Yet Another Flag Flap

Iraq’s new flag is flawed and poorly designed.

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The new Iraqi flag was revealed today, and like so many things done by the Iraqi Governing Council and the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority, many Iraqis roundly dissed it.
One of the problems is that the colors — a pale blue crescent moon, darker blue strips at the bottom representing the Tigris and Euphrates, and a yellow stripe representing the Kurds — are pretty close to colors on the Israeli flag.

“When I saw it in the newspaper, I felt very sad,” said Muthana Khalil, 50, a supermarket owner in Saadoun, a commercial area in central Baghdad. “The flags of other Arab countries are red and green and black. Why did they put in these colors that are the same as Israel? Why was the public opinion not consulted?”

It was a bone-headed move for the Iraqi Governing Council — widely despised in Iraq as a hotbed of cronyism and as a lackey for the Americans — to mess around with such an important national symbol. But from the comments from the Iraqi street, it seems most people are just fed up with _anything_ the Governing Council does.

“I will be delighted when this council is dissolved and a new government is formed,” said Amer Abdulaimy, 38, a day laborer, who said he preferred the old flag and saw no reason to change it. “The council has done nothing for us, and it is the same as the American government. We need free elections.”

But also, damn, that’s an ugly flag. I mean, it really is. I know my opinion doesn’t matter a whit, since I’m a citizen of a country with a — frankly — fairly busy and garish national banner, but the new Iraqi flag looks like some guy with a Macintosh spent about 30 minutes working this up.
But aside from the aesthetic problem, there’s that big yellow stripe representing the Kurds. (Is it supposed to mean the Kurds live _between_ the Tigris and Euphrates? I don’t know.) The Turcomans and Assyrians, already feeling squeezed by the newfound popularity of the Kurds with the new kids in town, are surely rightly pissed off about being left off the new flag. Where is their heritage celebrated?
And what about a symbol for the Arabs? The crescent moon is a symbol of Islam, which includes about 1 billion people — Arabs, yes, but also Kurds, Persians, Turks, Indonesians, etc. It’s a pretty all-encompassing identity. Most Muslims _aren’t Arabs._ But most Iraqis are. What indicates that fact on that flag? That’s what the red, white, green and black stripes used to indicate.
My point is not — entirely — to pick nits on a flag that assaults my aesthetic sensibilities. It’s to remind people that Iraq is a devilishly diverse country, with more groups than simply Arabs and Kurds. There are the aforementioned Turcomans and Assyrian Christians, as well as Yezedis, just to name a few.
I suspect the flag is, once again, an example of superior politicking by the Kurds. When I was in Arbil during the early war, a spokesman for the KDP — whose name I have lost, I’m sorry! — told me he wished that Iraq could be taken out of the Arab League, since it incorporates a large Kurdish minority. His point is arguable, but this flag makes no specific reference to any nationality _but_ the Kurds.
This flag flies in the face of most Iraqis and the Council should have waited to allow a permanent government to change Iraq’s national symbols.

Book proposal preview

For the readers: a sneak peek at the B2I book proposal, tentatively titled “Hearts and Minds.”

book_proposal.jpgA treat, I hope. I’ve uploaded the first eight pages of the B2I book proposal, tentatively titled Hearts and Minds: War, Journalism and the Battle for Iraq as a .pdf file. Comments are welcome. The full proposal is obviously much longer, with a sample chapter, promotional material and pictures. This is to whet your appetite.
And to spark some debate. It would be interesting to get feedback from the people this book is really for — you, the readers. Everything I’ve tried to do with Back-to-Iraq has been with you guys in mind, and it’s only right you have a chance to weigh in on the ideas outlined in the introduction of the proposal. If there were a way to allow you all to collectively mark up the pages online, I’d do that. Alas, I know of no such technology.
It’s in the hands of my agent, Dawn, who’s email is listed on the front page. She’s going tp start showing to publishers today. Any book editors, or relatives of book editors, or people who know book editors, or people who have once heard of book editors are welcome to email her and make offers with hefty advances.

Housekeeping

The B2I fund is now over $10,000!

Last night’s interview on the Majority Report with Sam and Atrios was pretty good, I thought, aside from having to cut a dramatic story short. I suck when there are time constraints. You can download an MP3 version of the whole show (I’m in the first hour) at AirAmericaPlace.com. (You’ll need to register in order to download the files.)
Secondly, thanks to Swopa for pushing the B2I fund over $10,000! And thanks very much to everyone who has donated. So far, people have given $6,685.24, with the average size of the donation being $56.18. Along with my savings, the total fund is $10,185.24. I’ve already purchased the body armor and the flight to Amman is gratis thanks to a speaking engagement in Oslo. So now, any and all donations go straight into operations and newsgathering.
But I’m going to have to take a little break from blogging for a few days. I’m behind on finishing up about five freelance assignments that will add another $5,000 to $6,000 to the fund, so I need to concentrate on that for the moment. The interview with Mohammad Baqr al-Najafi should keep you interested for a while. He had some interesting stuff to say.
I hope to be back on Monday. Cheers!

Interview with Mohammed Baqr al-Najafi

On April 11, I interviewed Mohammed Baqr Al-Najafi, the representative for Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Los Angeles. We talked about Sistani’s position on elections, security, Muqtada al-Sadr and American intentions in Iraq. What’s most interesting about this interview is the dangling of the possibility of restoring the 1925 constitution in order to hold elections, after which legitimately elected officials could write a permanent constitution. This would remove most of the Ayatollah’s objections to the current interim law.

On April 11, I interviewed Mohammed Baqr Al-Najafi, the representative for Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. He’s his right-hand man in America and he lives in Los Angeles. We talked about Sistani’s position on elections, security, Muqtada al-Sadr and American intentions in Iraq. As promised, here follows a lightly edited transcript of the interview. The only changes I made were to clean up a few confusing sentences and add one explanatory note. I think what’s most interesting about this interview is the dangling of the possibility of restoring the 1925 constitution in order to hold elections, after which legitimately elected officials could write a permanent constitution. This would remove most of the Ayatollah’s objections to the current interim law, Najafi said.
Also, don’t forget about the “Majority Report”:http://www.majorityreportradio.com/weblog/ tonight night on “Air America Radio”:http://www.airamericaradio.com/. I will be on during the 8 p.m. EDT hour and “Atrios”:http://atrios.blogspot.com/ will be co-hosting with Sam Seder.
My apologies for the earlier typos. I was rushing to get the transcript up for the Majority Report show. They should be fixed now.

My first question is, when were you last in Iraq?
Unfortunately, we fled the country in November 1981, and we haven’t had a chance to come back.
Have you been in LA ever since?
No, I was here since 2000.
What is your relationship with the Ayatollah?
Ayatollah Sistani needs representatives around the world in order to solve the religious – in order to help the religious people around the world and I am considered as a representative of the Ayatollah in Los Angeles.
Do you speak for the Ayatollah, as a spokesperson?
In the religious problems, yes, I have permission to speak for him. But as far as the political situation, he didn’t give permission to anyone outside of Iraq. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t show the overall path for the Shi’as regarding the current situation. But regarding the political position, it’s the responsibility of the Sayyid himself.
What does the Ayatollah think the Americans should do in Iraq to generate goodwill and help Iraq get back on its feet?
The Ayatollah thinks that everything good for people comes from the will of the people. And the will of the people comes with the freedom to choose what they want. And the freedom for choosing what they want will bring stability to t he country. Security can’t come with force. Maybe security can be achieved temporarily with force, but it can’t last forever. Security can only be achieved by the will of the people.
What is the Ayatollah’s current position on the interim law.
It is a negative opinion regarding the interim law.
Can you expand on that, please?
There are many positive things in the interim law regarding freedom of religion and personal freedom, but this does not satisfy the heart and flows of the Iraqi people. But the most important thing is that it wasn’t written and it wasn’t shown to the Iraqi people before it was approved. The law for the people should be taken from the people themselves in order to know the mood of the people.

Continue reading “Interview with Mohammed Baqr al-Najafi”

Fund update and Air America

Wow. Thanks to some recent donations, the B2I 3.0 fund is less than $50 from $10,000. (It’s at $9,950.24 to be exact.) This is great, especially since I spent $1,200 on ProMAX Tactical Body Armor from “BulletProofMe.com”:http://www.bulletproofme.com (they’re very helpful) over the weekend. Thanks everyone for “donating!”:https://www.paypal.com/xclick/business=chris%40back-to-iraq.com&%0Aitem_name=Reports+from+the+%0AMiddle+East+by+an+independent+journalist
Also, you won’t want to miss the “Majority Report”:http://www.majorityreportradio.com/weblog/ tomorrow night on “Air America Radio”:http://www.airamericaradio.com/. I will be on during the 8 p.m. EDT hour and “Atrios”:http://atrios.blogspot.com/ will be co-hosting with Sam Seder. I will try not to be bitter about missing “Janeane Garofolo”:http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000413/.

Mortar attacks kills at least 21

Heavy fighting today as at least 21 die in a mortar attack on a jail west of Baghdad.

Breaking:

A mortar attack on a Baghdad facility Tuesday killed more than 21 detainees, a U.S. Army spokesman said.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said 18 mortars struck the Baghdad confinement facility Tuesday afternoon.
“Preliminary reports indicate that more than 21 detainees were killed and more than 100 wounded,” Kimmitt said at a news briefing.

More details from AP:

  • Reports vary, but 12, or possibly 18, rounds fell on the prison west of Baghdad.
  • 22 people are dead and 92 injured in the attack.
  • The compound attacked was for Iraqis suspected of being involved in anti-Coalition violence.
  • The CPA believes Iraqi fighters are behind the attack.

Sources in the military who have returned to the United States tell me that the prison is called Camp Ganchy (GAN-chee) in the neighborhood of Al Hajj Sulayman al-Dari, right near Highway 10. Often rocketed and otherwise coming under fire, the camp is used to hold Iraqi security prisoners accused of everything from carrying a pistol to firing RPGs at U.S. troops. The families of detained men usually gather outside the camp because the U.S. forces have no way to tell the families the men are in custody and no one gets their one phone call.
Additionally, regarding the closing of the roads “I mentioned Sunday”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000739.php, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, chief spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force 7, clarified an earlier statement:

The idea is not that these roads are closed.  The idea is that there will be times when these roads will be closed for repair and for expeditious delivery of some of the convoys.  But you are absolutely right, it may be that you can go all the way from the south up to Balad without finding any of the closed segments.  It is not an intention to close the entire road for a semi-permanent period of time; it is, as and when necessary, closing certain segments of that for repair, for security, and then opening it up as soon as possible.

‘Fables of Reconstruction’

A new article shows that the CPA is being advised that its own rosy predications are really not so accurate.

In a new story out today among the alternative weeklies, “Fables of Reconstruction” shows that true believers are deeply worried about the future of Iraq and fear the spectre of civil war. The worries are laid out in a confidential memo written by “a U.S. government official detailed to the CPA, who wrote this summation of observations he’d made in the field for a senior CPA director.”
Some highlights:

…According to a closely held Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) memo written in early March, the reality isn’t so rosy. Iraq’s chances of seeing democracy succeed, according to the memo’s author—a U.S. government official detailed to the CPA, who wrote this summation of observations he’d made in the field for a senior CPA director—have been severely imperiled by a year’s worth of serious errors on the part of the Pentagon and the CPA, the U.S.-led multinational agency administering Iraq. Far from facilitating democracy and security, the memo’s author fears, U.S. efforts have created an environment rife with corruption and sectarianism likely to result in civil war.

“In retrospect,” the memo asserts, “both for political and organizational reasons, the decision to allow the Governing Council to pick 25 ministers did the greatest damage. Not only did we endorse nepotism, with men choosing their sons and brothers-in-law; but we also failed to use our prerogative to shape a system that would work … our failure to promote accountability has hurt us.”

While the memo offers an encouraging and appealing picture of thriving businesses and patrons on the streets of a free Baghdad, it notes that “the progress evident happens despite us rather than because of us,” and reports that “frequent explosions, many of which are not reported in the mainstream media, are a constant reminder of uncertainty.”

Asserting that the U.S. must “use our prerogative as an occupying power to signal that corruption will not be tolerated,” the CPA memo recommends taking action against at least four Iraqi ministers whose names have been redacted from the document. (Though there may be no connection, two weeks ago, Interior Minister Nuri Badran abruptly resigned, as did Governing Council member Iyad Allawi.) Also redacted is the name of a minister whose acceptance of “alleged kickbacks … should be especially serious for us, since he was one of two ministers who met the President and had his picture taken with him.” (Though the identity of the minister in question cannot be precisely determined, the only Iraqi ministers who have been photographed with President Bush are Iraqi public-works minister “Nesreen”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000424.php#000424 “Berwari”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000647.php#000647 [sic] and electricity minister Ayhem al-Sammarai, on September 23, 2003.) “If such information gets buried on the desks of middle-level officials who do not want to make waves,” the memo warns, “the short-term gain will be replaced by long-term ill.”

I met and interviewed Nasreen Barwari when I was in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2002, and I’d hate to think of her taking kickbacks. My impression was one of competence and having the best of intentions for her people and her country. I hope a) that the allegations aren’t true and that b) if they are, it’s not Ms. Barwari.
Also surprising was the revelation that electricity is still spotty more than a year after the fall of Baghdad. Turbines at the Najibiya plant are “idle,” mainly because the spare parts have not been delivered by Bechtel. Why not? Because Bechtel was placing priority on “total reconstruction” instead of jerry-rigging plants well enough to get them working and because French, German and Russian companies — which built most of Iraq’s power plants — have been prevented from selling parts that could be used.
More problems include the 30-something armed militias still operating in Iraq and meddling by Iran, which is “pouring” money into the country, particularly in the British-controlled southern zone.
This memo illustrates that the wide-spread impression that American policy is coming apart at the seams in Iraq is likely true, despite the rosy proclamations. Also, all the letters from contractors and soldiers recounting tales of smiling children and Iraqis who love Americans are probably also true, but a combination of too-few troops, lack of post-war planning, cronyism, corruption and stubborn “staying the course” has led to an increasingly untenable situation in which the good will of the many is canceled by the violent determination of the few. The violence of April may be the new norm instead of an exception.
(Thanks to Atrios for the early tips on this story.)