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[casi] News, 24/9-1/10/03 (1)

News, 24/9-1/10/03 (1)


*  Baghdad's Packed Morgue Marks a City's Descent Into Lawlessness
*  Most Iraqis take dim view of Bush and Blair
*  'At stake in Iraq is the future of the entire region'     
*  Crossed Wires Deprived Iraqis of Electric Power War Plans Ignored Worn
*  Patriots and invaders
*  PM: Democracy won't solve Iraq's woes
*  Postwar tremors deepen Iraq fissures
*  Iraqi Family Ties Complicate American Efforts for Change
*  Baghdad Burning - Sheikhs and Tribes...


by Jeffrey Fleishman
Los Angeles Times, 16th September
[Extracts from a powerful evocation in the LA Times of the state of

BAGHDAD ‹ A sourness stings the morning air as men with wooden coffins tied
on taxis come to collect the murdered: a boy shot in the face during a
carjacking, a ruffian stabbed in a neighborhood fight, a sheik ambushed by
his rivals, a son with a bullet through the heart.

U.S.-led coalition forces insist that stability is returning to Iraq. The
ledger in the Baghdad morgue tells a different tale.

The number of reported gun-related killings in Baghdad has increased 25-fold
since President Bush declared an end to major combat May 1. Before the war
began, the morgue investigated an average of 20 deaths a month caused by
firearms. In June, that number rose to 389 and in August it reached 518.
Moreover, the overall number of suspicious deaths jumped from about 250 a
month last year to 872 in August.

The Baghdad morgue is beyond full. Refrigeration boxes that usually hold six
bodies are crammed with 18. An unidentified corpse is dragged across the
floor beneath the blue glow of an insect-repelling light. Five others ‹ two
pocked with gunshot wounds ‹ lie on steel tables. With quiet determination,
pathologists lift their scalpels, chart their findings and fill the waiting

Most of the dead here are not casualties of military actions or terrorist
attacks, such as last month's bombing of the United Nations headquarters,
which killed at least 20 people. Nor are they American soldiers.

Instead, they are everyday civilians, victims of the violence that has
become a fact of life in a city that wakes and sleeps to the cadence of
gunfire and unrelenting crime. The coalition forces and the new Iraqi police
have been unable to stop the torrent of mayhem springing from robberies,
carjackings and just plain anger.

Many killings, according to police and pathologists, are rooted in revenge.
Saddam Hussein's ousted regime murdered tens of thousands in its ongoing
terror campaign, but its omnipresent security force limited animosities
among tribes and clans.

With that shackle broken, the slights and anger that accumulated over the
years are being settled with a sort of frontier justice, especially against
Baath Party loyalists and other remnants of Hussein's regime.

The equation is further complicated by the thousands of criminals Hussein
released from prison in the months before the March invasion by U.S.-led
coalition forces. And by the tens of thousands of Kalashnikov rifles and
pistols that make every neighborhood an arsenal. Coalition troops
confiscated heavy weapons in July but allowed Iraqis to keep some light arms
for self-defense. These guns often lead to murder.

The rash of bloodshed provides a stark indication that Iraqi society is
careening out of control and that Hussein's aftermath carries its own
incomprehensible brutality.

Bodies are fished out of the muddy-green Tigris. They are pulled from
alleys, gathered from rooftops and lifted from garbage piles. Some are left
on the roadside, like that of Bashar Khammas Mohammed, a 26-year-old taxi
driver who was strangled with his own headdress. They are then brought to
the morgue, where a meticulous man wearing rubber gloves ties strings around
their wrists and assigns each of them a number.

"We are a people not yet suitable for democracy," said Sattar Mohammed, who
waited the other day with an open coffin to pick up his slain neighbor. "We
need to be strictly handled. We need a tight fist over us. We lived like
that for 30 years under Saddam Hussein, but now people are free, and they're
acting on their will. It is dangerous."

That grim assessment is echoed often.

"I've been working in this morgue for 29 years," said pathologist Abdul
Razzaq Ubaidi. Each of his pale blue folders holds a sheet of paper
describing a body. "It used to be accidents and natural deaths. Now there
are too many weapons in society. We used to dissect six or seven bodies a
day, but now we do 25 to 35 a day, and 80% of them are bullet injuries. We
have more freedom, but with the absence of security there is more freedom
for murder."

A state of lawlessness has resulted as Iraqi society veers between the end
of tyranny and unfulfilled promises of stability from an embryonic
U.S.-backed government struggling to bring a new form of administration to
the country. The police force is understaffed at 38,000 officers nationwide,
although it is expected to grow to 65,000. Baghdad has more than 5,000
officers, down from 17,000 before the war.


Silver-rimmed glasses riding low on his nose, Dr. Faik Amin Bakr, director
of the Baghdad Forensics Institute, sat at his desk staring at the
statistics. They were daunting. In July 2002, he said, suspicious deaths in
Baghdad were already high at 237 ‹ a figure not taking into account those
who disappeared at the hands of Hussein's security forces. A year later,
with U.S. troops on the ground, the figure had more than tripled to 751.

"When you see people killed every day, you imagine the insecure situation in
the country," Bakr said. "It is difficult to blame somebody," he added
later. "Something should be done by the coalition forces.... It is their job
and duty."

The morgue itself was a victim of crime during the war. Looters stole steel
gurneys and electric autopsy saws. Some of the doctors today ‹ who earn $180
a month ‹ must now cut by hand. Like the rest of Baghdad, the morgue faces
sporadic shortages of electricity, water and gas. There is also a lack of
needles, sutures and other supplies. Bodies appear constantly, as if from a
tide. They are photographed, and some ‹ including 21 last Friday ‹ go to the
grave in anonymity. "Something should be done," Bakr said.


Straits Times, nd

LOS ANGELES -- Most of Baghdad's citizens were happy to see Saddam Hussein
ousted but have mixed feelings about life after his iron rule and are even
more ambivalent about the world leaders who removed him, according to a
Gallup opinion.

Almost two-thirds say Saddam's ouster was worth the hardships of electricity
and water shortages they have endured since the United States-led invasion.

Yet only 29 per cent of Baghdadis look favourably on US President George W.
Bush, and fewer still (20 per cent) view British Premier Tony Blair

France, on the other hand, which strongly opposed the war in Iraq, is held
in high esteem and 42 per cent view President Jacques Chirac favourably.

Some 1,178 in-home interviews were conducted in Baghdad from Aug 28 to Sept
4 for the poll which was released on Wednesday.

Also this week, a separate poll conducted by CNN, USA Today and Gallup
showed only 48 per cent of Americans now believed going to war in Iraq was
worthwhile, and that Mr Bush's approval rating had slipped to a low of 50
per cent.

In April, 76 per cent of Americans backed the war.

Those interviewed in Baghdad were mostly optimistic about the future.

Although nearly half believe Iraq is now worse off than before the war, 67
per cent believe their country would be in better condition in five years'
time than it was before the war. -- Reuters

by Michael Jansen
Jordan Times, 25th September
DURING HIS address to the UN General Assembly, US President George Bush made
no mention of the many mistakes made by his administration since it took the
wrong-headed decision to wage war on Iraq. Instead of standing humbly before
the world body and admitting his administration's failings, Bush kept his
head high and demanded the assistance of countries who opposed not only his
decision to go to war but also the policies adopted by his occupation

Unless Bush admits that major mistakes were made and corrects his errors
there is no hope for Iraq.

The decision to go to war, the ultimate cause of Iraq's current
difficulties, was totally wrong because the US did not have the military
manpower to commit to the Iraqi theatre for both war and occupation, the
ineluctable outcome of the military campaign.

US official figures reveal the US military situation at the time Bush
decided to launch his military campaign, and today.

The US has a total of 1.4 million men and women under arms, including those
in the National Guard and reserves. Of this number, only 480,000 are
full-time professionals on active duty. According to Global Security, an
authoritative defence research institution, 128,568 soldiers from the
Reserves and National Guard are also serving at present. This means that the
total current pool of military manpower is 608,568.

Global Security says that 243,000 US soldiers, sailors, Marines and Coast
Guards are deployed in combat, peace-keeping and deterrence operations.

There are also 121,000 US military personnel permanently based in Germany,
Italy, Britain and Japan, boosting the number of deployed troops to 364,000,
61 per cent of the total. This leaves 244,568 troops at home and available
for rotation. The fact that one-quarter of this figure consists of
reservists makes it clear that US forces are severely stretched.

The figures reveal that US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's doctrine of
"lite" deployment was born of necessity not of choice. Rumsfeld was correct
in assuming that his "lite" deployment of US forces, bolstered by some
20,000 British combat troops on the ground in Iraq, could defeat the Iraqi
army, its weapons seriously depleted by two wars over the past 20 years and
a dozen years of sanctions. But Rumsfeld was totally wrong when he assumed
that only 30,000 US troops would have to remain in Iraq after September. The
number of troops currently in Iraq and the Gulf is estimated at 180,000, six
times Rumsfeld's projection.

The troop commitment to Iraq alone is said to be between a high of 150,000
and a low of 132,000, of whom 20,000 are reserves.

Before the war, Rumsfeld refused to listen to the advice of Army Chief Eric
Shinseki who said that "several hundred thousand" troops would be needed to
stabilise the country after a war. Shinseki called for a deployment of
300,000-500,000 troops, the latter figure being in line with the ratio of
troops to the populace used when dispatching peace-keeping forces to Kosovo
and the former Yugoslavia.

For the US to reach the levels recommended by Shinseki, who was forced into
early retirement by Rumsfeld, it would have had to double or treble its
commitment of troops. Since the pool of available manpower was ‹ and is ‹
only 244,568 troops, this was, and is, clearly impossible. Without issuing a
mass call-up of reservists or recruiting and training thousands of new
troops, Rumsfeld simply did not ‹ and still does not ‹ have the soldiers
required to do the job.

To make matters worse, the Congressional Budget Office reported that after
March 2004 the US could maintain only a force of 38,000-64,000 in Iraq on an
indefinite basis. On the one hand, US troops now serving in Iraq have been
told they will be going home in April, the majority after a year's

An extension would be met with a sharp decline in morale and, perhaps even,
disaffection. Soldiers' families are becoming increasingly vociferous,
dimming Bush's prospects in the 2004 presidential race. On the other hand,
the administration is spending nearly $4 billion a month on troops in Iraq,
rather than the $1.2 billion a month Congress budgeted for this purpose.
While the funding problem has been overcome by Bush's $87 billion
appropriations bill for Afghanistan (where the US has 10,000 troops) and
Iraq ‹ of which $66 billion goes to the military rather than reconstruction
‹the shortage of manpower has not, so far, been seriously addressed, except
by Bush when he appealed to the UN for troops from other countries to help
stabilise the situation in Iraq.

However, the Bush administration seeks to raise fresh foreign troops to
replace, rather than bolster, its own soldiers. This means that Rumsfeld and
his civilian buddies in the Pentagon fully intend to maintain at the current
level the troop commitment to the Iraqi theatre of low level conflict and
chaos. If this is the case, Baghdad has little chance of imposing law and
order on criminal elements and resistance fighters who are destabilising the

Having allowed Rumsfeld to make the fundamental miscalculation of waging war
with "lite" forces, the Bush administration has compounded its errors by
leaving the conduct of the occupation in Rumsfeld's hands. This is a recipe
for disaster.

The decisions taken by Rumsfeld and his team, including Iraq's chief
administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, in the following four areas show why this
is so.

On the military plane, the occupation began with anarchy and the wholesale
pillage and destruction of Iraq's ministries and civilian, military and oil
sector infrastructure. US troops, too few to take on the looters, stood by
and watched them strip essential facilities. US forces still cannot secure
key institutions, protect electricity installations or halt the smuggling of
oil or the sabotage of export pipelines. Iraqi army depots and arsenals
remain insecured, allowing militants to use small arms and 500-kilogramme
bombs to mount attacks on US troops, the UN and other important targets.
While more than 70 US troops have been killed by hostile action since May 1,
when Bush declared the war to be over, a stunning 6,000 have been sent back
to the States with serious physical wounds and mental trauma.

On the security plane, the decision to disband the Iraqi police, army and
intelligence services has left ignorant US commanders and frightened US
soldiers in charge of security. According to morgue records, at least 50
Iraqis are murdered every day in the capital and countless others are
robbed, raped or kidnapped.

Crude raids on private homes and shootings of Iraqi civilians by
trigger-happy US soldiers have boosted Iraqi casualties to 7,798 fatalities
and 20,000 wounded, 8,000 in Baghdad alone.

On the political plane, the most dangerous error was to appoint Iraq's
interim Governing Council on the basis of the sectarian background of its
members. Iraq's ministers were selected according to this criterion and
members of Iraq's new army and police force are being chosen on the ratio
laid down in the council, of 13 Shiites to every 5 Sunnis and Kurds, and
every Christian and Turkoman. A poll published in Al Zaman, Baghdad's most
influential daily, shows that 98 per cent of Iraqis strongly oppose the
communalisation of government and state structures.

Finally, on the economic plane, privatising Iraq's public utilities and
industries and granting foreign investors the right to 100 per cent
ownership of firms established in Iraq is seen by the Iraqi business
community as a sell-off of the country's assets and a threat to local
companies which cannot compete with multinationals seeking to exploit the

At stake in Iraq is the future of the entire region. The collapse of Iraq
into warring sectarian statelets could not only destabilise the country's
neighbours but also lead to the rise of militant Islamist and nationalist
groups with a regional agenda which includes the removal of rulers and
governments friendly to the US and the West. If Bush and Rumsfeld remain in
charge, Iraq will not become a democratic light unto the Arab world but a
core of anarchy spreading chaos throughout the region.


by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post, 25th September

BAGHDAD -- When grease-stained technicians at the Baghdad South power plant
needed spare parts recently, they first submitted a written request to
Bechtel Corp., the engineering firm given more than $1 billion in U.S.
government contracts to fix Iraq's decrepit infrastructure

Then they went to the junkyard.

They scoured piles of industrial detritus for abandoned items that could be
jury-rigged into the geriatric plant, such as the hydraulic pump from a
bulldozer that was used to restart a broken water condenser.

"Of course we'd like new parts," sighed Ahmed Ali Shihab, the senior
operations engineer. But he said repeated appeals to Bechtel and the U.S.
military had not yielded any significant new equipment. "All we have
received from them are promises," he said.

Although U.S. officials said the requests for new parts were beyond the
scope of Bechtel's contract, the failure to get much-needed equipment to
Baghdad South more than five months after the first reconstruction teams
arrived here illustrates the dearth of planning, funding and coordination
that has fettered the overall American effort to rehabilitate Iraq.

With new parts, Shihab said, Baghdad South could increase its output by 90
megawatts -- enough to light about 90,000 more homes in the capital, where a
severe electricity shortage is causing blackouts every few hours and
generating widespread frustration with the U.S. occupation. Instead, the
plant limps along, its 1960s-era turbines eking out less than half as much
power as they should because of extensive steam and fuel leaks.

The problems at Baghdad South helped to convince the Bush administration
this summer that its initial strategy to repair the electric system -- which
called for Bechtel to spend $230 million on emergency repairs and
international donors to fund the construction of new plants -- was not
working. Donors were offering only minimal financial support. Looting and
sabotage were rampant. The country's power plants were in need of far more
than $230 million in stopgap work.   With electricity production still below
prewar levels -- it is enough to meet only little more than half the
national demand -- the administration has shifted gears and asked Congress
to devote $5.7 billion to a comprehensive effort to resuscitate Iraq's power

"Restoring Iraq's electricity is vital to our mission here," said L. Paul
Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator of Iraq.

"It's hard to exaggerate the impact of three decades of crippling
under-investment by Saddam Hussein in Iraq's infrastructure," Bremer said in
a recent interview. "He spent his nation's money building palaces and
weapons and his army, not funding the things people need to survive."

But several American and Iraqi specialists contend the U.S. occupation
authority has been slow to address the problem. Immediately after Hussein's
government fell, they maintain, more money and attention should have been
focused on buying spare parts and trucking in large, gas-powered generating
units that can each power as many as 40,000 homes. Doing so, they insist,
would have reduced the frequency of blackouts and the anger that
crystallized toward the occupation.

"If they had recognized the problem sooner and devoted more resources to it,
the problem wouldn't be as bad as it is now," said an American electrical
engineer who works with the occupation authority and spoke on condition of
anonymity. "Iraqis would have seen a real improvement in their lives."
Instead, he said, "we still have problems like Baghdad South."

Built along the meandering Tigris River in 1959, Baghdad South has been a
metaphor for Iraq's prosperity and poverty.

Its four German-made, steam-powered generating units initially provided more
than enough electricity to meet the capital's needs. As demand increased,
Iraq turned in 1965 to the United States, acquiring two additional units
from General Electric Co. The plant's six towering smokestacks were symbols
of the country's oil wealth.

"Back then, we were the most advanced power plant in the Arab world," said
Bashir Khallaf, the director of Baghdad South.

In 1983, before Hussein's war with neighboring Iran had drained the national
coffers, the four German generating units were replaced with ones from G.E.,
handing more business to the United States, which was supporting Iraq in the
war. At the time, Khallaf said, the plant never had to operate at its
350-megawatt capacity. The country's electricity supply was almost double
its demand.

All that changed in 1991. The plant sputtered to a halt after being hit by
six U.S. bombs during the Persian Gulf War. American bombing during the war
damaged about 75 percent of the country's power-generating capacity,
according to U.N. assessments.   But Khallaf and other workers brought
Baghdad South back to life four months later using plentiful spare parts in
its warehouse.

After the war, U.N. economic sanctions prevented Iraq from ordering new
parts from G.E. As equipment broke, it either was not fixed or was replaced
with makeshift devices. With power in increasingly short supply, government
officials prevented the plant from shutting down for annual maintenance. The
once-modern facility gradually became a collection of leaky pipes, broken
gauges and ramshackle devices.

In 1996, Iraq struck a deal with the United Nations whereby it could sell
its oil and use the revenues for the purchase of humanitarian supplies,
including equipment for power plants. But the sanctions effectively
prohibited the import of parts that had potential military applications,
such as chlorine to purify water going into steam turbine units, further
degrading the electricity system.

By this January, Baghdad South was barely able to produce 185 megawatts. "We
were like an old man losing his energy," Khallaf said.

U.S. officials insist that in the months before the Iraq war, the signs of
trouble were impossible to see. "This was a closed-off, Stalinist society,"
one U.S. official here said. "We knew there were repairs that were needed,
but we had no idea just how bad things were."

But some Iraqi and American specialists contend the warnings were apparent.
The U.N. Development Program -- which oversaw the importation of electrical
parts under the oil-for food program -- produced extensive reports detailing
problems in the power sector. One public U.N. document issued last year
noted that Iraq's generating units were "technically and economically
obsolete," resulting in a 2,500-megawatt nationwide power shortage and
lengthy blackouts.

Estimates from Iraqi exiles participating in a State Department planning
program for a post Hussein government suggested that power-sector repairs
would cost as much as $18 billion. Yet the Bush administration's initial
reconstruction plan called for devoting just $230 million of a $680 million
Bechtel contract to electricity system repairs. "The telltale signs were
there," said the American electrical engineer. "But either because of sheer
carelessness or because the [U.S.] government didn't want to reveal how
expensive it would be, there was massive under-planning."

Then came the American invasion.

For the first two weeks of the war, the plant chugged along as normal. But
at 8 p.m. on April 3, after particularly intense bombing on Baghdad's
outskirts and as columns of U.S. tanks were nearing the airport, the
high-voltage lines that are supposed to carry electricity from the plant
instead delivered a massive surge, forcing an automatic shutdown, Khallaf

 The same thing happened to every other plant in central Iraq, plunging the
capital into darkness and panic.  For weeks, nobody -- not U.S. military
engineers, not Iraq technicians -- had any idea what happened. Did Hussein
order the lights out? Did the Americans bomb a power station?

U.S. and Iraqi engineers now believe what happened was that during the
fighting around the airport, a loop of high-voltage lines encircling Baghdad
was accidentally severed, causing the power grid to become imbalanced and
sending surges to every plant on the network.


by Sami Ramadani
The Guardian, 27th September

It was my first and brutally abrupt realisation that Baghdad, the city of my
childhood, is now occupied territory. It was also my first encounter with a
potent symbol of Iraqi hostility to the occupation forces. Sitting in the
front seat of the taxi that brought us from Amman, I suddenly realised that
a heavy machine gun was pointing at us from only a few metres away. It was
an American soldier aboard an armoured vehicle in front of us, stuck in a
traffic jam on the outskirts of Baghdad. He gestured disapprovingly towards
our driver for approaching with some speed, then looked to his left and
angrily stuck out a middle finger. I followed his gaze and there was a child
of no more than eight or nine sitting in a chair in front of the open gates
leading to the garden of his house. He was shouting angrily, with a clenched
fist of defiance, cutting the air with swift and furious right hooks.

Two weeks later, and after talking to scores of people and touring much of
Baghdad, it dawned on me that that child's rebellious, free spirit was a
moving and powerful symbol of how most people in Baghdad felt towards the
occupation forces. It is precisely this indomitable spirit which survived
the decades of Saddam's brutal regime, the numerous wars and the murderous
13 years of sanctions. And it is precisely this spirit that Bush and Blair
did not take on board when they decided to invade and occupy Iraq. They
chose instead to listen to the echo of their own voices bouncing back at
them from some of the Iraqi opposition groups, nurtured, financed and
trained by the Pentagon and the CIA. Some of these Iraqi voices are now
members of the US-appointed Iraqi governing council.

A recent report in the Washington Post backs up the rumours I heard in
Baghdad that the Iraqi resistance to occupation is so strong that the
authorities are now actively recruiting some of the brutal officers of the
security and armed forces that Saddam himself used to suppress the people.
If true, the US administration, in the name of fighting the so-called
remnants of Saddam's regime, is now busy trying to rebuild the shattered
edifice of Saddam's tyrannical state - a tyranny which they had backed and
armed with WMD for many years. One of the popular sayings I repeatedly heard
in Baghdad, describing the relations between the US and Saddam's regime, is
"Rah el sani', ija el ussta" - "gone is the apprentice, in comes the

The governing council is not so much hated as ridiculed, and attacked for
having its members chosen along sectarian lines. Most of the people I talked
to think that it is a powerless body: it has no army, no police, and no
national budget, but boasts nine rotating presidents. One of the jokes
circulating in Baghdad was that no sooner had you brought down Saddam's
picture than you were being asked to pin up nine new ones.

Support for the council is largely confined to some activists of the
organisations that belong to it. Indeed, it could be argued that most
supporters of the more credible organisations belonging to the council are
opposed to membership of the US-appointed body. The leaders of the Supreme
Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), for example, are finding
it increasingly hard to convince these supporters that cooperation with the
invaders is still a possible route to independence and democracy. The same
goes for another smaller but equally credible party, the Islamic Da'wa,
which experienced a split and serious haemorrhaging of membership following
its decision to join the council.

The now small organisation that enjoyed majority support in Iraq in the late
50s, the Iraqi Communist party (ICP), was opposed to the invasion and the
council, but decided to join it at the eleventh hour. Most of its supporters
opposed the move. One, a poor truck driver, described it as being even worse
than the 1972 ICP leadership decision to join Saddam's government. That
policy collapsed in a pool of blood when Saddam turned on the party's
members, killing, jailing and forcing into exile thousands of them. The
truck driver described the council as "the devil's lump of iron": a saying
which refers to the superstitious practice of keeping a small piece of metal
in the house to ward off the devil.

The gulf between popular sentiment and membership of the council was clear
after the murder of the leader of Sciri, Ayatolla Mohammed Baqir Al Hakim.
The slogans chanted by the hundreds of thousands who marched in the
three-day funeral processions in Baghdad and Najaf - "Death to America,
Death to Saddam" and "There is no god but Allah; America is the enemy of
Allah; Saddam is the enemy of Allah" - were very much in tune with what I
witnessed in Baghdad. They revealed the strength of anti-US feeling in
Baghdad and the south.

The one area where America has had relative success is Iraqi Kurdistan. The
political situation in this region is complex. Most Kurds believed that the
no-fly zone during Saddam's reign protected them from his chemical weapons,
and it is evident that the sanctions did not hurt Kurdistan as much as it
did the rest of Iraq. In the lead-up to the war, most Kurds accepted the
tactical notion of being protected against Saddam and the hated Turkish
forces. But despite this, it is likely that American plans in Kurdistan will
face popular opposition once the realities of US interests and the regional
contradictions reassert themselves. Meanwhile, the historic political unity
between Arabs and Kurds in Iraq is unlikely to be broken.

What of the armed resistance? And why is it much more evident in some parts
of Iraq than others? There is no doubt that armed resistance directed
against the US forces enjoys wide popular support and is mostly carried out
by politically diverse, locally based organisations. However, I also met
many in Baghdad who, though supportive of the "patriots" who resist the
"invaders", believe that such actions are "premature". One should, they
argue, first exhaust all peaceful means, mobilising the people in mass
organisations before confronting the occupation forces in armed struggle.
Popular sentiment can be gleaned from the conspiracy theories circulating in
Baghdad. People routinely blame the US or Israel or Kuwait for attacks on
civilian rather than military targets.

But you do not need to be a conspiracy theorist to suspect that the main
reason for the high intensity of armed conflict in areas of central Iraq and
Mosul is that the US itself decided to make these areas the arena for a
showdown that they thought they could win more easily, thereby establishing
a bridgehead from which they could subdue Baghdad and the south. They
provoked conflict by killing civilians in cold blood in Falluja, Mosul,
Ramadi and elsewhere long before any armed resistance in those areas.

The occupying forces quickly discovered that the slightest provocation in
the labyrinthine working-class districts of Baghdad, and most cities of the
south, was being met by massive shows of popular strength on the streets.
The US military command are surely aware that Iraqis in these areas are
heavily armed, well-trained and better organised.

The US authority's nonsense about a "Sunni triangle" and "Shi'ite Baghdad
and south" is a smokescreen which has so far failed to divide the Iraqi
people or drive them into internecine conflict. The only people who now
believe that the US will back a democratic path in Iraq are the few who have
still not fully grasped America's role in Iraq's modern history, the
strategic significance of Iraq, or the nature of US foreign policy today.

Leaving the city on the road back to Amman, when our car passed by the house
of that precocious child, I realised why my love for Baghdad remained
undiminished despite 34 years in exile.

Sami Ramadani was a political refugee from Saddam's regime and is a senior
lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University

The Star (Malaysia). 27th September

NEW YORK: Bringing democracy to Iraq does not mean all its problems will be
resolved, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad said. 

The Prime Minister said Iraq was a diverse country with various ethnic
groups like the Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds and they were not going to accept
a government ruled by others, even if they became democratic. 

"We've seen countries adopting democracy overnight. The result is that they
do not have a proper government to administer the country well.  

"All they care about is whose turn it is to run the government," he told a
press conference for foreign journalists after addressing the 58th Session
of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday. 

People accuse me of being an authoritarian ruler but the fact is, I'm
elected by the people and I'm the only dictator about to resign," he said,
drawing laughter from his audience.  

He said that under Saddam Hussein, whom nobody liked, there was stability
and a strong government. 

"It was a vicious government, if you like, but at least people knew that
unless they did something against the government they could have reasonable

"But when you have a weak government that is unable to enforce laws, then
obviously there will be instability like what you see in some very well
developed democratic countries. 

Asked whether Malaysia would send troops to Iraq, Dr Mahathir replied: "No.
Unless it is fully under the UN, we are not participating." 

The Prime Minister also said Muslim nations could become strong once again
if they set aside their differences and were united. 

"Muslim nations have the strength, not military. But lack of unity has
paralysed them. Muslims are weak, there is no doubt about that. They are
divided by their beliefs and interpretations of Islam and their political
convictions. They are not united on anything," he said. 

On the Organisation of Islamic Countries, of which Malaysia assumes the
chair at the end of October, Dr Mahathir said that if it was united, it
could exert a very great influence on the situation faced by Muslims and the
situation in Iraq. 

On his calls for reform in the United Nations, the Prime Minister said the
UN was not functioning in a democratic environment and while the world may
want to see it reform, the veto carrying powers would not allow this to

Asked of his previous comments that the secretary-general had not done
enough to prevent the war in Iraq and should have resigned, Dr Mahathir
said: "The Iraqis were displeased as they felt that sanctions against them
were sanctioned by the UN. On the other hand, the UN was ignored when the
decision was made to invade Iraq.

"So you cannot blame the UN when you realise that it is not capable of
taking positive action. Now I can't blame the UN as I had before," he said. 


by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Anthony Shadid
MSNBC, 29th September


Although a rift between Sunnis and Shiites is relentlessly discouraged by
leaders of both communities, tensions have escalated in recent weeks,
raising new prospects of strife. Small bombs have been planted at a handful
of mosques in Baghdad. In Khaldiya, a Sunni dominated town west of Baghdad,
unknown assailants ransacked the green-domed shrine of a Shiite saint and
set off an explosive last month that damaged his brick tomb. In Basra,
Iraq's second-largest city, some residents suspect that recent killings of
former Baath Party members are inspired by religious zeal, and leaders of
Shiite religious parties openly argue that vengeance is warranted against
officials of a government that subjugated Shiites, particularly in its last
decade of rule.


Iraq's principal ethnic and religious groups have unsettled many Iraqis, who
generally oppose the idea of their country breaking apart. They contend U.S.
and British occupation forces have played down or ignored many warning signs
of a larger conflict that have bubbled forth in the tumult of postwar Iraq.

Many of the confrontations have taken place not in large cities where U.S.
reconstruction specialists have their offices, but in tiny villages such as
Haifa where there are no soldiers or prominent Iraqi leaders to defuse
tensions. "I am sure," Jubbouri said, "the Americans have no idea what is
happening here."


The problem in Haifa is all about land.

Hassan Abid, a farmer with a weathered face and gray-streaked hair, said he
moved to Haifa in 1974 along with dozens of other Shiite Arabs fleeing a
drought in Diwaniyah, their ancestral home in southern Iraq.

"It was a wonderful new home," he said as walked through Haifa, a village of
mud-brick homes and dirt streets 20 miles northwest of Kirkuk, a city in
northeastern Iraq known for its oil fields.

To Kurds, however, the steppe around Kirkuk is Kurdish territory. Tens of
thousands of Kurds had lived in the area until Hussein's government, in a
campaign against a group he deemed subversive, pushed many of them out and
resettled the area with Arabs.

But Abid contends Haifa was open land until the Arabs arrived. "There was
nobody here before us," he said. "We did not displace the Kurds."

He noted that the Arabs of Haifa arrived in 1974, before Hussein's forced
relocations began. And, he said, the villagers are Shiites, while those
moved under the Hussein government were typically Sunnis.

"There should be no dispute here," he said.


Kurdish militiamen swooped into the town of Tuz Khurmatu on April 9, the day
before Kirkuk fell. Their mission, according to Kurdish leaders, was to
protect the town from looters and Hussein's loyalists.

The militiamen, known as pesh merga, seized government buildings and
deployed along the town's main streets. "We came to care for Tuz," said
Karim Shukor, the local director of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of
Iraq's two largest Kurdish political parties.

Tuz Khurmatu, built in the shadow of rolling brown hills about 110 miles
north of Baghdad, is a nondescript way station of stucco buildings on the
road connecting the capital to Kirkuk.

Kurds contend that it used to be an entirely Kurdish area. Ethnic Turkmens,
who migrated south from present-day Turkey hundreds of years ago, insist the
village was exclusively Turkmen until 1975.

The Turkmens in Tuz Khurmatu viewed the arrival of the Kurdish militia as a
power grab. The jobs of mayor and police chief, formerly held by
Hussein-appointed Arabs, were claimed by Kurds. So were other powerful
government posts. "They came with arms and took everything," complained Ali
Hashem Mukhtar, the local director of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, a coalition
of Turkmen political parties.

The dispute in Tuz Khurmatu is about political power, not land. Both Kurds
and Turkmens believe they are in the majority in this area of about 70,000
people. Shukor contended that records from Hussein's Baath Party, which
repressed both groups, lists Kurds at 52 percent of the population and
Turkmens at 32 percent. Mukhtar insisted those figures include outlying
villages. Within the town, he said, Turkmens are in the majority.

Turkmens argue that Kurds are trying to expand the area under their control
so towns such as Tuz Khurmatu will be deemed part of a future Kurdish state
in a federal Iraq. Kurds, in turn, claim that the Turkmens are agitating at
the behest of neighboring Turkey, which opposes Kurdish aspirations for
autonomy in the north.

Although U.S. forces in the area attempted to quell the tension by creating
a town council with equal numbers of Kurds and Turkmens, the powerful posts
of mayor and police chief were given to Kurds, leading Turkmens to complain
that the Americans were favoring the Kurds in return for their help during
the war.

As spring turned into summer, the animosity on both sides escalated.
Finally, in late August, the town erupted.

The spark was the destruction of green-domed Shiite shrine on the
khaki-colored hills east of town. The shrine, which had been destroyed
during the Hussein era and recently rebuilt, is venerated by the town's
predominantly Shiite Turkmen population. In the early hours of Aug. 22, the
shrine was blown to rubble with explosives.

Turkmens blame the Kurds. The Kurds deny responsibility for the attack. The
precise reasons for the blast are not known but Kurds, who are Sunnis,
insist the conflict with the Turkmens is about politics, and not religion.


The trouble began in the hamlet of Hamdan on Sept. 14, just as southern
Iraq's summer heat was wilting. Along dusty roads, lined with adobe huts and
the palm groves for which the region is famous, hundreds of Sunni mourners
arrived, armed and angry, according to Shiite residents. Hamdan is a village
about a half-hour's drive south of Basra, where the Shatt al Arab river
flows into the Persian Gulf. It is the only city in Iraq's Shiite south
where Sunnis make up a substantial minority.

The Sunnis were marching in a procession to bury five men who they believed
were killed a week earlier by members of the Dawa party, a Shiite Muslim

In a 15-minute rampage at the local Dawa headquarters, the Sunni mourners
ransacked the building, a former schoolhouse. They shot up the cream-colored
stucco walls and tossed a grenade inside. They tore down pictures at the
entrance of Shiite clergymen, stomped on them, then carted them away. Fires
were lit in the mostly vacant rooms and, residents recalled, shots were
fired randomly at the concrete and mud-brick houses that line Hamdan's
parched groves and farms.


A 10-minute drive away, in the neighboring village of Abu al Khasib, Asad
Shihab sat in his mud house, its roof built with trunks of palm trees and
dried fronds. Green water collected in a metal bin. A rusted door leaned at
the entrance.

"If you say we are taking money, look at my roof, look at my water tank," he
said. "What's your impression?"

It was the death of Shihab's relatives that prompted the funeral march and
rampage in Hamdan. He blamed Sayyid Salman Sayyid Talib, the local
representative of the Dawa party, one of Basra's largest Shiite political
groups. The Dawa party acknowledges that Talib is a member, but denies it
ordered him to take any action. Talib is now in hiding.

On Sept. 7, Shihab said, Talib captured Shihab's uncle and two brothers in a
nearby village after evening prayers. Then, escorted by 30 armed men, Talib
headed down a dirt path, past okra plants and a pile of harvested dates, to
arrive at Shihab's house, shrouded in dark by a blackout. Two white pickups
were parked outside. Talib's men blocked escape routes.

"They claimed that there were armed Wahhabis in the house," Shihab said.

Shihab hid. But his father and 12-year-old brother were taken away. Two days
later, police found two brothers in a busy street in Basra with gunshot
wounds to the head, Shihab said. His father and the two others were tortured
and killed by throwing acid on them, he said, their bodies dumped in a
cesspool of engine oil and stagnant water near a fertilizer plant. He pulled
pictures out of a black plastic bag, showing the bloated corpses in a row
before the police station. Some had blindfolds; others had their legs bound.

"Those people are trying to ignite sectarian fitna between the people," he
said, wearing the long beard of religious devotion and a face grim with
smoldering anger. "These are not good tidings. This will bring trouble."


The British who occupy Basra insist religious differences are under control.
The deaths and the protest that followed probably had "something to do with
a tribal dispute," said Maj. Charlie Mayo, a military spokesman.

As for sectarian strife, "I'd say the lid is on it at the moment," he said.


New York Times, 28th September

LEMIYA, Iraq, Sept. 27 ‹ Iqbal Muhammad does not recall her first glimpse of
her future husband, because they were both newborns at the time, but she
remembers precisely when she knew he was the one. It was the afternoon her
uncle walked over from his house next door and proposed that she marry his
son Muhammad.

"I was a little surprised, but I knew right away it was a wise choice," she
said, recalling that afternoon nine years ago, when she and Muhammad were
22. "It is safer to marry a cousin than a stranger."

Her reaction was typical in a country where nearly half of marriages are
between first or second cousins, a statistic that is one of the more
important and least understood differences between Iraq and America. The
extraordinarily strong family bonds complicate virtually everything
Americans are trying to do here, from finding Saddam Hussein to changing
women's status to creating a liberal democracy.

"Americans just don't understand what a different world Iraq is because of
these highly unusual cousin marriages," said Robin Fox of Rutgers
University, the author of "Kinship and Marriage," a widely used anthropology
textbook. "Liberal democracy is based on the Western idea of autonomous
individuals committed to a public good, but that's not how members of these
tight and bounded kin groups see the world. Their world is divided into two
groups: kin and strangers."

Iraqis frequently describe nepotism not as a civic problem but as a moral
duty. The notion that Iraq's next leader would put public service ahead of
family obligations drew a smile from Iqbal's uncle and father-in-law, Sheik
Yousif Sayel, the patriarch in charge of the clan's farm on the Tigris River
south of Baghdad.

"In this country, whoever is in power will bring his relatives in from the
village and give them important positions," Sheik Yousif said, sitting in
the garden surrounded by some of his 21 children and 83 grandchildren. "That
is what Saddam did, and now those relatives are fulfilling their obligation
to protect him from the Americans."

Saddam Hussein married a first cousin who grew up in the same house as he
did, and he ordered most of his children to marry their cousins. Sheik
Yousif said he never forced any of his children to marry anyone, but more
than half of the ones to marry have wed cousins. The patriarch was often the
one who first suggested the match, as he did with his son Muhammad nine
years ago.

"My father said that I was old enough to get married, and I agreed,"
Muhammad recalled. "He and my mother recommended Iqbal. I respected their
wishes. It was my desire, too. We knew each other. It was much simpler to
marry within the family."

A month later, after the wedding, Iqbal moved next door to the home of Sheik
Yousif. Moving in with the in-laws might be an American bride's nightmare,
but Iqbal said her toughest adjustment occurred five years later, when Sheik
Yousif decided that she and Muhammad were ready to live by themselves in a
new home he provided just behind his own.

"I felt a little lonely at first when we moved into the house by ourselves,"
Iqbal said. Muhammad said he, too, felt lonely in the new house, and he
expressed pity for American parents and children living thousands of miles
from each other.

Sheik Yousif, who is 82, said he could not imagine how the elderly in
America coped in their homes alone. "I could not bear to go a week without
seeing my children," he said. Some of his daughters have married outsiders
and moved into other patriarchal clans, but the rest of the children are
never far away.

Muhammad and three other sons live on the farm with him, helping to
supervise the harvesting of barley, wheat and oranges, and the dates from
the palm trees on their land. The other six sons have moved 15 miles away to
Baghdad, but they come back often for meals and in hard times. During the
war in the spring, almost the whole clan took refuge at the farm.

Next to the family, the sons' social priority is the tribe, Sadah, which has
several thousand members in the area and is led by Sheik Yousif. He and his
children see their neighbors when praying at Sunni mosques, but none belong
to the kind of civic professional groups that are so common in America, the
pillars of civil society that observers since de Tocqueville have been
crediting for the promotion of democracy.

"I told my children not to participate in any outside groups or clubs,"
Sheik Yousif said. "We don't want distractions. We have a dynasty to
preserve." To make his point, he told his sons to unroll the family tree, a
scroll 70 feet long with lots of cousins intertwined in the branches.

Cousin marriage was once the norm throughout the world, but it became taboo
in Europe after a long campaign by the Roman Catholic Church. Theologians
like St. Augustine and St. Thomas argued that the practice promoted family
loyalties at the expense of universal love and social harmony. Eliminating
it was seen as a way to reduce clan warfare and promote loyalty to larger
social institutions ‹ like the church.

The practice became rare in the West, especially after evidence emerged of
genetic risks to offspring, but it has persisted in some places, notably the
Middle East, which is exceptional because of both the high prevalence and
the restrictive form it takes. In other societies, a woman typically weds a
cousin outside her social group, like a maternal cousin living in a clan led
by a different patriarch. But in Iraq the ideal is for the woman to remain
within the clan by marrying the son of her father's brother, as Iqbal did.

The families resulting from these marriages have made nation-building a
frustrating process in the Middle East, as King Faisal and T. E. Lawrence
both complained after efforts to unite Arab tribes.

"The tribes were convinced that they had made a free and Arab Government,
and that each of them was It," Lawrence wrote in "Seven Pillars of Wisdom"
in 1926. "They were independent and would enjoy themselves a conviction and
resolution which might have led to anarchy, if they had not made more
stringent the family tie, and the bonds of kin responsibility. But this
entailed a negation of central power."

That dichotomy remains today, said Ihsan M. al-Hassan, a sociologist at the
University of Baghdad. At the local level, the clan traditions provide more
support and stability than Western institutions, he said, noting that the
divorce rate among married cousins is only 2 percent in Iraq, versus 30
percent for other Iraqi couples. But the local ties create national

"The traditional Iraqis who marry their cousins are very suspicious of
outsiders," Dr. Hassan said. "In a modern state a citizen's allegiance is to
the state, but theirs is to their clan and their tribe. If one person in
your clan does something wrong, you favor him anyway, and you expect others
to treat their relatives the same way."

The more educated and urbanized Iraqis have become, Dr. Hassan said, the
more they are likely to marry outsiders and adopt Western values. But the
clan traditions have hardly disappeared in the cities, as is evident by the
just-married cousins who parade Thursday evenings into the Babylon Hotel in
Baghdad. Surveys in Baghdad and other Arab cities in the past two decades
have found that close to half of marriages are between first or second

The prevalence of cousin marriage did not get much attention before the war
from Republicans in the United States who expected a quick, orderly
transition to democracy in Iraq. But one writer who investigated the
practice warned fellow conservatives to stop expecting postwar Iraq to
resemble postwar Germany or Japan.

"The deep social structure of Iraq is the complete opposite of those two
true nation-states, with their highly patriotic, cooperative, and (not
surprisingly) outbred peoples," Steve Sailer wrote in The American
Conservative magazine in January. "The Iraqis, in contrast, more closely
resemble the Hatfields and the McCoys."

The skeptics have local history on their side, because Middle Eastern
countries have tended toward either internecine conflict or authoritarian
government dominated by kin, cronies and religious leaders. Elsewhere,
though, democracy has coexisted with strong kinship systems.

"Japan and India have managed to blend traditional social structures with
modern democracy, and Iraq could do the same," said Stanley Kurtz, an
anthropologist at the Hoover Institution. But it will take time and finesse,
he said, along with respect for traditions like women wearing the veil.

"A key purpose of veiling is to prevent outsiders from competing with a
woman's cousins for marriage," Dr. Kurtz said. "Attack veiling, and you are
attacking the core of the Middle Eastern social system."

Sheik Yousif and his sons said they put no faith in American promises of
democracy ‹ or any other promises, for that matter.

"Do you know why Saddam Hussein has not been captured?" asked Saleh, the
oldest son of Sheik Yousif. "Because his own family will never turn him in,
and no one else trusts the Americans to pay the reward." Saleh dismissed the
reports that Americans had given $30 million and safe passage out of Iraq to
the informant who turned in Mr. Hussein's sons.

"I assure you that never happened," Saleh said. "The American soldiers
brought out a camera and gave him the money in front of a witness, and then
they took him toward the Turkish border. Near the border they killed him and
buried him in a valley. They wanted the money for their own families."


Monday, September 29, 2003

Sheikhs and Tribes...

A few people pointed out an article to me titled "Iraqi Family Ties
Complicate American Efforts for Change", by John Tierney. You need to be
registered in New York Times to read it, but since registration is free, the
articles are sometimes worth the hassle. I could comment for days on the
article but I'll have to make it as brief as possible, and I'll also have to
make it in two parts. Today I'll blog about tribes and sheikhs and tomorrow
I'll blog about cousins and veils.

Iraqi family ties are complicating things for Americans- true. But not for
the reasons Tierney states. He simplifies the whole situation incredibly by
stating that because Iraqis tend to marry cousins, they'll be less likely to
turn each other in to American forces for all sorts of reasons that all lead
back to nepotism.

First and foremost, in Baghdad, Mosul, Basrah, Kirkuk and various other
large cities in Iraq, marrying cousins is out of style, and not very
popular, when you have other choices. Most people who get into college end
up marrying someone from college or someone they meet at work.

In other areas, cousins marry each other for the simple reason that many
smaller cities and provinces are dominated by 4 or 5 huge 'tribes' or
'clans'. So, naturally, everyone who isn't a parent, grandparent, brother,
sister, aunt or uncle is a 'cousin'. These tribes are led by one or more

When people hear the word 'tribe' or 'sheikh', they instantly imagine, I'm
sure, Bedouins on camels and scenes from Lawrence of Arabia. Many modern-day
Sheikhs in Iraq have college degrees. Many have lived abroad and own
property in London, Beirut and various other glamorous capitalsŠ they ride
around in Mercedes' and live in sprawling villas fully furnished with
Victorian furniture, Persian carpets, oil paintings, and air conditioners.
Some of them have British, German or American wives. A Sheikh is respected
highly both by his clan members and by the members of other clans or tribes.
He is usually considered the wisest or most influential member of the
family. He is often also the wealthiest.

Sheikhs also have many duties. The modern Sheikh acts as a sort of family
judge for the larger family disputes. He may have to give verdicts on
anything from a land dispute to a marital spat. His word isn't necessarily
law, but any family member who decides to go against it is considered on his
own, i.e. without the support and influence of the tribe. They are also
responsible for the well-being of many of the poorer members of the tribe
who come to them for help. We had relatively few orphans in orphanages in
Iraq because the tribe takes in children without parents and they are often
under the care of the sheikh's direct family. The sheikh's wife is sort of
the 'First Lady' of the family and has a lot of influence with family

Shortly after the occupation, Jay Garner began meeting with the prominent
members of Iraqi society- businessmen, religious leaders, academicians and
sheikhs. The sheikhs were important because each sheikh basically had
influence over hundreds, if not thousands, of 'family'. The prominent
sheikhs from all over Iraq were brought together in a huge conference of
sorts. They sat gathered, staring at the representative of the occupation
forces who, I think, was British and sat speaking in broken, awkward Arabic.
He told the sheikhs that Garner and friends really needed their help to
build a democratic Iraq. They were powerful, influential people- they could
contribute a lot to society.

A few of the sheikhs were bitter. One of the most prominent had lost 18
family members with one blow when the American forces dropped a cluster bomb
on his home, outside of Baghdad, and killed women, children, and
grandchildren all gathered together in fear. The only survivor of that
massacre was a two-year-old boy who had to have his foot amputated.

Another sheikh was the head of a family in Basrah who lost 8 people to a
missile that fell on their home, while they slept. The scenes of the house
were beyond horrid- a mess of broken furniture, crumbling walls and severed
arms and legs.

Almost every single sheikh had his own woeful story to tell. They were angry
and annoyed. And these weren't people who loved Saddam. Many of them hated
the former regime because in a fit of socialism, during the eighties, a law
was established that allowed thousands of acres of land to be confiscated
from wealthy landowners and sheikhs and divided out between poor farmers.
They resented the fact that land they had owned for several generations was
being given out to nobody farmers who would no longer be willing to harvest
their fields.

So they came to the meeting, wary but willing to listen. Many of them rose
to speak. They told the representative right away that the Americans and
British were occupiers- that was undeniable, but they were willing to help
if it would move the country forward. Their one stipulation was the
following: that they be given a timetable that gave a general idea of when
the occupation forces would pull out of Iraq.

They told the representative that they couldn't go back to their '3shayir',
or tribes, asking them to 'please cooperate with the Americans although they
killed your families, raided your homes, and detained your sons' without
some promise that, should security prevail, there would be prompt elections
and a withdrawal of occupation forces.

Some of them also wanted to contribute politically. They had influence,
power and connectionsŠ they wanted to be useful in some way. The
representative frowned, fumbled and told them that there was no way he was
going to promise a withdrawal of occupation forces. They would be in Iraq
'as long as they were needed'Š that might be two years, that might be five
years and it might be ten years. There were going to be no promisesŠ there
certainly was no 'timetable' and the sheikhs had no say in what was going
on- they could simply consent.

The whole group, in a storm of indignation and helplessness, rose to leave
the meeting. They left the representative looking frustrated and foolish,
frowning at the diminishing mass in front of him. When asked to comment on
how the meeting went, he smiled, waved a hand and replied, "No comment."
When one of the prominent sheikhs was asked how the meeting went, he angrily
said that it wasn't a conference- they had gathered up the sheikhs to 'give
them orders' without a willingness to listen to the other side of the story
or even to compromiseŠ the representative thought he was talking to his own
private army- not the pillars of tribal society in Iraq.

Apparently, the sheikhs were blacklisted because, of late, their houses are
being targeted. They are raided in the middle of the night with armored
cars, troops and helicopters. The sheikh and his immediate family members
are pushed to the ground with a booted foot and held there at gunpoint. The
house is searched and often looted and the sheikh and his sons are dragged
off with hands behind their backs and bags covering their heads. The whole
family is left outraged and incredulous: the most respected member of the
tribe is being imprisoned for no particular reason except that they may need
him for questioning. In many cases, the sheikh is returned a few days later
with an 'apology', only to be raided and detained once more!

I would think that publicly humiliating and detaining respected members of
society like sheikhs and religious leaders would contribute more to
throttling democracy than 'cousins marrying cousins'. Many of the attacks
against the occupying forces are acts of revenge for assaulted family
members, or people who were killed during raids, demonstrations or
checkpoints. But the author fails to mention that, of course.

He also fails to mention that because many of the provinces are in fact
governed by the sheikhs of large tribes, they are much safer than Baghdad
and parts of the south. Baghdad is an eclectic mix of Iraqis from all over
the country and sheikhs have little influence over members outside of their
family. In smaller provinces or towns, on the other hand, looting and
abduction are rare because the criminal will have a virtual army to answer
to- not a confused, and often careless, occupying army and some frightened
Iraqi police.

Iraq is not some backward country overrun by ignorant land sheikhs or oil
princes. People have a deep respect for wisdom and 'origin'. People can
trace their families back for hundreds of years and the need to 'belong' to
a specific family or tribe and have a sheikh doesn't hinder education,
modernization, democracy or culture. Arabs and Kurds in the region have
strong tribal ties and it is considered an honor to have a strong family
backing- even if you don't care about tribal law or have strayed far from
family influence.

I'm an example of a modern-day, Iraqi female who is a part of a tribe- I've
never met our sheikh- I've never needed toŠ I have a university degree, I
had a job and I have a family who would sacrifice a lot to protect meŠ and
none of this hinders me from having ambition or a sense of obligation
towards law and order. I also want democracy, security, and a civil, healthy
societyŠ right along with the strong family bonds I'm accustomed to as an

Who knows? Maybe I'll start a tribal blog and become a virtual sheikh

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Cousins and Veils

This is some further commentary on John Tierney's article "Iraq Family Ties
Complicate American Efforts for Change", printed in the New York Times.

"A key purpose of veiling is to prevent outsiders from competing with a
woman's cousins for marriage," Dr. Kurtz said. "Attack veiling, and you are
attacking the core of the Middle Eastern social system."

Thank you Stanley Kurtz, anthropologist at the Hoover Institution.

He took hundreds of years of wearing the veil for religious reasons and
relegated it all to the oppression of females by their male cousins. Wow-
human nature is that simple.

I can see the image now- my cousins roaming the opening of our cave, holding
clubs and keeping a wary eye on the female members of their clanŠ and us
cowed, frightened females all gathered in groups, murmuring behind our

I have a question: why is Dr. Kurtz using the word 'veil' in relation to
Iraq? Very, very few females wore veils or burqas prior to the occupation.
Note that I say 'veil' or 'burqa'. If Dr. Kurtz meant the general 'hijab' or
headscarf worn on the hair by millions of Muslim females instead of an
actual 'veil' then he should have been more specific. While a 'veil' in
Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan is quite common, in Iraq it speaks of extremism.
It is uncommon because the majority of moderate Muslim clerics believe it is

A 'veil' is a piece of cloth that covers the whole face and head. It is
called a 'veil' in English and called a 'burgu3' (burqa), 'khimar', or
'pushi' in Iraq. The khimar or burqa either covers the whole face, or covers
it all with the exception of the eyes.

The standard 'hijab' or 'rabta' is a simple headscarf that covers the hair
and neck, and can be worn in a variety of ways. The majority of 'covered'
females in Iraq wear a simple hijab. Some fashionable females wear a
turban-like head cover and something with a high collar that generally
serves the same purpose. The hijab can be any color. Some women prefer
white, others black and I have friends who own every color and design
imaginable and look so good, it almost seems more like a fashion statement
than a religious one.

The 'abaya', on the other hand, is a long, cloak-like garment and is more
traditional, than it is religious. Although designs vary, the abaya is
similar in style to the standard graduation robe- long, wide and flowing.
Some abayas are designed to cover the head, and others are made only to wear
on the shoulders. Men, as well as women, wear abayas. The feminine abayas
are often black and may have some sort of design on them. Male abayas are
plain, with perhaps some simple embroidery along the edges and are brown,
black, gray, beige or khaki. Abayas are often worn in Iraq, although the
younger generations don't like them- I haven't worn one yet.

The hijab can be worn with ordinary clothing- skirts, shirts and pants as
long as they are 'appropriate'. The skirt should be somewhat long, the shirt
a little bit loose and the sleeves should be below the elbows and, if worn
with pants, a bit long. The purpose of the hijab is to protect females from
sexual harassment. It acts as a sort of safeguard against ogling and
uninvited attention. There is such a [sic-PB]

Muslim females do not wear a hijab or veil because their male cousins MAKE
them wear it. They wear it for religious reasons. I personally don't wear a
hijab or headscarf, but I know many females who do- in Baghdad, in Mosul, in
Najaf, in Kerbela, in FalloojehŠ in Jordan, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Saudi
ArabiaŠ and NONE of these females wear a headscarf because their COUSINS
make them wear it. They wear the headscarf out of a conviction that it is
the correct thing to do and out of the comfort and security it gives them.
Cousins have nothing to do with it and Dr. Kurtz's very simplistic
explanation is an insult.

Dr. Kurtz would have better said, "Attack the headscarf or the hijab and you
are attacking the core of the Middle Eastern social system because the
majority of the Middle East is Muslim and the headscarf is considered a
required part of Islam by a huge number of Muslims." Attacking the hijab
would be the equivalent of attacking a Christian's right to wear a cross, or
a Jew's right to wear a yarmulkeŠ

[Comment by PB: Why can't I, as a western male, not wear an 'abaya'. Why am
I stuck with such ugly clothes, forced to wrap my legs in a pair of
polyester tubes? After all, its a free country ... I'm not a slave to
outdated tribal conventions. Am I?]

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