keep on missing, and you’ll be fine

July 1st, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Nouri al-Maliki’s planned amnesty is apparently running on a principle of ‘only for the incompetent:
“The fighter who did not kill anyone will be included in the amnesty, but the fighter who killed someone will not be,”

don’t need no education

June 27th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

The New York Times has an upbeat [story]( about education in Iraq, claiming that between 2002 and 2005 primary school enrolment rose 7.4%, and middle/high school enrolment by 27%.
So, a cautious cheer. But the article claims that “direct attacks on schools have been relatively rare”. I don’t see how that can be true when the Ministry of Education [reports]( 417 attacks on schools since November.
I’m sure I’ve also seen reports that, while school enrolment may be up, attendance is noticeably down, as frightened parents keep their children at home.

Formica report

June 24th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

More details emerge about what American interrogators have been doing to jailed Iraqis. The [New York Times]( has some details:

One prisoner was fed only bread and water for 17 days. Other detainees were locked up for as many as seven days in cells so small they could neither stand up nor lie down, while interrogators played loud music that disrupted their sleep.

What I find most depressing is what the report finds acceptable:

three detainees were held in cells four feet high , four feet deep, and 20 inches wide, except to go to the bathroom, to be washed or to be interrogated. He concluded that two days in such confinement “would be reasonable; five to seven days would not.”

I’ve spent a few minutes looking unsuccessfully for the text of the report – I suspect it will be linked [here]( in due course.

Yes, you should talk to terrrorists

June 24th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

How do you expect to manage negotiations if you won’t talk to the people attacking you?
[This]( is a perfect case of pride, thoughtlessness and ill-considered patriotism making peace harder to achieve.

The Senate’s debate over the war in Iraq turned highly emotional this afternoon, as the lawmakers reacted to reports of the killing of two American soldiers by adopting two measures opposing amnesty for Iraqis who attack United States troops.
By a vote of 79 to 19, the Senate voted to declare that it objects to any such amnesty. By 64 to 34, the lawmakers voted to commend the new Iraqi government for not granting amnesty.

Also, does nobody (*) think it might be worth encouraging the Iraqi government to make decisions on its own, without undermining it even further by making it look like an American puppet
* OK, apparently Senator John W Warner does think this. Yay for him!

Ramadi besieged

June 16th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Dahr Jamail claimed that a major Coalition assault on Ramadi is beginning:

the US military has been assaulting the city for months with tactics like cutting water, electricity and medical aid, imposing curfews, and attacking by means of snipers and random air strikes. This time, Iraqis there are right to fear the worst – an all out attack on the city, similar to what was done to nearby Fallujah.

It looks as though he’s right. Granted, there has been almost no mention of this in the British press. The US military have given the kind of semi-denial which all but confirms something is happening. According to a Pentagon spokesman discussions of large-scle offensive “may be somewhere off the mark” – but when George Bush himself has spoken of an offensive in Ramadi, “off the mark” likely means little more that that there will be more focus on putting Iraqi rather than American troops in the front line. The Americans, with 1500 troops recently brought from Kuwait to Anbar, will simply be “helping them do that with our own military forces and our forces that operate as embedded trainers and in other ways”.
However it is spun, the offensive has already dramatically affected Ramadi for the worse. By one rport some 300,000 Ramadi residents have fled their homes this past week. And we’re seeing use of the same tactics which were widely condemned when they were used in Fallujah, Tal Afar and elsewhere.
The city is now virtually cut off, with Al-Jazeera reporting that the roads are blocked, and .”a giant wall of sand has been piled up around the perimiter”
As we have documented in previous campaigns water and electricity supplies have been cut off, possibly as part of an illegal US tactic of denying essential amenities to besieged cities. One report talks of “outages in the water, electricity and phone networks”. Dahr Jamail has been told that “Ramadi has been deprived of water, electricity, telephones and all services for about two months now”, and former governer of Anbar province has said that:

“The situation is catastrophic. No services, no electricity, no water”

So, all in all it seems we’re going back through the same mistakes and crimes seen in a half-dozen previous cases.


June 5th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Back last week, I started writing a post about Basra. I forgot about it, and so now I’m returning to a half-congealed mess and trying to squeeze it into shape without covering myself in filth.

» Read the rest of this entry «

Enduring bases, and Iraq after troop withdrawals

May 31st, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

I can’t follow the mass of speculation on the timetable for leaving Iraq, and I don’t think anybody else can either. On the one hand we see continuing large-scale coalition involvement, such as the [largest air assault since 2003](,,1733050,00.html) and [the move of 3500 US troops back into Iraq]( On the other hand, Nuri al-Maliki is [talking](,,1781019,00.html) about getting troops out of Iraq by the end of this year.
But that doesn’t matter so much. The real question is what ‘withdrawal’ means. It doesn’t mean abandoning political control of Iraq – that’s something I’ll write about more in a couple of days. But even militarily, it’s unlikely that all foreign troops will leave the country. More likely, the Americans will retreat further into a few small strongholds, retain bases to enhance their regional power. They will keep some control over the Iraqi military with ‘trainers’ and ‘advisers’, and by ensuring that air power and other heavy equipment is kept for the Americans only.
People have been writing about this for some time now. The Iraq Analysis Group has [collected]( some of the more prominent, and [Sarah Meyer]( of GlobalResearch has collated many relevant news reports.
Below the cut, I delve into the ‘enduring bases’ theory, and swerve dangerously close to conspiracy theories. Please, please take this as me collecting my thoughts, and not as a prediction of what will happen….

» Read the rest of this entry «


May 30th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Another brain-dump that’s mainly for my own benefit. So once again it’s going behind a cut.

» Read the rest of this entry «

Police in Iraq

May 28th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Below the cut is a braindump on what’s going on with police forces in Iraq at the moment, and in particular why they are getting such heavy media coverage right now. I’ve not quite got my head around it, so it’s a splurge more than anything coherent.
[not cross-posted to [IAG]( until I can make more sense of it all]

» Read the rest of this entry «

May 23rd, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

The Washington Post tries to be snarky about Bush’s language:

Bush has declared turning points and milestones in the war before. He called it “an important milestone” when a temporary governing council was formed in July 2003 and “a turning point” when sovereignty was turned over to the interim government in June 2004. Elections in January 2005, he said, were both “a turning point in the history of Iraq” and “a milestone in the advance of freedom.”
He called it a “milestone” in October when Iraqi voters approved a constitution and “a major milestone” two months later when they elected a parliament — a moment he also termed “a turning point in the history of Iraq, the history of the Middle East and the history of freedom.” The selection of a prime minister last month was “an important milestone toward our victory in Iraq” and, a week later, “a turning point for the Iraqi citizens.”

The thing is, these really are milestones; they’re some of the biggest dots you’d put on a timeline of Iraq. So

Bush 1 — 0 WaPo

In more important news, I’ve just discovered Spurl, and started using it to keep track of articles on Iraq. I’m feeling pretty upbeat about my chances of using it to make a lot more sense out of what’s going on in the country these days. But, as always, time will tell…

Channel 4 does Iraq

May 9th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Channel 4 yesterday had two documentaries on Iraq – both with good aspects, but both quite seriously flawed.
The first was devoted to Dispatches: women in Iraq. It’s quite poorly edited and planned for a mainstream documentary like Dispatches, the same footage keeps on cropping up multiple times, and there are some dubious-sounding statistics. Despite that, it’s good to see footage of Iraq from beyond the usual ‘violence and high politics’ perspective, and having programmes made by Iraqis rather than Brits is a Good Thing.
Then a couple of hours later we had John Snow in “the real Iraq”, talking about why documentaries like that one are made by Iraqis – or rather, about how impossible it is for Western journalists to get enough access to interact with the real Iraq. He’s right, and it’s a useful thing to drum on about. But it all falls down because his perspective is not “why the world can’t know about Iraq” but “why Jon Snow can’t know about Iraq”.
It doesn’t do the rest of us any harm at all to be forced to rely on Iraqi journalists and bloggers, and to ignore Western reporters for anything except high politics.
He did at least make a very good point about the lack of nuanced understanding of Iraqi current affairs, in what could almost be a mission statement for the Iraq Analysis Group:

“What we have in iraq as a result of bloggers, fledgling journalists, new media of all sorts, is a kind of scattergun effect – we have a a little bit of knowledge about different bits and pieces. What there is very little of, partly because there is so little western media here, is any real analysis or interpretation of events that we can relate to”

We like silly statistics

April 30th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

The US government thinksIraq accounts for 55% of people killed by terrorism last year. This is the kind of skewed statistic you get when you define everybody attacking the US as a terrorist, when you’d call them soldiers or guerillas if they were fighting anyone else.
[needless to say I’m shooting from the hip here; I’ve not actually read the [report]( and I guess it’s not impossible that their methodology makes sense somehow]

Talking the talk

April 30th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Iraq president says deal with some rebels possible (Reuters). Talking is good, but I’m not too optimistic about the chances. As context, read [this excellent report]( from the International Crisis Group, on the nature and tactics of the insurgency. They conclude that:

Despite recurring contrary reports, there is little sign of willingness by any significant insurgent element to join the political process or negotiate with the U.S. While covert talks cannot be excluded, the publicly accessible discourse remains uniformly and relentlessly hostile to the occupation and its “collaborators”.

The problem is the insurgents can’t negotiate, because they don’t have a program. Three of the four biggest groups are held together by papering over the differences between their nationalist and their salafi support bases. If they were to start seriously negotiating, they would need to decide on policy positions, and in the process would risk breaking themselves apart.
So my guess is that the Iraqi government has been having some vague negotiations with some members of insurgent groups – but those people won’t be in a position to make any commitments. The best we can hope for out of these talks is a better understandign of the insurgency, and developing lines of communication which will doubtless be of some use later.

Jawad al-Maliki

April 24th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

The main news from Iraq this weekend was that Jawad al-Maliki is now Prime Minister of Iraq, following the US-UK campaign to keep Jaafari out of the job.
You won’t learn much from the papers, where journalists are having a visibly hard time filling up their biographies of Maliki. Here they are anyway: [Guardian](,,1759783,00.html), [AP](;_ylt=AokX5K6udPHoiMB1bW6FpBQLewgF;_ylu=X3oDMTBjMHVqMTQ4BHNlYwN5bnN1YmNhdA–), [New York Times](, [Times](,,7374-2149366,00.html). Slightly better is [Juan Cole]( ‘s dump of old news articles referring to Maliki’s work on the constitution and elsewhere.
But [Helena]( is about the only person putting the appointment into context. She has followed it through from the [nomination of Jaafari by the UIA]( back in february (a surprise choice, the pundits were expecting Abdul-Aiz al-Hakim to be Prime Minister), to what she identified as a [campaign by Britain and the States to block Jaafari’s appointment](
With that background, Maliki looks like a face-saving candidate, keeping power within Jaafari’s Daawa party while removing the man himself. Nothing wrong with a compromise choice, of course, but remember that Jaafari will still be the power behind the throne. I just looked at my notes on Iraqi politicians, and the entry for Maliki said one thing only one thing: “close to Ibrahim al-Jaafari”.
As for actual policies, there isn’t any difference between him and Jaafari. The US ambassador [describes]( him as “tough-minded” and “strong”, which sounds ominous in terms of democracy. The best that the Iraqi Islamic party has to say is that he is “more practical” than Jaafari. Because he’s an unknown they don’t have much to throw at him, but what there is doesn’t look good. In particular, it can’t be long until Maliki’s opponents bring up his role in the debaathification program, which has angered many by turning into a de-Sunnification program.
That said, this isn’t a bad compromise, and the chance that Iraq will finally form a government is a Very Good Thing.

Coalition pressures Iraq to adopt detention without trial?

April 16th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Reading this article, I find myself desperately struggling to find an innocent explanation – and failing. The gist is that the US can’t hand over control of prisons to Iraqis, because the Iraqi government has too much respect for human rights.

The commander of U.S. prison operations, which include Abu Ghraib and three other sites, said he could not predict when the Iraqi government will match U.S. standards of care for detainees and pass laws allowing it to hold people without trial — key conditions for handing over detainees, numbering 14,700 today.

The US authorities believe that they, unlike Iraqis, do have the right to waive due process:

while the United States points to a United Nations Security Council Resolution allowing it to detain people without charge as suspected guerrillas, the Iraqi government would need to pass its own legislation to do that

I’m not sure where they think this legal authorization comes from. All I can see is that Resolution 1511

authorizes a multinational force under unified command to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq

Resolution 1546

Decides that the multinational force shall have the authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq

If that’s all there is, this is as legally dubious as it is morally dubious – but quite possibly I’ve missed something elsewhere. Anybody want to see what information Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have collected on this?

I won’t go into the ethical and political dimensions to why this is bad; no doubt anyone reading this post will already be convinced that giving people a trial before jailing them is a Good Thing.

[Cross-post from the [Iraq Analysis Group blog](]

Meeting the Yezidis

April 11th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

One positive byproduct of the war in Iraq has been the increased contact between outsiders and some of the smaller cultural groups in Iraq. I’m thinking particularly about the Yezidis, a religious group in North Iraq. Frequently misunderstood – even seen as devil-worshippers – they have been the objects of prejudice within their own country, and confusion outside it.

Then suddenly in the past few years a steady stream of outsiders have made their way to the Yezidi villages near Mosul and Dohuk. Most recently there is Michael Totten‘s report, written in February. Before that Michael Yon did something similar. And back in April 2005, Jacob Appelbaum wrote his own two-part account of the Yezidis, with many pictures he’s taken.

All three have written touching and human portraits of the Yezidis, as well as collecting ever more accurate information about their beliefs and lifestyles. They certainly compare favourably to this account of them written back in 1941, and even to the photographs from the same time, recently shown at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

Iraq’s death toll in historical perspective

April 5th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

[warning: the following is fairly macabre]
I’m trying to get my head round the death toll in Iraq. I don’t know what the latest estimates are (some past ones are collected [here](, but it’s clear that we’re well over the 100,000 that the Lancet [guessed]( back in October 2004. Compare that to [this collection of 20th century death tolls]( , and you’ll see Iraq is in the running as a serious catastrophe on historical scales. It’s caused more than [these wars and atrocities]( (e.g. the Boxer rebellion), and is comihng close to [some of these]( (e.g. the Lebanese Civil War). Worse, it feels like we’re only getting started.

Displacement in Iraq

April 5th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

[cross-posted to the [IAG blog](]

Since the bombing of the Samarra mosque, nearly 1000 Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes every day. I’ve just added a report from the IOM, which sources these figures, and gives an (incomplete, but still interesting) breakdown by region and cause of migration.

As Rachel wrote recently, this is part of a change over the past few months, which has deeply affected the country in all kinds of ways.

People are refusing to carry their identity cards: the cards give their names and hence hint at their creed, and have been used by gangs to choose victims for execution. 30% of children are absent from school, largely because parents are too frightened of the violence to let them leave home, but also because schools are becoming ever more divided on religious lines.

I don’t think we yet have a good understanding of what’s going on here – but much of the information is available, just waiting to be pulled together. Some questions I’d like to see answered:

  • How regionally-limited is this? Examining the figures in the IOM report above would tell us something
  • How much public support is there for the militias among different communities? We might be able to find this out from opinion polls
  • Who is conducting the executions, and why? Analysts with more of a military background than IAG have already devoted a lot of effort to answering this question
  • Can we blame this all on the bombing of the mosque in Samarra, or did that event just exacerbate a trend that already existed?

And then there’s the money question that nobody has an answer to:

  • How can the violence be stopped?

Blogs with content

April 3rd, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

I’d like to point you all towards a few blogs with real content, written by people who know what they’re talking about. I’m biased about all three: I’m a contributor to the first (and member of the group running it), I was taught by the author of the second, and the driving force behind the third is a close friend who I spent a year sharing a house with. Despite that, they’re all great!
First, the [Iraq Analysis Group]( have just launched their new [blog]( This is one of the most awesome groups of people I’ve ever worked with. They’ve been campaigning and thinking about Iraq since the 1990s, first as the [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq](, and then as this group after sanctions were lifted. They (OK, we) have accumulated a large [collection of resources to learn about Iraq]( It isn’t yet comprehensive, but it’s probably the best listing of it’s kind on the web. I strongly recommend this site: of the project I’ve been involved in, this is one of the few that I believe in 100%, and I’m continually impressed by all the people involved.
Then there’s [sarasvatam cakshuh](, a blog about Sanskrit written by Somadevah Vasudeva. The focus is on primary texts, so this probably won’t be your thing unless you read Sanskrit. That that doesn’t stop me squeeing about it, I’m afraid. There’s a good amount of [snarkiness]( aimed at people who write about Sanskrit based on translations and small selections of original texts. Totally justified snarkiness: Somadevah is one of the few who has read immense amounts of Sanskrit literature. Some of it he’s committed to memory, and the rest is stored on his Mac, with copious annotations and some weird geek-fu that lets him instantly find any reference. Reading this blog makes me very aware of how little I know, but it also spurs me on to look at more Sanskrit texts.
Finally, another [blog]( on the borderline between research and campaigning. This one is from the [Campaign Against the Arms Trade](, which has been pluggin away at its issue for some 30 years, has kept going through thick and thin, and has a great body of expertise on the basty bits of British foreign policy and corporate nastiness. As with anything focussed on content rather than memes, this might be heavy going if you don’t care about the issues.

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