Saturday, April 29, 2006

Lunch with the FT

With Azar Nafisi:

“On the right many people have this Samuel Huntington view of the Islamic world that it should be left to stew in its own barbarity. On the left, people are more respectful but they are equally simplistic. What both sides have in common is a lack of curiosity for what life is really like in countries like Iran. They have both forgotten that human rights are universal.”
Instead of arguing with the Iranian regime’s ideology, the west should speak directly about the rights of Iran’s people. She concurred: “Don’t tell the Iranian people that we are only interested in you because we don’t trust your regime with nuclear weapons. Tell them we respect your individual rights just as much as we do our own. People in Iran think they have been overlooked or that they are incidental.”
“America had its chance to help change Iran from within when Mohammed Khatami was president - he wanted a dialogue of civilisations. That was an opening. But the US would not talk to Iran. Now we have Ahmadi-Nejad. So America got its caricature.”,s01=1.html

EM on the radio

The Week in Westminster on BBC Radio4: in the 'Listen again' the discussion on the Euston Manifesto is 13:45 minutes in.

Friday, April 28, 2006

See the lawman...

...beating up the wrong guy...

Back to 'Life on Mars' and 1973. You might get the impression from the series and supporting features in the Radio Times that the normal "caution" used by the police when making an arrest was "You're nicked". It actually went as I recall, from TV programmes of course, "You do not have to say anything, but anything you do say may be used in evidence against you." When words like "but if you fail to mention something that you later rely on for your defence..." were introduced in about 1990, this was seen at the time as taking away the absolute right to silence.

I know that there were cases of confessions being beaten out of people in those days, as evidenced by some of the wrongful convictions that have subsequently been revealed, but to suggest that things are better now in every way is wrong.

Update: I've got to episode 5 now. The detective-who-went-back-in-time, who in earlier episodes was using the 2006 version of the caution, is now using the 1973 version as quoted above.

I also noticed the 35p on the ticket to the match (Manchester United vs City). I understand it costs £20 to £40 to get into a football match these days. So an increase of at least 60 times. General prices levels are up around 8 to 9 times since then (RPI 100 in Jan 1974, 400 in 1987, rebased to 100, now 194). The price of a pint of beer is up about 12 times. Correction: that was based on the programme, but nobody would have paid 18½p for a pint of bitter in Manchester in 1973; from my own experience, I would say 17 times (14p in 1973, £2.40 now). In 1940, I was told, it cost 8d (3⅓p).

Thursday, April 27, 2006

legitimacy (2)

Most Europeans would agree that the state derives its legitimacy from democratic practices and therefore that its  laws should be obeyed. Europeans would go further however an argue that the US government should be constrained by international law in not invading other countries without UN authorisation, in recognizing the ICC etc....

( I have posted the rest as an update to my previous post,  in response to a comment and picking up some points from  Will Hutton in the Observer, "Why the Euston group offers a new direction for the left" and Martin Kettle in the Guardian, "We live in changed times" )

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Some people have got their preparations well under way for the world cup: 'A particular focus is on the match between Iran and Angola on June 21 in Leipzig. The [far-right] NPD plans to "send a clear message of solidarity" to the Iranian regime led by President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, following his denial of the Holocaust and call for Israel's abolition' and his "defiant stance" on the nuclear issue. (Financial Times, 15 April)

I suppose in a way this shows the ineffectiveness of the far-right: it would be far "better" if they concentrated on Muslim immigrants, mainly Turks in Germany. In the same way, for a long time British fascists insisted on anti-Semitism, which was almost a non-issue in Britain. Philippe de Villiers, of the not-quite-far-right in France, seems to have grasped this. He has said recently that there is no such thing as moderate Islam and doubted whether muslims could be true members of the Republic.

Just to clarify, or correct, something I mentioned here:

Tony Barber, writing in the Financial Times, 15 April, says, 'Mr Prodi's forces have a 158-156 majority in the senate [...] and 27 of  his senators come from Communist Refoundation'. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


On Sunday I received an email to tell me that I had been accepted as a blogger on the Euston Manifesto. This means that not only do I appear on their sidebar, or blogroll, but also that I am aggregated so that my entries appear here as I post them. I don't know how this works - the EM says that it takes RSS feeds, but Blogger says that it does not allow these, unless you have Blogger Plus, which you can't get any more - but it does: there I am at about 23 hours ago.

The problem was that when I came to make my first post subsequently, on Monday, I could not see that it was working. Blogger was having serious problems: it was not actually publishing my posts. In fact, I thought at one point that it was the fact that I had got myself 'aggregated' that was causing the problems with my blog. I tried various things until I found Blogger's forum, where there were dozens of frustrated users around the world who were experiencing exactly the same problem. Everything seems OK this morning. So this will probably be the first post that pops up at the top.

After all that, I suppose I should give a link to the Euston Manifesto. I will put it in the sidebar by and by.

Monday, April 24, 2006

More cartoons

From The New York Times.

The second shows a pair of army boots on the plinth where the statue of Saddam Hussein used to stand and more boots around. Edward Wong tells us that this was from Al Bayyna al Jadidah, a conservative Shiite newspaper. Of more interest, Khalid W. Hassan, an Iraqi reporter for the NYT, in an Audio Slide presentation : 'We got rid of the statue 3 years ago,  we got rid of the tyranny, but... We have security problems, we have economic problems  We still have the problems. We didn't get rid of them yet.'

(The first reference, Chuckling Darkly in Iraq, is subscriber only now, but the Audio Slide Show: Iraqi Political Cartoons still seems to be accessible.)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Clear as mud

On France Inter, Wednesday morning (19 Apr), they were talking about Clearstream. I didn't hear all of it and I understood even less; and it was too late to pick up their podcast. Still ... One word that was mentioned several times was le corbeau. This word, literally meaning crow,  is used for auteur de lettres anonymes or  'writer of poison-pen letters'.

It appears that the false accusations have been made against leading politicians, including Nicolas Sarkozy. The offices of the Airbus chief executive were raided in connection with this and raids targeted at executives of EADS have also been made. (AFP, Paris - reported in the FT, 6 Apr 2006).  This is not to say that true accusations have not been made. These involve money-laundering and cover-ups.

The people on the radio programme were Vincent Peillon, socialist European MP; and Denis Robert, journalist and  writer. Further research could be called for.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


More on Peugeot

'Production at Ryton is understood to cost some €450 per car more than at PSA's plant at Poissy in France and almost €1,000 above the production cost at its joint venture factory with Toyota in the Czech Republic.' (The Guardian, 'Anger at Peugeot decision to quit Britain') That's an important clarification, though they obviously mean the Trnava plant in Slovakia. Also, they don't mention the relative costs of the factory in Spain.

Another bit: one worker said: "One of the managers said it was simple maths. It costs £11.50 [an hour] to build the 206 here, and about £2.50 to build it in Slovakia".

Le Figaro describes the closure as une délocalisation masquée: "Et bien que le groupe s'en défende, la fermeture de Ryton s'apparente à une délocalisation". ( Although the group denies it, the closure of Ryton is similar to a relocation.) The word délocalisation, usually translated as relocation or outsourcing, generally refers to shifting production to lower wage-cost countries, whether in China or Eastern Europe.
Emmanuel had some interesting comments on the labour laws (the CPE) - Figures de la rupture. Some of it is in English, if you follow the link to his previous post.
There has not been much coverage of the Hungarian election, compared to Italy's, say, but this post, from Harry of that place, with quotations from George Szirtes, reveals some interesting issues.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Covering Iraq

It's ironic, really, that the Iranians are saying that the Seymour Hersh's report in the New Yorker was part of a psychological war by Americans, when his main aim was to attack those (American) neoconservatives 'who got us into this mess in Iraq' (interview on BBC World Service, Sunday, 9 April).

Earlier this month, I wrote a long series of posts mainly based on material from The New York Times.  It's a long time since I bothered to look at the Guardian's coverage of Iraq.  I don't even altogether trust the BBC.  They did pick up Thursday (13 April) in their bulletins (WS and Radio 4) that Sunni families being forced to move from Baghdad to the enclave of Falluja.  I always feel, though, that their tone is always, 'It's a mess, but what did you expect?'  So, back to the NYT.  Noah Feldman put it quite well in their Magazine last week (9 April):
Civil war in Iraq raises the likelihood that the United States will leave before a meaningful state comes into being. This is not only because civil war slows state building and so tests the patience of the American public. The public's willingness to sustain a military presence even in the face of human and financial costs is connected to the idea that there are good guys in Iraq whom we are supporting against terrorists. President Bush speaks of sustaining a U.S. presence at least into 2009 [...]. But if the Shiites continue to engage in atrocities, through their militias and through the Iraqi Army and the police, it will become much harder for President Bush to justify our continued involvement on one side of the conflict. We cannot plausibly claim to be fighting the war on terror if some of the terrorists — backed by Iran, no less — are essentially on our side.
The BBC did have one thing worth listening to on Sunday (16 April):  a profile of the US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.  Their Washington correspondent, Justin Webb, admitted that he actually quite liked the neoconservatives!

Manufacturing in Britain

Peugeot is to close its plant at Ryton near Coventry with the loss of 2,300 jobs, it has been announced. The plant is to cease production in mid-2007. ... Jean Martin Folz, chief executive of Peugeot Citroen, said a study had been carried out during the beginning of 2006 showing the Ryton plant had high production and logistical costs. (BBC, 2006/04/18 13:21:36 GMT)

The factory at Ryton in Coventry will stop making the Peugeot 206 model next year. ( Press Association, 2:28 PM) Production of the 207 started at Trnava, a new plant in Slovakia this year. The new model is also made at Madrid and Poissy, near Paris. Another new Peugeot, the 107, along with the Citroën C1 and Toyota Aygo, is produced at another new factory, a joint venture at Kolin in the Czech Republic.

15:13 [CET] Peugeot ferme l'usine de Ryton (GB) Cette fermeture, prévue pour 2007, entraînera la suppression de 2.300 emplois. (Le Figaro).  Peugeot SA's shares rose a little: they were the third highest riser in the CAC40.
Perhaps more important is the question of what is happening to Britain and its place in the global economy. Sceptics worry that the recent period of low headline inflation has reflected the final hollowing out of Britain's industrial base and a one-off shift of manufacturing to lower-cost India and China. But will Britain be able to cope when the Asian giants become more technologically sophisticated? The shift away from manufacturing has deprived Britain of a presence in a sector where technological progress is fastest. (Graham Bowley, The return of macroeconomics, in Prospect magazine, March 2006)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


John O'Sullivan of the Hudson Institute, in an extended essay reviewing Francis Fukuyama's  After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads, makes an important point.

According to O'Sullivan, Fukuyama identifies four main currents of neocon thought: the significance of a nation’s internal regime; the risks of social engineering; that the United States, almost uniquely among great powers, can be trusted to use its strength for moral purposes; and that international institutions cannot be trusted to safeguard security and justice.
Especially problematic is the notion of international legitimacy. As Fukuyama pointed out in 2002, Europeans see legitimacy as something “handed downwards from a willowy, disembodied international level rather than handed upwards,” as Americans do, “from concrete, legitimate democratic publics on a nation-state level.”

His preference then was for the American view since the European one liberated its elites (and by extension international agencies) to follow their own preferences under the guise of pursuing common international values. In After the Neocons, however, he seems to have changed his mind: “Although international co-operation will have to be based on sovereign states for the foreseeable future, shared ideas of legitimacy and human rights will weaken objections that the United States should not be accountable to regimes that are not themselves accountable.”

This is the single most substantial rejection of neoconservative ideas in the book.
"Doubtful Dove", Financial Times Magazine, 1 April

Update (in response to a comment): 
Most Europeans would agree that the state derives its legitimacy from democratic practices and therefore that its  laws should be obeyed. Europeans would go further however an argue that the US government should be constrained by international law in not invading other countries without UN authorisation, in recognizing the ICC etc.

What you are arguing is the American view, as exemplified by the neocons. As an example of the sort of argument we get in Europe, here is one of the more sensible responses to the Euston Manifesto, Will Hutton in the Observer :
Democracy and the rule of law are indivisible. Thus, without a second UN resolution and a renewal of the mandate for intervention, the US and UK could not legally go to war and are now trying to build a democracy from a fatally flawed position. The failure of Iraqi reconstruction is not just hubris by the Pentagon and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; it goes back to the original illegitimacy of the war.
This conflates the idea of the rule of law within a democratic state with the rule of law in an international context, where it can be argued that no such democratic legitimacy obtains. Iraq is of course the case that has  provoked the most argument about the issue. No comparable bitterness was created over Kosovo, where NATO also did not have explicit UN authorisation to intervene. Perhaps this was because Clinton was in charge at that time. ('America is not the problem [...] But the Bush administration unquestionably is.' - Martin Kettle in the Guardian.)

Of course, it could have been China or Russia (we have seen what their commitment to democracy and the rule of law is in the last couple of years) that was the main obstacle to the US and UK's intervention being clearly legal. But in fact it was France. And other democratic countries, such as Chile, prevented them getting the 'moral victory' of a majority in the Security Council (but, as they say, moral victories don't count).

Iraq looms large now, but in the years to come it might be the growing economic power of China that puts the question particularly to the test. The Chinese President hot-footed it from Washington (or was it Seattle) to Saudi Arabia and then Nigeria. Where the US and the EU look to promote good governance, especially in Africa, China sees national sovereignty as paramount. It will deal with democracies, but also with whatever dictator is in power at the moment. Look at its position on Sudan / Darfur. (Listen to an interview on The World Today, after 7:05 GMT.)   

Perhaps Europe will see these issues more clearly, eventually. 

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Now the workers have struck - for fame...

... cos Lenin's on sale again.  Sorry, I've just started watching the BBC series 'Life on Mars', where a police detective from 2006 wakes up in 1973..  I really wanted to start by talking about the CPE in France again, where the government has recently backed down in the face of street protests..  This is a real victory of style over substance..  De Villepin was accused of arrogance, of not consulting..  As Le Monde reported some time ago, he dreamt up the proposal all on his own.  So, the government did not have sufficient unity or commitment to see the thing through.  The PS is now demanding the withdrawal of the Contrat Nouvelle Embauche which is similar to the CPE, but for small enterprises only.  Le Pen was interviewed on France Inter this morning (Thursday).  He was not particularly keen on the new law, but criticised the fact that a legitimate government has given in to demonstrations.  It's a matter of principle, he says.  (He has also recently called for a union of 'patriots' for next year's Presidentielle.  This is widely seen as an appeal to Philippe de Villiers' Mouvement Pour la France to support a single candidate of the far-right.)  The government, having failed in something difficult, now looks set to bring in something easy - a smoking ban similar to Britain's.

France may not yet be 'the sick man of Europe'.  That title is held by Italy, who inherited it from Germany.  In the 1970's, of course, it was held by Britain.  Some commentators on the BBC have said that the Communists in Italy, whose support  Romano Prodi may need to govern, are moderate and fluffy.  As the Financial Times pointed out in a feauture on 4 April, however, there are the Democrats of the Left (DS), led by Piero Fassino.  This grew out of the Italian Communist Party in the 1990's.  Then there is the hardline party, Communist Refoundation, led by Fausto Bertinotti.

As the BBC's Caroline Wyatt has said, being in France now is like being transported back to the Britain of the 1970's. ...

'The coup against Harold Wilson' featured quite a bit of footage of General Sir Walter Walker, Nato's Commander-in-Chief, northern Europe, 1969 to 1972, warning against communist subversion.  If a coup is being plotted in secret, why should someone go public in this way ?  I suppose to prepare opinion for the idea in a general way.  The Guardian's obituary also says that Walker was opposed to the idea of a coup.  I came across another mention of him: he 'has recently drawn attention to the far-reaching implications of what has happened in Portugal.  As General Walker observes, a most strategic member of NATO changed sides without a shot being fired. The loss of Portugal...' This seems to be talking about the events of 1974.  The previous regime was not exactly fascist, but certainly a right-wing dictatorship (like Franco's Spain, they upheld traditional, 'Catholic' values).  After its fall, Portugal became a democracy and eventually a member of the EU.  (Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to put online these archives, which go back to 1965.  I don't know anything about the publishers of this site, Australian League of Rights, though looking at more recent comments, they have headings like 'Leading neo-conmen named'.  If this is typical, it is interesting.)

Note: Google tells me that Bowie's lyrics go " 'Cause Lennon's on sale again," though there is some support for the Lenin reading.  It is, of course an example of creative ambiguity. 

Tactical errors, figuratively speaking

LIVERPOOL, England, March 31 — In response to a question at one point, Ms. Rice acknowledged that the Bush administration had made "tactical errors, a thousand of them, I am sure" in Iraq and perhaps elsewhere. [She] asserted that whatever tactical failures there may have been, the strategic decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power had been right. "Saddam Hussein was not going anywhere without a military intervention," she said. (NYT, April 1, 2006, 'Rice, in England, Concedes U.S. 'Tactical Errors' in Iraq')

On WDAY radio in Fargo, N.D., on Tuesday an interviewer asked Mr. Rumsfeld about Ms. Rice's statement in Liverpool ... Mr. Rumsfeld said, "I don't know what she was talking about, to be perfectly honest," according to a Defense Department transcript of the interview. He implied that the criticism stemmed from "a lack of understanding of what warfare is all about." At a briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday he said, "I talked to Condi about that, and she pointed out the transcript where she said she was speaking figuratively, not literally." (NYT, April 7, 2006, 'Facing Tough Questions, Bush Defends War')

Iraq's Crisis (6)

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 1 — Since the shrine bombing, 30,000 to 36,000 Iraqis have fled their homes because of sectarian violence or fear of reprisals, say officials at the International Organization for Migration, based in Geneva. The Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration estimated that at least 5,500 families have moved, with the biggest group being 1,250 families settling in the Shiite holy city of Najaf after leaving Baghdad and Sunni-dominated towns in central Iraq. The families are living with relatives or in abandoned buildings, and a crisis of food and water shortages is starting to build, officials say.

"We lived in Latifiya for 30 years," said Abu Hussein al-Ramahi, a Shiite farmer with a family of seven, referring to a village south of Baghdad that is a stronghold of the Sunni Arab insurgency. "But a month ago, two armed people with masks on their faces said if I stayed in this area, my family and I would no longer remain alive. They shot bullets near my feet. I went back home immediately and we left the area early next morning for Najaf." Mr. Ramahi's family and other migrants are now squatting in a derelict hotel in the holy city.
At least 761 families have settled in Baghdad after moving from Anbar Province and other Sunni-dominated areas to the west, according to Iraqi government statistics. The same is happening on the Sunni Arab end — there are reports of 50 families moving from Baghdad to the Sunni enclave of Falluja. (NYT, April 2, 2006, 'Civilians in Iraq Flee Mixed Areas as Attacks Shift')

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 2 — The fracturing of the Shiites became clear in the late afternoon, as a senior official in the leading Shiite party, Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheir, said in a telephone interview that his party was putting forward another candidate to replace Mr. Jaafari. "I've asked Jaafari to resign from his job," said Sheik Sagheir, a deputy to the Shiite bloc's leader, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim. "The prime minister should have national consensus inside the Parliament, and he should have the support of the international body." Any dispute between the Shiite bloc's two biggest factions — Mr. Hakim's party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the party led by Mr. Sadr — carries with it the possibility of armed violence.
It was not clear whether the joint visit by Ms. Rice and Mr. Straw, the top emissaries of the two countries that led the invasion of Iraq three years ago, played a direct role in the splintering of the Shiite bloc, and whether that schism would lead to forward movement on forming a new government, which has been stalled for months. Ms. Rice and Mr. Straw, who came here unannounced in a driving rainstorm from a meeting in England ..., told reporters they did not want to intervene in the dispute over the prime minister. But at the same time they pointed out that Mr. Jaafari had been unable to win enough political support to form a government since his nomination on Feb. 12. (NYT, April 3, 2006, 'Iraqi Shiite Bloc Splits Over Call for New Premier')
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 3 — At least nine members of the military were killed in Anbar Province, including four in a rebel attack. Three marines and one sailor were killed on Sunday in the rebel assault, the military reported, offering no further information. At least 13 members of the American military have died so far this month, setting a pace that could interrupt a trend of steadily declining casualties over the past five months. The monthly tally of at least 31 deaths in March was the second lowest since the invasion of Iraq three years ago. The declining American casualties have coincided with a sharp increase in Iraqi civilian deaths, reflecting a significant shift in the nature of the conflict as insurgent groups and sectarian death squads have focused primarily on civilian targets. The American military reported last week that from Feb. 22 to March 22, 1,313 civilians were killed, many in sectarian violence, while 173 civilians died in car bombings, a hallmark of the insurgency.
The Kurds, and particularly President Talabani, have been at the forefront of an effort to oust Mr. Jaafari. Mr. Talabani was incensed after Mr. Jaafari visited Turkey in late February; Turkish leaders have repeatedly threatened to invade Iraqi Kurdistan if the Kurds tried to secede. (NYT, April 4, 2006, 'Americans in Iraq Face Their Deadliest Day in Months')

The visit by Ms. Rice and Mr. Straw appeared to grate even on politicians who oppose Mr. Jaafari. "They complicated the thing, and now it's more difficult to solve," said Mahmoud Osman, an independent member of the Kurdistan Alliance, speaking Wednesday about Ms. Rice and Mr. Straw. "They shouldn't have come, and they shouldn't have interfered."  (NYT, April 6, 2006, Iraqi Says Visit by Two Diplomats Backfired )

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 6 - In comments to the news media on Thursday, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari hinted that he might be willing to abandon his bid to remain prime minister in the next government. For weeks he has been defiant in the face of multipartisan demands that he make way for a candidate who is more popular among all sectarian groups. But on Thursday, he seemed to signal that he would be amenable to a decision on the matter by the National Assembly. "For me, the position means nothing at all," Mr. Jaafari said. "If they would agree inside the Parliament on a legal way for me to step down, I would step down. The people elected a group of blocs to represent them in the Parliament, and whatever these blocs say, I welcome." (NYT, April 7, 2006, '10 Are Killed in Bombing Near Shrine Holy to Shiites' )

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 8 — Three suicide bombers, including at least one who appeared to be a woman, exploded in a sea of Friday worshipers at the main mosque of the most powerful Shiite political party in Iraq, killing at least 71 people and wounding at least 140. ... The explosions at the historic Baratha Mosque, in northern Baghdad, took place right after the mosque's head imam, Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheir, delivered a searing speech there, demanding that the incumbent prime minister step down.
In his Friday Prayer speech, the white-turbaned Sheik Sagheir had called for the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to withdraw his bid to hold on to his job in the next government. "There are rules in the political game, and he who can't read them will lose," Sheik Sagheir said. Last Sunday, the sheik said in a telephone interview that Mr. Jaafari should abdicate to break the deadlock in forming a new government, a demand that fractured the religious Shiite bloc, which dominates the Parliament.

Sheik Sagheir's party, the Supreme Council, is offering one of its deputies, Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, as the new nominee for prime minister. Mr. Mahdi lost to Mr. Jaafari by one vote in a secret ballot in February among the 130 members of the Shiite bloc. Mr. Jaafari has the backing of Moktada al-Sadr ... Both Mr. Sadr and the Supreme Council have formidable militias that have clashed in open street battles. But the mosque attack appeared to be the work of jihadists aligned with the Sunni-led insurgency rather than violence between Shiites. (NYT, April 8, 2006, 'Iraqis Mourn Victims of Mosque Bombing')

WASHINGTON, April 8 — An internal staff report by the United States Embassy and the military command in Baghdad provides a sobering province-by-province snapshot of Iraq's political, economic and security situation, rating the overall stability of 6 of the 18 provinces "serious" and one "critical."
The oil-rich Basra Province, where British troops have patrolled in relative calm for most of the last three years, is now rated as "serious." The report defines "serious" as having "a government that is not fully formed or cannot serve the needs of its residents; economic development that is stagnant with high unemployment, and a security situation marked by routine violence, assassinations and extremism." (NYT, April 9, 2006, 'U.S. Study Paints Somber Portrait of Iraqi Discord' )

Zalmay Khalilzad, interviewed on Channel 4 News, Sunday (9 Apr), said that the talks between the US and Iran are on hold until the Iraqi government is formed. He also told Fox News on Sunday, "We do not want to give the impression that the United States is sitting with Iran to decide about the Iraqi government", according to the NYT (April 10, 2006, 'Iraqis Denounce Mubarak's Remarks on Strife').

Some news organisations, like C4 News, reported Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's remarks that Iraq was already in a civil war and that the Iraqi Shi'a were loyal to Iran, but did not mention that he also said that it was imperative for the US and other coalition forces to remain, otherwise Iraq would descend into complete chaos (BBC World Service). Much the same point was made by an Iraqi army officer on the BBC's 'The Insurgency'.

Iraq's Crisis (5)

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 29 — Facing growing pressure from the Bush administration for him to step down, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari of Iraq vigorously asserted his right to stay in office today and warned the Americans against undue interference in Iraq's political process. Mr. Jaafari also defended his recent political alliance with ... Moktada al-Sadr, now the prime minister's most powerful backer, saying in an interview that Mr. Sadr and his thousands-strong militia were a fact of life in Iraq and need to be accepted into mainstream politics.

Mr. Jaafari's victory was narrow; he came out on top by only one vote after getting the support of Mr. Sadr, who controls 32 seats. ...After the secret ballot last month, Sadr politicians said Mr. Jaafari had agreed to meet all their political demands in exchange for their votes. Mr. Sadr has been pushing for control of service ministries like health, transportation and electricity. Mr. Jaafari .. said he had disagreed with L. Paul Bremer III [who] barred Mr. Sadr and some Sunni Arab groups from the Iraqi Governing Council in 2003. (NYT, March 29, 2006, 'Iraq's Premier Asserts His Right to Stay in Office ')

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 31 — ... one of Iraq's leading Shiite clerics demanded Friday that the American ambassador be replaced. The cleric, Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yacoubi, denounced the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, at a sermon given at the mosques of his followers. The ayatollah said the Americans were attacking the Shiites and wanted to "change the demography of the Iraqi people and weaken the strongest component in Iraq, represented by the followers of Imam Ali."

Ayatollah Yacoubi is the spiritual head of the Fadilah Party, one of the main parties in the Shiite bloc. He is a fundamentalist cleric who has the same religious and political roots as Moktada al-Sadr ... Mr. Sadr supported Mr. Jaafari for prime minister, while the Fadilah Party backed Adel Abdul Mahdi... (NYT, April 1, 2006, 'Senior Shiite Cleric Urges U.S. to Replace Envoy in Iraq')

[Jill] Carroll's release also coincided with a rapprochement between the American Embassy and Sunni Arab political leaders. Some of those Sunni leaders have praised Mr. Khalilzad for openly pressuring Shiite politicians in recent weeks to disband their militias and to be more accommodating to the political aspirations of the Sunnis. It was to a branch office of the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the leading representatives of conservative Sunni Arabs, that Ms. Carroll was delivered Thursday. The party's leader, Tarik al-Hashemi, has been working closely with Mr. Khalilzad during the fraught negotiations to form a new government.
Ms. Carroll's ordeal began when she was kidnapped at gunpoint after leaving the offices of Adnan Dulaimi, a prominent Sunni Arab politician. She had gone there to conduct an interview with Mr. Dulaimi, only to find he was unavailable, leading some to suspect she was set up. (NYT, April 1, 2006, Freed Reporter in Recovery in U.S. Zone in Baghdad )

CAMP RIPPER, Iraq, March 30 — Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, who took command of American ground forces in January, tells his troops that the only way they will defeat the insurgency is to do less shooting and more rebuilding. It's a tough sell at this desert base in Anbar Province, where marines recently spent an hour explaining to him that insurgent attacks and intimidation have brought reconstruction work in their area almost to a standstill. ...
"If you're saying you've got to get an area secure before you do any reconstruction, you'll never get any reconstruction done," General Chiarelli finally told the half-dozen officers around a conference table at the regiment's command post. Chiarelli (pronounced ka-RELL-ee) NYT, April 1, 2006, 'Top General in Iraq Aims to Shoot Less, Rebuild More'

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 1 — A senior member of the dominant Shiite bloc called on Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari on Saturday to drop his campaign to keep his post, becoming the first Shiite political leader to publicly break ranks in the debate over Iraq's top executive. ... The dissenting Shiite leader, Kassim Daoud, said a sense of responsibility to end the gridlock had compelled him to speak out.

"We all hope that he will respond because we know that he is a statesman and he will take the country's best interest into consideration," Mr. Daoud, who would be a possible candidate for the post, said Saturday in a brief telephone interview.

The pressure and divisions over Mr. Jaafari has divided the Shiite bloc into two camps. One, led by Mr. Jaafari's [Islamic Dawa] party, has stuck by his nomination. The other, led by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, has begun to discuss the possibility of another candidate. Some of the bloc's leaders decided that they would give him a few days to try to sway the Sunni Arabs, the Kurds and the secular blocs in his favor. Failing that, they said, they would begin considering other candidates. (NYT, April 2, 2006, 'Shiite Asks Iraqi Prime Minister Not to Seek Another Term')

The Arab League

Iraq's Crisis (4)
KHARTOUM, Sudan, March 27 — Arab foreign ministers who gathered here over the weekend to prepare for a summit meeting agreed on a proposal to increase their diplomatic presence in Iraq. The draft resolution, which does not offer a timetable, is expected to be approved by the 22 members of the Arab League meeting here on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Bush administration has urged Arab nations to open diplomatic missions and embassies in Iraq to help give the new government legitimacy. But the ministers appeared to be less concerned about pleasing the United States than staving off the growing influence of Iran. In particular, the agreement this month for the United States and Iran to hold talks about the future of Iraq was viewed with alarm.

The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, criticized the Arab countries for failing to support Iraq by providing full diplomatic presence and debt forgiveness. "Why are you complaining about the Iranian role in Iraq when the Iranians are there and you are not?" Mr. Zebari said. "We have been asking for you to play a role for the past three years and you have not responded."
Arab diplomatic missions have maintained minimal staffs in Iraq since the American-led invasion in 2003 and particularly after two Algerian diplomats and an Egyptian envoy were kidnapped and killed there in July. Iraq also remains saddled with billions of dollars in debt to Persian Gulf states that helped finance the 1980-88 war with Iran. The Arab leaders are expected to discuss the issue of debt forgiveness this week. (NYT, March 28, 2006, Arabs Discuss Wider Presence in Baghdad to Bolster Government )

KHARTOUM, Sudan, March 28 — Concerns over growing Iranian influence in Iraq, and the lack of Arab involvement there, dominated the opening of the annual Arab League summit here on Tuesday. "Any solution for the Iraqi problem cannot be reached without Arabs and Arab participation," Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, said in his opening speech.  ... "They fear Iraq is drifting from the Arabs, being divorced from the Arab world, and the increased influence of another neighboring country," said Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister. "This time, we are seeing some positive moves by the Arab League toward more realization of the situation on Iraq." (NYT, March 29, 2006, Influence in Iraq Emerges as Key Issue as Arab Conference Opens - Iraqi FM Hoshyar Zebari can be seen in the photograph published by the NYT, behind and between Lahoud and  Bouteflika.)

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 27 — In the village of Kasak, between Mosul and Tal Afar, a man wrapped in explosives detonated himself at an army recruitment center on Monday, killing at least 40 people and wounding at least 30, an official at the Interior Ministry said. The center is situated in front of a joint American-Iraqi base, though the American military said that no American troops had been wounded. Gen. Muhammad al-Dosaki, deputy commander of the Third Division of the Iraqi Army, said the suicide bomber waded into a crowd of about 70 applicants who had gathered outside the center and detonated a vest of explosives.

And in Baghdad, Iraqi police recruits stumbled across nine bodies, all garroted, an official in the Interior Ministry said. At least 267 bodies showing signs of execution-style killings have been recovered in Baghdad in the past three weeks. In southern Baghdad, a missile hit a building containing two offices of the Shiite-led Fadhila and Dawa parties, killing 6 people and wounding 12, an Iraqi police official in Zafaraniya said.

Frayed relations between Iraq's Shiite leadership and the American authorities came under increased strain on Monday as Shiite leaders angrily denounced a joint American-Iraqi raid on a Shiite compound and suspended negotiations over a new government. The raid on Sunday evening, which killed at least 16 people, also prompted the governor of Baghdad to announce a halt in cooperation with the American authorities...

President Jalal Talabani said he would lead a joint Iraqi-American committee to investigate the Sunday evening raid... Shiites said the victims were civilians gathered in a mosque, while the Americans said they were insurgents holed up in a guerrilla headquarters. ... Some Shiite leaders warned that the raid had been widely interpreted among their constituents as a strong-arm tactic to cow them into making political concessions, including forcing the largest Shiite bloc to drop Mr. Jaafari as its nominee for prime minister in the new government. They demanded that the American authorities give a public and transparent accounting of the raid. "There was something tragically wrong, and it's got to be explained or it's going to be seen by many to be a crackdown on certain political factions in Iraqi politics," said Haydar al-Abadi, a top adviser to Mr. Jaafari. "We are facing a crisis." ... Talabani said at a news conference that Gen. George W. Casey Jr. agreed to the formation of the joint investigative committee, which was confirmed by a spokeswoman for the American Embassy.

The raid on Sunday happened at the Mustafa husayniyah, a small Shiite community center and mosque in Ur, a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad. The mosque, with a small minaret, is built around a central open-air courtyard and was frequented by followers of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

In a conference call with reporters in Baghdad late Monday, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of the day-to-day operations of the multinational forces in Iraq, said the building was "an office complex," and not a mosque. He said the raid, which involved about 50 troops from the Iraqi Special Forces, assisted by about 25 American advisers, explosives technicians and medical personnel, singled out an insurgent group that was using the building as a base of operations for conducting kidnappings and executions.  General Chiarelli said that as the troops approached the complex, they came under fire from "several buildings" in the area. The troops killed 16 insurgents, wounded three, detained 18 other people, discovered a weapons stockpile and freed a dental technician who was being held hostage there, he said. The soldiers were met with gunfire from many rooms in the building, American commanders said. "The Iraqi forces did the fighting, make no bones about it," the general said, adding that the dead were all killed by Iraqi troops. ... The general said he believed that the scene was disrupted after the raid to make the building look like something other than a terrorist headquarters, although he did not give details on how it was done. "After the fact someone went in and made the scene look different than it was, for whatever purposes," he said.

But Iraqi government officials and political leaders vociferously disputed the American command's version of events, insisting that Iraqi and American troops had raided a mosque, not a fortified office complex, as a political party meeting was under way and unarmed worshipers gathered for evening prayer. Khudair al-Khuzaie, the spokesman for the Iraq Branch of the Islamic Dawa Party, said he knew of 16 victims, all of whom had been attending a meeting in the party's office at the time of the raid. The office is accessible through a doorway from the mosque's courtyard. Of the victims, he said, 13 were party members and 3 were civilians. ... In the hours after the attack, an official in the office of Mr. Sadr claimed that members of his Mahdi Army were among the victims. But on Monday, another Sadr representative said no Mahdi Army fighters died in the raid. (NYT, March 28, 2006, Shiite Leaders Suspend Talks Over Government )

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 28 — The American ambassador has told Shiite officials that President Bush does not want the Iraqi prime minister to remain the country's leader in the next government, senior Shiite politicians said Tuesday.  ... The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the head of the main Shiite political bloc at a meeting on Saturday to pass on a "personal message from President Bush" to the interim prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said Redha Jowad Taki, a Shiite member of Parliament who was at the meeting. Mr. Khalilzad said Mr. Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept" Mr. Jaafari as the next prime minister, according to Mr. Taki, a senior aide to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Shiite bloc. American officials in Baghdad did not dispute the Shiite politicians' account of the conversation, though they would not discuss the details of the meeting. A spokeswoman for the American Embassy confirmed that Mr. Khalilzad met with Mr. Hakim on Saturday.

In Baghdad on Tuesday, at least 21 people were abducted in four separate incidents in the biggest wave of kidnappings in a month, an Interior Ministry official said. In one incident, 15 men in Iraqi Army uniforms dragged at least six people from a money exchange shop and stole nearly $60,000. In two other cases, people wearing Interior Ministry commando uniforms snatched victims from two electronics shops. The police in western Baghdad discovered 14 bodies on Tuesday, all killed execution-style with gunshots to the head, apparently the latest victims of sectarian bloodletting. On Monday, Iraqi forces found 18 bodies near Baquba with similar wounds. Earlier reports of 30 beheaded bodies found in that area were wrong, the Interior Ministry official said. An American soldier was killed Tuesday by small-arms fire in Baghdad, and another was killed and three were wounded by a roadside bomb outside Habbaniya, the American military said.

The Iraqi security minister, Abdul Karim al-Enizi, said on the state-run Iraqiya network on Tuesday night that the Iraqi forces who had raided the mosque compound in Baghdad were not part of the Interior or Defense Ministry. A survivor said the soldiers did not speak Arabic well, implying they may have been Kurdish militiamen working with Americans, Mr. Enizi said. At the Pentagon, senior officials defended the raid, releasing photographs they said proved that weapons and bomb-making materials had been seized inside the compound, which they described as a school complex that had been turned into a base for a "hostage ring." When the soldiers entered the compound, "they found that there was a building there that had a small minaret and a prayer room inside it," said Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Some people are calling that a mosque." (NYT, March 29, 2006,  'Bush Opposes Iraq's Premier, Shiites Report')

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The pet shop keeper

Iraq's Crisis (3)

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 25 — Mohannad al-Azawi had just finished sprinkling food in his bird cages at his pet shop in south Baghdad, when three carloads of gunmen pulled up. In front of a crowd, he was grabbed by his shirt and driven off. Mr. Azawi was among the few Sunni Arabs on the block, and, according to witnesses, when a Shiite friend tried to intervene, a gunman stuck a pistol to his head and said, "You want us to blow your brains out, too?"  Mr. Azawi's body was found the next morning at a sewage treatment plant. A slight man who raised nightingales, he had been hogtied, drilled with power tools and shot.

What frightens Iraqis most about these gangland-style killings is the impunity. According to reports filed by family members and more than a dozen interviews, many men were taken in daylight, in public, with witnesses all around. Few cases, if any, have been investigated.

Mahmoud Othman, the Kurd, again: he said there were atrocities on each side. "But what is different is when Shiites get killed by suicide bombs, everyone comes together to fight the Sunni terrorists. When Shiites kill Sunnis, there is no response, because much of this killing is done by militias connected to the government."

Now many Sunnis, who used to be the most anti-American community in Iraq, are asking for American help. "If the Americans leave, we are finished," said Hassan al-Azawi, whose brother was taken from the pet shop. He thought for a moment more. "We may be finished already."

Friends said that Mr. Azawi was not interested in politics or religion. He never went to the Sunni mosque, though his brothers did. He did not pay attention to news or watch television. This characteristic might have cost him his life. On Feb. 22, the Askariya Shrine in Samarra was attacked at 7 a.m. But Mr. Azawi did not know what had happened until 4 p.m., his friends said. He was in his own little world, tending his birds, when a Shiite shopkeeper broke the news and told him to close.
Two Shiite militias, the Badr Organization, which once trained in Iran, and the Mahdi Army, the foot soldiers of a young, firebrand Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, were blamed for much of the bloodshed. Mr. Sadr's men often wear all-black uniforms, and many of the relatives of kidnapped people said men in black uniforms had taken them. Many people also said the men in black arrived with the police. Around 9 on the night of the shrine bombing, a mob of black-clad men surrounded the Duleimi brothers, family members said.

That same day Mushtak al-Nidawi, 20, was kidnapped. According to an aunt, Aliah al-Bakr, he was chatting on his cellphone outside his home in Bayah when a squad of Mahdi militiamen marched up the street, shouting, "We're coming after you, Sunnis!" Ms. Bakr said they snatched Mr. Nidawi while his mother stood at the door. His body surfaced on the streets seven days later, his skin a map of bruises, his handsome face burned by acid, his fingernails pulled out.

A new round of revenge attacks began March 12, around 6 p.m., when a string of car bombs exploded in Sadr City, killing nearly 50 civilians. Most security officials, Shiite and Sunni, blamed Sunni terrorists for the attack. An hour and a half later, half a dozen gunmen arrived at Mr. Azawi's pet shop.
His brother Hassan ...said there were a few Shiites at his brother's funeral, which he took as a grim speck of hope.

On March 20, the body of Mr. Abdulsalam, another Sunni, was found under a bridge.  His family said he was last seen in his BMW, stopped at a Mahdi Army checkpoint. (NYT, March 26, 2006, Bound, Blindfolded and Dead: The Face of Revenge in Baghdad )

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Palestine Hotel

Iraq's Crisis (2)

After the invasion, the hotel turned into reconstruction central, swarming with contractors, engineers and investors. Even during the bloodiest days of the insurgency, the Palestine kept its guests safe and continued to prosper.

But no more. Things changed with the suicide attack on Oct. 24, 2005. Three vehicle bombers, including one driving a cement mixer, blew up outside the hotel, killing more than a dozen guards and bystanders. 

Of the 420 rooms, fewer than 100 are occupied. Many of those will soon be vacant as more journalists retreat to rented medieval-style forts with huge walls and armed sentries. Gone too are the Arab businessmen who just a year ago breezed through the hallways in their dishdashas. (NYT,  March 26, 2006 'In a War, the Dance Floor's Deserted and the Tap's Run Dry')

Update: footage of the attack was shown on the BBC's programme 'The Insurgency' (shown on 2 Apr).

The main Kurdish, Sunni Arab and secular blocs in Parliament are all opposing Mr. Jaafari, for various reasons. ... Under the Constitution that Iraqi voters approved last fall, the bloc with the most seats in Parliament gets first shot at nominating a prime minister. The document has no explicit passages allowing the entire Parliament to decide on a nominee.

The idea of having Parliament vote for one of three Shiite candidates is being floated among the blocs opposing Mr. Jaafari's candidacy. Some leaders of those blocs would prefer that the Shiites nominate Adel Abdul Mahdi, another prominent Shiite politician. Early last month, the Shiites held a secret ballot among themselves to choose the nominee, and Mr. Mahdi lost to Mr. Jaafari by one vote. ... The vote would be a way for the Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, to back down from their support of Mr. Jaafari in light of the intense opposition and still save face, said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish legislator. (NYT, March 26, 2006, 'Plan Is Floated to Open Choice of Premier to Iraqi Parliament')

With sectarian tensions rising, Iraqis are paying more attention to the little things that signal whether someone is Shiite or Sunni. None of the indicators are foolproof. But a name, an accent and even the color of a head scarf can provide clues.
In Iraq, tribal identity is also important, and many people use tribal names as last names. Because certain tribes are rooted in certain areas, a last name like Saidi, Maliki or Kinani may be typically Shiite, while names like Zobi, Tikriti and Hamdani are typically Sunni. Certain first names may also reveal sect: Omar and Othman are Sunni names; Haidar and Karrar are Shiite ones. Dress, too, can be a sign, but again not because it has religious significance. In western Iraq, the favored headdress is white and red; in the south it is white and black. (NYT, March 26, 2006, 'Ancient Rift Brings Fear on Streets of Baghdad')

Monday, April 10, 2006


Iraq's Crisis (1)

The initiators of a push to unseat Ibrahim al-Jaafari are the Kurds. They say that Saddam Hussein's "Arabisation"
of Kirkuk must be reversed and the province then be allowed to vote on whether to join the autonomous Kurdistan federal region. An accord for this was reached and included in Iraq's 2004 transitional constitution and reaffirmed in the permanent constitution of October.

The "normalisation'" of Kirkuk and the referendum are supposed to be completed by December 31 2007. The Kurds have long accused Mr Jaafari of stone-walling on the accord. Al-Jaafari's visit to Turkey in February ignited the issue according to Mahmoud Othman. (Financial Times, 11 Mar 2006)

Nir Rosen, in Foreign Policy says, 'If you try to think of a leader who is respected by all sides, ironically, it’s Moktada, because his rhetoric is Iraqi nationalist and people identify him as an Arab... His staunch anti-Americanism is actually what unites Sunnis and Shiites. But at this point, I don’t think anybody can save Iraq, but at least he is somebody who hopefully will be involved in bringing the tensions down at some point', though he does admit that 'unfortunately his men have recently been involved in a lot of sectarian reprisals as well'.

I should say so. While terrorist attacks by Sunni extremists, though obviously extremely difficult to eradicate, could ultimately be defeated, once the facade of 'resistance to the occupation' is stripped away, violence by Shi'a militia against innocent Sunnis holds out only an unending prospect of 'ethnic cleansing' with the compliance, or even the active participation of the Iraqi government. The New York Times has been doing an excellent job of reporting the situation and most of the following is based on their reports.

After the attack on a Shiite shrine in Samarra on Feb. 22
Shiite mobs rampaged through Baghdad, burning Sunni mosques and killing Sunni civilians. Some Sunnis fought back, but there was an imbalance in the killing, and many people said Mr. Sadr's men were responsible for much of the mayhem.

The situation eventually calmed, at least on the surface. Then the bodies starting turning up. The Interior Ministry says the bodies of at least 200 men, many handcuffed and tortured, have been found. Others put the number much higher. The widespread suspicion is that Shiite militias are running death squads and focusing on Sunni Arab civilians in a wave of sectarian revenge. [...] Few, if any, cases are investigated. [...]

Mr. Sadr's top aides deny any connection to the killings, but lower-level Mahdi Army commanders have boasted of vigilante justice. Two weeks ago, Mahdi Army militiamen hanged four men, whom they called terrorists, from lampposts in Baghdad.

Just one day earlier [before the clash of the Americans and 'Iraqi Special Forces' with Shi'a militia on Sunday 26 Mar], Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador, urged Iraqi leaders to crack down on militias. But few expect the Shiite prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to do anything soon. [...] To a large extent, Mr. Jaafari needs the support of Shiite militia members in Parliament to keep his job. [...T] he Shiite militias are [...] much better connected to the Iraqi security forces. (NYT, March 27, 2006, 'Shiite Fighters Clash With G.I.'s and Iraqi Forces' ) 

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Never choose...

A French priest, Patrick Desbois has been gathering evidence about the massacres of Jews in Nazi-occupied Ukraine in 1941 (at that time they were simply shot). He received one piece of advice from Cardinal Decourtray:
Never choose between two Jews: too much of that was done during the war.
(My translation - see Un curé sur les traces de la "Shoah par balles", Le Monde, 3 April 2006)