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival and the Struggle for Iraq. Patrick Cockburn, just recently back from Iraq, has been reporting on Iraq for decades.

tony blair had G_D on his side…

Tony Blair

Blair conceals his religious zeal for Iraq policies

(click on above link to read article and read commentary from angry readers!)

WITH GOD On Our Side, we now learn from Tony Blair, wasn’t just a Bob Dylan song. During his 10 years in Downing Street, and especially in the run-up to the Iraq war, our former prime minister was a nightly reader of the Bible and a regular church-goer, with civil servants and aides dispatched on foreign trips to find churches where the PM could pray.

“To be honest about it,” admits Blair, religion was “hugely important” to him. Except that he wasn’t honest about it at all. Religion, aided by the organisational genius of Karl Rove, helped put George Bush in the White House, twice. The American electorate knew their president held daily prayer meetings in the White House and elected him regardless.

Blair, on the other hand, kept his Christian moral compass quiet for fear that he would be branded “a nutter”. Instead, his chief spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, once said, “We don’t do God,” when the reality was that Blair’s Christian faith was at the centre of everything he did.

There is, as Blair says himself, nothing wrong with holding religious conviction. But there is something wrong in keeping it hidden, keeping such knowledge away from the people who you want to elect you, because you suspect your religious credentials won’t wash well in public. And if you have sent your country to war on more than one occasion, ignoring international law and the United Nations, then why would keeping your strong religious faith a secret be deemed necessary?

Like much of Tony Blair’s record and legacy, there are contradictions and contortions of the truth. That he was a conviction politician will never be in doubt. But had he taken time out to explain why his Christianity was important to him, would he have won three general elections? Would we have dismissed him, as he thinks we would have, as a nutter? We will never know. But it would appear Blair lost trust in the British electorate long before they lost trust in him.

window-dressing the occupation of iraq: manipulation in the u.n. security council

The Iraqi Government Opposes Renewing the U.N. Mandate for U.S. Troops

The United Nations Security Council, with support from the British and American delegations, is poised to cut the Iraqi parliament out of one of the most significant decisions the young government will make: when foreign troops will depart. It’s an ugly and unconstitutional move, designed solely to avoid asking an Iraqi legislature for a blank check for an endless military occupation that it’s in no mood to give, and it will make a mockery of Iraq’s nascent democracy (which needs all the legitimacy it can get).

While the Bush administration frequently invokes sunny visions of spreading democracy and “freedom” around the world, the fact remains that democracy is incompatible with its goals in Iraq. The fact remains that the biggest headache supporters of the occupation of Iraq have to deal with is the fact of the occupation itself. As far back as the middle of 2004, more than nine out of 10 Iraqis said the U.S.-led forces were “occupiers,” and only 2 percent called them “liberators.” Things have only gone downhill since then, and any government that represents the will of the Iraqi people would have no choice but to demand a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops. This fact poses an enormous problem, as the great triumph of the Bush administration and its supporters has been in their ability to convince a much of the Americans population that Iraqi interests and Washington’s interests are in harmony, even when they’re diametrically opposed.

Crucial to this fiction is a U.N. mandate that confers legal cover on the so-called “multinational” forces in Iraq. The mandate is now coming up for renewal, and a majority of Iraqi legislators oppose its renewal unless conditions are placed on it, conditions that may include a demand for a timetable for the departure of American troops.

The process of renewing the mandate is highlighting the political rift that’s divided the country and fueled most of the violence that’s plagued the new state. That’s the rift between nationalists – those Iraqis who, like most of their countrymen, oppose the presence of foreign troops on the ground, the wholesale privatization of Iraq’s natural resources and the division of their country into ethnic and sectarian fiefdoms, and Iraqi separatists who at least tolerate the occupation – if not support it – and favor a loose sectarian/ethnic-based federation of semiautonomous states held together by a minimal central government in Baghdad.

In the United States, the commercial media has largely ignored this story, focusing almost exclusively on sectarian violence and doing a poor job giving their readers and viewers a sense of what’s driving Iraq’s political crisis. An understanding of the tensions between nationalists and separatists is necessary to appreciate the import of the parliament being cut out of the legislative process and the degree to which doing so hurts the prospect of real political reconciliation among Iraq’s many political factions. (We’ve discussed this dynamic in greater detail in an earlier article.)

The key ingredient to understand is this: The Iraqi executive branch – the cabinet and the presidency – are completely controlled by separatists (including Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and secular politicians). But the parliament is controlled by nationalists – nationalists from every major ethnic and sectarian group in the country – who enjoy a small but crucially important majority in the only elected body in the Iraqi government.

In 2006, Maliki’s office requested the renewal of the U.N. mandate without consulting the legislature, a process that many lawmakers maintained was a violation of Iraqi law. The problem was that Maliki didn’t have the authority to make the request under the Iraqi constitution. Article 58, Section 4 says that the Council of Representatives (the parliament) has to ratify “international treaties and agreements” negotiated by the Council of Ministers (the cabinet). Specifically, it reads: “A law shall regulate the ratification of international treaties and agreements by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Council of Representatives.”

Prime Minister Maliki had claimed that the constitution didn’t refer to the U.N. mandate. A senior Iraqi lawmaker, speaking on condition of anonymity, said of the assertion: “If we are asked to approve a trade agreement concerning olive oil, should we not have the right to pass on an agreement concerning the stationing of foreign military forces in our national soil?”

In June, we reported that the parliament had passed a binding resolution that would force Maliki to go to the parliament and give Iraqi lawmakers an opportunity to block the extension of the mandate. It was signed by the majority of the 275-seat legislature, then sent to the president. According to the Iraqi constitution, the president has 15 days to veto it by sending it back to the parliament; otherwise it automatically becomes a ratified law. The 15 days passed without a veto, so, according to the terms of the constitution, the Iraqi parliament’s resolution became a law in mid-June 2007.

Something happened, however, between the passage of that law and the latest report by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. According to Moon’s latest report to the Security Council (PDF), dated Oct. 15, the law that had been passed by the duly elected legislature of Iraq became nothing more than a “nonbinding resolution”:

The Council of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution on 5 June obligating the cabinet to request parliament’s approval on future extensions of the mandate governing the multinational force in Iraq and to include a timetable for the departure of the force from Iraq.

One might have believed that the disconnect was a simple mistake, if not for the fact that members of the Iraqi parliament, still fuming over being cut out of the process the year before, sent a letter to the U.N.’s special envoy for Iraq back in April clarifying the situation in very clear terms. According to an English translation provide by the Global Policy Forum, it says: “The Iraqi Cabinet has unilaterally requested a renewal of the U.N. mandate keeping the occupation troops (MNF) in Iraq” despite the fact that “such a request issued by the Iraqi cabinet without the Iraqi parliament’s approval is unconstitutional.” It continues: “The Iraqi parliament, as the elected representatives of the Iraqi people, has the exclusive right to approve and ratify international treaties and agreements, including those signed with the United Nations Security Council.”

According to sources within the Iraqi delegation to the United Nations, the letter, signed by 144 MPs -more than half of Iraq’s legislators – was received in good order by the special envoy, Ashraf Qazi, but never distributed to the Security Council members, as is required under the U.N. resolution that governs the mandate. The parliament, and indeed the majority of the Iraqi population, had been cleanly excised from the legislative process.

The important thing to understand is that the run-around goes beyond the issue of the mandate itself. Iraq is not in the midst of an incomprehensible religious war over some obscure theological differences between Sunni and Shiite Muslims but is deeply and profoundly divided over fundamental questions about the future of the country. In cutting the nationalist majority in the parliament out of the process of governing, the Maliki administration, Bush administration and, apparently, the U.N. secretary-general are making political reconciliation much more difficult. History has offered the lesson time and time again: Deny people the right to participate in deciding their own destiny in a peaceful political process, and they’ll try to do so with guns and bombs. The United Nations, like the administration and its supporters, and like Sen. Joe Biden and those who favor his plan for partitioning the country, is taking sides in a political battle that should be exclusively for Iraqis to decide.

If there were some similarities between the current Iraqi-Iraqi conflict and the U.S. civil war it is in having one side that wants to keep the country united, and another side planning to secede. All of the foreign forces that are intervening in Iraq’s affairs – whether led by the United States, Iran or Al-Qaeda – are on the side of a minority of Iraqis who want to secede against the majority’s will.

This U.N. mandate issue is not occurring in a vacuum. When it comes to the nascent Iraqi government, supporters of the occupation have long had their cake and eaten it too. On the one hand, they deny that the U.S.-led military force is an occupying army at all, maintaining that all those foreign troops are there at the “request” of the Iraqi government. That’s an important legal nicety – occupying forces have a host of responsibilities under international law and acknowledging the reality of the occupation would result in more legal responsibilities for the administration to ignore. At the same time, when the only people who all those purple-fingered Iraqi voters actually elected to office try to attach some conditions to the U.N. mandate, demand a timetable for withdrawal or come out against privatizing Iraq’s natural resources, and then somehow magically disappear, their hopes and aspirations are discarded as if they never existed.

It’s time to force the issue: The Iraqi parliament, the only body elected by the Iraqi people, wants some say over the continuing presence of foreign troops on its soil, and a majority of its lawmakers, like a majority of both Americans and Iraqis, wants a timetable for ending the occupation.

— Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer. Raed Jarrar is Iraq consultant to the American Friends Service Committee. He blogs at Raed in the Middle.

torture is not torture: “the day the law died”

 

Bush, Defending Justice Nominee, Sees Unfairness (Excerpted)

Doug Mills/The New York Times, President Bush arriving on Thursday to address a crowd at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG

WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 — The White House began a campaign Thursday to save the candidacy of Michael B. Mukasey for attorney general, with President Bush defending him in a speech and in an Oval Office interview, where he complained that Mr. Mukasey was “not being treated fairly” on Capitol Hill.

With Mr. Mukasey’s confirmation in doubt over his refusal to state a clear legal position on a classified Central Intelligence Agency program to interrogate terrorism suspects, Mr. Bush took the unusual step of summoning a small group of reporters into the Oval Office to preview remarks he planned to make later in the day at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization here.

“I believe that the questions he’s been asked are unfair,” Mr. Bush said. “He’s not been read into the program — he has been asked to give opinions of a program or techniques of a program on which he’s not been briefed. I will make the case — and I strongly believe this is true — that Judge Mukasey is not being treated fairly.”

Mr. Bush, in the Oval Office meeting, declined to address waterboarding. “I’m not going to talk about techniques,” he said, adding, “My view is this: The American people have got to understand the program is important and the techniques used are within the law.”

Waterboarding, a centuries-old method that simulates a feeling of drowning, has become a symbol of the larger debate over the C.I.A. detention and interrogation program, and the Mukasey nomination has become a kind of proxy fight for that battle. Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney made the war on terror and the C.I.A. program a central theme of their speeches on Thursday, with Mr. Cheney suggesting that the agency’s efforts had spared Americans another terrorist attack.

“Because we’ve been focused, because we’ve refused to let down our guard, we’ve done — gone more now than six years without another 9/11,” the vice president said, addressing the American Legion in Indianapolis.

Judge Dredd from his first story, as drawn by Mike McMahon in 1977. The character's appearance has remained essentially unchanged ever since.

I AM THE THE LAW AND THE LAW IS MINE

bush defends u.s. interrogation

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush  defended his administration’s methods of detaining and questioning terrorism suspects on Friday, saying both are successful and lawful.

“When we find somebody who may have information regarding a potential attack on America, you bet we’re going to detain them, and you bet we’re going to question them,” he said during a hastily called Oval Office appearance. “The American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That’s our job.”

Bush volunteered his thoughts on a report on two secret 2005 memos that authorized extreme interrogation tactics against terror suspects. “This government does not torture people,” the president said.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government.

posting from an iraqi woman living and working in baghdad: read this if you want to get a feel for the people:: including the comments

neurotic Iraqi wife

IRAQ with all its factions is NOT UNITED. Lets not fool ourselves nor the world,OK…This Kurdish/turkish issue is soley a Kurdish issue. THEY HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT. Yes, you know why???Because the Kurds never liked us Arabs. NEVER. Im sorry if I’m offending anyone, but the truth has to be said. The hatred that the Kurds have against us, is far more than the hatred of this Sunni/Shia dilemma. YES. I don’t give a damn shit anymore. Let’s not pretend that everyone is so lovey dovey. The Kurds always wanted their independence from the Arabs, ALWAYS.Go to any Kurdish forum, and see the hatred towards the arabs. Man they tear us apart all the time. They think they are superior to us…Lol, makes me laugh. One day, they want everything, Kirkuk, the North, the Oil, and the next day, they cry for help. I can’t stand such double faced people. I have very good friends that are Kurdish, and although we are civil to each other, I’ve had alot of arguements about the situation in Iraq. And they say it out loud, we want to be independent, we want our own nation. Well, FINE THEN HAVE YOUR OWN NATION, but Kirkuk stays. What do you say to that?

With the Turkish offensive, which I’m totally against, I think the Kurds are better equipped to deal with that themselves. We have our own “internal” problems that we need to solve. For what have THEY done for us? The peshmerga’s came to assist supposedly in this security plan because again supposedly they are a neutral force, but infact they caused havoc. Their loyalty was never with Iraq as a nation. NEVER. Their loyalty was always with their own people, the Kurdish people. Im sure IM gonna get nasty comments, but I dont give a damn shit anymore. Someone has to say it. Someone has to say the truth. I’m sure there are many who agree with me though.

But I have to admit, putting all that aside, I have alot of respect for the Kurds. Yes I do for the reasons I’m about to give. One, they managed to put aside all their differences and unite against the enemy. Something, we Iraqi arabs couldnt even TRY to do. So I raise my hat to them. Second, they know exactly what they want and how to achieve it. Unlike us, everyone is pulling from all directions. The Kurds are smart people, very business like. They have ambitions and they are well on their way to achieve them. As for us, our ambitions are based on religeous needs. One group wants a Mulla type nation, and another group wants a stone age era with strict Islamic laws. Oh and lets not forget the other group who just doesnt want a nation full stop but instead a land turned morgue filled with Iraqi corpses.

The Kurds have their own flags, their own language, their own traditions. They are a completely separate people than us. I mean can you believe the fact that an Iraqi Arab is NOT ALLOWED to enter their border unless a kurd sponsors him??? Did you know that? That’s why, all those displaced Iraqis who were driven from their homes because of the violence didn’t go to the North. Only the ones who had contacts managed but the rest were forced to leave the country and seek shelter in Syria, Jordan etc..How sad is that. How sad, that you cant even seek shelter in your own country!!!

I’m gonna leave it at that. I may be biased for I’m an Iraqi. A true Iraqi. I have no hidden agenda. I have no need for power. I hope that the Iraqi Arabs will come to their senses once and for all and learn from the Kurdish people. Learn how to Unite. How to Unite and take care of their own people. Again I say, let’s not fool ourselves anymore. Iraq has become a divided nation. Maybe, maybe dividing it is the best solution. The best solution for now. I say these words with great pain, but the Good Iraq is long gone. My parent’s Iraq is no more. What we have now is the leftovers…The leftovers of all these fatal wars and selfish narcissistic leaders. Iraq, that once delicious cake on a diamond studded plate which everyone wanted a piece from, is now nothing but crumbs. Bitter Tiny Iraqi Crumbs…

October 14, 2007

My Eid Dream…

Its Eid, yaaaaaaaay. I woke up on Friday and decided to hell with work. Its Eid, and Im gonna celebrate it my way. The Iraqi way. I took a shower, slipped on a new pair of jeans, a crisp blue shirt and my new acquired high heels. I took HUBBY’s hand in mine, borrowed a car from one of my coworkers that live in the GZ and drove right past the checkpoints. What a liberating feeling. My heart was pounding with excitement. I havent seen Baghdad, the real Baghdad in such a long time. Families were walking with their children and everyone seemed so cheerful. It was a major shock to my eyes. I had the urge of rubbing it so hard so as to make sure I aint dreaming and what Im seeing is infact real.

Last year, the last day before we thought we were leaving Baghdad for good, W took us to Saysaban, a beautiful restaurant in Jadriyah, a place that you will never believe is infact in a war torn country. Hence we decided it was the perfect place to celebrate Eid in. We parked the car and walked towards the gate. Waiters in white crisp shirts and black vests welcomed us, each with a smile that lit up the whole place. “Eid Mubarak” they said happily.”Welcome, please come in, come in” and they ushered us towards a corner table thats set just for two.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

It was the perfect table with “real” plates and cutlery. Something I havent seen in over a few months now. The view from where we were sitting was perfect, I couldnt ask for a better view. The place was overwhelmingly full. Full of people. Happy people. Kids running around with their new Eid clothes and shining shoes, laughing and playing in the immaculately maintained garden. Red, white, green and black balloons hanging from every tree branch, making up a beautiful mosaic of our flag, the Iraqi flag. You can hear birds chirping alongside the children’s laughter. And if you concentrate hard enough, you would realise that the birds are laughing too. Laughing with those beautiful innocent kids.

A young waiter whose name was Khalid, came by to take our order. I asked for a menu, which he happily provided. It was a one pager covered in a plastic laminate cover. I didnt know what to have. Hummus? Imtabbal? Kubba? Cheese and basil? Lahm ib 3ajeen? Mixed grill (wth no chicken) or rice and white beans sauce. Hmmm. I was seriously confused. So I said “Khalid, Im hungry, very hungry, can I have bits and pieces of everything?”. Khalid laughed and so did HUBBY. HUBBY then interrupted and said “No Khalid, no, please dont listen to her, she keeps doing this to me everytime we go out to eat, she orders alot, but only eats like a bird then Im forced to finish the whole thing and look what happened to me” HUBBY pointed at his belly. I giggled, for thats true. My eyes are always more hungry than my tummy. So I said, Ok Khalid, just get us one plate of hummus (mashed chikpeas w/garlic), another of imtabbal (mashed aubergines w/ garlic), definitely fattoush (mixed salad with croutons) and a plate of mixed grill with no chicken. Oh and dont forget the samoon (Iraqi bread). I want piping hot samoon. Khalid walked off with our order probably thinking what a nutso this lady is.

The sweet apple aroma of the hubbly bubbly was lingering all around us, so HUBBY decided to have one too. As for me, I was content with my cigarettes and my sweet Iraqi tea. HUBBY reached out, trying to hold my hand, as he always does when we are out. I pulled it back, hey, we cant do that here. Its not right. Youre my wife he said angrily, I can do whatever I like. No HUBBY, dont embarrass me please. Big mistake. For HUBBY always tries to tease me and so he turned towards me and kissed me right there and then. OMG. I could feel my face turning as red as the balloon over my head. HUBBYYYYYYYYY, I shouted in his ears . God, they probably think Im one of those bad girls. HUBBY laughed, and kissed me again, this time on my forehead.
Khalid and another guy came around carrying a huge tray with our order. I whispered to HUBBY “I hope they didnt see that” HUBBY shrugged his shoulders and said and so what if they did, YOU ARE MY WIFE “. I laughed for I cant beat that, can I now. Everything looked so yummy, especially the samoon and the fattoush. Surprisingly enough, I ate everything on that tray. Everything. HUBBY couldnt believe his eyes. Nor could I. I guess I needed real food. Real Iraqi food.

After having the last piece of samoon I just sat there with a smile that made me look so stupid, happy stupid. For it was just surreal. Surreal to be sitting in a restaurant in the middle of Baghdad in 2007. A young girl in pink polka dots dress and matching shoes was running around and then all of a sudden she stood right next to my chair. She kept staring at me and laughing. I laughed back, made faces at her which made her giggle even more. “Whats your name?” I asked. “Ahlam” she said. “My name is Ahlam (dreams in English)”. “Happy Eid Ahlam” I said. “Happy Eid to you too” She laughed in what was the most angelic voice Ive ever heard then she disappeared. Ahlam disappeared and so did my dreams.

They say its good to dream once in awhile. Yes unfortuantely it was all a dream. A Eid Dream…My Eid Dream…

October 07, 2007

Live Life…

Yesterday, as I was engrossed in one of my reports, I decided to take a break and check for any new news headlines. I jumped off of my seat when I read the headline “Victory for those who risked lives for Britain”. I immediately clicked on the link and wowwwww, the happiness and joy I felt was indescribable. Finally, Finally Britain decided to help those who risked their lives for them. It very much uplifted my mood, since again, my mood seemed to match the hazy sky.

Today, I decided to visit the link again, read comments and see what others thought about the excellent move. A very very bad decision. Reading some of the comments infuriated me and took me down the pits again. Look at some of these comments that sent my blood boiling to such a degree, I wish I coulda slapped the commentators:

A few thousand interpreters plus wives and families, extended families, other relatives coming over later in accordance with British law, spouses imported over the next few generations – so what are we talking, another million muslims in the country by 2050? Is anyone actually calculating the future racial and religious balance in this country? What I’m starting to think about all the liberal extremists who, in pre-war generations did little more than write poetry and cry, but who have been allowed to dominate all spheres of influence in the hysterical anti-fascist climate of post-war Europe, is this: I think, unconsciously, they have some perverse psycho-sexual desire to be dominated, overpowered and – politically and culturally, at least – shafted.
Eugene, Chester , England
And another Bastard:

This i shocking. I was in Iraq. Don’t kid yourself that the interpreters are some kind of brave hero risking their lives for democracy and a better Iraq etc. They wanted money and they got it. Many of them were handsomely paid for little work and more than a few were “playing for the other side”. We have just opened the gates for more people to sponge from our welfare system
Degsy, aberdeen,

Hence, I decided to answer back on my blog. To all those who oppose the move I tell you:

It should be a PLEASURE for you people to host those who helped and risked their own lives for your soldiers’ well being IN YOUR COUNTRY. Those Iraqis you claim that are after your so called welfare system, should be praised and honoured. Without them, your troops wouldn’t have survived!!! Do you know how many lives were lost because of the help they gave you???Do you know how many children where orphaned and wives widowed???Shame on you. You are nothing but ignorant selfish full of hatred racists. Ughhhh, people like you just make me wanna scream!!!

Those Iraqis you don’t want, are not coming to your country because they woke up one day and decided hey, what the heck I wanna leave everything behind and go to England. Aha yup you are right, they wanna leave their homes, their family, their friends because they just love the weather and the 25 pounds of the so called welfare they will be getting. Oh yessss definitely, that’s exactly what they wanted to do. What a load of bull…

Why is it that Iraqis are viewed worthless??? Why is YOUR BLOOD more important THAN THEIRS??? WHY ARE YOUR LIVES MORE PRECIOUS THAN THEIRS???WHY??? One of the main reasons I liked and enjoyed living in London is the multicultural society and the cosmopolitan atmosphere. I used to think to myself, wowww, look at the freedom of speech everyone has, especially the few times I visited speakers corner on Sundays. I loved London, and although many of the Brits seemed stiff at first, when I got to know them, I made real friends. I know that racism is everywhere, but when it comes to taint my own people, NO, I will not tolerate it. I will never tolerate it. EVER…

I can even bet on it, the minute things become better here, they will come back to their country. You know why???Beacuse they Love Iraq. They always will…Its in our blood, whether we want it or not. Its engraved in our hearts. Whether we want it or not.

I am so appalled I cant even go on writing this post because of the anger Im in right now…Maybe later I will be able to continue…But for now, those people that you don’t want in your country, those people, my people, have every right to breathe. Every right to have hope. And most of all, they have every right to LIVE. Live Life…

October 02, 2007

Another Decorative Number…

A week ago, Dr A disappeared for almost two days. I got worried sick. He usually calls in to tell me if he is coming to work or not, he also calls me if he knows he will be late to work. But Last week, no calls from Dr A. I tried calling him on the mobile but all I got was that damned automated message of “sorry, the mobile youre calling is either switched off or outside the coverage area, please try again later”. Ughhh….I kept trying but to no avail. The next day I waited abit and still no Dr A. Again his mobile was switched off. By late afternoon, I was ready to go and speak to the security in charge when all of a sudden a yellow faced Dr A appeared.

Where were you I asked frantically, you got us worried. What happened? He shook his head and said believe me you don’t wanna know. My colleague and I looked at each other with the Uhoh look. Cmon we can handle it, tell us. Apparantely, as Dr A was ready to leave his neighbourhood on his way to work, as he reached the corner of his street, he passed by two dead bodies. One of an old man and another a boy of 5 or 6 years of age. Both shot in the head, and their faces, or maybe I should say what remained of their faces consisted of fleshy pulp barely hanging from the muscles of their necks. Their blood was just everywhere. Dr A, although used to these daily horror scenes in his neighbourhood turned back and decided to stay at home.

He said “when I saw the body of the child I couldn’t help it, I cried. I cried and I started to curse everyone, every single Iraqi, from the useless government to the citizen for allowing such heinous crimes to take place.” “And above all, you know whats worse Neurotica?” I shook my head, for I couldn’t imagine anything worse than a child being murdered to the extent where you cant even recognize his innocent facial features. Dr A continued, “Whats worse, is that I just walked off, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t. That’s the worst part. I just turned around, and walked away”. “I went back home, grabbed my 9 months old son, and hugged him so tight. I didn’t want to let go”.

And that’s when Dr A decided its time to leave. Although he was one of the first people that actually acquired the visa, he had decided to stay a few more months before going to the States. But after that incident, Dr A said no more. He couldn’t handle this country anymore. He just couldn’t. And most of all, he definitely will not subject his new young family to such a lifeless barbaric atmosphere. An atmosphere filled with the stench of death. An atmosphere where only ghosts of the dead roam aimlessly in the dark haunted alleyways, looking for their loved ones, warning them of what is yet to come. Yes, an atmosphere tainted with blood, innocent people’s blood.

I ask you, So what kind of crime did that 5 or 6 year old innocent boy commit? TELL ME WHAT? What did this boy do to deserve being murdered in that barbaric way? Was his only crime that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or maybe he bared a name that his killers didn’t favour? Ha? What did this boy that made his criminal animalistic killers beat his face into a pulp and then shoot him in the head? Can you answer me? Do you even care? Or has this boy, like the many hundreds of thousands of children become a mere statistic to the hundreds of studies being carried about to prove one of two points. Either “We are winning the war” or “We are losing the War”, and whatever in between doesn’t really matter simply because its just another number.

Yup, its just another number, another statistic that will be used to justify the end or is it the means??? Deaths have fallen by 50% they say. I wonder, I wonder if that old man and young boy were included in that statistic. Hmmm, or maybe it doesn’t really matter. Why should it? Deaths have fallen by 50%, so why does it matter. Whats a body here and there? Whats another mother mourning her dead child??? Nothing. Its just another number, Another Decorative Number…

September 24, 2007

A Neurotic SuShi…

Last Friday, as I was on my way to work, I passed by the weekly bazaar that’s held in our compound and all of sudden I remembered a funny incident which Im gonna share with you. Eight or nine months into my first year here, back in 06, and just after all hell broke loose because of the Samarra bombings, I saw one of my expat ex-coworkers exhibiting a blue stone ring on his pinky finger. A blue stone (turquoise or fayrouz in arabic) or even a Carnelian (aqeeq in Arabic) is widely worn by Iraqi men, by Iraqi Shia’ men to be precise. (There are certain stories behind it, on more information on the significance of these rings, you can go here I just googled my question and this informative site came up). I myself didnt know the real reason behind the rings.

I was bemused at the idea of an American wearing the exact ring, so I smiled and asked him “hey, where’d you get that ring?” One of the Iraqis gave it to me, why do you ask? Do you like it? I stood there contemplating, all focus on his pinky. Umm, no, Im not a big fan of men wearing stones, but I do find it intriguing that you are, since its kinda of a typical thing that men from certain areas in Iraq do. What area he asked. The South I said. The South? He repeated. You mean the Sunni’s? I laughed and said nope, the Shia’s. Is that good or bad? I sensed some fear in his eyes. So I decided to tease him abit to get him going. Well, if you do go on site visits, especially ones that are in the West, I think you better make sure that, that ring is left well behind in your room. Tell me more he said. Theres nothing more to say I said.

So you a Sunni or a Shia? He asked. No I’m a sushi, I replied calmly. The guy just looked at me and said “say what?” I’m an S U S H I, I repeated the letters slowly, incase he didn’t get it the second time around. What’s that? The raw fish? He asked. Are you a Buddhist and got reincarnated into a fish or Are you a Muslim? I just cracked up, couldn’t keep a straight face anymore (nor did I find me representing raw fish as fun). No I’m a Muslim sushi I said in a as a matter of fact tone. Again that bewildered look. You lost me he said. Ok ok ok, I relented and went off to explain, my Sushism.

Me: You asked me whether I was a Sunni or a Shia, correct?
Man: Correct
Me: And I answered, Im a sushi, correct?
Man: Aha correct
Me: Ok so far so good.
Man still looking at me with his confused look.
Me: In Iraq my friend, well, let me rephrase, in the Iraq that my parents once knew, there were no questions of sunni’s or shia’s. You are you, you are Iraqi. Be it a Sunni muslim, a Shia Muslim, a Christian, Kurd, you are an Iraqi. And because I don’t believe in all this sectarian differentiation, Im gonna be a sushi. A Sunni AND a Shia. GET IT?
Man: I love sushi, the food that is.
Me: I love sushi, the new sect that is.
And we both laughed.
Man: You still didn’t answer my question
Me: I think I have. And btw, you know how it is rude to ask a woman her age? (Aha, he nodded). Well its kinda rude to ask an Iraqi about his sushism.

And here my story ends, Im gonna go back to work and leave you with your thoughts oh and by the way, I never saw that guy wearing the ring again, lol… It probably scared the hell outta him. But now after reading the significance of these rings, Im at awe, hey I might even start liking the idea of HUBBY wearing a turquoise on his pinky, hmmm. As for now, if anyone asks about being either a Sunni or a Shia’, then SuShi will be my reply. Im still Neurotic, a Neurotic SuShi…

A confession, I have finally joined the neurotic wife club!!!Is there such a thing? This blog is about me being an Iraqi wife whose husband chose to rebuild his country over building his new life with his new wife, ME!!!

when we’re framing up world war three, it would behoove the brits to stay on just one side…

October 28, 2007

Britons join Kurdish rebels to fight Turks

BRITONS are among foreigners fighting Turkish troops with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, The Sunday Times can reveal.

According to PKK fighters holed up in one of the natural fortresses of the Qandil mountain range which runs along Iraq’s Turkish and Iranian borders, several Europeans have joined forces with their group.

At least three Britons were in the PKK’s 3,000-strong force, boasted one fighter as he and a group of men huddled in a room discussing the latest clashes with the Turkish army. Others include Russians, Germans, Greeks, Iranians and Arabs. The PKK is labelled by both Europe and America as a terrorist organisation.

As diplomatic efforts to avert war falter, the PKK’s fighters now lie in wait for the mechanised Turkish divisions gathering menacingly along the border. Previous Turkish incursions have failed to deal a mortal blow to the PKK and geography again conspires against them.

The path to the PKK’s mountain redoubt winds along a cliffside track so bumpy that our Jeep crawls along at walking pace, its wheels inches from the edge of a precipice. The view of the jagged peaks is spectacular.

There is no sign of life except for the odd flock of sheep and a lone shepherd; the range looks peaceful and uninhabited. But hidden in its ravines and gorges are the PKK rebels.

Despite Turkey’s demand that the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq clamp down on the PKK, there was no sign of any action against them.

On our way to the mountain, every checkpoint manned by the Iraqi army waved us through, and cheerfully provided directions on how to get to guerrilla positions.

Nor have the supply lines been cut. Several four-wheel-drive vehicles steered by toothless old men crawled along the tracks ahead of us, piled high with sackfuls of food.

The first sign of the PKK, after a three-hour drive from Irbil, was a sentry post guarded by three fighters with Kalashnikovs. They looked nervous and demanded our passports, mobile and satellite telephones, fearing that visitors could betray the coordinates of their outposts.

It is in these mountains that some of Turkey’s most wanted men live and hide, and where younger members of the group train and study. The 32-year-old commander of the post said he joined the PKK when he was 18 and had not seen his family for years.

“I’m a wanted man in Turkey, and if I set foot there I’ll be arrested and imprisoned for life. If anyone harbours me they’ll receive at least 15 years in jail,” he said, as we sipped tea under a makeshift gazebo. Nearby, a small satellite dish beamed the latest news to other fighters watching in the camouflaged stone house.

Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops along the border and vowed to crush the PKK guerrillas, who have launched two major ambushes in the past month, killing at least 25 Turkish soldiers. Iraqi, Turkish and US diplomats have stepped up efforts to avert a large-scale Turkish incursion, fearing such an offensive would destabilise not only the most peaceful part of Iraq but potentially the entire region.

Oblivious to international concerns about the looming conflict, our PKK host laughed off the Turkish threat to root them out. They had tried before and failed, in 1995 and 1997, he pointed out. “Even Saddam Hussein failed,” he added.

The Qandil mountains are ideal guerrilla country, where fighters are familiar with every soaring peak, valley, ravine and cave, putting any attacker at a disadvantage. The Kurdish cells are scattered, reachable only by long treks on foot.

We headed for the next Kurdish cell two hours’ drive away, past the village of Kurteik. Eventually we reached a base where a PKK fighter who called himself Ishkanaz welcomed us with more cups of tea.

Angered by media coverage of their plight, the guerrillas insisted they were fighting a just cause. “How can they call us terrorists – we do not dispatch suicide bombers nor do we kill women and children,” Ishkanaz said. “Our attacks have concentrated on the Turkish forces, and we have treated the captured soldiers with respect.”

The eight Turkish soldiers captured last weekend in an ambush across the border would be kept until their demands were met, he said without elaborating.

Despite promises from Bagh-dad, the Iraqi government has no intention of complying with Turkish demands to expel the PKK. President Jalal Talabani of Iraq, himself a Kurd, said his forces could not find the rebel leaders because of the difficult terrain.

Iraq wants US troops stationed in the Kurdish region to deal with the guerrillas. However, when Major-General Benjamin Mixon, the top US commander in northern Iraq, was asked what steps he was planning to take against the PKK, he replied: “Absolutely nothing.”

Talks between Turkish and Iraqi leaders collapsed on Friday, making military action almost inevitable, although this is unlikely to begin in earnest until after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, visits Washington early next month.

As Turkish warplanes circle overhead and the political storm rages about them, the PKK men in the mountains are settling in for a long struggle. “An independent Kurdistan must include territory liberated from Turkey, Iran and Syria,” our host says. “I shall not rest until I see this with my own eyes.”

churchill and iraq::part two::how he tried to limit the cost of occupation

The cost of the large Mesopotamian garrison was thought excessive by almost all British politicians, but it was much less clear how to limit the occupying forces without loosening the imperial hold over at least part of the country. In August 1919 [Minister of War and Air Winston] Churchill had warned that the garrison of 25,000 British and 80,000 Indian troops would have to be drastically cut, and in November 1919 he suggested that British power could be more cheaply maintained if mechanized forces replaced some units of foot. He advised that the infantry garrison be reduced to a small force in a fortified camp near Baghdad, with blockhouses at other important points, while mechanized units-on land, on river and in the air-patrolled the rest of the country. This was the first of several similar schemes proposed by Churchill over the next two years. […]

But Churchill persisted in his attempts to find cheaper method of holding Mesopotamia. By early 1920 the garrison still included 14, 000 British troops, besides Indians, and expenditure was then running at about £18 million a year. Driven by this financial imperative, Churchill now began to think along more radical military lines. In mid-February he asked [Chief of the Air Staff Hugh] Trenchard whether he would be ‘prepared to take Mesopotamia on’: the bat an increase of five or six million pounds in the air force estimates and appointment of an Air Officer as Commander-in-Chief. Churchill believed that the country could be cheaply policed by aircraft armed with gas bombs, supported by as few as 4,000 British and 10,000 Indian troops; and he invited Trenchard to submit a scheme along those lines. Trenchard obliged, as he wanted to find an independent peacetime role to secure the future of his obliged, as he wanted to find an independent peacetime role to secure the future of his fledging service. The Air Staff drew up a plan by which Mesopotamia would be garrisoned by ten air force squadrons, mainly concentrated at Baghdad. Regular troops would be used only to guard air bases and perhaps for some limited co-operation with the bombers. As Trenchard pointed out, aircraft could strike swiftly into areas barely accessible to ground forces, could distribute propaganda and could obtain early intelligence of hostile masses. Churchill outlined his scheme to the House of Commons on 22 March.

 source:  globalpolicy.igc.org/security/issues/iraq/history/1990airpow.htm