Sunday, December 31, 2006
Friday, December 29, 2006
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
"The night before Christmas
I dedicate this story to F... ; a very special kid.
Santa was sitting, as he usually does at this time of the year checking , and making sure for the last time that everything was in order. He was sitting before an enormous fire place with his red and green laptop on his knees, scrolling through his data base, cross referencing, trying to catch and correct as many mistakes as he could afford to. Rudolph the old reindeer, Santa's faithful companion was fooling around hanging all sorts of colored ornaments and light bulbs on his horns.
- 'I have finished! , I give up, I can’t find anything wrong'. said Santa looking through his golden rimmed spectacles at Rudolph, who was in a great mess with all the wires tangled around him.
- You say that every darn year, then somehow we always end up breaking someone's heart. By the way , are you going to Iraq this year? .
Santa's face instantaneously turned red, even redder than his red jumper , for this was a provocative question Rudolph always rubbed into his face, to tease him every now and then.
- Get over it already, that incident has become a joke long ago.
Santa put his laptop on the floor , gazed at the fireplace gloomily and started…
- It was 1985 …
- Oh, boy here we go again , that story is printed in my head. It is an old Iraqi joke, people have heard it so often , they don't even find it funny any more.
- 'I was trying to deliver presents in Al Bataween area' Digressed Santa . 'The war was still raging with Iran. Back then they had this thing called the "people’s army" . All young men from 18 to 40 were drafted , and as if that was not enough the people’s army used to catch older men from 45 to 70 and up, from the streets and cafés and transport them to the front after a stupid inefficient training course.They caught me accidentally, they dressed me in khaki, gave me a rifle and it was of to the north Santa!. I was posted on a mountain for 6 months , six months of shooting and bombing …
- I know it was harsh, but..
- I have not finished yet!.When they let us go "the ones who remained alive that is", cause most of the brigade died, not by enemy fires as you may think , No, many died from diabetes , high blood pressure, heart attacks, Alzheimer … we were all so old you see. When we were finally released . I bought a white Dishdasha to wear, in order to blend with the locals, and as I was wandering in the streets of Baghdad, the security force arrested me . I did not have an ID, so I just played mad, but that was no good for them. They tortured me for about three months for being a conspiring member in an Islamic group, because of my beard you see .
- 'I understand.' nodded Rudolph sympathetically.
- The security transferred me to the secret intelligence, the latter transferred me to the "I don’t know who or what ", at the end they put me in a terrifying mad house, from which I escaped and fled the country through the north, which I knew well by then. I came all the way back here. I arrived as you recall at the beginning of December, thank God, just in time for the next season. So, the answer to your question ; is no Rudolph, I am not going to Iraq this year ! .
- Come on, what about all those children .
- What children?, you know that is another reason for me not to go. After I was released and was trying to make my way back home the children of Baghdad gave me hell of a time. They used to run after me, whenever they caught sight of me, throwing stones at me and cheering, thinking I was a mad man. Which made me move exclusively after the fall of dark. They do not believe in me, they do not need me and that is that!.
- Why should they? You were never there for them, and besides; they seized to be children long ago', said Rudolph pensively .
- Don’t you think I know that?. After the first war came another war, then the embargo, then another war and now all this hullabaloo. Children had to hit the roads and work for survival and get killed paying for the stupidity of adults . I watch them through my magic glass ball selling gas and oil, polishing shoes, begging, being beaten up to half death by street creeps. I know ! .
- 'Where are you Mr. Charles Dickens!' sighed Rudolph .
- No one believes in me there, Papa Noel is dead!, as far as Iraqi kids are concerned .
- Please, let us just give one present to one child of our choice, be adventurous for God's sake.
Then Rudolph took Santa’s laptop and typed a few letters and said :
- 'I don’t recommend Basrah, cause Shia's Militias are ruling over there totally. They may kidnap you and ask for a ransom and since no one answers for you there, and most of the Christians have left town … no, it won't be a good idea at all . All the south is much theirs too . The west , let me see… nop , with your red coat you would be kidnapped and killed in a second, they won't even bother to film you . The north is ok , but it would not be much of a challenge …
Baghdad , Baghdad …hmmm' Rudolph kept scrolling up and down for 5 minutes , then he went over to Santa showing him something on the screen of the laptop.
- There you are , In Al Dora district, in the poor market place lives a little boy. He polishes shoes for a living. Age 7. He attended school for a couple of months last year, then dropped out after his father was killed. His Mom works in a local Kuba factory.
- Fine , why not , get ready , Santa approved finally .
At 10 o’clock PM, the 24th of December, Santa and his reindeers were flying over Baghdad. Rather lower than usual, so that the radars will not be able to detect them. Rudolph checked that out thoroughly .
The land beneath them was completely black; no lights, no decorations, no fire works no sign of Christmas at all. Every now and then they would hear bullets sounds and explosions . Rudolph gave instructions to the others to go a little lower, when they reached the local church. The church was closed; no chanting or bells could be heard, just a well locked mute building. The next second a deafening blast ripped the sky and faster than Santa and his reindeers could realize , they plunged down into a filthy water puddle . They lay there in the dark too shocked to move for a while . The first voice was uttered by Rudolph :
- Santa are you alive ? answer me .
- Arghhhh, ohhhhh, I am ok I think, were we hit ?
- I think so . I read that mortar missiles are in fashion now in Baghdad .
- Ah Rudi, I think the others were hurt.
They helped each other up. Santa got out his torch light and inspected the site , His sleigh was wrecked and the reindeers were lying dead .
- Oh Good Lord, it is a bloody reindeer massacre ! Now what are we going to do? .
- We'll have to Bury them , and get the hell out of here as quick as we can .
- 'Aren’t we going to take them back with us?' wept Santa, pointing to the deceased reindeers .
- 'No, When things normalize we can demand their remains, but now it is to risky for us .' said Rudolph sensibly .
They looked around, it was an empty muddy from rain piece of land. They grabbed a piece of metal from the sleigh's wreckage, and started to dig . Before they managed to dig one square foot, bullets came raining down on them, helicopters were flying above their heads, loud speakers were roaring with all sorts of curses and threats . They were surrounded by men in blue and camouflage .
- 'Rudolph, if this is going to be 1985 all over again, I personally will kill you and stuff you with raisons and nuts and eat you for my last Christmas dinner' , whispered Santa furiously .
- What the hell .. replied Rudolph with his front limps held up in sign of surrender , standing on his hinds .
They were pushed around and kicked everywhere. They could not distinguish much of what was being said , but one word kept recurring; Irhabi .
- What are they saying oh wise deer?, you are the polyglot here, aren't you ? said Santa wiping the blood of his nose.
- Emm,.. they think that we are burying 50 men we kidnapped earlier this morning in Baghdad. And I think they are going to kill us, after they beat the hell out of us of course.
- 'And a very Merry Christmas to you, you ridiculous moose.' Said Santa with his voice shacking .
- 'I am not a moose' grumbled Rudolph.
The men in blue took them away after talking to the men in camouflage .
They put them in some dingy sell . Shortly a man in uniforn came and whispered to them :
- Which group are you from guys, are you with ****** or ****** or ******?
- 'Ah , yes as you say exactly' they replied puzzled .
- Good I’ll get you out in no time, just wait.
He opened the sell door and pushed them in front of him till they reached the road
He shook their hands violently and said:
- Go, you heroes you ! . And don't forget to put a good word in for me to ***** , and be careful the guys at the end of the street are not ours, although the wear the same uniform , if they catch you it is the end .
- 'Now we really must get out of here' Said Santa .
- What about the boy? asked Rudolph
- What ? , how on earth are we going to get there?, and look at you! one of your horns is broken.
- We are in the same area , we just have to run a few blocks and then you can fly back on my back , and oh, your beard is burned .
They went off like crazy; limping, hopping, skipping and even crawling, when they had to avoid being seen .
They finally reached the broke poor area, where the boy lived. It was about twelve thirty Baghdad time. The whole lane was immersed in darkness. So was the house, except for one room, which was lit with a cheap kerosene lantern . Santa peeked from the window and saw a beautiful young woman praying alone. A statue of the virgin marry on a small table in front of her was illuminated by the orange light of a candle. The wooden table at one end of the room had dishes on it with remains of Kuba from the factory , bones of once a malnourished chicken, orange peels and candy paper . A small gaunt Christmas tree was standing at the center of the room with paper ornaments hanging helplessly from it's branches . Santa and Rudolph went to the other side of the house . They peeked from another window. There was a little boy sleeping with a small kerosene heater near his bed to keep him warm. Santa pushed the window open carefully, he and Rudolph managed to squeeze in . Santa lost his sack on the way of course , but he had a spider man toy stuffed in his pocket ,which he had grabbed the last minute before he left the north pole . Rudolph took off the cookie sack , which was hanging around his neck. They put the toy and the sack on the bed near the boy's feet. As they were sneaking out they nearly tripped on a box . Santa looked at it closely , it was the shoe polishing box . The boy must have cleaned it and left it there .
Santa and Rudolph watched the boy sleeping for a while from the window. His mother came in to turn off the heater and went out not noticing the presents on the bed .
- By the way Rudolph, what is the boy’s name? you never told me.
- 'Fadi' said Rudolph.
- Ah , a beautiful name it means "He who sacrifices himself for others ", it is another name of Jesus in Arabic isn’t it?
- Yes .
The mother actually saw them , she was standing paralyzed with fear, where they could not see her. She saw a reindeer with one horn, and a scruffy old man in a red shredded coat with a messy sooty beard, and white hair sticking out in all directions. She saw they did not harm her child . She watched them as they walked away not knowing what to make of all this. Next morning Fadi came screaming with joy into the front room. He kissed his Mom so hard she could hardly breathe, for getting him spider man, who was his hero .
- Mom I’ll go and polish a few shoes in the market, and I’ll come back as fast as I can, to play with him .
He polished shoes whistling, humming and singing for a few hours , and when his friend came with two cigarettes he nicked for them to smoke secretly, as they do everyday , Fadi refused. He just wanted to go home and play with his toy .
As for Santa and Rudolph, they decided to visit other kids in Baghdad next year. For they worked up an appetite for adventure .
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
It categorized me as a conservative leaning centrist which is surprising since I thought of myself as a centrist leaning conservative. However, the quiz is too simple. Some of the questions were worded so they didn't offer an answer I wanted to give.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Thursday, December 21, 2006
"Since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1...
... The first battalion of the new Iraqi Army has graduated and is on active duty.
... Over 60,000 Iraqis now provide security to their fellow citizens.
... Nearly all of Iraq's 400 courts are functioning.
... The Iraqi judiciary is fully independent.
.. On Monday, October 6, power generation hit 4,518 megawatts, exceeding the prewar average.
... All 22 universities and 43 technical institutes and colleges are open, as are nearly all primary and secondary schools.
... By October 1, Coalition forces had rehab-ed over 1,500 schools - 500 more than scheduled.
... Teachers earn from 12 to 25 times their former salaries.
... All 240 hospitals and more than 1200 clinics are open.
... Doctor's salaries are at least eight times what they were under Saddam.
... Pharmaceutical distribution has gone from essentially nothing to 700 tons in May to a current total of 12,000 tons.
... The Coalition has helped administer over 22 million vaccination doses to Iraq's children.
... A Coalition program has cleared over 14,000 kilometers of Iraq's 27,000 kilometers of weed-choked canals which now irrigate tens of thousands of farms. This project has created jobs for more than 100,000 Iraqi men and women.
... We have restored over three-quarters of prewar telephone services and over two-thirds of the potable water production.
... There are 4,900 full-service telephone connections. We expect 50,000 by year-end.
... The wheels of commerce are turning. From bicycles to satellite dishes to cars and trucks, businesses are coming to life in all major cities and towns.
... 95 percent of all prewar bank customers have service and first-time customers are opening accounts daily.
... Iraqi banks are making loans to finance businesses.
... The central bank is fully independent.
... Iraq has one of the world's most growth-oriented investment and banking laws.
... Iraq has a single, unified currency for the first time in 15 years.
... Satellite TV dishes are legal.
... Foreign journalists aren't on 10-day visas paying mandatory and extortionate fees to the Ministry of Information for minders and other government spies.
... There is no Ministry of Information.
... There are more than 170 newspapers.
... You can buy satellite dishes on what seems like every street corner.
... Foreign journalists (and everyone else) are free to come and go.
... A nation that had not one single element -- legislative, judicial or executive -- of a representative government now does.
... In Baghdad alone residents have selected 88 advisory councils. Baghdad's first democratic transfer of power in 35 years happened when the city council elected its new chairman.
... Today in Iraq chambers of commerce, business, school and professional organizations are electing their leaders all over the country.
... 25 ministers, selected by the most representative governing body in Iraq's history, run the day-to-day business of government.
... The Iraqi government regularly participates in international events. Since July the Iraqi government has been represented in over two dozen international meetings, including those of the UN General Assembly, the Arab League, the World Bank and IMF and, today, the Islamic Conference Summit. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs today announced that it is reopening over 30 Iraqi embassies around the world.
... Shiva religious festivals that were all but banned, aren't anymore.
... For the first time in 35 years, in Karbala thousands of Shiites celebrate the pilgrimage of the 12th Imam.
... The Coalition has completed over 13,000 reconstruction projects, large and small, as part of a strategic plan for the reconstruction of Iraq.
... Uday and Queasy are dead - and no longer feeding innocent Iraqis to the zoo lions, raping the young daughters of local leaders to force cooperation, torturing Iraq's soccer players for losing games, or murdering critics.
... Children aren't imprisoned or murdered when their parents disagree with the government.
... Political opponents aren't imprisoned, tortured, executed, maimed, or forced to watch their families die for disagreeing with Saddam.
... Millions of long-suffering Iraqis no longer live in perpetual terror.
... Saudis will hold municipal elections.
... Qatar is reforming education to give more choices to parents.
... Jordan is accelerating market economic reforms.
... The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for the first time to an Iranian
-- A Muslim woman who speaks out with courage for human rights, for democracy and for peace.
.. Saddam is gone.
... Iraq is free.
….Terrorists are being drawn to an arena in which our military can kill or capture them
Sovereignty is restored to Iraq"
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
"Strong opposition to terrorism was found among Muslims in seven out of ten countries polled by Pew. This is especially true in the Muslim populations of Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey, where six in ten or more say that “suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets” are “never justified.” The TFT poll of Indonesia and Pakistan found even bigger numbers rejecting all attacks on civilians. Pew also found complete rejection of terrorism among very large majorities of Muslims living in Germany, Britain, Spain and France. Trend line data available for some countries also show a significant increase in those taking this position in Indonesia and a remarkable 23 point increase in Pakistan. Only Turkey showed a slight downward movement.
In two countries complete opposition to terrorism was just under half—Jordan and Egypt. However in Jordan—the country for which trend line data is available—there was a very large increase of 32 points among those saying terrorism is never justifiable. Only in Nigeria did less than a third fully reject terrorism, though an additional quarter said that it could rarely be justified.
On bin Laden, Pew found that majorities in eight of the ten countries said they had little or no confidence in the al Qaeda leader. In Jordan, the proportion of respondents saying they lack confidence in bin Laden has nearly doubled over the past year. The two exceptions are Nigeria and Pakistan, where only about a third say they lack confidence. In Europe, most Muslims say they have no confidence at all in bin Laden: eight out of ten in Germany and France; six out of ten in Great Britain and Spain."
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Blood and Money
In what might be called the mother of all surprises, Iraq's economy is growing strong, even booming in places.
By Silvia Spring
Dec. 25, 2006 - Jan. 1, 2007 issue - It may sound unreal, given the daily images of carnage and chaos. But for a certain plucky breed of businessmen, there's good money to be made in Iraq. Consider Iraqna, the leading mobile-phone company. For sure, its quarterly reports seldom make for dull reading. Despite employees kidnapped, cell-phone towers bombed, storefronts shot up and a huge security budget—up to four guards for each employee—the company posted revenues of $333 million in 2005. This year, it's on track to take in $520 million. The U.S. State Department reports that there are now 7.1 million mobile-phone subscribers in Iraq, up from just 1.4 million two years ago. Says Wael Ziada, an analyst in Cairo who tracks Iraqna: "There will always be pockets of money and wealth, no matter how bad the situation gets."
Civil war or not, Iraq has an economy, and—mother of all surprises—it's doing remarkably well. Real estate is booming. Construction, retail and wholesale trade sectors are healthy, too, according to a report by Global Insight in London. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports 34,000 registered companies in Iraq, up from 8,000 three years ago. Sales of secondhand cars, televisions and mobile phones have all risen sharply. Estimates vary, but one from Global Insight puts GDP growth at 17 percent last year and projects 13 percent for 2006. The World Bank has it lower: at 4 percent this year. But, given all the attention paid to deteriorating security, the startling fact is that Iraq is growing at all.
How? Iraq is a crippled nation growing on the financial equivalent of steroids, with money pouring in from abroad. National oil revenues and foreign grants look set to total $41 billion this year, according to the IMF. With security improving in one key spot—the southern oilfields—that figure could go up.
Not too shabby, all things considered. Yes, Iraq's problems are daunting, to say the least. Unemployment runs between 30 and 50 percent. Many former state industries have all but ceased to function. As for all that money flowing in, much of it has gone to things that do little to advance the country's future. Security, for instance, gobbles up as much as a third of most companies' operating budgets, whereas what Iraq really needs are hospitals, highways and power-generating plants.
Even so, there's a vibrancy at the grass roots that is invisible in most international coverage of Iraq. Partly it's the trickle-down effect. However it's spent, whether on security or something else, money circulates. Nor are ordinary Iraqis themselves short on cash. After so many years of living under sanctions, with little to consume, many built up considerable nest eggs—which they are now spending. That's boosted economic activity, particularly in retail. Imported goods have grown increasingly affordable, thanks to the elimination of tariffs and trade barriers. Salaries have gone up more than 100 percent since the fall of Saddam, and income-tax cuts (from 45 percent to just 15 percent) have put more cash in Iraqi pockets. "The U.S. wanted to create the conditions in which small-scale private enterprise could blossom," says Jan Randolph, head of sovereign risk at Global Insight. "In a sense, they've succeeded."
Consider some less formal indicators. Perhaps the most pervasive is the horrendous Iraqi traffic jams. Roadside bombs account for fewer backups than the sheer number of secondhand cars that have crowded onto the nation's roads—five times as many in Baghdad as before the war. Cheap Chinese goods overflow from shop shelves, and store owners report quick turnover. Real-estate prices have risen several hundred percent, suggesting that Iraqis are more optimistic about the future than most Americans are.
There's even a positive spin to be put on corruption. Money stolen from government coffers or siphoned from U.S. aid projects does not just disappear. Again, says Farid Abolfathi, a Global Insight analyst, it's the "trickledown" effect. Such "underground activity" is the most dynamic part of Iraq's economy, he says. "It might not be viewed as respectable. But in reality, that's what puts money in the hands of the little people."
Meanwhile, Iraq's official economic institutions are making progress, improbable as that might sound in the context of savage sectarian violence and a seemingly complete breakdown of leadership and law. Yet it's a fact. A government often accused of being no government at all has somehow managed to take its first steps to liberalize the highly centralized economy of the Saddam era. Iraq has a debt-relief deal with the IMF that requires Baghdad to end subsidies and open up its gas-import market. Earlier this year the government made the first hesitant steps, axing fuel subsidies—and sending prices from a few cents a liter to around 14. "This has become one important way of institutionally engaging with Iraq," says economist Colin Rowat at the University of Birmingham. "If you lose that engagement, then that means a lot more people have given up on Iraq."
It goes without saying: real progress won't be seen until the security situation clears up. Iraq still lacks a functioning banking system. Though there's an increasing awareness of Iraq as a potential emerging market, foreign investors won't make serious commitments until they are assured a measure of stability. Local moneymen are scarcely more bullish on the long term. In Iraq's nascent bond market, buyers have so far been willing to invest in local-currency Treasury bills with terms up to six months, max.
Iraqna isn't the only success story. There is also Nipal, a money-transfer service that is the backbone of Iraq's cash economy, as well as a slew of successful construction firms in Kurdistan. Such companies are not waiting for Iraq's political crisis to resolve itself. Yet imagine how they would prosper if it did, and how quickly they would be joined by others. As things stand, Iraqna faces extraordinary difficulties. It builds towers but lives in constant fear that they will be blown up. It has to be careful about whom it hires, or where it assigns people to work. Whether Sunni or Shia, it doesn't matter; criminal gangs and militias regularly try to kidnap employees to hold them hostage for ransom, regardless of ethnicity. As for long-range planning? Forget it, says Ziada, the Cairo analyst. "It's a terrible situation for any company."
But again, that's the remarkable thing. In a business climate that is inhospitable, to say the least, companies like Iraqna are thriving. The withdrawal of a certain great power could drastically reduce the foreign money flow, and knock the crippled economy flat.
With Michael Hastings in Baghdad
© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.
Fear is one of the primary emotions, together with joy, anger, and grief. Fear generally refers to feelings elicited by tangible, realistic dangers, as opposed to anxiety, which often arises out of proportion to the actual threat or danger involved. Fear may be provoked by exposure to traumatic situations, observations of other people exhibiting fear, or the receipt of frightening information. Repeated or prolonged exposure to fear can lead to disorders such as combat fatigue, which is characterized by long-term anxiety and other emotional disturbances.
Before I started studying psychology, I worked as a woodcarver and cabinetmaker. One day I brought home a pile of dirty, moldy pieces of wood. My father looked at it and said if it were up to him he would throw it all in the garbage. But I patiently cleaned, sanded, filled, reglued, refinished, assembled, and polished the pieces. In the end I had a beautiful antique oak dining table.
So let that be a psychological lesson. No life, however dirty and broken, is beyond redemption. Or beyond hope.
Now, my father was a good man and he never abused me in any way. And he never told me that I was garbage. But imagine how it feels to be a child whose parents are abusive, critical, neglectful, and manipulative. These parents not only break down their child into a pile of sticks, but also, when the child stands there covered in guilt and shame, they tell the child, “Look at you! You’re just a piece of garbage.”
And why are there so many lives headed for the garbage dump? Fear. Fear of the hard work of going to psychotherapy to clean themselves off. Fear of letting go of the dirt, because it’s all they know, for, even if it’s dirt, at least it’s comfortable.
So you choose: a polished oak table, or a pile of broken sticks for the garbage. It’s your life.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
'There was one advantage I learned from this war, I told Omar. He looked at me and asked, “which war?” The latest one, I replied. I learned how to differentiate between the term “Zionist” and “Jew”.
He looked at me in daze! “Yes, it’s only in 2003 that I learned what the difference between these two words is.” There were so many questions in his mind. I didn’t wait for him to ask them. I explained why it’s just recently that I learned that difference.
At home, we never discussed politics, NEVER, period. My parents were so cautious about these things. Any mistake would take all of us, if not all of my tribe, to jail or execution by Saddam’s people. One of the things we did not discuss at home was who the Jews and the Zionists are. It was only once I recall my mother and grandmother talking about their Jewish Iraqi neighbors and friends whom they missed. I was 12 or 13 at that time. I asked both of them about it. My mother sighed and said that the Iraqi Jews were very nice and lovely people. That was it. She never mentioned anything after that neither did my grandmother.
I was like most teenagers whose main source of news was Saddam’s regime’s media outlets and school curricula. They all denounced the “Jews”. None of them clarified what the difference was. Like most of those in my age, I was brain washed. I was taught to hate the “Jews”, all of them, not only the “Zionists”.
I tried to know more about what is happening in
Before 2003, the term “Jews” among most Iraqis in my age meant the Zionists. I even recall how a rumor was spread in my undergrad school when one of my classmates said that a member of the “Backstreet Boys” band is Jewish. Most of the classmates told her that “this was untrue. It seems there was someone trying to distort the reputation of the band in
It is also ironic that one of the text books I had in my undergrad school was written by Noam Chomsky. It was about Linguistics. I recall my professor saying that Chomsky was a Jew who is against the State of Israel! He did not elaborate and none of the students asked him more about it. No one wanted to be in trouble. I kept wondering how come he is Jewish and he’s against the State of Israel which we called the “Zionist Entity” at the time. I found no answer till after the 2003 war.
Finally, the confusion I had and the decades of misinformation have come to end. After the invasion, I was able to start the investigation by myself. Saddam was gone. It was time to ask without being fearful.'
Friday, December 15, 2006
'Two visions of Iraq
Charette reflected on two visions of war-torn Iraq: the violent one that left him bleeding on the deck of a boat, and another - one not often heard about.
His unit was stationed next to a large lake in the Al Anbar Province, Lake Qadisiyah. The lake made the news recently when a helicopter crashed into it.
"The lake was crystal clear. [There were] palm trees, yellow sand. In the early morning, you hear from the city ... the prayers. It comes out of nowhere. Sometimes they are singing, sometimes they are talking. But it's kind of peaceful, looking out over the water - the sun just coming up."
The soldier could see a kind of hope in the area's natural beauty. Since being home, he has stopped watching the news because of the constant barrage of negative images from Iraq.
"What I see on TV is not what I saw in Iraq. I saw a lot of positive stuff in Iraq." Schools are being built, he said, and police are being trained.
"There are so many people over there trying to make a difference, trying to help people out," he said. "Luckily, in Iraq, we didn't hear all the politics. We just do our thing.
"All the news shows is the body count."'
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
'Soccer-mad Iraqis, Shi'ites, Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds alike, are enjoying rare moments of joy as their team charges through to the final of the Asian Games. Moments after the final whistle saw Iraq knock out favourites South Korea on Tuesday to enter the final, jubilant crowds across Iraq took to the streets dancing to patriotic songs, waving their national flag, firing celebratory shots into the air and honking horns. State TV played music for hours. Iraqis struggling in their daily lives to survive bombs and sectarian death squads have been glued to television sets watching their team defying the difficulties crippling a country many fear is slipping into civil war or partition. "I'm extremely happy at this win. These victories give us a deep sense of pride and unity," said Ayad al-Saadi, a die-hard fan in Baghdad who followed the match on the edge of his seat. "I hope we will win the tournament because we deserve as many happy moments as we can get. The team is a thorn in the eye of the terrorists who want to ruin our country." The team's performance has captured the hearts of Iraqis, much as the soccer team of the 2004 Olympic Games did, which upset the odds to finish in fourth. Sunni and Shi'ite media unite in praise of a team straddling, in apparent harmony, the sectarian divides. "Iraq's heroes close to gold after great victory over Korea," read a headline in Al Sabah newspaper, controlled by the Shi'ite-led goverment. The Sunni-owned Al Mashriq daily proclaimed: "Our heroes in competition for gold medal." A U.S. military spokesman, by background possibly not a soccer fanatic himself, found time in a weekly news briefing usually focused on military operations to praise the team as "a true inspiration to all of us". "It shows what can be done when people put their differences aside."'
If there are truly Iraqis who miss Saddam because of the security inherent in his authoritarianism due to lack of freedom, they are in luck. They can move to North Korea and experience it in its full glory.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Thursday, December 7, 2006
"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."
"It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time."
"One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half."
"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm."
"The price of greatness is responsibility."
"When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber."
"We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire...Give us the tools and we will finish the job."
"Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
"For myself I am an optimist - it does not seem to be much use being anything else."
Sir Winston Churchill
It really doesn't say anything new. It basically says that US people should be united in a consensus that we are going to be in Iraq for the long haul. The details are ones that already have been considered are are being considered. In the end, it relies on the Iraqis to fix their own country.
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
Major Doug Rokke will be quoted as an expert on DU, but frankly, Rokke has an agenda. His statements aren't backed up with any rigorous research. The symptoms he encountered anecdotally could have been caused by so many other factors. The WHO has a more comprehensive study at:
Depleted uranium particles or aerosols formed following impact and ignition on a hard target will be dispersed and deposited on the ground. It is reported that most of the depleted uranium dust will be deposited within a distance of 100m from the target (US Army Corps of Engineers 1997). People, most likely soldiers, close to an impact could therefore be exposed to dust by inhalation. UNEP (2000) has estimated that the inhalation and ingestion of depleted uranium contaminated dust, even under extreme conditions, and shortly after the impact of projectiles, as determined by the amount of dust that can be inhaled, would be less than about 10 millisieverts (mSv). This represents about half the annual dose limit for radiation workers. The exposure of civilians to dust and smoke at the time of an attack is less likely. Deposited uranium dust might slowly be transformed through environmental weathering processes into more mobile and soluble forms (discussed elsewhere in this section) and dispersed in the environment by air currents.
During the Gulf War, soldiers were exposed to depleted uranium by ‘friendly fire’. Fragments from penetrating depleted uranium rounds are embedded in the bodies of several soldiers and others inhaled depleted uranium aerosols generated by the impact of the depleted uranium munitions penetrating the target. Thirty-three US veterans seriously injured in friendly fire incidents have been monitored by the Baltimore Veteran Administration Medical Center since 1993. About half of them have depleted uranium fragments in their bodies. A subsequent study considered 29 veterans from the original 33. Though these veterans have higher concentrations of uranium in their urine, indicating that depleted uranium is being oxidized by body fluids, no adverse kidney effects have been observed (McDiarmid 1998 and 2000; US Department of Defense 2000).
External contact route
Picking up a penetrator and keeping it in a pocket is the only realistic way of a long period of exposure to external (beta) radiation from depleted uranium. Snihs & Åkerblom (2000) stated that by keeping it in the same position for several weeks, it might be possible that the dose administered to the skin would exceed the skin dose limit for the general population, though not that of radiation workers. The effect of such exposure would be localized and the delivered dose would not be sufficient to cause any deterministic effect.
The possibility was mentioned to the mission that uranium dust might become incorporated in vegetables and crops. The mission was advised by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) that in the published literature there are no known plants that preferentially accumulate uranium and the normal amounts of uranium taken up in plants would not be expected to be dangerous to humans, birds or other animals (communications between the mission team and FAO in January and February 2001).
Drinking water route
The final plausible route of exposure of the population is through drinking water contaminated by migration of soluble depleted uranium compounds in ground or surface water. In particular, possible contamination of wells or spring protection tanks close to an attack site from pieces of depleted uranium might be an isolated occurrence and its relevance should be considered further.
Absorption of depleted uranium
If or when a person comes into contact with depleted uranium from a penetrator, there is no known immediate or acute risk to life. Furthermore, the radio-medicine literature provides no evidence to assume that a person having contact (either externally or internally) with depleted uranium will develop an illness. The onset of any illness argued to be due to depleted uranium has to be related to the amount of radiation dose or amount of toxic chemical to which a person has been exposed (US Department of Defense 2000). Absorption of depleted uranium in the body following inhalation or ingestion is very limited. Mean absorption following inhalation exposure is about 0.8 to 0.9%, with less soluble compounds as uranium oxides remaining in the lungs. Absorption following ingestion also depends on the solubility of the uranium compounds, but is also limited at between 1 to 2% of the ingested amount with the remainder passed out in faeces (UNEP/UNCHS Balkans Task Force 1999).
Most of the small amount of uranium that is absorbed in the body (about 70%) will be filtered out by the kidneys and excreted in urine within 24 hours. The remaining part will be distributed to the skeleton, liver and kidneys. The time to excrete half of this remaining uranium is in the range of six months to one year.
The radiological toxicity of depleted uranium is primarily confined to body cells that are susceptible to the effects of alpha and beta radiation. It is therefore thought that inhaled depleted uranium particles may lead to damage of lung cells and might increase the possibility of lung cancer.
Epidemiological studies provide consistent and convincing evidence of excess lung cancer, but not of leukaemia, related to alpha particle exposure among uranium miners (IARC1988; US NAS 1999). However, this effect is attributed to be related to exposure to gaseous decay products (radon). The risk of lung cancer appears to be proportional to the radiation dose received. Indeed, among nuclear workers involved in uranium processing (whose exposures to alpha particles from uranium are less than those of miners), no consistent excess of lung cancer has been found (NCRP 1978; NRC 1988; NIH 1994; Cardis & Richardson 2000; IARC 2001). Kidney dysfunction is considered the main chemically induced toxic effect of depleted uranium in humans, though this is thought to be reversible (Priest 2001). Until now, a study of 29 Gulf War veterans with embedded fragments of depleted uranium in their bodies has not shown adverse kidney effects (McDiarmid et al. 1998 & 2000). The risk of kidney effects following ingestion of depleted uranium depends on the amount of soluble uranium compounds present (effects increase with higher solubility). Information on the presence of soluble uranium compounds following the use or degradation of depleted uranium penetrators is therefore essential to evaluate the potential risk of developing kidney dysfunction."
A followup was performed 2 years later to verify if leukemia or cancer was occurring at a higher rate:
"In 2001 WHO and the (then) Department of Health and Public Welfare have looked into the incidence of leukemia in Kosovo. Records at Pristina Hospital for the past four years were examined and doctors from district hospitals have been interviewed. The initial survey indicated that the incidence of leukemia in Kosovo has not increased. WHO and the Department of Health and Social Welfare point out that, although record are not perfect, any significant increase in cancers such as leukemia would have been noticed. Doctors state that it takes a minimum of two to three years for the symptoms of leukemia to be detected."
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Just want to remember this link to the United Nations study of distribution of household wealth in the world. It opens a whole bunch of questions, but I just wanted to get the basic data down for now.
'The new Abu Tubar had unique and different nom de guerre, Abu Deraa, Father of the Armor, a reference to his penchant for attacking U.S. armored vehicles. He is known of having a big amusement in torturing his victims who most of them are Sunni civilians. One of his signature techniques is running a drill into the skull of his live victim, according to a recent Time article. His appetite for mayhem is so vast that some Iraqis call him the "Shiite Zarqawi"'
'After going far in his crimes, Abu Deraa became hated even by some of his cleric leaders. Iraq for All, an Iraqi local news website reported that Muqtada al-Sadr himself dismissed 60 members, including Abu Deraa, from the Mahdi Army militia. However, the man was still considered a hero, especially by Shiite members in the parliament.
Falah Shansal, a member of parliament from the al-Sadr bloc, told Time last week that Abu Deraa was still "a fighter in the Mahdi Army."
Like most of the “wanted” insurgents, Abu Deraa was hard to be caught. He managed to escape several times until he was killed few days ago by a Sunni insurgent group. Azzaman newspaper reported that the Islamic Army, one of the insurgent armed groups, killed Abu Deraa.'
Monday, December 4, 2006
Sunday, December 3, 2006
For comparison, the Lebanese Civil War, almost next door, can be used as a benchmark. In that war, about 150,000 people died, multiples of that injured, multiples of that displaced. Even without the ratio of less than 4 million compared to over 26 million in Iraq taken into account, the level of violence in Iraq still pales to what happens in a real civil war. You had Black Saturday in which 600 people died in a single day, and that wasn't the worst of the Lebanese War. You had two known massacres of 1,000 people each not to mention the 2,000 Palestinians dead when Syria decided to invade on the side of the Maronites. When civil war occurs in Iraq, you will have refugee displacement in the tens to hundreds of times of what is happening now. You will have armies fighting to take territory from each other with the USA being unable to stop them even in face-to-face combat. When a civil war truly occurs in Iraq, there will be no debate or doubt from anybody. So, from a geopolitical sense, there isn't a civil war yet in Iraq. The potential is there as Iran continues to supply Sadr's militias and Syria continues to supply Al Quaida and its Sunni allies of convenience. But in order to keep the far left seeking to dominate the Democrats at bay, we can't say that a civil war is truly occurring now.