The sudden shift from the triumphalism of Tchaikovsky to the funereal tone of Mr. Ezzat’s piece reflects the changing fortunes of Iraq and of one of its enduring symbols of national unity: the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra.
Throughout more than three years of war the orchestra has striven to lift the country’s spirits and give succor through art. But orchestra members are finding that while art can sometimes provide a brief respite from grim reality, it cannot stand forever as a bulwark against the maelstrom of conflict.
This summer four members fled to Syria and Dubai, stripping the orchestra of two cellists, an oboist and a violist, and leaving it with 59 musicians. The orchestra is often forced to rehearse without electricity because of frequent blackouts. The rehearsals take place three times a week in the former royal concert hall near the crumbling historic heart of Baghdad, with armed guards surrounding the compound.
The musicians are running out of things like reeds and strings, and few music stores remain open in Iraq, partly because militant Islamists have bombed several. Players must worry about offending fundamentalist militiamen and Islamist neighbors.
"The circumstances affect us on a daily basis," said Karim Wasfi, 34, the American-educated orchestra director and a cellist given to wearing buttoned-up black shirts beneath black suits. "But I want to convey that despite the difficulties and problems and instability, we exist, we perform, we give hope."
[. . .]
But the shining hopes that these musicians embraced after the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 have vanished. That year the orchestra gave a stirring performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, playing for, among others, President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Some members were invited to the White House.
Now Ali Khasaf, a clarinetist, has to practice quietly in a sealed room in his eastern Baghdad home lest he risk offending conservative militiamen.
The above is from Edward Wong's "And the Orchestra Plays on, Echoing Iraq's Struggles" in this morning's New York Times. In news of other things that "didn't work out, quite the way you wanted" (Carole King, "Chalis Borealis" off Speeding Time), Martha notes Amit R. Paley's "Heralded Iraq Police Academy a 'Disaster'" (Washington Post):
A $75 million project to build the largest police academy in Iraq has been so grossly mismanaged that the campus now poses health risks to recruits and might need to be partially demolished, U.S. investigators have found.
The Baghdad Police College, hailed as crucial to U.S. efforts to prepare Iraqis to take control of the country's security, was so poorly constructed that feces and urine rained from the ceilings in student barracks. Floors heaved inches off the ground and cracked apart. Water dripped so profusely in one room that it was dubbed "the rain forest."
"This is the most essential civil security project in the country -- and it's a failure," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an independent office created by Congress. "The Baghdad police academy is a disaster."
Bowen's office plans to release a 21-page report Thursday detailing the most alarming problems with the facility.
On the NIE, Cindy notes Camilo Mejia's "Giving Terrorism a Reason to Exist" (Common Dreams):
According to a report by 16 U.S. Spy agencies leaked to The New York Times, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped create more global terrorism and energize jihadist ideology throughout the world since the 9/11 attacks. The intelligence report, completed in April of this year but still classified, contradicts more optimistic assessments by both The White House and the House Intelligence Committee, which have claimed that America and its Allies are safer since the September 11 attacks. The report, however, also supports what critics of the war, especially dissenting U.S. veterans, have been saying all along, that the war in Iraq is actually creating more terrorism.
On March 15, 2004, just before surrendering to military authorities after refusing to return to the war, I gave a press conference to both national and international media. A reporter from Univision asked me if there was a difference between what was being reported in the U.S. about soldiers in Iraq and my experience there. I told her that morale amongst U.S. troops, contrary to media reports, was really low because we lacked a sense of mission and because "we were all lied to about weapons of mass destruction and connections between Iraq and terrorism to justify the war. In reality, we're giving terrorism a reason to exist with this war." Fast forward to the New York Times article and you have the exact same thing, only this time reported by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, two and a half years later!
Mejia is believed to be the first public resister of the Iraq war. And we'll use that as a transition to remind that Darrell Anderson is scheduled to return to the US on Saturday. DK notes Ian Bruce's "First US woman officer killed by Iraq blast" (Scotland's The Herald):
THE first female US army officer to die in action in Iraq was named yesterday as Lieutenant Emily Perez, 23, bringing the number of women soldiers of all ranks killed there since 2003 to 61.
Lieutenant Perez, an African-American graduate of West Point military academy, was killed when a roadside bomb detonated under her Humvee near Najaf.
Although female service personnel are not allowed to join combat units, many thousands are serving in support and logistics roles and regularly exposed to danger while travelling in supply convoys.
The plan is to do "And the war drags on . . ." this evening as usual. (A number of e-mails have come in on that. Hopefully, we're back to normal schedule.) The e-mail address for this site is firstname.lastname@example.org.
the new york times
the washington post
amit r. paley