Sunday, December 31, 2006

Iraq's refugees: U.S. must do more

"Today, within Iraq, 1.6 million people have already fled or been expelled from their homes. An additional 1.8 million, fleeing sectarian violence, kidnappings, extortion, death threats and carnage, have sought refuge in neighboring countries. At least 700,000 are in Jordan, 600,000 in Syria, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran and 20,000 in Lebanon.
. . . Last year, however, America accepted only 202 Iraqi refugees, and next year we plan to accept approximately the same number.
. . . Thousands of these refugees are fleeing because they have been affiliated in some way with the United States.
. . . America needs to lead, but we cannot adequately respond to this overwhelming crisis alone. Because of the magnitude of the problem, we also need action by Iraq's neighbors and the rest of the world. An essential first step could be to hold an international conference on the issue -- ideally sponsored by the countries in the region and the United Nations -- to begin to deal with the growing number and needs of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons."

Op-Ed by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, "incoming chairman of the Senate immigration, border security and refugee subcommittee." [1]

"There is no legal requirement for the United States to rely on the United Nations. It has run its own programs in the past, notably in Southeast Asia. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese were ultimately resettled in the United States after the American withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975.
. . . The United States has even run similar programs in Iraq, helping to resettle about 40,000 Iraqi refugees in the United States and other countries after a failed uprising against Saddam Hussein in 1991. In 1996, about 6,500 Iraqis who had links to an American-sponsored coup attempt against Mr. Hussein were granted asylum.
. . . The State Department has made it clear that it is deeply concerned about the fate of Iraq’s religious minorities, including Christians.
. . . State Department officials and some advocates for refugees agree that the United States is not likely to begin resettling large numbers of Iraqis anytime soon.
. . . A State Department refugee official said that any American resettlement effort would deal with only a small part of the overall refugee problem in the region." [2]

[1] The Washington Post. We Can't Ignore Iraq's Refugees. December 30, 2006.
[2] The New York Times. Few Iraqis Are Gaining U.S. Sanctuary. January 2, 2007.


posted: sunday, december 31, 2006, 11:51 PM ET

update: wednesday, january 3, 2006, 9:19 AM ET


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Saddam dead (apparently)

You know, Saddam Hussein had many doubles. The real Saddam could have shaved off his moustache and moved to Detroit for all we know.


posted: sunday december 31, 2006, 10:53 AM ET
update: sunday december 31, 2006, 11:01 AM ET


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Friday, December 29, 2006

The Iraq sectarian proxy war

"For Maj. William Voorhies, the American commander of the military training unit at the scene [in Baghdad], the moment encapsulated his increasingly frustrating task — trying to build up Iraqi security forces who themselves are being used as proxies in a spreading sectarian war. This time, it was a Sunni politician — Vice Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie — but the more powerful Shiites interfered even more often.
. . . This country’s security is going to be left in the hands of Iraqi forces. Those forces, already struggling with corruption and infiltration, have shown little willingness to stand up to political pressure, especially when the Americans are not there to support them. That suggests, the commanders say, that if the Americans leave soon, violence will redouble.
. . . The Sunni forces are being bolstered by support from insurgent strongholds in the West. The Shiite militias are using neighborhoods in the north, specifically Shuala and Sadr City, as bases of operation. There is also increasing evidence that militia members from southern cities like Basra are coming to Baghdad to join the fight."

The New York Times. Sectarian Ties Weaken Duty’s Call for Iraq Forces. December 28, 2006.


posted: friday, december 29, 2006, 10:01 PM ET
update: friday, december 29, 2006, 10:03 PM ET


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Sadr aide killed in Najaf raid, U.S. troops advising

"A top deputy of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was killed Wednesday during a raid by U.S. and Iraqi troops in the southern holy city of Najaf, sparking protests from Sadr's followers and complicating an already tense relationship with the powerful anti-American leader.
. . . A raid involving American forces in Najaf is particularly embarrassing for [Prime Minister Nouri al-]Maliki. Last week, in an elaborate ceremony, the U.S.-led coalition handed over control of Najaf to Iraqi forces.
. . . Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the top U.S military spokesman in Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad that the raid was led by 35 soldiers from the 8th Iraqi Army Division Forces, with eight U.S. troops serving as advisers.
. . . 'The purpose for going after him is because of the illegal activities that he was conducting, not because he was associated with any particular organization,' Caldwell said.
Amiri's friends and associates called him an honorable man. "He never participated in any kind of violence in all his life for as long as I've known him," said Nasar al-Rubaie, head of Sadr's parliamentary bloc."

The Washington Post. Close Adviser to Sadr Dies in U.S.-Iraqi Raid. December 28, 2006.


posted: friday, december 29, 2006, 9:28 PM ET
update: friday, december 29, 2006, 9:36 PM ET


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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Satanic Fritos bag

On December 19, 2006, I bought a 4 ounce bag of Fritos at a store in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Later that evening, I noticed something unusual about the Fritos bag. Below the price was an 11-digit number which began with the numbers 666. (The mark of the beast.)
This is something I never like to see. Several years ago I had bought some things at a store, the total came to $6.66 and the cashier burst into flames.
As I looked at the other numbers on the Fritos bag I noticed that the number 13 kept recurring over and over and over again.
The 2 digits after 666 were 13. When I added up the remaining 6 digits (2+2+3+3+3+0) the total was also 13. Below this 11-digit number was 13:30. The expiration date was Jan 23. Assuming that this meant Jan 23, 2007, when I added up the digits in a shorthand form of this date (1/23/07), the total was again 13. And at the bottom of the package where the weight was given as "NET WT. 4 OZ. [113.4 g]," I found that besides there being a 13 in the gram weight, the total of the digits in this line (4+1+1+3+4) also equaled 13.
I don't know if 13 is associated with Satan like 666, but it is unlucky. According to Wikipedia, "some Christian traditions have it that at the Last Supper Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th to sit at the table, and that for this reason 13 is considered to carry a curse of sorts." [1] Judas also betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. [2] The number 30 appeared twice on the Fritos bag. It was the last two digits in the 11-digit number and it was also in the 13:30 below the 11-digit number.
Wikipedia gives other possible explanations for the unlucky association of 13, but the Judas explanation seems the strongest, given the 666 connection on the Fritos bag. (There are also some positive Christian associations with 13 like 13 apostles, etc., so those are other possible interpretations of 13.) [1]
Also, the price of the Fritos was 99 cents. This digitally adds up to 18 (9+9), the same as 666's digital total (6+6+6).
The photographic evidence is located at the top of this posting. Judge for yourself. I await your comments. *
* I'm not sure how to interpret the Jan 23, 2007 expiration date. Maybe something bad is going to happen on that date. On the other hand, the Fritos bag says "Guaranteed fresh until the printed date." So maybe the bad omens will expire on that date. Another possible interpretation is that Jan 23 or 1/23 digitally adds up to 6 (1+2+3). Therefore, three Jan 23s equals 666. So maybe something bad will happen on the third Jan 23rd which falls on Jan 23, 2009. Or maybe the bad omens will be over on that date.

[2] Wikipedia. Judas Iscariot.


posted: thursday, december 28, 2006, 7:51 PM ET
update: wednesday, january 3, 2007, 9:39 AM ET


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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

America's military deaths in Iraq passes 9/11 death total

"In a span of a few hours, 2,973 people were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In a span of 45 months, the number of American troops killed in Iraq has exceeded that grim toll.
The milestone in Iraq came on Christmas, nearly four years after the war began, according to a count by The Associated Press.
With new casualties announced by the U.S. military on Tuesday, the death toll of American soldiers since the March 2003 beginning of the Iraq war was at least 2,978 _ five more than the number killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The AP count is 17 higher than the Defense Department's tally, which was last updated Tuesday."

The Associated Press. Military Deaths in Iraq Exceed 9/11 Toll. December 26, 2006.


posted: wednesday, december 27, 2006, 7:22 PM ET

update: wednesday, december 27, 2006, 8:44 PM ET


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Monday, December 25, 2006

Middle East bypassing America to find own Iraq solution

"For many of the Middle East's leaders, the upshot of the swirling American debate over Iraq is that when, as seems likely, the US withdraws it will leave behind an ongoing war.
So the region's powers - US allies Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, and its foes Syria and Iran - are engaging in new diplomatic efforts, largely aimed at preventing Iraq's fighting from causing broader turmoil.
While in some cases the talks are only tangentially about Iraq, this high-level dialogue appears to reflect a new reality: With US prestige crippled by the war, regional actors are bypassing the West to forge partnerships and find solutions on their own.
. . . Their current maneuvers, talking with disaffected former Baathists in their capitals and, regional diplomats say, quietly passing money to Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq in an effort to build up influence and intelligence aren't particularly likely to end Iraq's war soon.
But they could find a way to contain the violence there and the regional animosities it is threatening to inflame, or set the stage for Iraq to become a proxy battle ground."

The Christian Science Monitor. Mideast leaders seek their own solutions for region. December 22, 2006.

Iraq, Iraq


posted: monday, december 25, 2006, 7:55 PM ET
update: monday, december 25, 2006, 8:01 PM ET


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Decentralizing Iraq's gas-import market

"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.' "

Newsweek (International Edition). Iraq's Economy is Booming: Blood and Money. December 25, 2006.


posted: monday, december 25, 2006, 7:21 PM ET
update: monday, december 25, 2006, 7:30 PM ET


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The Shiite Saboteurs Conspiracy Theory

The Shiite militias and death squads (most notably Moktada al-Sadr or anyone connected to him) are engaging in sectarian violence, not to protect Shiites from terrorists and insurgents, but to sabotage the Iraqi government.

The large-scale sectarian violence began on February 22, 2006 with the bombing of a revered Shiite mosque in Samarra. (Though it was hardly peaceful before.) And yet, 11 days earlier, Iraq had begun a transition period in which they would govern themselves. In three months, on May 20, 2006, they would establish their new government. The Shiites, who comprised 60 to 65% of the population had won the majority of the elections and held most of the power. After centuries of Sunni rule and decades of rule under a Sunni dictatorship, it appeared that the Shiites' time had come. And yet instead, they choose to lash out at the Sunnis, greatly undermining their new government's ability to function. But why would the Shiites choose to engage in this self-defeating, low-class, street justice when legitimate, internationally recognized power was so close at hand, especially since they had shown such self-restraint and maturity against Sunni acts of violence throughout the previous year?

Many seem to say that the mosque was so revered that the Shiites couldn't help but respond or that they were so fed up with the Sunni attacks that they decided to do something about it. But surely they saw the self-defeating nature of this violent response and that they were being provoked into acts that would destroy their chance at leading their nation.

It could be that some Shiites didn't like something about the new government. Sadr associates have previously spoken of meddling from the Americans. Or it could be for some other reason that those more knowledgeable about Iraq might possibly know. But it doesn't make sense to me, so I'll put it in the form of a conspiracy theory for future pondering.

News Quotes
"In early 2004, U.S. forces had intercepted a worried letter from the Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, to Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi fretted that his fight against American forces was going poorly. But he had a plan: "If we succeed in dragging [the Shiites] into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger," he wrote.
Throughout 2005, Sunni insurgents launched increasingly vicious attacks on Shiite civilians and holy places. Sistani regularly called on his followers to exercise restraint, which they did with remarkable forbearance. But Sadr, who had long positioned himself as an Iraqi nationalist—and who had cooperated with Sunni fighters in the early stages of the insurgency—now publicly called for Sunnis to disavow Zarqawi. New battle lines were being drawn.
The turning point came on Feb. 22, 2006, when assailants bombed the golden-domed Askariya Shrine in Samarra. This was the burial place of the 10th and 11th imams, and one of the holiest sites of the Shia faith. After the Samarra bombing, many Shiites felt compelled to lash back." [1]

After various elections and votes, Iraq had begun a transition to Iraqi rule on February 11, 2006, 11 days before the Samarra bomb. The new government took power on May 20, 2006, three months after the bombing. [2]

The Newsweek article also said that America "hammered" Sadr's forces twice in 2004, that Sadr has consistently called for America's withdrawal from Iraq, and that "Washington's favorite Iraqi," Ahmed Chalabi, had helped bring Sadr into the Iraqi political process after America's 2004 battles with Sadr's Mahdi Army. [1]

[1] Newsweek. How Al-Sadr May Control U.S. Fate in Iraq: Sword of the Shia. December 4, 2006.
[2] U.S. Department of Defense. Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq. p. 22. November 2006.


posted: monday, december 25, 2006, 6:28 PM ET
update: monday, december 25, 2006, 6:46 PM ET


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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Iraq: Civil war, anarchy or comedy routine? #2

"The purported leader of an al-Qaida-linked militant group offered U.S. troops a one-month truce for withdrawing from Iraq without being attacked, according to a speech posted on an Islamic Web site Friday.
The leader of Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, also called on former officers in Saddam Hussein's disbanded army to join his militia, promising to provide them with a salary and house so long as they could recite three 'suras,' or groups of verses, of the Quran.
. . . The 'Islamic State of Iraq' declared itself in October. It is believed to be an umbrella group for militant organizations, including al-Qaida in Iraq.
Addressing the United States, al-Baghdadi said: 'We order you to withdrew your troops immediately, using troop carriers and aircraft, and taking only your personal weapons. Don't withdraw any heavy weapons. Instead you should hand over those and your military bases to the holy warriors of the Islamic State.' "

The Associated Press. Militia Offers U.S. Truce for Withdrawal. December 22, 2006.

The SITE Institute. Audio Speech from the Emir of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdad. December 22, 2006. (article only for non-subscribers).

Iraq, Iraq


posted: saturday, december 23, 2006, 4:20 AM ET

update: saturday, december 23, 2006, 4:54 AM ET


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Is Iraq getting ready to ask America to leave? / Thoughts on the morality of American withdrawal

"After the invasion, as a Shiite religious revival blossomed, Iraq's clerics saw themselves as the caretakers of the nation's Islamic identity. They were as concerned about American power and ambitions for Iraq as they were about the importation of a decadent Western culture. Many refused to deal with U.S. officials . . . a tactic that reaps immense rewards today from a population that is increasingly disenchanted with the United States.
'There's no necessity to meet the Americans,' said Beirut-based Hamid al-Khafaf, the chief spokesman for Sistani. He added that Sistani favored peaceful resistance to end the U.S. occupation.
. . . Senior Sadr officials have circulated a petition among national lawmakers demanding a timetable for U.S. withdrawal. They have managed to get 131 signatures, nearly half of the parliament, [independent Kurdish legislator Mahmoud] Othman said.
. . . Hakim, he said [Mahdi Army member Ali Hussein], made a fatal mistake by meeting Bush. In today's Iraq, credibility and power are measured by opposition to the United States." [1]

Is Iraq getting ready to ask America to leave? According to the above article and other sources like a September 2006 poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, many Iraqi politicians and apparently a majority of the Iraqi public would like to see America withdraw. (The September poll said that seven in ten Iraqis would like America to leave within a year and six in ten support attacks on coalition forces.) [2]

The petition by the Sadr officials demanding a withdrawal timetable would be a good solid step in this direction. A formal debate and vote by the Iraqi Parliament would be even better. The Parliament could also arrange a national referendum asking the Iraqi people if they wanted America to stay or go. (I had heard of the referendum idea in a reader's letter to the New York Times which I, unfortunately, cannot locate.) Broad-based, peaceful, mass demonstrations could also be helpful. *

If this is what the Iraqis truly want, then the above types of strong unambivalent expressions of discontent could very well lead to a successful outcome, especially since one of America's stated goals has been to give the Iraqis a voice in their newly democratic country.

If the Iraqis asked America to leave, it would also remove much of the America's moral obligation to remain, in my opinion, unless America has somehow manipulated Iraq into taking this position. Though America should still do all it can to help in other ways, considering its initial invasion was the cause of most of the current problems or allowed them to emerge. **

America could conceivably remain in well-defined, seemingly pro-American, areas like Kurdistan or maybe the northern Nineveh area to help protect these areas from attack. (I've read that some of the targeted Iraqi Christians have expressed a desire for a region in the Nineveh area) [3] America's presence in these areas would be purely defensive, however, and only at the request of the people in those areas. Their presence would not be used to stage present or future attacks on the rest of Iraq or the Middle East region, no matter what the cause. ***

* Apparently, the Iraqi prime minister has most of the authority over Iraq's security matters and it's uncertain if Prime Minister Maliki would ever request an American withdrawal. On the other hand, Maliki is just one person and was not directly elected by the people of Iraq. So if the people's directly elected representatives in Parliament and/or the people themselves through a referendum were to formally request an American withdrawal, it would be interesting to see what would happen.

** America might also leave, from a moral perspective (if I can use that word again), if its continued presence was a necessary cause of most of the violence or if its presence was preventing a solution to the violence from being implemented. Though its other obligations would remain.

It's been said that America's continued presence has been the cause of the continuing insurgent and terrorist violence. If an American withdrawal would cause the insurgent-terrorist violence to cease, then America might leave for that reason. However, it's not certain if these two forces would, in fact, cease their violent attacks if America left since it's also been said that the insurgents' and terrorists' goal is not only to cause an American withdrawal, but to foment civil war through attacks on the Shiite majority.
One might also ask if America's withdrawal would cause the insurgents and terrorists to cease their violence, but America's withdrawal would also deny innocent Iraqis needed protection from ongoing sectarian violence, then should America morally remain or withdraw? I don't really have the answer to that. I'm just presenting general alternatives to show that it is not simply a matter of America staying is moral and America withdrawing is immoral or vice-versa.
On that note, America might also exit if it was suffering great hardship. It might take something of a moral hit for placing its own hardship above that of the Iraqis (whose hardship was caused by America's initial invasion, in my opinion), but it would be less of a hit than if America left just because it was tired or fed up with the situation.

*** Sadr has since introduced a law in the Iraqi Parliament that would require U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraqi cities by the end of August of this year (see Sadr's redeployment plan, 1/23/07.)

[1] The Washington Post. Shiite Clerics' Rivalry Deepens In Fragile Iraq. December 21, 2006.
[2] Program on International Policy Attitudes. The Iraqi Public on the US Presence and the Future of Iraq. September 27, 2006.
[3] The Associated Press. U.S. Iraqi Christians Seek Help. December 15, 2006.

posted: saturday, december 23, 2006, 3:36 AM ET
update: friday, january 26, 2007, 2:14 PM ET


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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Iraq's neighbors untrustworthy, States' rights for Kurdistan, says Barzani

"Any vacancy left in Iraq by the coalition forces before Iraq is ready to stand on its own would be filled by those opposed to democracy. American credibility would dissipate, and any chance for success in Iraq would evaporate. . . . Hopes for real democracy in the Middle East will be history. The regional powers that border us have an interest in keeping us weak and divided.
. . . It is true we fly Kurdish flags. This is yet another similarity we have with Americans, who are proud not only of their country but also of the accomplishments and unique identities of their states. The harbinger of successful democracy in the United States was the willingness of its founders to recognize the particular interests of states and to craft a constitution to safeguard their rights. Baker-Hamilton would deny Iraqis the same rights and thus doom our efforts to construct a system in Iraq that protects all its citizens. It would strip Kurdistan of rights it has negotiated with the central government to protect it from abuses like those it has suffered in the past. We should not forget that over-centralization has been a disaster for the Iraqi people.
. . . Iraq's constitution should be treasured. Iraq's neighbors should not be allowed to violate our sovereignty. Democracy and federalism are the popularly chosen basis of the new Iraq."

Op-ed by Masrour Barzani, "director of the Intelligence and Security Agency of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq and a high-ranking member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party."

The Washington Post. For Iraqis, A Promise Is in Peril. December 20, 2006.

Peace in the middle east


posted: thursday, december 21, 2006, 5:16 PM ET
update: saturday, december 23, 2006, 12:46 AM ET

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Maliki plan for U.S. to battle insurgents while he deals with Sadr

"Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has created a two-pronged security plan.
. . . The plan calls for U.S. troops to combat Sunni Arab insurgents for four to eight weeks in outer Baghdad neighborhoods, which Maliki believes are the source of the sectarian violence afflicting the capital, his aides said. Iraqi forces would take over primary responsibility for patrolling inner Baghdad from U.S. forces.
During this period, Maliki would persuade Sadr to stop the Mahdi Army from fomenting violence, using a combination of carrots and sticks, including the threat of force, said the advisers . . . If the Mahdi Army does not stop its assaults, Maliki, with the help of U.S. troops, would crack down on Sadr.
. . . But the government's Shiite-dominated security forces under Maliki's control are widely perceived as ineffective, and are mistrusted by Sunnis. . . . With U.S. troops focusing on Sunni Arab insurgents, Sadr and his forces could solidify their grip in Baghdad.
. . . [Maliki's] advisers insisted that Maliki would be firm with Sadr and that his political survival no longer hinged on the cleric."

The Washington Post. Premier Wants U.S. Forces to Target Sunni Insurgents. December 20, 2006.

Peace in the middle east

posted: thursday, december 21, 2006, 4:38 PM ET
update: thursday, december 21, 2006, 4:40 PM ET

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Sistani may support proposed moderate coalition / federalism law may have contributed to gridlock, but did not cause boycott

"Iraq’s most venerated Shiite cleric has tentatively approved an American-backed coalition of Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties that aims to isolate extremists, particularly the powerful Shiite militia leader Moktada al-Sadr, Iraqi and Western officials say.
. . . But Ayatollah [Ali al-]Sistani has grown increasingly distressed as the Shiite-led government has proved incapable of taming the violence and improving public services, Shiite officials say.
. . . Since winning 130 of the 275 seats in Parliament, the Shiite bloc has never coalesced as Ayatollah Sistani intended it to, and factional rivalries have deepened, particularly over the past several months. A law enabling provinces to form autonomous regions, approved in October, was supported by Mr. Hakim but bitterly opposed by Mr. Sadr and members of the Fadhila Party, a Shiite group close to Mr. Sadr.
The Shiite infighting has paralyzed the government. Since Mr. Sadr’s loyalists began boycotting the government last month, the Parliament has been unable to form a quorum, preventing the passage of laws.
The new coalition is aimed at circumventing that kind of conflict, its leaders say, which is probably why Ayatollah Sistani is willing to lend his support." [1]

Though Hakim's federalism law apparently did increase tension between him and Sadr and may have contributed to government gridlock, the November boycott by Sadr loyalists was due to Prime Minister Maliki's decision to meet with President Bush in Amman, Jordan, not because of the federalism law as may be implied by the way the above quotation was written.

"Iraqi lawmakers and cabinet ministers allied with Shiite cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, a bloc that was pivotal in bringing Maliki to power in May, launched a boycott Wednesday [November 29] of their governmental duties to protest Maliki's decision to meet with Bush [in Amman.]" [2]

"Sadr [in calling the boycott] is bringing pressure to bear on Maliki to not give in to demands by the United States on security matters. They include the U.S. drive to dismantle Iraq's Shiite militias, of which Sadr runs the largest and most violent, the Mahdi Army." [3]

I also believe that Bush said in a speech or press conference within several months prior to the Amman summit that he did not support federalism as a solution to the current crises in Iraq, though I can't locate the quote. And I believe that Maliki also did not support federalism as a solution, though again, I can't locate the quote.

It may also have been better if the October federalism law vote had been put off until the government could have passed some laws or until it became apparent that they weren't going to pass any laws because of the already existing tensions. And with the 18-month lag time between the law's passage and its implementation (which only allows each province to vote if they want federalism for themselves, it does not impose federalism on everyone), federalism has not had the opportunity to show whether it can help lessen the violence or not.

It was surprising that the vote came up when it did, nonetheless. And I still support federalism as a possible solution, by the way. Though the Iraqi people would have to be persuaded to support federalism beforehand.

[1] The New York Times. Top Shiite Cleric Is Said to Favor a Coalition for Iraq. December 20, 2006.
[2] The Washington Post. Bush, Maliki Meet After First Talks Are Canceled. November 30, 2006.
[3] The Washington Post. Sadr Casts a Shadow Over Bush-Maliki Meeting. November 30, 2006.

Peace in the middle east

posted: thursday, december 21, 2006, 3:45 PM ET
update: saturday, december 23, 2006, 1:12 PM ET

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Iraq takes control of Najaf security from U.S.

"U.S. forces ceded control of southern Najaf province to Iraqi police and soldiers, who marked the occasion Wednesday with a parade and martial arts demonstrations.
. . . Home to 930,000 people, Najaf saw heavy fighting two years ago, but has been relatively peaceful lately. It was the third of Iraq's 18 provinces to come under local control. British troops handed over southern Muthana province in July, and the Italian military transferred neighboring Dhi Qar in September.
. . . Critics charge that handing over control here was easy because Najaf is overwhelming Shiite and has not faced the same level of sectarian violence as religiously mixed areas like Baghdad.
. . . Najaf is home to the iconic Imam Ali shrine, where Shiites believe the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad is buried. Millions make pilgrimages to the city annually, and Shiites from across Iraq come to bury their dead in the huge cemetery.
The city of Najaf endured heavy fighting in 2004 between the U.S. Army and militiamen loyal to radical anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and parts of Najaf lie in ruins." [1]

"With the transfer, the Iraqi government gained control over its Eighth Army Division, which has about 10,000 soldiers. Shiite leaders, who control both this province and the national government, have been anxious to get more operational control over the army, which the United States has been laboring to train.
But security in the sacred city of Najaf was already largely under Iraqi control, as American forces mostly withdrew from the area after putting down an uprising in 2004 by the Sadr militia, known as the Mahdi Army.
. . . Outside the stadium, foreign military officials said the $137 million spent on reconstruction in the province was beginning to have an impact. They expect that as tourism continues to thrive, driven by the one million pilgrims who visit every year, the economic situation will improve." [2]

The new Iraqi security forces were said to have eaten live rabbits and bitten the heads off of frogs at the handover ceremony. I found two pictures of them eating rabbits from Reuters and the Associated Press, both via Yahoo! News. I haven't found any pictures of them biting the heads off of frogs yet. I'll keep looking though.

[1] The Associated Press. U.S. Troops Turn Over Najaf to Iraqis. December 20, 2006.
[2] The New York Times. With a Ceremony From the Past, Iraqis Take Charge in Najaf. December 21, 2006.

Provinces of Iraq. Wikipedia.

A history of Iraq


posted: thursday, december 21, 2006, 1:36 PM ET
update: sunday, december 24, 2006, 12:30 AM ET

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Palestinian cartoonist criticizes Hamas

"The readers of al-Quds, the leading Palestinian newspaper, opened the opinion pages this month to a jarring sight. In the editorial cartoon, once the daily forum for a sharp jab at the Israeli occupation, appeared two bushy-bearded Hamas officials clutching suitcases full of cash.
Smuggling money into the Gaza Strip has been the preferred way of getting funds to the Hamas-led government during the months-long international economic boycott of the Palestinian Authority. But the cartoon suggested that the Islamic movement, then in talks with the rival Fatah party to form a power-sharing government, was using the cash in less public-spirited ways.
. . . For Khalil Abu Arafeh, the cartoon's slight, bespectacled artist, the work amounts to a subversive, even dangerous critique of Palestinian political life.
. . . Abu Arafeh has learned to take abuse, even from those close to him. Attending a hearing in an Israeli military court a few months ago for his brother and other jailed Hamas officials, he was jeered by the very men he had come to support. He recalled with a nervous laugh, 'They started shouting at me, then their families started shouting at me. It was very embarrassing.' "

The Washington Post. Subversive Palestinian Cartoons Reflect New Political Introspection. December 17, 2006.

posted: tuesday, december 19, 2006, 11:36 AM ET

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America should help Hezbollah be part of Lebanese government

"Last month the White House issued an official statement citing 'attempts by Syria, Iran, and their allies within Lebanon to foment instability and violence' and insisting the United States would 'continue its efforts with allied nations and democratic forces in Lebanon to resist these efforts.' In other words, we’re still trying to rile Lebanese sentiment as a wedge against our enemies in the region.
A far more genuine American commitment to Lebanon would focus on helping the parties to come up with a reasonable formula to redress the under-representation of Shiites in the power structure while getting greater government control over Hezbollah’s war-making capacity.
Make no mistake: Hezbollah is no friend to America. As a former United States intelligence officer, I know there are a few accounts yet to be settled with that organization. But Washington will never achieve its objectives in the Middle East — including its obligation to ensure Israel’s long-term security — unless it puts emotions aside and deals realistically with facts on the ground. Like it or not, Hezbollah is one of those facts. A less-than-pliable but strong government in Lebanon would be far preferable to no real government at all, which is what we have now."

Op-ed by Robert Grenier, former director of the CIA's counterintelligence center.

The New York Times. If You Love Lebanon, Set It Free. December 17, 2006.

song: There's no ceasefire in Lebanon, baby

posted: tuesday, december 19, 2006, 11:08 AM ET

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Withdrawal caused insurgent killings of America's allies in 2004 Anbar

"As the insurgency heated up in early 2004, the Seventh Marine Regiment pulled up stakes and went to fight insurgents in eastern Anbar, leaving the rest of the province in the hands of a battalion of troops.
. . . The consequences were immediate and bloody. Insurgents assumed control of several towns and villages. They tortured and executed police officers, local politicians, friendly tribal leaders and informants. They murdered contractors who had worked with the Americans or the Iraqi government. They tore down American-financed reconstruction projects and in a few cases imposed an extreme version of Islamic law.
. . . Western Iraq became a temporary haven for criminals, terrorists and thousands of local thugs who made up de facto mini-regimes in the absence of a stabilizing force.
. . . The Seventh Marine Regiment pulled up stakes again in November 2004 to join the second fight for Falluja. Conscious of the damage done by the earlier withdrawal, the Marines left behind more troops in an effort to stem the inevitable surge of insurgent and criminal gangs.
. . . Despite this Marine presence, the results were similar."

The New York Times. A War That Abhors a Vacuum. December 18, 2006, (op-ed by Ben Connable, Marine Corp major).

posted: tuesday, december 19, 2006, 10:32 AM ET
update: thursday, december 21, 2006, 10:20 AM ET

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Iraq's justice system failing; insurgents released repeatedly

"The United States established the Central Criminal Court of Iraq three years ago, envisioning it as a pillar of a new democracy. But like the faltering effort to create effective Iraqi security forces, the system for detaining, charging and trying suspects has instead become another weak link in the rule of law in Iraq, according to an examination of the justice system by The New York Times.
. . . Tens of thousands of detainees have been released by the Americans, often under political pressure from the Iraqis, but American soldiers complain they are apprehending many dangerous insurgents again and again.
. . . A classified Pentagon assessment completed in June of the American effort to strengthen Iraqi justice found one sign of progress: the prosecution of former senior government officials. Everything else, from training judges to building court capacity to minimizing civil rights abuses by Iraqi security forces, had fallen behind, according to the assessment by the National Security Council."

The New York Times. Iraq’s Legal System Staggers Beneath the Weight of War. December 17, 2006.

song: Iraq, Iraq

posted: tuesday, december 19, 2006, 9:59 AM ET

update: tuesday, december 19, 2006, 10:08 AM ET

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Some want Iraqi Christian region as haven from violence; others want more visas

"Expatriate Iraqi Christians living in the United States disagree about how best to help their families in the Middle East, where they live under constant threat of sectarian violence.
. . . Some would like to see visa restrictions relaxed so their relatives can join them. Others hope for the creation of an independent administrative zone in the northern Nineveh area, the ancestral homeland of Iraq's Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians.
"As a people, we survived the Mongols, the Turks and the Arabs," said John Michael, a Chicago ophthalmologist whose cousins recently left for Syria.
. . . Christians have been targeted by militias for murder and kidnapping.
. . . About 40 percent of [about 3,000 people leaving daily] . . . are Christian, according to estimates from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Christians account for just 3 percent of Iraq's 26 million people.
. . . One Washington group, the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project, is using the crisis to revive a proposal for creating an autonomous zone for Christians in the Nineveh plain, near Mosul, like that of the Kurds _ a dream long held by ethnic Chaldean and Assyrian politicians."

The Associated Press. U.S. Iraqi Christians Seek Help. December 15, 2006.

semi-related song
A history of Iraq

posted: monday, december 18, 2006, 1:53 AM ET

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The Iraq-money conspiracy theory

The lack of accountability for funding the long and costly war in Iraq opens the possibility that money is being diverted for other people, groups or purposes.

"To date, the United States has spent roughly $400 billion on the Iraq War, and costs are running about $8 billion per month. In addition, the United States must expect significant 'tail costs' to come. Caring for veterans and replacing lost equipment will run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Estimates run as high as $2 trillion for the final cost of the U.S. involvement in Iraq." [1]

"The public interest is not well served by the government’s preparation, presentation, and review of the budget for the war in Iraq.
First, most of the costs of the war show up not in the normal budget request but in requests for emergency supplemental appropriations. This means that funding requests are drawn up outside the normal budget process, are not offset by budgetary reductions elsewhere, and move quickly to the White House with minimal scrutiny. Bypassing the normal review erodes budget discipline and accountability.
Second, the executive branch presents budget requests in a confusing manner, making it difficult for both the general public and members of Congress to understand the request or to differentiate it from counterterrorism operations around the world or operations in Afghanistan. Detailed analyses by budget experts are needed to answer what should be a simple question: 'How much money is the President requesting for the war in Iraq?'
Finally, circumvention of the budget process by the executive branch erodes oversight and review by Congress. The authorizing committees (including the House and Senate Armed Services committees) spend the better part of a year reviewing the President’s annual budget request. When the President submits an emergency supplemental request, the authorizing committees are bypassed. The request goes directly to the appropriations committees, and they are pressured by the need to act quickly so that troops in the field do not run out of funds. The result is a spending bill that passes Congress with perfunctory review. Even worse, the must-pass appropriations bill becomes loaded with special spending projects that would not survive the normal review process." [1]

"How could we ask so much from a courageous group of Americans fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan but not ask even the wealthiest of their fellow citizens to part with a few extra dollars to support an endeavor supposedly central to our nation's security? On the contrary, even after we committed to war in Iraq, the administration pushed for yet more tax cuts in dividends and capital gains.
. . . Instead of building up our military for a long engagement and levying the taxes to pay for such an enterprise, the administration kept issuing merry reports of progress in Iraq. Right through Election Day this year, the president continued to condemn anyone who dared suggest that maybe, just maybe, we should raise taxes to pay for this war." [2]

[1] The Iraq Study Group Report. James A. Baker, III, and Lee H. Hamilton, Co-Chairs. December 6, 2006. (U.S. Institute of Peace). pp. 27, 59-60.
[2] The Washington Post. A War Bush Wouldn't Pay For. December 15, 2006. (E.J. Dionne Jr.)

posted: monday, december 18, 2006, 1:07 AM ET
update: monday, december 18, 2006, 2:04 AM ET

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Strongman solution rejected by Bush Administration before invasion

"SECRETARY RICE: . . . But you should understand that we had the debate inside the Administration, the discussion inside the Administration about whether it was good enough to overthrow Saddam Hussein and replace him with a strongman. We had that discussion and it was rejected because --
QUESTION: When did you have that?
SECRETARY RICE: Before the war, before the war.
QUESTION: Who wanted a strongman? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Actually nobody. But I'm saying that the point was put on the table and it was rejected because the view was that if you were going to overthrow Saddam Hussein the Iraqi people deserved a chance at democratic development -- democratic development would give the best chance for a different kind of Iraq and ultimately a different kind of Middle East and that ultimately another strongman was just going to leave some administration 20 years from now with another Saddam Hussein. And so this was a conscience choice about what kind of Iraq we were going to try to build and I think it's important to understand that that was a choice before the war."

[1] U.S. Department of State. Interview With The Washington Post Editorial Board. Secretary Condoleezza Rice. December 14, 2006.

posted: sunday, december 17, 11:58 PM ET
update: monday, december 18, 12:02 AM ET

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Iraqi women suffering since February bombing of Shiite mosque

"Life has become more difficult for most Iraqis since the February bombing of a Shiite Muslim mosque in Samarra sparked a rise in sectarian killings and overall lawlessness. For many women, though, it has become unbearable.
. . . Iraqi women had been earning university degrees since the 1920s.
. . . Then came the 1980s war with Iran and the embargo imposed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Hussein, who began embracing Islamic and tribal traditions as a way to consolidate power, forbade women younger than 45 to travel abroad without a male relative.
Encouraged by Bush, women began to reassert themselves after 2003. But the collapse of security, the absence of the rule of law and the presence of extremist groups have weakened the budding movement, activists said.
. . . Muna Nouri, 52, a high school teacher, doesn't want to leave.
. . . "I consider myself and my daughters liberated women," she said. "We go out and walk in the street. That was last year even. But this year, it's more difficult. Every day, it's worse than the day before."

The Washington Post. Women Lose Ground in the New Iraq. December 16, 2006.

posted: sunday, december 17, 2006, 6:24 PM ET

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Iraq's long-awaited national reconciliation conference accomplishes little

"Iraq's prime minister reached out to Sunni Arabs at a national reconciliation conference on Saturday, urging Saddam Hussein-era officers to join the new army and a review of the ban against members of the former dictator's ruling party.
But key players on both ends of the Sunni-Shiite divide skipped the meeting, raising doubt that the conference will succeed in healing the country's wounds.
'We firmly believe that national reconciliation is the only guaranteed path toward security, stability and prosperity. The alternative, God forbid, is death and destruction and the loss of Iraq,' Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in his opening remarks.
The long-awaited gathering was touted by the Iraqi government and the White House as a chance to rally ethnic, religious and political groups around a common strategy for ending the country's violence.
. . . [Shiite cleric Muktada] Al-Sadr's bloc said it was boycotting the two-day meeting, as did two major Sunni groups and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite." [1]

"While the conference was billed as an attempt at reconciliation, no one claiming to represent either the Shiite militias or the Sunni extremists, who together are driving the current sectarian strife, was in attendance. Moktada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric whose militia, the Mahdi Army, has been responsible for much of the sectarian violence, refused an invitation, according to a lawmaker who helped set up the conference.
In addition, the Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni leaders who were at the gathering did not present any new ideas for how to rein in the militias or insurgents.
Instead, in a series of speeches broadcast live on Iraqi national television, top figures in the government renewed calls for Iraqis to work together for stability.
Mr. Maliki also repeated his invitation to former officers and soldiers in the old Iraqi Army, including some members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, to re-enlist." [2]

[1] The Associated Press. Iraq's Al-Maliki Reaches Out to Sunnis. December 16, 2006.
[2] The New York Times. Iraqi Chief Calls Forum to Press for National Reunification; Major Groups Are Absent. December 17, 2006.

posted: sunday, december 17, 2006, 5:27 PM ET

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Iraq creating reconstruction board to disburse funds more quickly

The Iraqi government is "working on the creation of their reconstruction board which would be able to disburse money more quickly for projects because the Ministry of Finance is having trouble disbursing money," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

U.S. Department of State. Interview With The Washington Post Editorial Board. Condoleezza Rice. December 14, 2006.

posted: sunday, december 17, 2006, 4:58 PM ET
update: sunday, december 17, 2006, 5:02 PM ET

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Iran may be supporting both sides in Iraq civil war to promote instability

"Now, there's a diplomatic achievement: undermining our hard-earned agreement with the Europeans to make any future approach to Iran dependent on the suspension of uranium enrichment in order to . . . demonstrate to the world that a country providing sophisticated weapons, roadside bombs and financial support to both sides of the civil war does not support stability there. Is there a sentient adult outside this commission [Iraq Study Group] who did not know that?"

The Washington Post. In Baker's Blunder, A Chance For Bush. December 15, 2006. (Charles Krauthammer).

posted: sunday, december 17, 2006, 4:06 PM ET

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Iraq: Civil war, anarchy or comedy routine?

"Hardly a soul stirred on Thursday afternoon inside the warren of narrow dark alleys and side streets in Sanak, one of the Iraqi capital's busiest commercial districts.
. . . Gunmen in camouflage uniforms drove up in 11 cars at about 10 a.m. and surrounded the area, just around the corner from an Iraqi police checkpoint, witnesses said.
. . . 'They took Sunnis, Shiites and Christians,' said Ziad Ali, one of the shopkeepers. 'They did not differentiate. They even grabbed six boys.'
. . . 'This is very serious. This happened in the heart of Baghdad,' said Mohammed al-Askari, a Defense Ministry spokesman. 'This is to create a state of chaos, so they can say the government has failed, the political process has failed.'
. . . The assault occurred on a day when a U.S. congressional delegation, led by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), visited Baghdad. McCain repeated his call to deploy more U.S. troops to Iraq.
. . . The American people are confused, they're frustrated, they're disappointed by the Iraq war, but they also want us to succeed if there's any way to do that,' McCain told reporters." [1]

"Gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms burst into Red Crescent offices [in Baghdad] on Sunday and kidnapped more than two dozen people at the humanitarian organization.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in Iraq on his sixth visit since the 2003 invasion, appealed for international support for Iraq's fragile government.
. . . The Red Crescent, which is part of the international Red Cross movement, has around 1,000 staff and some 200,000 volunteers in Iraq.
. . . Mazin Abdellaha, secretary-general of the Iraqi Red Crescent, appealed to the kidnappers to release the captives.
"They represent a humanitarian agency that works for the general good, and this agency helps all people regardless of their sect or ethnicity," Abdellaha said.
. . . The abduction comes just days after the organization's vice president, Dr. Jamal al-Karbouli, said American forces represented a greater danger to its work than insurgents.
'The insurgents, they are Iraqis, a lot of them are Iraqis, and they respect the Iraqis. And they respect our (the Red Crescent's) identity, which is neutrality,' al-Karbouli said Friday." [2]

[1] The Washington Post. Gunmen Kidnap Baghdad Shopkeepers, Bystanders. December 15, 2006.
[2] The Associated Press. 28 Kidnapped From Aid Office in Baghdad. December 17, 2006.

posting: sunday, december 17, 2006, 3:39 PM ET
update: sunday, december 17, 2006, 3:43 PM ET

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Ban Ki Moon sworn in as new U.N. secretary general

"South Korean diplomat Ban Ki Moon was sworn in Thursday as the United Nations' eighth secretary general in a ritualistic General Assembly ceremony as the United States and other countries praised Kofi Annan's 10-year stewardship of the world's premier political institution.
Ban, 62, said his priority when he takes office Jan. 1 is to restore public confidence and civility to a body that has been buffeted by corruption and sexual misconduct scandals, and has been riven by feuding over its future between its weakest and most powerful countries.
"You could say that I'm a man on a mission, and my mission could be dubbed Operation Restore Trust: trust in the organization and trust between member states and the secretariat," Ban said at a news conference after the ceremony. "I hope this mission is not mission impossible."
Ban's remarks constituted an implicit rebuke of Annan, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate whose legacy was tarnished by his mismanagement of the agency's $64 billion oil-for-food program in Iraq.
. . . He urged the international community to support Iraq's political transition, citing the 'inability' of Iraqi authorities and the U.S.-led multinational force to 'secure peace and security.' "

The Washington Post. Incoming U.N. Chief Ban Pledges to Restore Trust. December 15, 2006.

posting: sunday, december 17, 2006, 2:27 PM ET

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Sen. Tim Johnson suffers brain hemorrhage; Democrats' majority threatened

"Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) was in surgery last night after falling ill at the Capitol, introducing a note of uncertainty over control of the Senate just weeks before Democrats are to take over with a one-vote margin.
Johnson, 59, was taken to George Washington University Hospital shortly after noon, where he underwent "a comprehensive evaluation by the stroke team," his office said.
. . . With Johnson in office, Democrats would hold a 51-to-49 edge in the Senate that convenes Jan. 4 as part of the 110th Congress. . . . But if he is to leave office before then and [South Dakota's Republican governor, Michael] Rounds replaces him with a Republican, the GOP would control the chamber.
In a 50-50 Senate, Vice President Cheney could break tie votes in the GOP's favor. But a Senate that becomes evenly split after it is in session would not necessarily fall to Republicans, Senate historians said." [1]

"The attending physician of the Capitol, Adm. John F. Eisold, who examined Mr. Johnson before he was sent to the hospital Wednesday, said the bleeding was caused by a rare tangling of the blood vessels in the brain, known as a congenital arteriovenous malformation, that physicians say often goes undetected. The operation successfully drained the blood and stabilized the problem, Admiral Eisold said in a statement released by Mr. Johnson’s office.
. . . An estimated 300,000 Americans have arteriovenous malformations, said Dr. Jay P. Mohr, the principal investigator in a National Institutes of Health study of the condition and the director of the stroke center at Columbia University Medical Center. Most cases go undetected, Dr. Mohr said, and there is bleeding in only about 30,000. Of the patients with bleeding, Dr. Mohr said, only about 10 percent to 20 percent suffer damage severe enough that they can no longer function as they did before. About half are left with such minor problems, he said, that 'they aren’t sure they had a stroke.' " [2]

[1] The Washington Post. Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson Falls Ill, Undergoes Surgery. December 14, 2006.
[2] The New York Times. Ill Senator Is Called Responsive; Capital Is Riveted. December 15, 2006.

posted: sunday, december 17, 2006, 1:28 PM ET
update: sunday, december 17, 2006, 2:06 PM ET

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Muslims don't want Caliphate

" 'Muslims want to revive the Caliphate,' I hear pundits say. The idea is just preposterous. The Caliphate is a pre-nation state concept, relevant only to the Age of Empire. The Caliphate was defeated by the British in 1918. It was buried by the Turks in 1924.
Upon first glance, it seems the Caliphate had a fabulous run from 632 to 1918. However, look again: Only for a very short while during these 1300 years was there a single Caliph to which all Muslim political formations gave allegiance. Usually, there were multiple Muslim communities. The Ummayads in Spain never recognized the Abbasids in Baghdad; and the Mughals in India certainly did not pay obeisance to the Sublime Porte of their Turkish kinsmen in Istanbul. Then Mustafa Kemal Ghazi packed off the last Ottoman Caliph with 2000 pounds and a one-way ticket to Europe. He sealed the institution that had long outlived its utility.
The British drew most of the arbitrary lines around which nations were created out of the fallen Ottoman Empire. Those lines survived colonial mischief, local tyranny, despotism, socialism, popular upsurge against unrepresentative governments, war, and upheaval. Through nearly decades of turmoil, the power of the nation has been the one steady reality."

The Washington Post. (PostGlobal). "New Caliphate" Nonsense. December 11, 2006. (M.J. Akbar).

A History of Iraq.

posted: thursday, december 14, 2006, 6:14 PM ET
update: thursday, december 14, 2006, 6:17 PM ET

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Lebanon protest rally continues; Shiites have not been treated well

"The center of Beirut was packed Sunday with hundreds of thousands of pro-Hezbollah and allied demonstrators who, in a jubilant mass of protest and carnival, pressed their call for the government to resign.
. . . Over and over, the crowd, the speakers and the posters offered clear explanations. They did not want a government controlled by the so-called March 14 coalition, an amalgam of Sunni, Christian and Druse parties. They did not want a government aligned with Washington. In short, a very large number of Lebanese citizens said they did not want the present leadership.
. . . Hezbollah and its allies have managed for 10 days to control the center of Beirut with a loud, peaceful, organized protest. In many ways, Hezbollah has adopted a strategy that has been cheered by the White House in the past, in places like Ukraine, and even Lebanon, leaning on large, peaceful crowds to force unpopular governments to resign and pave the way for elections.
But this time Washington and its allies have said the protest amounts to a coup d’état, fueling charges that the United States supports democratic practices only when its allies are winning." [1]

"In some ways, Hossam Yassine represents the changing fortunes of Lebanon's Shiites. Yassine is college-educated, back from a job in the Persian Gulf. And every day this week, he has gone to the festival-like protests, in part for the party, in part because Hezbollah wants him to and in part because he believes.
"Hezbollah came and made something for the Shia, that we are here," the 22-year-old said.
. . . In a way, the protests . . . are the equivalent of a new kind of politics in Lebanon, drawing on the street, roiled by populist demands: a protest over government corruption, a denunciation of the United States and Israel, a celebration of the war this summer, tinted with a sense of betrayal at the hands of other Lebanese, and a call for change, however ill-defined it might be.
. . . "From the beginning we weren't treated well. Not just now. From the previous government and the government before that," Yassine said. "The people aren't going here because what Sayyid Hasan said. Sure, they'll do what he says. They love him. But they're going here because they're unhappy. I'll go not one night, two nights or three nights. I'll go for a year or two years."
. . . "They can't let any fight get big," Yassine said. "If a small fight gets big, Lebanon is gone." [2]

[1] The New York Times. As Crowd Demands Change, Lebanese Premier Is Puzzled. December 11, 2006.
[2] The Washington Post. Lebanon's Shiites Grapple With New Feeling of Power. December 10, 2006.

posted: thursday, december 14, 2006, 5:49 PM ET
update: thursday, december 14, 2006, 5:52 PM ET

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