Sunday, February 27, 2005

Welcome to the new Iraq

I feel like I have my finger on the throbbing pulse of the Iraqi political situation every time I visit Abu Ammar. You can often tell just how things are going in the country from the produce available at his stand. For example, when he doesn't have any good tomatoes we know that the roads to Basra are either closed or really bad and the tomatoes aren't getting through to Baghdad. When citrus fruit isn't available during the winter months, we know that the roads to Diyala are probably risky and oranges and lemons couldn't be delivered. He'll also give you the main news headlines he picks up from various radio stations and if you feel so inclined, you can read the headlines from any one of the assorted newspapers lying in a pile near his feet. Plus, he has all of the neighborhood gossip.
"Did you know Abu Hamid’s family are going to move?" He took a drag from the cigarette and pointed with his ballpoint pen towards a house about 100 m away from his stand. "Really?" I asked, turning my attention to the tomatoes, "How did you hear?"
"I saw them showing the house to a couple last week and then I saw them showing it again this week . . . they're trying to sell it."
"Did you hear about the election results?" E. asked Abu Ammar. Abu Ammar shook his head in the affirmative and squashed his cigarette with a slippered foot. "Well, we were expecting it." He shrugged his shoulders and continued, "Most Shia voted for list 169. They were blaring it out at the Husseiniya near our house the night of the elections. I was there for evening prayer."
A Husseiniya is a sort of mosque for Shia. We had heard that many of them were campaigning for list 169- the Sistani-backed list. I shook my head and sighed.
"So do you still think the Americans want to turn Iraq into another America? You said last year that if we gave them a chance, Baghdad would look like New York." I said in reference to a conversation we had last year. E. gave me a wary look and tried to draw my attention to some onions, "Oh hey- look at the onions- do we have onions?"
Abu Ammar shook his head and sighed, "Well if we're New York or we're Baghdad or we're hell, it's not going to make a difference to me. I'll still sell my vegetables here."
I nodded and handed over the bags to be weighed. "Well . . . they're going to turn us into another Iran. You know list 169 means we might turn into Iran.”
Abu Ammar pondered this a moment as he put the bags on the old brass scale and adjusted the weights. "And is Iran so bad?" He finally asked.
Well no, Abu Ammar, I wanted to answer, it's not bad for *you* - you're a man . . . if anything your right to several temporary marriages, a few permanent ones and the right to subdue females will increase. Why should it be so bad?
Instead I was silent. It's not a good thing to criticize Iran these days. I numbly reached for the bags he handed me, trying to rise out of that sinking feeling that overwhelmed me when the results were first made public.
It's not about a Sunni government or a Shia government- it's about the possibility of an Iranian-modeled Iraq. Many Shia are also appalled with the results of the elections. There’s talk of Sunnis being marginalized by the elections but that isn't the situation. It's not just Sunnis- it's moderate Shia and secular people in general who have been marginalized.
The list is frightening- Da'awa, SCIRI, Chalabi, Hussein Shahristani and a whole collection of pro-Iran political figures and clerics. They are going to have a primary role in writing the new constitution.
There's talk of Shari'a, or Islamic law, having a very primary role in the new constitution. The problem is, whose Shari'a? Shari'a for many Shia differs from that of Sunni Shari'a. And what about all the other religions? What about Christians and Mendiyeen? Is anyone surprised that the same people who came along with the Americans – the same puppets who all had a go at the presidency last year – are the ones who came out on top in the elections?
Jaffari, Talbani, Barazani, Hakim, Allawi, Chalabi . . . exiles, convicted criminals and war lords. Welcome to the new Iraq.

That's Riverbend, Girl Blog from Iraq at Baghdad Burning.

Matt Brown of Australia's ABC reports:

Air Commodore Greg Evans says troops in Baghdad shot at a car after it refused to stop on its approach to a checkpoint.
A woman travelling in the car received a bullet wound to the head, while a child was injured by broken glass.
The woman was later located in an Iraqi hospital and transferred to an American military hospital in Baghdad's Green Zone, where she is in a serious condition.

Retuers reports:

Two United States soldiers were killed in Baghdad on Saturday by a roadside bomb and small arms fire, the US military said on Sunday. Two other soldiers were wounded in the attack.

Australia's ABC also reports this:

On Sunday, a bomb ripped through the town hall in Hamma al-Alil, near the main northern city of Mosul, killing at least five people and wounding three, Iraqi security officials said.
The US military said there were eight dead and two wounded in the attack, 20 kilometres south of Mosul, where US troops and insurgents have battled since November.
In Mosul itself, four police officers patrolling in the west of the city were shot dead by unknown attackers firing from a car, a police commander said.
Police said another policeman was killed and one wounded when their patrol came under fire in the Amerli area, some 180 kilometres north of Baghdad.

The Independent reports:

Relatives of Iraqis tortured by British soldiers revealed last night how they were also arrested and brutally beaten simply for asking questions.
The Independent on Sunday can reveal that the Iraqi civilians were punched and kicked after arriving at Camp Breadbasket to find out why friends and relatives had been detained.
The disclosures came as the Attorney General called for reforms of the military justice system, and shortly after three Royal Regiment of Fusiliers soldiers were jailed for abusing detainees.

The Sunday Herald offers this:

For Tony Blair, the war in Iraq may never be over. As new questions are asked about whether the invasion was illegal, the advice of the attorney general -- and his sudden change of mind -- puts the Prime Minister back in the dock[.]
The increase in the minimum wage was supposed to be top of the agenda at Tony Blair's monthly press conference at Downing Street on Friday. The Prime Minister was anxious to engage in the debate, or indeed any debate on any subject -- domestic or international -- bar one.
But again it was Iraq that dominated proceedings. Two years after the invasion that put him under enough pressure to end most careers, the spectre of Iraq continues to haunt him in the days running up to an almost certain general election on May 5.
Blair has fought off opponents within his own party, faced down the one million-plus who marched in the streets to oppose the war and saw the BBC retreat as it reported -- accurately
-- criticism within his own security services. But Iraq has not faded away quietly.
At the core of Blair's problem is the issue he cannot avoid: the legality of his decision to unquestionably support the Bush administration in going to war in Iraq when virtually all international legal advice warned there was no justification for doing so.
Enemies looking for legal evidence that would brand Blair a potential war criminal have seized upon the publication next week of Lawless World, by University College London law professor and QC Philippe Sands. His book is a detailed account of how the attorney general, Peter Goldsmith, changed his mind on the legality of the war within a crucial 10-day period in March 2003. An added embarrassment for the government is that Sands is attached to Cherie Blair’s legal chambers, Matrix.
Goldsmith presented his first advice to Downing Street on March 7 in a 13-page document which laid out the argument that going to war without a new UN resolution sanctioning hostilities "could be found to be illegal".

The Sunday Herald also offers this by Liam McDougall:

THE war in Iraq is causing a crisis in Army recruitment in Scotland, raising concerns that the population will be unable to support the planned "super-regiment".
Army sources say perceptions of the Iraq war as illegal and the controversy over abuse of Iraqi prisoners are to blame for the downturn. Last week three infantrymen were found guilty of abusing Iraqi detainees.
The controversial suicides at Deepcut barracks are also contributing to a sharp decline in recruitment, while the loss of historic battalions to restructuring has caused anger.
The Sunday Herald has learned that the decline is so steep the country may struggle to recruit enough people to support the five-battalion "super-regiment" planned to replace Scotland’s six current regiments.

The BBC reports:

Iraqi officials quoted by AFP news agency say 10 people have been killed and many others wounded.
Insurgents opposed to the Iraqi government and to the presence of US-led troops have stepped up a campaign of violence in recent months.
. . .
Monday's car bombing targeted a government building where a group of people were filling in applications for state jobs, Reuters news agency reports.

In The Daily Mirror, Oonagh Blackman reports:

TONY Blair faced more pressure yesterday to publish the Attorney General's advice on the legality of the Iraq war.
Three senior figures, including a former Lord Chancellor, called for Lord Goldsmith's full legal opinion to be made public.
Mr Blair, who repeatedly brushed off the demands yesterday, insisted there was no precedent for going public with private legal advice.
But that has been questioned after the Government readily published the Lord Chancellor's legal advice on the impending wedding of Prince Charles.

Now does someone want to do happy talk like last weekend about the new Iraq?

[Post corrected to add link for the Sunday Herald piece on Tony Blair.]