Sunday, March 07, 2010

Now the walls say “Long Live Barcelona”.


After extensive travels outside of Baghdad, Nir Rosen reports:

As worldwide attention has returned to Iraq in the run-up to the March 7 elections, a new chorus of worry has emerged, concerned that the corrupt political manoeuvring of some Shiite parties – who have succeeded in banning prominent nationalist and secularist candidates under the thin pretence of de-Baathification – would lead first to a Sunni boycott and then to renewed sectarian violence and war. But just as the dismantling of the Sunni Awakening groups last year failed to produce the disaster many analysts predicted, the results of the election seem unlikely to stoke the embers of a new insurgency.

The continued sectarian exhortations of Iraqi politicians have been met with cynicism by the public, whose support for religious parties has diminished considerably. Iraqis are still “sectarian” to a degree: most Shiites prefer the company of Shiites and Sunnis the company of Sunnis. The vitriol and hatred of the war have faded, but a legacy of bitterness and suspicion remains. What has gone is the fear of the other – and it is this fear that led to the rise of the militias and the sectarian religious parties.

During my travels in Iraq last month – in the capital and, more importantly, in the surrounding provinces of Diyala, Babil, and Salahuddin – I found Sunnis and Shiites alike talking of the civil war as if it were a painful memory from the distant past. Just as the residents of Northern Ireland refer obliquely to “the Troubles”, Iraqis speak of “the Events” or “the Sectarianism” – as in, “my brother was killed in the Sectarianism”. Uneducated Iraqis might even say “when the Sunni and Shiite happened.”
If you are really interested in Iraq, you owe it to yourself to read the whole thing.
On my trips to Iraq in years past, I made a habit of scanning the walls of Baghdad neighbourhoods for bits of sectarian graffiti, spray-painted slogans that were pro-Mahdi Army, pro-Saddam, anti-Shiite or pro-insurgency. This time, however, there were almost none to be found; the exhortations to sectarian struggle had been replaced with the enthusiasms of youthful football fans: now the walls say “Long Live Barcelona”.
Image: Electioneering.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Lies, damned lies, and the official version

At the Harper's site is an article by Sam Smith called The revision thing: A history of the Iraq war, told entirely in lies. with a further subtitle, "All text is verbatim from senior Bush Administration officials and advisers. In places, tenses have been changed for clarity."

I have to wonder how many ancient monuments are the exact equivalent of this, except they were meant to be taken seriously. Yes, I'm looking at you, Ramses II.

Thanks to Randall Winn for the tip.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Farmers on the move, 8000 BCE

This blog is called Muhlberger's Early History for a good reason: I'm often making a connection between things that happened centuries ago and things that our neighbors are doing somewhere in the world today. In the classroom I love talking about remote origins. If I were teaching ancient history now, you'd bet this would be included ( exceerpt from the UK's Daily Mail):

European farming began around 9,000 BC in the Fertile Crescent - a region extending from the eastern coast to the Persian Gulf and which includes modern day Iraq, Syria, and southeast .

The region was the cradle of civilisation and home to the Babylonia, Sumer and Assyrian empires.

The development of farming allowed people to settle down for the first time - and to produce more food than they needed, leading to trade and the freedom to develop new skills such as metal working, building and writing.

Some archaeologists have argued that some of these early farmers travelled around the world - settling new lands and bringing farming skills with them.

But others have insisted that the skills were passed on by word of mouth, and not by mass migration.

The new study suggests the farmers routinely upped sticks and moved west when their villages became too crowded, eventually reaching Britain and .

The waves of migrants brought their new skills with them. Some settled down with local tribes and taught them how to farm, the researchers believe.

'When the expansion happened these men had a reproductive advantage because they were able to grow more food so they were more attractive to women and had more offspring,' said Prof Jobling.

'In total more than 80 per cent of European men have Y chromosomes which descend from incoming farmers.

'It seems odd to think that the majority of men in Ireland have fore fathers from the near East and that British people have forefathers from the near East.'

The findings are published in the science journal PLoS Biology.

Dr Patricia Balaresque, a co-author of the study, said: 'This means that more than 80 per cent of European Y chromosomes descend from incoming farmers.'

In contrast, other studies have shown that DNA passed down from mothers to daughters can be traced by to hunter-gatherers in Europe, she said.

'To us, this suggests a reproductive advantage for farming males over indigenous hunter-gatherer males during the switch from hunting and gathering, to farming - maybe, back then, it was just sexier to be a farmer,' she said.

I don't think anyone had a clue about this 20 years ago when I first taught Ancient Civilizations. What fun!

(And let's hear it for SE Turkey getting proper credit.)

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I believe the war is over...

If you are old enough, name that tune. And the singer.

Back to the present, sort of. Juan Cole argues in a post that the Iraq war is over, and that Obama's policy has worked, but we have not noticed it because media attention has been elsewhere. Bolding indicates my emphasis.

The Iraqi military and police, over which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had largely gained control, proved able to keep order about as well as had their American and British colleagues. In July, 2009, with the US no longer patrolling, attacks and deaths declined by a third, and went on down from there. Despite two dramatic bombing waves in the capital, in August and November, the situation has in most places calmed down on an everyday basis. Flashpoints such as Mosul and Kirkuk remain, but had been violent when the US military was there, too.

Most Americans do not realize that US troops seldom patrol or engage in combat in Iraq anymore, accounting for why none were killed in hostile action in December. The total number of US troops in Iraq has fallen from a maximum of 160,000 during the Bush administration's 'surge' to about 110,000. After the early March parliamentary elections, another big withdrawal will begin, bringing then number down to 50,000 or so non-combat troops by September 1.

Critics of Obama often charge him with failing to end the Iraq War. But there is no longer an Iraq War. There are US bases in a country where indigenous forces are still fighting a set of low-intensity struggles, with little US involvement. Obama is having his troops leave exactly as quickly as the Iraqi parliament asked him to. Most US troops in Iraq seem mainly to be in the moving business now, shipping out 1.5 million pieces of equipment.

The last 4,000 Marines will hand over responsibility for al-Anbar Province, once among the more violent places on earth, to the US Army on Saturday, and shortly thereafter the Marines will depart the country.

...

Contrary to the consensus at Washington think tanks, Obama is ahead of schedule in his Iraq withdrawal, to which he is committed, and which will probably unfold pretty much as he has outlined in his speeches. The attention of the US public has turned away from Iraq so decisively that Obama's achievement in facing down the Pentagon on this issue and supporting Iraq's desire for practical steps toward sovereignty has largely been missed in this country.

...

Obama was handed a series of catastrophes. He has done better in handling some than others. But his decision on Iraq was the right one, the one that allows the US to depart with dignity, and allows Iraqis to work out their own internal problems. It is in this sense that Obama won the Iraq War.


What really struck me about the post is the video clip from Al Jazeera on "Sovereignty Day;" I like to think that I read a bit deeper and wider than many people, but the situation depicted here mostly passed me by:



Or maybe it's the fact that video gives you a whole different feel than even good analytical prose.

This indicates to me that I've got to read more news from outside the USA.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

An old monastery serves as a window into Iraq's past


Some American soldiers learn a bit about the complexities of Iraq's religious history.
As historic sites in Iraq go, St. Elijah’s has little of the significance of the ruins of the great Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations, all endangered by decay and looting. The ruins of Nimrud, Hatra and Nineveh are only a few miles away. So is the tomb of the Old Testament prophet Jonah, and that of another, Nahum, whose short chapter in the Bible warns Nineveh of its destruction.

“Nineveh is like a walk through the Bible,” said W. Patrick Murphy, the leader of the American provincial reconstruction team here, which is coordinating the restoration, referring to the modern name for the province that includes Mosul.

In the years of American occupation, St. Elijah’s became a curiosity, a diversion for soldiers and contractors who might otherwise never leave the base and encounter Iraq’s deeply layered history. Amid the hardship of modern military operations, it once again became a place of prayer.

“We stand in a long line of people who bequeathed the faith to us,” said Maj. Jeffrey Whorton, a Roman Catholic chaplain, presiding over Mass in the monastery the other day, attended by three camouflaged soldiers, their rifles leaning in a corner.

Little definitive is known about the history of St. Elijah’s, or Dair Mar Elia. The site has never been studied or excavated, according to the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, which oversees all of Iraq’s historic sites. Before the war, Iraq’s Republican Guard occupied the base and, according to the Americans, used the cistern as a latrine.

The board, which has previously been critical of American activities at ruins, including Babylon, is now reviewing the proposal to restore St. Elijah’s.


Accompanied by an excellent slide show of St. Elijah's Monastery.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Rare but possible...

...a good time in Iraq, boating on the Tigris. From At War in the New York Times.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

The past and future of Iraq

From the New York Times blog At War. Among other things, this deeply personal account shows why it will be a very long time before Iraq will be a "normal country:"

‘I Have No Living Friends in Iraq Now’

by RIYADH MOHAMMED

In most parts of the world, the end of the year is a time to reminisce about the best of the past and look to the future with a hopeful eye. Iraq is not like the rest of the world. For me, it is a time to update my death list. The latest entry is my ex-girlfriend.

When I received messages on my cellphone from friends saying, “Please accept my condolences,” I asked one of them, “What happened?” Another message came that explained that my ex-girlfriend was killed in the Dec. 8 bombings in Baghdad.

Since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, I had kept a list of every relative or friend killed in violence. As of late 2006, I counted 124 deaths. Suddenly I stopped. No. 125 was my father.

My father had told me a few weeks prior to his tragic death that his phone book was filled with telephone numbers of killed and missing people. He was soon to join the list.

When I look at my personal phone book now, I read: “X: killed in Al Mustansiriya University bombings in 2007. Y: missing in western Baghdad in 2005. Z: killed in the Justice Ministry 2009. It keeps going on like that for the most of the book. The ones who left Iraq were the only ones who survived. I lost my last friend when he went to the United States as a refugee in June 2009. I have no living friends in Iraq now.

If I had continued to keep my death list up to date, it would have included dozens of friends, neighbors, relatives, classmates and work colleagues. The total would run in the hundreds. If I added the relatives of the relatives, the total would be thousands or tens of thousands. Almost all of them were civilians: employees, students, artists, professors, journalists, sportsmen, lawyers, workers or children.

As a man who studied cinema and produced several television documentaries, I often turn to movies help to distract me from the awful reality. Sometimes they help me to describe my status. In the movie “Meet Joe Black,” the angel of death falls in love with his victim’s daughter. Many Iraqis that I met after dozens or hundreds of bombs kept asking, is there any way to stop death’s master plan, whose top priority seems to be claiming Iraqis’ lives?

When I saw the American movie “Final Destination,” I told myself that was exactly what was happening to us. As of late 2006, I had survived deadly bombs about 40 times. Most of them were in Tahrir Square – the most famous public square in Baghdad. I used to pass by it twice a day on my way to work. The square was hit with dozens of bombs in 2005 and 2006. I survived only because I was a few minutes late or early. So often it seems like the cursed plane in Final Destination carries the entire Iraqi people.

The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue on April 9, 2003, felt to me – and to millions of Iraqis – like the symbolic birth of a nation. But instead, another scene was watched by millions of Iraqis in the following years, and Iraqi officials eventually banned photographers from capturing it. It was the scene inside the Iraqi cities’ morgues. In late 2006, it was my turn to visit one of them. Searching for my father, I counted at least 200 new bodies in one Baghdad morgue. There were at least another 200 bodies that had been there a while. It was just like the morgue scene in the movie “Missing.” But the scene that couldn’t be hidden was al-Najaf cemetery. It kept expanding until it became the largest in the world. For millions of Iraqis, it was the death of a nation.

Many felt that I was acting odd when I didn’t cry at my father’s funeral. But I truly lost the ability to feel pain and sorrow. I have read once that many Europeans felt the same emotional drought after witnessing the catastrophes of World War II.

On the other hand, I had the same dream every night for four continuous months: My father didn’t die. I still have the dream, but only once a week now. It is something that could be described as a series of scenes that represent all the happy memories with a lost loved one. But it ends only with a tragedy that will last forever.

For me, now, there are new scenes: the first time we met, the first word exchanged, the first smile, the first flattery, the first phone call, the first date, the first time we revealed that we loved each other and the first hug. But I awake only to remember the last horrific scene: the badly wounded girl being crushed under the feet of the terrified government employees trying to escape death.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Juan Cole explains the limitations of the US media

Discussing coverage of yesterday's coordinated bombings in Baghdad, he makes this worthwhile point:

Aljazeera notes that some US media outlets did not bother to cover these attacks in Iraq, and wonders if the story will return. I think the answer depends on the journalistic integrity of the outlet. For many, the answer will be no. Many US media are nationalist media, and cover stories having to do with US national projects. Americans have already decided that Iraq was a mistake, and they know the US military is leaving, and so what happens there is not "news" as much of the corporate media defines it (i.e. a story that generates profits because of wide public interest in it).
This may strike some readers as too charitable, but I think it captures one dimension of the problem of the US media. If you really want to know what is going on in the world, you've got to sample other sources.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Scary Santa Claus and the Master of Souls


The New York Times covers a celebration of something-or-other in Baghdad.

Image: Read all about it.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Coming to a screen near you: The Iraqi National Museum


From the New York Times:

Amira Edan, the director of Iraq’s National Museum, says that soon she will no longer have to worry so much that the famous institution remains closed to the public for fear of violence.

People will just be able to Google it. “It’s really wonderful,” she said Tuesday.

Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, had just made a presentation inside the museum, announcing that his company would create a virtual copy of the museum’s collections at its own expense, and make images of four millenniums of archaeological treasures available online, free, by early next year.

...

The museum, badly looted during the American invasion, has been declared reopened three times: in 2003, by the American occupation authorities, again in 2007 by Iraqi officials and most recently in February by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

None of those openings, however, involved letting the public back in. A few invited scholars, journalists and the occasional school group have been allowed to visit. Only 8 of the museum’s 26 galleries have been restored; most of the collection’s treasures are in secret storage.

Jared Cohen, the State Department official who organized the visit, disputed a suggestion that the event seemed like a government-sponsored infomercial for Google. “This is a really good example of what we’re calling 21st-century statecraft,” he said. A dozen other companies are involved in the project to digitize the National Museum’s collections, so “it’s not an exclusive club,” he added.



But if you can't wait, try this: The Virtual Museum of Iraq.

Image: One of Iraq's treasures: The royal helmet found at Ur, dating from Sumerian times.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Ah, the good old days of divine monarchy and mass murder!

From the New York Times, an article on happier days at Ur:

A new examination of skulls from the royal cemetery at Ur, discovered in Iraq almost a century ago, appears to support a more grisly interpretation than before of human sacrifices associated with elite burials in ancient Mesopotamia, archaeologists say.

Palace attendants, as part of royal mortuary ritual, were not dosed with poison to meet a rather serene death. Instead, a sharp instrument, a pike perhaps, was driven into their heads.

Archaeologists at the University of Pennsylvania reached that conclusion after conducting the first CT scans of two skulls from the 4,500-year-old cemetery. The cemetery, with 16 tombs grand in construction and rich in gold and jewels, was discovered in the 1920s. A sensation in 20th century archaeology, it revealed the splendor at the height of the Mesopotamian civilization.

The recovery of about 2,000 burials attested to the practice of human sacrifice on a large scale. At or even before the demise of a king or queen, members of the court — handmaidens, warriors and others — were put to death. Their bodies were usually arranged neatly, the women in elaborate headdress, the warriors with weapons at their side.

C. Leonard Woolley, the English archaeologist who directed the excavations, a collaboration between Penn and the British Museum, eventually decided that the attendants had been marched down into burial chambers, where they drank poison and lay down to die. That became the conventional story....

The researchers, led by Janet M. Monge, a physical anthropologist at Penn, applied forensic skills to arrive at the probable cause of death in both cases.

There were two round holes in the soldier’s cranium and one in the woman’s, each about an inch in diameter. But the most convincing evidence, Dr. Monge said in an interview, were cracks radiating from the holes. Only if the holes were made in a living person would they have produced such a pattern of fractures along stress lines. The more brittle bones of a person long dead would shatter like glass, she explained.

Dr. Monge surmised that the holes were made by a sharp instrument and that death “by blunt-force trauma was almost immediate.”...


But what did this "process" smell like?

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

A bit of Iraqi reality leaks through


Of course it comes from the admirable Inside Iraq:

October 30, 2009
Dumb and Dumber

There are more than 200 checkpoints in Baghdad; some of these checkpoints are manned by policemen, some by Iraqi army and some by both. Many of these checkpoints are equipped with explosive detectors that were supposed to enable the Iraqi forces to stop transporting explosives around the city or basically car bombs.

Most of these checkpoints are located at entry points to bridges and neighborhoods. Other checkpoints are on the main roads of Baghdad to the limit that the city is literally suffocating because of these checkpoints and the resulted traffic jam.

Before starting telling you what happens in most of the checkpoints you should know about the “explosives detectors”. The device is carried by security man who stops your car and walk beside it carrying the device. The device’s pointer changes its direction when passed by a car that supposedly carries explosives.

But the main flaw it points also if there is any chemical material like detergents or even medicine.

What happens in these checkpoints and how they are distributed in the city?!

First Scenario:

You drive into the checkpoint, and the explosives detector does not point to your car, Iraqi security orders you to drive and continue your magical trip through the elegant safe capital’s roads.

Second Scenario:

The detector points at your car, the security men orders you to drive into searching area, if there is one sometimes simply stop you in mid of the street, to search your car. The soldier responsible for searching asks the dumb and dumber questions:

- Where are you coming from and where are you going?

- Do you carry weapons?

If you answered with a wide smile, coming from X neighborhood and going to Y neighborhood and no I don’t carry weapons, you probably would leave without further questions or being searched.

Third Scenario

Detectors point at your car, you go to search, you answer the dumb and dumber two questions with a wide smile but yet the soldier insists to search your car. The search will be the following: open the trunk, soldiers will order you and that’s it.

Fourth Scenario

Your friend is a soldier or you have a badge that says you are a member of Iraqi security forces, no need to worry then, because every day we see tens of them passing all Baghdad’s checkpoints without being searched.

And till now, the government and the Iraqi forces are still insisting on depending on these checkpoints as the main tactic to control the apparently unstoppable attacks of car bombs.

I wonder, what did the American military or NATO trained the new Iraqi forces?

Image: Third scenario.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More on the war

Yes, there's a war on -- more than one!

Juan Cole at his most optimistic has an article in Salon,
Obama's foreign policy report card.

Matthew Hoh, an American official and ex-Marine with extensive experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, resigns. Why? The war in Afghanistan makes no sense. See
his letter of resignation and the Washington Post article describing his background.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Jokes Iraqis tell each other in traffic jams

From the McClatchy-affiliated blog written by Iraqi journalists, Inside Iraq.
Image: Baghdad traffic jam, 2008.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Just doing our job, ma'am

If they fix things in your neighborhood, consider yourself lucky.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

From the NYT: Fashion in Iraq now


I was reading a short time ago about the visible spread of conservative dress among Iraqi women over the last decade. Now things may be swinging the other way.

Image: Engineering students in Baghdad.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

More discouraging news from Iraq

Many of my readers are academics or students and naturally have their complaints about their educational institutions. McClatchy's Inside Iraq has a story that may be hard for most of us here to match:

One of the old story that I heard was about the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was when one of his advisers told him that corruption had invaded most of the ministries. The story says that Churchill asked him "how about the ministries of education and justice?'. The adviserr said "they are fine until now". Churchill answered him "then England is fine"

I do not know for sure whether the story is real or no but what I care about is its idea or main point. It gives an idea about the importance of the two ministries.

During my work, I heard different stories about corruption including these two ministries. I heard about judges who released insurgents and criminals and I heard about teachers who gives high marks for money but all I heard were stories without evidences but the story of the Monday was somethings different.

I saw one of the my friends who teaches English language in of the high schools. After few minutes of talking about the main issue that all Iraqis talk about , I mean security situation and life troubles, I asked him about his work and thought to hear some complains because of the lazy students but the story he told me was something completely new for me and killed any hope to have a new good life in this country.

He told me that one of his student is the son of his educational inspector. My friend told me that this student could not pass the exams because he knows nothing about English language. The educational inspector duty is to check whether the teacher is doing his duty correctly and to help him in passing over any problems to improve the level of the students but this one is completely different.

In addition to neglecting his own son, he threatened to send my friend to jail because he did not give the success mark for his son. The educational inspector said "I will send this teacher to jail and if he believes that anyone can help him then he is wrong"

It looks that our problem is so deep because people who are supposed to apply law consider themselves as exceptions.

I know that any building starts from the base and the base of building a new country starts from scholls where the youngs get either the rights principles or the wrong ones. For sure, having people like this inspector would never install the right bases

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Thoughts of Wednesday won't go away

This is all people in Baghdad can think of. Has there been any discussion on your news outlets?

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Modern" to "Islamic" in just a few years


From the New York Times "At War" blog:

She said: “Abeer you know me, we used to wear such clothes in college.” I told her: “Things are very different now.” Then I showed her a picture on my mobile phone of me wearing an abaya. She was shocked and said: “I heard about it, but I can’t believe it, I never imagined things would go this way.”

We have got a gap inside the Iraqi community. A gap between people of the same generation, I mean between those who fled the violence and traveled out of Iraq after 2003, and these who stayed in the country.

The people who left Iraq cannot imagine what happened, they only have the barest idea, and they have not seen and lived the Islamist style of life.

At that restaurant meeting where I met a group of my friends we chatted and talked about many things, including the provincial elections next month. All of them, even the religious ones, agreed that they would not vote for an Islamist, of any kind. “Even if he was blessed by Ayatollah Sistani and got Sistani’s signature beside his name,” one of them said.

But my friend who had lived outside had an extremely different opinion. She said: “Why not, if they are good?”

More here.

Image: Back before the invasion.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Baghdad: 50 degrees C and a sandstorm outside


Just one remarkable picture from the latest installment of The Big Picture.

Well there is this shot of the crater left by that bombing in Kirkuk:



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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Two book reviews from Phil Paine


The most widely read person I know is Phil Paine. (Some of my colleagues consider me widely read, but next to Phil I am a piker.) Over on his website, Phil has a monthly list of books, articles, and online resources that he has read, with occasional reviews of things he finds particularly noteworthy -- which is not necessarily to say, "good." Today he posted (June, 2009 section) two reviews, one critical and one very appreciative.

Critical:
(Samuel P. Huntington) The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

This is a stupid book. Unfortunately, it's also been a very influential one.

Huntington starts out by playing the old "civilizations" game, popular from the late 19th century onward. Nobody any longer takes you seriously if you talk about nationalities in a silly, anthropomorphic way ("The Dutch are cheese-eating, practical people, but they are doomed to failure as nation because they smoke too much marijuana and their feet must hurt from wearing wooden shoes"). But if you shift the discussion to "civilizations", big segments of the globe defined by arbitrary criteria, you can get away with it. You can define these "civilizations" any way you want, but usually they end up being nothing more than a map of the world's major religions. This is not surprising, since these mega-religions are usually accompanied by enough visual cues that you can quickly guess which one you are in by the shapes of buildings, clothing, or other material evidence. There is, of course, some common-sense truth to the observation that places where Islam is predominant have similarities, and places where Christianity is practiced are connected to each other, etc. It is an easy, but intellectually dubious further step to assume that the human race is divided into mega-tribal subdivisions, almost like species, and that these can be neatly drawn on a map. Anthropomorphizing these divisions is merely the old fallacy of "innate national character" writ larger. It appeals to the impulse to see the world in cartoons. This is exactly what Huntington does, way, way too much to make his work credible....

Huntington's knowledge of cultures is pretty shallow, because his main interest is really in the "clash" part of the book's title. The book is really about dividing the world into football teams so that you can imagine strategies of play between them... who should align with whom, and who is the "natural" enemy of whom. That's why the book appeals to so many armchair political pundits. You only need to remember a handful of "civilizations" and their accompanying cliché phrases to "get" everything. No need to bother remembering the names of hundreds of countries, or even consider the motives of individual human beings. Easy peasy.

What Huntington is really about becomes evident toward the end of the book, when he engages in a tirade against the evils of "multiculturalism", a phenomenon which he grotesquely misrepresents. The human race is, in his view, divided into distinct species, and, surprise surprise, nothing but trouble can result if they mingle. He kind of sneaks up on it with hundreds of pages of stuff about regions and religions, but what it's really about is how dirty foreigners should be kept out of America because then it will "no longer be America". Why? Because they don't have "Western values", And what are these "Western values"? Well, among them he repeatedly lists "pluralism and tolerance". So Americans and Europeans should, it seems, exclude people of different ethnicity in order to protect "pluralism"!! He even casually states, as if it were a forgone conclusion, that if the U.S. went to war with China, then Mexican-Americans would automatically refuse to participate, because it would "not be their war". This was so silly that I actually bust out laughing when I read it, startling fellow riders in the subway. The subway car was a typical Canadian one --- utterly and sublimely multicultural --- so the silliness of it was particularly delicious. It's plain that underneath Huntington's wacky logic and feigned scholarship, there is nothing more than another sclerotic old man having an apoplectic fit because he went to the corner store and saw signs in the window in funny-looking alphabets....
Appreciative:
(Edward L. Ochsenschlager) Iraq's Marsh Arabs in the Garden of Eden

This is a brilliant book. Ochsenschlager was engaged in an important archaeological project in Iraq, starting in 1968. The site was the Sumerian city of Lagash. Puzzled by some unglamorous, but intriguing artifacts, he started looking for analogies among the local people to interpret them. The local people included Bedouin tribes, the agricultural Beni Hasan, and the famous Mi'dan [Marsh Arabs] who lived in the reed-filled swamps at the conjunction of the Tigris and Euphrates. All these people (in 1968, at any rate) lived material lives thought to very closely resemble that of the ancient inhabitants of the land when it was Edinu, the Biblical Eden (hence the book's title). Thus, the author was drawn into the peculiar discipline of "ethnoarchaeology", in which most archaeologist still feel uncomfortable. Archaeologists are comfortable with places and objects. They aren't anthropologists. When they try to be, even in the laudable quest to understand ancient artifacts, they can easily screw up. Ochlenschlager is unusually sensitive to the pitfalls. ...

Ochlenschlager examined the making, use, and transformations of every article he could find --- weapons, storage containers, cookware, boats, musical instruments, children's toys. This could only be done in a serious way over many years, with extreme sensitivity in dealing with people, earning their trust and overcoming the perils of misdirection and misinterpretation. None of this is easy, and he shows exactly how it can be done right, or badly. Almost anyone who reads historical or archaeological interpretations of material evidence should read this book.

Some of the most delightful parts concern children's toys, and they reveal one of the marvelous subtleties of human behaviour to which most historians are oblivious:

In 1968 children in the villages over the age of 3 or 4 always made their own toys out of mud. Abandoned mud toys could be found everywhere in village courtyards, alongside the canals and marshes, and even in the fields. Unfortunately, domestic toy making disappeared rapidly. Manufactured plastic toys, available in nearby market towns, gradually replaced them. By 1970 a wide variety of cheap plastic toys was available to those of every economic level. Most children were attracted to these plastic toys because of their bright colors and their relative durability. At first children would continue to make toys that were not available in the market out of mud, but that came to an abrupt end in 1972. So popular had the new plastic toys become that most villagers could find no reason to continue using mud toys short of lack of money. Indeed cheapness came to be thought the sole criteria for continuing to make toys out of mud, and this impacted that part of the father's honor which depends on his ability to provide adequately for his family. To make a mud toy under these conditions was to bring dishonor on the family.

Without some knowledge of the role of honor and its requirement that men provide strong financial support to their families in these villages, what reasons would archaeologists give for the sudden and complete disappearance of mud toys? Bold colors and increased durability seem the most reasonable, and in part logical, answers, as the villagers found these attributes attractive at first. But logic alone does not begin to explain why old forms disappeared completely and with such speed; the compelling power of color and durability must not be overestimated. The children themselves were a real problem. When they had only the few animal forms sold in the suk to play with, they sometimes had to be forcibly stopped from making additional toys of mud. They missed the freedom of making any toys they could imagine and playing any game they wished. The kind and number of toys available now limited their games. Attractive colors and durability may have given impetus for the change, but it was the challenge to family honor that made parents forbid their children to make mud toys.

It takes a remarkable person to make such an observation. This book is full of such things.They'll inspire an acute reader to understand not only the culture of the marshes, and the artifacts of the ancient civilization of Lagash, but also many puzzling aspects of human life in general.



Plenty more stuff where that came from!

Image: A Marsh Arab settlement.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Meanwhile, next door

An Iraqi correspondent sadly contemplates an

Aborted attempt at protest

With what Iraq endured over the last four decades, sometime I feel we deserve what happens to us because we are a weak people we cannot even show our protests with our facial expressions.

Today on my way to work, an event occurred that happens every day in Iraq. The road was suddenly blocked, and no one knew why. As usual, the solders deployed in the roads aimed their weapons towards the crowd.

Today was different for me because I tried to take an unusual action. I tried to read the expressions on the faces waiting in cars around me. I mean, the anger or protest on the faces of those who were forced to wait inside their cars for 15 minutes without any known reasons. In general, the delays are caused by an Iraqi politician of 'the new Iraq' leaving his stronghold.

But the faces were glad as if they were happy with what was happening. Some of them were chatting with each other, and some were listening to music on radio stations--listening to love songs while the gangs of soldiers were aiming their weapons at their cheerful faces.

At this moment I tried to do something to wake them up. I wanted to honk the horn to show a sign of protest to those who were carrying their weapons towards us. But I hesitated. I couldn’t make this trivial sign of protest. I felt afraid of such action because I was waiting a volunteer hero who would lead my anger, my revolution.

But he didn’t show up.

Here in Iraq we always wait for this hero, but it is useless to wait because, according to a verse from the Koran, God doesn't change the condition of people if they don’t change themselves first.

And we are so weak to change ourselves and defeat our fears or make any sign of protest--even honking the horn of the car to show anger.

I think our wait will be long for the hero who will take our hands and walk us to the safe land

.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Even smaller wars wreck lots of things

Two discouraging stories from McClatchy news service:

The first is a video report on the lack of services in Iraq, with show and tell. Highly recommended. You will learn a lot about the modern world, and life on the Planet of Slums.

Then there is this:
Israeli soldiers say army rabbis framed Gaza as religious war.

Rabbis affiliated with the Israeli army urged troops heading into Gaza to reclaim what they said was God-given land and "get rid of the gentiles" — effectively turning the 22-day Israeli intervention into a religious war, according to the testimony of a soldier who fought in Gaza.

Literature passed out to soldiers by the army's rabbinate "had a clear message — we are the people of Israel, we came by a miracle to the land of Israel, God returned us to the land, now we need to struggle to get rid of the gentiles that are interfering with our conquest of the land," the soldier told a forum of Gaza veterans in mid-February, just weeks after the conflict ended.

A transcript of the testimony given at an Israeli military academy at the Oranim college on Feb. 13 was obtained on Friday by McClatchy and also published in Haaretz, one of Israel's leading dailies. The soldier, identified as "Ram," a pseudonym to protect his identity, gave a scathing description of the atmosphere as the Israeli army went to war.

Just what we needed, more holy warriors.

Image: work on a sewage treatment plant in Falluja, October 2008, not going well.
Among many other reasons: ""The project file lacked any documentation to support that the provisional Iraqi government wanted this project in the first place," [instead of even more pressing needs]. Rather, it appears that occupation authorities conceived of this project "for the Iraqis."

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Religion in Iraq today

From McClatchy's Inside Iraq, a cheering account of an Iraqi correspondent's participation in the important Shiite pilgrimage to Karbala:

On last Saturday, I started a long journey to Karbala city to commemorate the anniversary of Imam Hussein. The distance to the holy shrine in the holy city of Karbala is 67 miles. I haven't been practicing much sport for the last twelve years because of the type of life I live. So, walking such a distance was a big challenge to my will and abilities as I always show off being a very good athlete for years and years. My colleague came to the office where I spent the night around 5:50 a.m. and the journey started at 6. We reached Mussayib city around 6 p.m. I was completely exhausted but all the pain became a source of joy and happiness when I was received by people from the city begging me to spend the night in the big tents they set everywhere in the city. Young boys were working with their parents to serve us. The people were shouting "Dear the visitors of Imam Hussein, please come and spend the night here, we have everything for you, food and bed. Please give us the honor of taking care of you" Others wrote on big pieces of black fabric "serving the visitors of Imam Hussein is our honor." I chose one of the tents randomly. A tent set by a Sunni tribe who decided to serve the Shiite pilgrims.

More here.

Image: Pilgrims at the shrine in 2008.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Luca Marchio, intrepid traveller

There are plenty of TV shows about people doing incredibly dangerous things in exotic locales, but give a thought to Luca Marchio, an Italian "tourist" who went to Iraq, and visited Irbil, Falluja, and Baghdad just like they were normal destinations. So far, so good. See the New York Times article.

Image:
tourist shopping in Falluja. Also, below, the statue of Scheherazade in Baghdad from another New York Times article.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Legislative backbone in Iraq


From LithiumCola at DailyKos:

Here is the biggest thing I personally got wrong in 2008. Right around May and June, I was convinced that the Status of Forces of Agreement was just a trick Bush was pulling on American and Iraq, and that there was no way to make it anything other than a trick. But, it turned out that a legislative body was able to put checks on Bush's power. As it happened, that legislative body was in Iraq, not America, and it did it under conditions of occupation, scarcity, fear of assassination, and general violence. This example ought forever to be a shame upon the houses of Congress in the United States. It certainly took me by surprise: the Iraqi people non-violently kicked Bush's ass. Whether this ass-kicking sticks -- whether U.S. forces actually do leave Iraq by 2011 -- is another matter, but there is no denying that the Iraqi people did what Congress did not and more than most people in the West thought them capable of. This should give us great pause, anytime we think we know better than people in other countries.

The lesson, there, for me, is that Washington political culture is even more isolated and corrupt than I understood. The sense of political powerlessness on the part of Democrats in Washington was shown to be, by the Iraqi people, completely and totally without warrant. Further, to my knowledge, not one single so-called expert in the traditional media predicted that the Iraqis could or would use the non-violent power of their legislature to check Bush's ambitions.

And, maybe a little overstated but still worth saying:

Speaking of other things the so-called experts didn't get right: everything else. 2008 was, more than any year I can remember, the year that established there is no such thing as socio-political expertise. Certainly, the things that get one a job in punditing about socio-political matters are no more likely to make one an expert than is, say, paying attention to the news, and talking to other people who also pay attention to the news.



Image: Inside the Iraqi parliament, 2007.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Kindergarten graduation in Baghdad

Those exotic Iraqis. So different from us. So incomprehensible.

From the last installment of the Big Picture's "best of 2008" collection.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

News from Baghdad

An Iraqi journalist blogs on Inside Iraq about an actual new development...

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Greeted with flowers (?), sent off with shoes(!)



The Iraqi journalist who threw the shoes (a big insult in Arab cultures) apparently said something like, "Here's a goodbye kiss, you dog."

Juan Cole comments.

Update: another Iraqi journalist comments at Inside Iraq.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

House of Saddam


Since my Crusade and Jihad course is all over (except for the final exam and a lot of grading), next term posts inspired by the Islamic Civilization class will likely be more common. Since we will be talking about the last two centuries, a lot of posts may not qualify as "early history."

Here is one. HBO (at least in the USA and presumably Canada) will be showing a miniseries called House of Saddam. It focuses not on Iraq under Saddam, but on the tensions and conflicts of the ruling dynasty. Saddam Hussein as Tony Soprano. You can now go to the HBO site and see a trailer, and if you do you'll notice that Saddam and his associates all wear "international-Western" clothing and are surrounded by furnishing and buildings that could be anywhere in the modern world. At least visually there is nothing "Middle Eastern" about this gang. I don't doubt that this is accurate. Even Saddam Hussein as Tony Soprano is not a bad take.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Canadian Oil's involvement in Kurdistan and Iraqi (dis)unity

Laura Rozen refers us to this article in Mother Jones.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The mess in the Middle East: it's our war, too

We Canadians can congratulate ourselves that our soldiers are not dying in Iraq, but they are dying in Afghanistan, and the whole region is really one big political and military mess. Want to know how big? See what Juan Cole had to say the other day. Highly recommended for students in my Islamic Civilization class. We will be getting there by the end of the school year.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hardly worth mentioning

From the New York Times from Reuters:

U.S. and Iraqi officials said on Wednesday that they had reached a final agreement after months of talks on a pact that would require U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq by 2011.

Iraq said it had secured the right to prosecute U.S. soldiers for serious crimes under certain circumstances, an issue both sides had long said was holding up the pact.

There seem to be conflicting stories on the NYT site: see also Iraq inches closer to security pact with U.S.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

The last lecture in this year's Islamic Civilization class -- April 2009

I'm referring to Andrew J. Bacevich's column in the Washington Post, He Told Us to Go Shopping. Now the Bill Is Due, and I'm exaggerating, because the focus is firmly on the United States. But some of this will undoubtedly be reflected in what I do say in April:

It's widely thought that the biggest gamble President Bush ever took was deciding to invade Iraq in 2003. It wasn't. His riskiest move was actually one made right after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when he chose not to mobilize the country or summon his fellow citizens to any wartime economic sacrifice. Bush tried to remake the world on the cheap, and as the bill grew larger, he still refused to ask Americans to pay up. During this past week, that gamble collapsed, leaving the rest of us to sort through the wreckage. ...

The "go to Disney World" approach to waging war has produced large, unanticipated consequences. When the American people, as instructed, turned their attention back to enjoying life, their hankering for prosperity without pain deprived the administration of the wherewithal needed over the long haul to achieve some truly ambitious ends.

Even today, the scope of those ambitions is not widely understood, in part due to the administration's own obfuscations. After September 2001, senior officials described U.S. objectives as merely defensive, designed to prevent further terrorist attacks. Or they wrapped America's purposes in the gauze of ideology, saying that our aim was to spread freedom and eliminate tyranny. But in reality, the Bush strategy conceived after 9/11 was expansionist, shaped above all by geopolitical considerations. The central purpose was to secure U.S. preeminence across the strategically critical and unstable greater Middle East. Securing preeminence didn't necessarily imply conquering and occupying this vast region, but it did require changing it -- comprehensively and irrevocably. This was not some fantasy nursed by neoconservatives at the Weekly Standard or the American Enterprise Institute. Rather, it was the central pillar of the misnamed enterprise that we persist in calling the "global war on terror."

At a Pentagon press conference on Sept. 18, 2001, then-defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld let the cat out of the bag: "We have a choice, either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or to change the way that they live, and we chose the latter." This was not some slip of the tongue. The United States was now out to change the way "they" -- i.e., hundreds of millions of Muslims living in the Middle East -- live. Senior officials did not shrink from -- perhaps even relished -- the magnitude of the challenges that lay ahead. The idea, wrote chief Pentagon strategist Douglas J. Feith in a May 2004 memo, was to "transform the Middle East and the broader world of Islam generally."

But if the administration's goals were grandiose, its means were modest. The administration's governing assumption was that the U.S. military, as constituted in late 2001, ought to suffice to transform the Middle East. Bush could afford to tell the American people to go on holiday and head back to the mall because the indomitable American soldier could be counted on to liberate (and thereby pacify) the Muslim world....

...the primary lesson of the Iraq war remains this one: To imagine that the United States can easily and cheaply invade, occupy and redeem any country in the Muslim world is sheer folly.

This WP column has some good thoughts, too: 9/11 Was Big. This Is Bigger.

Of course, anyone with an Internet connection, some time on their hands, and an ounce of mental flexibility could have found such analyses on the Web any time in the last five years or so, written by private citizens with no special qualifications; my colleagues who run our pension investments were doing their best to protect them some months ago.

What's worth noting is that a certain degree of reality has finally penetrated to Official Washington, of which the Washington Post is a branch.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Rejects


The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article about the most popular Iranian movie ever, The Rejects, which concerns the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Even more interesting is the video feature which shows clips from both Iranian and Iraqi war films. Most of the students in my course on the history of Islamic civilization, I bet, are probably not even aware of this war, but the article and film clips give you an idea of how huge this to people in the region.

Image: Iranian troops in the "big war."

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Al Qaeda: defeated?

I was not going to post on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, since I had nothing unique or new to say.

I still don't, but I just got around to reading Juan Cole's post for today at his blog Informed Comment. Cole is an expert on Shiism, speaks and reads Arabic, and is a strong critic of the destructive Bush-Cheney policies, so when he says that the original Al Qaeda has been defeated, and surveys the state of terrorist organizations in the Middle East to prove his point, he's worth listening to.

Canadians will be interested in what he has to say about Afghanistan.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And you think your government is stupid and unresponsive

Friday, August 15, 2008

Iraq, Afghanistan, Islamic extremism, your time is up!

No longer are you the key battlegrounds for the future, or the greatest threat to the free people of the world.

Indeed, just like all those people in Washington, I can hardly remember when or why you were important. The big bad bear is back!

Another example of brilliant political insight.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

What Iran wants

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Not exactly on page one


From Inside Iraq.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Inside Iraq: being a parent in Iraq

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Some ancient artifacts returned to Baghdad

Thanks to a diary on DailyKos, I was alerted to this story on Yahoo. There is an interesting slideshow at the Yahoo site.

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Were there commercial brands 5000 years ago?

Phil Paine has argued for a long time that many of the economic activities that we think of as characteristically modern -- especially commercial trade networks -- go back much farther in history and are typical of many cultures. Here is an interesting piece of news from the archaeological front. David Wengrow, an archaeologist at University College London, is now arguing that the well-known Mesopotamian bottle stoppers, which bear stamped-clay symbols, were in some cases used as brand logos. Here's the article from the New Scientist.

Image: One of the bottle stoppers in question, or perhaps a seal that produced bottle stoppers.

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How sectarian hatred gets started


When outside news media cover such developments as Albanian-Serbian conflict in Kosovo, or Sunni- Shiite conflict in Iraq, they are often described as the result of centuries-old hatreds, and readers are referred to the ultimate origins long, long ago. But in real life, most of these conflicts are rather irrelevant unless something more recent brings them to life again. Ontario and much of Canada has a long history of Catholic-Protestant conflict over schools and their funding. Unless, however, a school funding issue pops up, that old conflict is completely irrelevant to people's public identities or the way they interact with their neighbors. The number of people who sit around thinking about William of Orange or the Battle of the Boyne is insignificant; indeed, and I know this from personal experience, most people have no idea what what either of these things might be or what kind of influence they had on Canadians of the past. The Glorious 12th of July used to be the biggest public holiday in Ontario -- at least for Protestants -- but no one knows what it is now. But with a lot of bad luck and human perversity, one can imagine a Catholic-Protestant conflict welling up in Ontario in the future, and then if Catholics and Protestants wanted reasons to hate each other, they would find the libraries full of books to tell them why this was appropriate.

How this works in Iraq is well illustrated by this story from Inside Iraq. It illustrates how old hatreds come back to life, when everybody, or most everybody, thought they were dead. The story only makes sense if, when the correspondent's friend got married, she hardly gave a thought to Sunni or Shiite identity. Now, however, she can hardly think of anything else. The harsh reactions that she expects from her new neighbors don't have much to do with what's in Iraq's libraries, directly, but I'm sure that for everyone involved, if this woman's fears are at all realistic, conflicts from the time of Ali and Hussein or even Saddam Hussein are a lot more present than they were in 2003.

I was at a party last evening with some historian colleagues, and we were talking about how the Canadian social history class went this year ( pretty well in many respects). My friend who taught the course said that for our students, most of whom were born sometime in the late 80s, historic Canada is unrecognizable as their country until a point of very few years before their birth.

This is just another illustration of how present concerns have a huge effect on what aspects of the past we choose to think about.

Image: William of Orange. Boo, hiss!

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Friday, April 18, 2008

You couldn't make up stuff like this

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Resurrection of the Iraqi National Museum

Five years ago, during the invasion, the enormously significant archaeological collection at the Iraqi National Museum was plundered. (I'm sure there is a big story behind that plundering, not that we are likely ever to know it.)

Now, some good news: progress is being made towards restoration. The Globe and Mail has a short video report here.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Inside Iraq: "They don't think about us"

I'm copying here the most recent blog entry from Inside Iraq, which is part of the excellent McClatchy News site. The writer is an Iraqi employee of this US news service:

It had been my fourth days in the office. I couldn’t go home since I came on Wednesday. When I tried to go home on Thursday afternoon, I couldn’t find a taxi because of the violence wave that swept Baghdad neighborhoods which pushed the government to announce curfew. In a way or another, I could manage staying in the office in spite of the big pain in my heart. I always think about my son. I miss him so much. I miss hugging him, I missed his sweet kisses on my face, I miss his sweet smile when he sees me, I miss his tears when my wife doesn’t allow him to do whatever he wants and I really love his face when I defend him as if he teases his mother. I was planning to tell my boss that I want to go early tomorrow and I know she wouldn’t mind at all but it looks that planning for more that one hour is impossible in my country. About less than one hour ago and while I was watching a football match with my colleague, our office manager told us that the government decided to extend the curfew until further notice which means I have to stay another night in the office.


When I heard the news, I started thinking seriously about the most important thing. I started thinking about food, not my food but Iraqis food. I’m really surprised with the way our government thinks because it didn’t take in consideration the most important need for the people, the government didn’t ever think about food. Iraqi families are locked in their house for the last four days; they didn’t store much food because they never expected such a curfew. The food that the families usually store might be enough for two days as a maximum. The markets are empty since the second day of the curfew. It looks that our great government forgot that not all the Iraqis are prime minister or high rank officials or it may believe that Iraqis use the solar power to live. It looks that our politicians never read history; they never realize that hungry stomachs are timed bombs that may explode any moment.


Come on our great politicians, we don’t have the money you have, we don’t have the power you have and more than that, we have real human hearts not politicians hearts.


Remember this: "It looks that our politicians never read history; they never realize that hungry stomachs are timed bombs that may explode any moment."


If you are still up for it, look at this at another McClatchy blog.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Green Zone

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Inside Iraq: a vital operation performed despite the strike

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five years of the Iraq war

Here it is, summed up by one of the Iraqi bloggers at McClatchy.

And here's a Pentagon briefing about where those terrorists in Iraq came from, as reported by Spencer Ackerman at The American Prospect.

A key quote:

Here is what that enemy looks like. I'll call him Mr. AQI.

Mr. AQI is a man in his early-to-mid 20s. Chances are he came to Iraq from either north Africa or Saudi Arabia. He's single. He's lower-middle class and has some high school experience, but probably not a diploma. To earn his wages he worked in construction or maybe drove a taxi. Mr. AQI probably didn't have any significant military experience prior to joining AQI. His relationship with his dad isn't so great. And while he's been religious for as long as he can remember, he wasn't, you know, a nut about it.

So what brought Mr. AQI to Iraq? At the mosque, he met a man who could tell Mr. AQI just wanted to belong to something. That man told Mr. AQI he had something Mr. AQI needed to see. Very often, according to Colonel Bacon, it was an image from Abu Ghraib. Or it was a spliced-together propaganda film of Americans killing or abusing Iraqis. The narrative that weighed heavily on Mr. AQI, Colonel Bacon said, was that it was his "religious duty go to Iraq," where he would serve as "an avenger of abused Iraqs."

But Iraq wasn't what he thought it would be. Mr. AQI wasn't an infantryman, where he'd bravely stand and fight Americans, he was pressured into being a suicide bomber. Nor were his targets the Americans he wanted to hit -- they were the Iraqis he came to avenge. According to Colonel Bacon, in some cases, Mr. AQI was happy to be in American custody, where he would no longer cause Iraq any more pain.

I'll have more to say about "wanting to belong to something" in a later post.



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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Inside Iraq still publishing


I'd like to direct my readers' attention to the Inside Iraq blog written by Iraqi employees of the US wire service McClatchy. It's always in my sidebar, but it's been a while since I've said anything about it. If you want to have some idea of what Iraqis, especially Baghdadis, are experiencing, this is a good place to go.

Image: Part of the port of Basra.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

War -- huh -- what is it good for?

HISTORICAL COSTS OF U.S. WARS (In 2007 Dollars)

World War II
$3.2 trillion
Iraq and Afghanistan To Date$695.7 billion
Vietnam War$670 billion
World War I$364 billion
Korean War$295 billion
Persian Gulf War$94 billion
Civil War (both Union and Confederate costs) $81 billion
Spanish-American War$7 billion
American Revolution$4 billion
Mexican War $2 billion
War of 1812 $1 billion

The source is the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, via Daily Kos.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Afghanistan and Iraq: the cost of war

Phil Paine writes on Canada in Afghanistan, asking how much is it costing, and for what?

And on the American front, suicide...

Image: A two-time attempter (see the Washington Post article).

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Irbil as tourist attraction

Irbil in northern Iraq -- or if you prefer, Kurdistan -- is the best existing example of how continuous occupation of sites resulted in the creation of "tells," hills made up of the rubble of previous layers of settlement. Irbil (sometimes spelled Arbil) is one city that after maybe 8,000 years is still sitting perched on all that rubble.

Alas, Irbil, at least the old central part of the city, is crumbling and few of the buildings there are still occupied. Bet that's happened before! The municipal authorities, according to this Associated Press/MSNBC story, see an opportunity here. Given a certain amount of investment and peace and quiet, this could be a unique tourist attraction!

I'd go in a heartbeat.

Thanks to Explorator for bringing this to my attention.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Winter wonderland

Snow falls in Baghdad. (From the Associated Press via Yahoo.)

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

The results of the British withdrawal from Basra


According to the commander of the British forces there (via the International Herald Tribune and Associated Press):

Attacks against British and Iraqi forces have plunged by 90 percent in southern Iraq since London withdrew its troops from the main city of Basra, the commander of British forces there said Thursday.

For more see the IHT article and Brandon Friedman at Daily Kos.

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