Friday, August 10, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 10th edition

August 10, 2004: An Islamic woman and man, both volunteers from Britain, stand guard at the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf during battles which had raged for five days between U.S. forces and Sadr's Mahdi Army, killing hundreds.

August 10, 2002:

Bush consulting with Congress, allies about Iraq

President Bush said Saturday he is consulting with Congress and U.S. allies about Iraq and he branded Saddam Hussein "an enemy until proven otherwise."

Bush reaffirmed that he has no timetable for deciding on a military strike against Iraq or "for any of our policies in regard to Iraq."

He said he spends a lot of time discussing U.S. options with his principal policy advisers; a decision may not come this year.

In Washington, Iraqi opposition leaders heard from Vice President Dick Cheney and met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, among the Bush administration's strongest voices for consideration of military action to replace the Iraqi president with a democratic government. They also saw Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We are very optimistic that they will do something to affect regime change," said Sharif Ali of the Iraqi National Congress, referring to U.S. officials. "We are working with them to facilitate that because ultimately the U.S. did agree with us that it was up to the Iraqi people."

Read the rest USA Today

August 10, 2003:

Bush Says 100 Days Not Enough to Undo Saddam Legacy, Tough Work Ahead

Saddam Hussein’s legacy cannot be erased in 100 days, US President George W. Bush said yesterday, warning of “difficult and dangerous work ahead” while lauding progress in the effort to rebuild Iraq. “One hundred days is not enough time to undo the terrible legacy of Saddam Hussein. There is difficult and dangerous work ahead that requires time and patience,” Bush said in his weekly radio address, recorded at his Texas ranch, where he is vacationing this month.

“Friday of this week was the 100th day since the end of major combat operations in Iraq,” Bush recalled. “For America and our coalition partners, these have been 100 days of steady progress and decisive action against the last holdouts of the former regime.

“And for the people of Iraq, this has been a period like none other in the country’s history, a time of change and rising hopes after decades of tyranny,” he added.

He lauded “ the remarkable progress in a short time” by coalition partners and Iraqis working to rebuild the shattered country, including the redeployment of an Iraqi police force, the reopening of banks, the imminent launch of new bank notes, minus Saddam Hussein’s image, and the resumption of oil production.

“Every day, Iraq draws closer to the free and functioning society its people were long denied,” Bush said, noting that the 25 US-picked members of the Iraqi Governing Council are “meeting regularly, naming ministers and drawing up a budget for the country.”

Read the rest at Arab News

August 10, 2004:

Editorial: Iraq burning / Why are we still there?

The now five-day-long battle between American and Iraqi forces for the city of Najaf continues, the Iraqi death toll from it rises to an estimated 360 and the Shiite holy city comes increasingly to resemble Three Rivers Stadium the morning after the implosion.

A question becomes more nagging: Are Iraqis, in fact, better off with their America-brought freedom than they were under Saddam Hussein?

The United States has taken great pains not to tabulate the death toll of Iraqis since the invasion in March of last year. It has nonetheless been estimated by other observers to stand between 10,000 and 15,000. American forces' losses now number 931, those of other countries, 123.

Saddam Hussein's regime killed a lot of people, mostly Kurds and Shiites, but the death toll it exacted from the Iraqi people tailed off after it had put down the unsuccessful Shiite and Kurd rebellions that followed the first Gulf war 12 years ago. American and British enforcement of no-fly zones in the north and south helped.

The damage rendered to Iraqi economic and social infrastructure, ranging from oil installations to mosques and other holy sites, particularly in the predominantly Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala, but also in the Sunni centers of Fallujah and Tikrit, may have by now exceeded what was incurred during the Iran-Iraq war, the first Gulf war and the rebellions.

Some of it has been Iraqi-on-Iraqi destruction, but there is almost nothing that can match the impact of U.S. high-tech attacks, particularly from the air, in terms of inflicting damage.

A recent unfortunate phenomenon of the 15-month U.S. occupation and appointed Iraqi interim authority period has been the outflow of Iraq's Christian minority from the country. They are at increasing risk in the deteriorating security situation and menaced in a now more politicized religious context by militant Islamic extremists, domestic and foreign, Shiite and Sunni.

So, basically, one can argue that the United States has not in fact brought freedom to Iraq. It has brought instead death, destruction and now near-chaos, including forcing Christians who have lived there since the time of Christ to flee the country to Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Forget as reasons for the war weapons of mass destruction, Iraqi support of al-Qaida terrorists and even increased oil supplies. And is Israel really safer with a hot war being waged a few hundred miles from its borders and the Arab world thoroughly riled up over that war?

So why do we stay? The place now called Iraq has been there in one form or other since the dawn of recorded history. Does anyone think the situation there will get better if we stay? Or that it will become substantially worse if we leave? Is our presence not in fact increasingly the bone of contention among warring Iraqis?

Read the rest at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette

August 10, 2005:

Iraq's porn dealers risk wrath of religious right

Islamic militants threatened to kill him for it, but Abu Mustafa says it was the only way he knew to make a living in the chaos that is Baghdad Wednesday.

The pornographic video salesman is among many traders caught between two faces of the new Iraq, one liberated from the state censorship of Saddam Hussein, the other gripped by religious zeal.

'I am scared but what else can I do? I tried lots of other jobs. I worked in a factory, but you just can't make any money in Iraq. It's the only way to support my son,' he said on Wednesday.

'There is no way I am going to join the police or army because the insurgents are killing many of them every day.'

Relentless guerrilla violence has killed thousands of Iraqis, ravaged the economy and pushed up unemployment, forcing people like Abu Mustafa to scramble for a job.

But like the tens of thousands signing up for the new, U.S. -trained police and army, selling pornography has become an especially high-risk profession in Iraq, where a religious Shi'ite-led government swept to power in January, raising fears in some quarters of an Islamic state modeled after Iran.

As Iraqi leaders drafting a constitution this month debate the role of Islam in the state, alarming liberals and women's groups, Abu Mustafa and others complain they live in fear.

He accused the Badr Brigades, the Iranian-trained militia associated with the leading Shi'ite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, of targeting colleagues in the pornography business and threatening many others.

'They shot my friend Haider and then they burned him,' said Abu Mustafa, who identified himself by a nickname for fear of being identified.

'They have issued me written death threats in notes telling me to stop selling sex movies.'

Muhammad al-Turaifi, a spokesman for the Badr Brigades, denied that the militia takes the law into its own hands.

'We don't interfere in these matters personally. We go through official procedures and raise the issue with the police. To suggest we go and beat up these people is absurd,' he said.

After Saddam Hussein's fall, pornography salesmen openly set up shops in Baghdad's Bab al-Sharjee (East Gate) market, a once bustling marketplace Iraqis say is now dominated by criminal gangs, thieves, pimps and guerrilla informants.

Pornography salesmen don't dare show their faces, secretly arranging by telephone the sale of American, European and Arab porn films hidden in music video or cartoon cases from the back seats of cars.

'The Badr Brigades left notes on our kiosks saying 'We will kill you and burn your shops',' said Ahmed Saad, 32, a father of two with a degree in fine arts.

'The police have arrested us and demanded money from our families to free us.'

The governmant says it is fighting police corruption. On Tuesday, porn video dealers attended the 40-day mourning ceremony for their slain 21-year-old colleague Amir. Gunmen killed him in broad daylight as he headed home, they said.

But it was business as usual on Wednesday in Bab al-Sharjee, where Abu Mustafa said 30 other dealers operate, despite the risks.

He sells about 50 DVD videos a day, fetching a total of $10. But the goods are only offered to friends or long-time customers.

'Sex movies from Lebanon and other Arab countries are the most popular. But we have all kinds of movies,' he said.

'We just have to work secretly.'

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

August 10, 2006:

Cell phones offer safety, sanity amid Iraq's chaos

The cool kids in Iraq all want an Apache, the cell phone they've named after a U.S. military helicopter.

Next on the scale of hipness comes a Humvee, followed by the Afendi, a Turkish word for dapper, and a sturdy model known as the Allawi – a reference to the stocky former prime minister, Ayad Allawi.

Even more telling are the text messages and images that Iraqis share over their phones. From all over the city, Baghdad cell phones practically shout commentary about Saddam Hussein, failed reconstruction projects and violence. One of the most popular messages now making the rounds appears on-screen with the image of a skeleton.

“Your call cannot be completed because the subscriber has been bombed or kidnapped,” it says.

Cell phones long have been considered status symbols in developing countries, Iraq included. But in an environment where hanging out is potentially life threatening, cell phones are also a window into people's dreams and terrors, the macabre local sense of humor and Iraqis' resilience amid the violence and chaos.

The cell phone business in Iraq is booming. According to figures published last month by the State Department, there are 7.1 million cell phone subscribers in Iraq, up from 1.4 million two years ago. In an economy where jobs can be as scarce as rain, billboards for phones are among the only advertisements updated regularly in the capital.

Some Iraqis report spending as much as $800 on phones such as the Humvee. From the rooftops of Sadr City, the poor Shiite district where trash lines the streets, visible cell phone towers outnumber minarets 15 to two.

It is the relentless violence – which now claims dozens of Iraqi lives every day – that seems to have fertilized the industry's growth. Insurgents use phones to communicate and to detonate bombs, while Iraqis of all sects rely on their phones to try to avoid danger.

Jabar Satar Salaum, 50, the owner of a cell phone store on a busy street in the middle-class Shiite area of Karada, said that he uses his phone – a Nokia that is a step up from the Allawi, a Nokia 3660 – mostly to tell his wife that he is safe.

“I call to tell her I am leaving,” Salaum said. “I call to tell what district I am in when I am driving, or if the roads are blocked by checkpoints, I call to tell her that as well.”

Four of the eight stores on Salaum's block sell cell phones, and most have window displays where each phone is covered in plastic. Business is not as good as it was when the store opened eight months ago, he said, but on a recent afternoon, several browsers visited the shop.

Between customers, Salaum's sons, Amjad, 17, and Muhammad, 15, said that cell phones are desirable not just because they are cool but also because they provide one of the country's only safe forms of teenage self-expression.

Amjad reached into his jeans and pulled out his newest acquisition, an orange Sony Ericsson that sells for about $300. On the wall to his left hung a poster of Nokia phones.

“I've had all of these,” he said. How many exactly? “At least 20,” he said. “Every one.”

The nicknames for phones, he and other Iraqis said, are a mnemonic device derived in part from their shapes. For example, the Apache is a Nokia flip-phone with a bottom that swivels, like a rotor blade.

The prices the phones command are high for Iraqis. But with a substantial aftermarket in cell phones, people can sell their old ones for nearly the original price and move up to a fancier model. Service is relatively cheap, with most people relying on $10 and $20 prepaid cards rather than the more expensive monthly plans.

The powerful seem as vulnerable to this consumer culture as the young. Brig. Gen. Jaleel Khalaf Shwayel of the Iraqi army said that he buys a new phone every few weeks. During a recent interview at his office about deteriorating security in Baghdad, Shwayel spent several minutes using tissues to wipe off his latest purchase, a titanium Nokia 8800 that he said he bought for $800.

Shwayel said he has kept up on the latest styles through glossy technology magazines from the United Arab Emirates, setting him apart from the insurgents who use cheap phones to detonate roadside bombs. His phone, or phones (he has three), also help him keep in touch with the areas of northern Baghdad where his soldiers patrol.

“I give my cell phone number to people in the neighborhoods, and I receive calls every day,” Shwayel said.

For human rights workers in Iraq, cell phones play a darker role. Omar al-Jabouri, who heads the human rights office for the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, said he often receives pictures of men tortured or killed by death squads, many of them taken with the cell phones of witnesses or the victims' relatives.

But mostly, people here use their cell phones for commiserating, searching for laughs among the tears or trying to knock the powerful off their pedestals. Over the past year, U.S. soldiers, Saddam Hussein and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani all have been the subjects of humorous clips passed from phone to phone.

“In Iraq, there is such an accumulation of frustration,” said Fauwzya al-Attiya, a sociologist at Baghdad University. “If an Iraqi does not embrace humor in his life, he's finished.”

Everyone here seems to enjoy laughing at Hussein. His propaganda has literally become a joke: A broadcast from Iraq's state-run station, just before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, shows a gaggle of soldiers with machine guns dancing and singing along with Khasim al-Sultan, an Iraqi pop star.

“If you want the stars, we will reach out for the stars,” the men sing, offering a pledge to Hussein. “We will wipe America from the map!”

Firas al-Taie, 19, after showing the clip, laughed and tried to explain why Iraqis find the segment entertaining.

“It's not matching the reality,” al-Taie said. “They said this thing and then something else happened.”

Like many young Iraqis, al-Taie said that his cell phone was his most cherished possession. He said several of his uncles in Jordan pooled together the $300 he needed to buy one after he graduated from high school last summer.

Asked how his middle-class family could justify such an expense, al-Taie, an engineering student at Baghdad University, said it was all a matter of the violence and Iraq's relentless state of alert.

“It's important,” he said. “You have to have a cell phone. If I go to the college, or any place really, my parents call me like 100 times to see if I'm safe.”

Read the rest the San Diego Tribune