How did Iraqis feel?

The Daily News story is up. How’d you like more on that one?

Here’s the New York Daily News story about yesterday’s handover. And here’s the full file I sent. Since it’s published now, I think you should be allowed to read much more of what I found out:

Reaction handover ranges from jeers to jubiliation
By Christopher Allbritton
BAGHDAD — Iraqis’ responses to today’s surprise handover ranged from jubilation to a cynical shrug, with some people saying nothing had changed because the Americans were still here and their tanks still in the streets of Baghdad.
Traffic went about its normal routes, with the exception of Firdos Square, where U.S. Marines famously felled Saddam’s statue April 9, 2003. A barricade that for the last year had blocked the roundabout was removed, allowing traffic to flow freely.
There was no honking of horns or celebratory gunfire as following the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein in the summer of 2003 and their father’s capture in December 2003.
But everyone knew about it. The super-secret ceremony occurred about 10:30 a.m. today, and soon the news was all over local radio and television.
For Fahdin Mohsin, 32, an actor, the announcement was a welcome surprise.
“I was in the taxi when I heard,” he said. “It was good it was two days early.” Most people interviewed thought that Prime Minister Ayad Allawi or departing CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer had moved it up to outfox Iraqi fighters hoping to disrupt the handover with massive violence.
“We kept hearing about this deadline for more than six months, so this is a good surprise,” Mohsin added.
Tonight, he plans to drink for pleasure, something he never did before. He said he used to drink to dull the pain of life under Saddam rather than celebrate.
“But tonight I will drink in a different way,” he said.
He will not be alone. The Iraqi Communist Party, represented in the new government by Minister of Culture Mufeed Mohammed Jawad al-Jaza’iri, was in a partying mood. At 5 p.m., about 50 revelers tied on red headbands and marched into the parking lot in front of their headquarters on Inner Karradah Street. While watchful gunmen watched the traffic stream by — with a few honks in solidarity — they waved red flags and hoisted a banner that read, “The Communist Party congratulates our people for ending occupation and restoring sovereignty.” A three-man band banged out peppy martial tunes while the group chanted and danced in the heat. Women tossed sweets and candies to the cars passing by.
“I am so enthusiastic about the handover of sovereignty today,” said Farouk Fa’ak Babaan, 56, a Arabic teacher, poet and novelist. ” Now, the Iraqi people are struggling, after the handover, to achieve as much as possible.”
As he spoke two men watching television of the handover coverage waved goodbye to Bremer as he appeared onscreen boarding a C-130 transport plane.
But others were too bitter to celebrate.
Qasim Alsabti, who runs the Hewar Art Gallery, waxed poetic when he said today was “like yesterday, like tomorrow.”
“There is no sense of happiness because of the death still walking the streets,” he said, alluding to the precarious security situation in the capital. “I still have no guarantee that I can go out even 100 meters.”
He said he was interested in seeing the new government do something good, especially about the security, but the American presence was still noticeable enough to depress him.
“The previous 35 years were like a fever,” he said. “But the last year has been like death.”
Another man, smoking a nigila in a tea shop and who declined to give his name, said the pains of the occupation — the humiliations at the hands of soldiers at checkpoints, the abuses of Abu Ghraib and above all the constant threat of random violence from car bombs or fighting between the military and insurgents — has made him nostalgic for Saddam’s rule.
“At least we felt safe then,” he said. “There was no killing, no looting.”
He scoffed at the handover, which fulfilled a United Nations resolution officially ending the occupation.
“The occupation still exists in Iraq,” he said. “Politics are just games and the stronger one is the winner, always.”
The only two things good that have come from the occupation, he said, were satellite dishes and mobile phones, both forbidden in Saddam’s time.
“But we lost a lot of things,” he said in between puffs of apple-flavored tobacco. “We lost our factories, our industry, money, our oil, our state.”
For people and parties not members of the new government, there’s a widespread feeling that the restrictions still on the interim government and the continued presence of American troops mean that Iraq is still under the boot of the Americans.
“It’s not sovereignty, we know that,” said Alsabti. “When they leave the country, maybe we can celebrate then.”

As you can see, quite a bit more depth than what made it into the _News_ story. But they’re limited on space. I am not — at least on B2I.
I also wrote all of this one, but you wouldn’t know it, since they left my byline off. That was two solid days of reporting.
UPDATE 8:11 p.m. +0400 GMT Looks like my byline was just left on the Web story. I hear the print version has it.

The New Jihad in Iraq

The new jihad in Iraq is a terrifying beast.

TIME has published a story on the new jihad that the resistance in Iraq is morphing into.
You’ll notice that Sheik Mehdi Ahmed al-Sumaidai, of the Ibn Taymiya Mosque is mentioned as auditioning for the Mullah Omar role in Iraq. Also, here’s a good reason for being on lockdown:

Insurgents also say al-Zarqawi may have intended last week’s onslaught to be even more catastrophic. As militants attacked in cities like Fallujah and Baqubah, a cell of an Iraqi resistance group working with al-Zarqawi roamed Baghdad, insurgent sources told Time. Working in small teams in separate cars, the insurgents cased targets and waited for their commanders, including al-Zarqawi himself, to issue strike orders. When the cell didn’t receive the call, it withdrew and waited for another opportunity to attack.

So before anyone thinks TIME was keeping us under wraps because the CPA was trying to get us off the handover story, it’s because TIME didn’t want us dead. Cut the magazine some slack, OK?

Handover has occurred

The handover has occurred.

BAGHDAD — Surprise! The Iraqi handover of sovereignty has occurred two days early at approximately 10:30 a.m. today because of security concerns. Iraq is sovereign again, more or less.
The news is just now filtering out on the various media here in Iraq, so there isn’t much reaction from the street. Many people don’t know it has happened. The ceremony was secret because of fears that militants would try to attack or otherwise disrupt the process. But now, Paul Bremer is leaving Iraq later today and Allawi is the prime minister. By all accounts, it was his Allawi’s idea to move the handover up.
A formal ceremony led by Allawi is expected later today to swear in the Iraqi ministers, and there likely will be quite a bit of activity tonight from the militants and celebratory Iraqis.
More on this later. I’m going out to get some reaction.

Still in “lockdown”

A consensus seems to have emerged among Baghdadis that Allawi is the right man to run the country. Why? Because he’s a thug.

Nothing much happening here, as near as I can tell, and I’m still under “hotel arrest” — for my own security, of course. People seem to be laying lower, if not low, but TIME has asked me not to go out of my compound unless it’s an emergency. *Sigh* At least this gives me some time to catch up on some writing. I’ve got one, possibly two decent stories coming out in the _New York Daily News_ tomorrow, _inshallah_, and I’ve got a column due for _New York Magazine._ So the work is fine.
Now, some have asked me what do Iraqis think of Allawi and others in the interim government. Some commenters suggested they must hate him because he’s an American client with ties to CIA, MI6 as well as a former Ba’athist. Well, they don’t hate him, that’s for sure. From about dozen interviews over the last couple of weeks, it seems a rough consensus has been reached — at least among Baghdadis:
Iraqis like Allawi
He’s tough, he’s Iraqi and he’s the right man for the job. You could practically hear the cheering when Allawi reacted to Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi’s threat to kill him with a bit of threat of his own:

“Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi doesn’t threaten just me, but the entire country,” he said in an interview with an Italian newspaper. “He is just a criminal who must be captured and tried. … We will pursue him and we will be after him until we have got him.”

In your face, Zarqawi! Of course, such bluster didn’t prevent insurgents from dynamiting the offices of Allawi’s party, the Iraqi National Accord, into rubble yesterday in Baqoubah.
Iraqis want martial law
The U.S. has growled about the government’s very public musings about whether to impose martial law over parts of the country because having an American-installed Arab government use Saddam’s laws to restrict civil liberties — just like most of Iraq’s neighbors do — doesn’t exactly jive with Washington’s goal of making Iraq an example of democracy in the Arab world.
Iraqis couldn’t care less. They just want some peace and quiet.
“The security system must be solved,” said Kais Yahya, 24, a recent graduate from Baghdad University’s medical college. “It was supposed to be democracy, but instead it was chaos. They should have done some non-democratic things.”
This is hard to write, but I’ve come to the conclusion that after a year of horror and insecurity, the average Iraqi doesn’t want freedom. They want a set of laws that they can live with, do business under and raise their kids. If it takes a benign dictator to do that, then they’re more than happy to have one. Remember, the most beloved recent Iraqi leader, Abdul Karim Qassim, was more or less a benign dictator.
And they want the death penalty brought back. It was suspended by Bremer early in the occupation, but Iraqis think it will now act as a deterrent anyone upending social order.
The Americans have to leave — now.
This is kind of a no brainer, and there’s not a lot of nuance. What little movement on this issue came from some Iraqis that I interviewed who said the Americans should just get out of the cities. And when they say “Americans,” they mean all foreign troops. They’re desperately anxious to take control of their own security.
“The American troops should get out of the whole country,” said Nizar Adnan, 24, a new police officer. “We as Iraqis can handle ourselves better than the foreigners.”
Whether the Iraqi Police, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and the newly minted Army actually have the ability or will to do so remains to be seen, but the Iraqis seem to be trying.
When in doubt, blame the Americans
This is the catch-all. Everything is America’s fault. Nothing positive has been done. The occupation is worse than Saddam. At least, that’s what you hear if you listen to Iraqis.
I don’t know where the CPA is getting the happy Iraqis who love Americans — aside from those being paid to work for the CPA or in the government — but the Iraqi street sees the Americans as the reason things have been so bad over the last year. They don’t blame the Americans for setting the bombs — well, most of them don’t, anyway — but they blame them for not securing the borders, not having enough troops and not taking a hard enough line against the violence. At the same time, they blame the Americans for horrible abuses, firing randomly into crowds and in general using too heavy a hand.
The resistance has broad support; the terrorists have almost none
“I disagree with the civilian attacks, but against the Americans, it’s legal and acceptable,” said Dalal Yaseen, 25, a political science student at Baghdad University. “Any occupation force will never leave the country without fighting. They [the Americans] did not come to save the Iraqi people, they came for their own interests.”
In Friday prayers, Sheikh Mehdi al-Sumaidai, the imam of the Ibn Taymiya Mosque in Baghdad said almost the same thing. “It is legal to resist the occupation and their spies and their agents who help them occupy the country,” he said. “But we have seen too many innocents killed who want to serve Iraq.”
It’s unclear who the “agents” and “spies” are that imam al-Sumaidai was speaking of. CIA agents? Translators? Cooks at the palace? But the innocents who want to serve Iraq are pretty obviously the Iraqi security forces.
The Ibn Taymiya Mosque is a hard-line Sunni mosque of the Salafi school of Islam.
As an aside, I’d really like to take more pictures, but alas, walking around with a camera attracts way too much attention. And not the nice kind. Maybe things will get better someday.


Is this an uprising or not?

“Yesterday’s attacks”: may or may not have been the start of a larger uprising. I’m hearing — from several sources — that the next five to seven days will be the most dangerous. Westerners are targeted and in Baqouba, journalists are particularly targeted. These reports of a massive offensive by Iraqi insurgents come from the military, NGOs working for hostage releases and even from inside the insurgency itself. Last night, after I returned from a fairly uneventful one-day embed with a unit from the 1st Cavalry division, the people at TIME told me to lay low and stock up on food and water for a few days until this all dies down. My trip to Tikrit was cancelled. Reporters were advised to not leave their hotel and many took the warning seriously.
Last night, there were several huge explosions in the city. It’s hard to say where they were or how close, because of echoes off the buildings. More choppers than normal were up in the air and the sound of AK-47 and larger caliber guns was a constant background noise for hours last night. That was unusual. On other Thursday nights, I would dismiss it as celebratory wedding fire, but last night’s gunfire included a number of heavier guns, as I mentioned.
And yet, things seem quiet here today in Baghdad… At least in my neighborhood. I can’t get any news from the English-language channels and even Al Jazeera channels are showing old footage of Reagan and Menachem Begin at the moment. So I’m afraid I don’t have much to report. On the one hand, the stuff I heard yesterday from multiple sources was sufficiently convincing to make me warn several of my friends here and make plans to lay low. But there seems to be nothing going on.

Six days to go!

Six days to Handover Day!

BAGHDAD — Hello all. It’s six days out from the big Sovereignty Day in Iraq, and people are nervous. Yesterday I finally managed to get a better feel for the pulse of Baghdad while working on a _NY Daily News_ story (I think it will be out Sunday) and the mood is a complicated stew of fear, anticipation, anxiousness for the new government and an equal anxiousness for the Americans to leave. Many, many Iraqis are ready to support PM Ayad Allawi, even if he institutes emergency laws that restrict freedom. (However, they think he’ll just crack down on Fallujah, Beiji and other troublespots, not Baghdad.)
I’ll be traveling tomorrow and Friday, and I may be on an emergency assignment for TIME Magazine today, so I probably will be out of contact until Sunday. But I’ll be back then. If the _Daily News_ story is online, I’ll link to it and expand on it; I have so many more notes than could fit into a 500-600 word piece. I’m looking forward to getting out of Baghdad.
Also, thanks to everyone for writing in their thoughts on why the media are not doing their job. I’ve been remiss in responding, but I will, as I’ve read all the comments. Great stuff and I’m honored and humbled to have so many well-spoken readers. Thank you.

The Looming Credibility Crisis of the IIG

The Iraqi Interim Government faces a looming credibility crisis, but it’s not what you think.

BAGHDAD — Stumbled on an interesting story yesterday. It’s no secret that there are a lot of squatters in Baghdad who have taken over formerly government buildings. But what’s interesting is that after June 30, the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG) is looking to take its property back under a Governing Council decision made back in January to reclaim all government property. This applies to all squatters, from poor families who live in the old Air Force building to the INC, which has taken over some of Baghdad’s prime real estate outside the Green Zone.
This goes to the heart of sovereignty and, more important, legitimacy. It’s one thing to challenge the power of a government with car bombs and suicide attacks. That’s a challenge that’s easily comprehended — and easily solved, frankly. Fight back, and you gain legitimacy. But what happens when a legal court issues an opinion that a family has no right to a room in a former ministry it has occupied since April 2003 because the original workers abandoned it? Now, enlarge the problem to include political party leaders who are members of the committee to choose the interim national assembly. What happens if they just, say, ignore the order? Who is going to enforce it? Who is going to force them out? The ICDC? The U.S. Army? In short, who will enforce the rule of law when the majority doesn’t respect it?
Last night I visited with Sayyid Ayud Jumaliddin, who took over Iraqi VP Izzat Al-Douri’s house shortly after the war. Jumaliddin was an advisor to L. Paul Bremer in the early days of his term, but quickly fell out with the Americans. Now, he’s on the committee to choose the interim national assembly — which means he will be in the new parliament when it’s seated — and bivouacked in a phat pad on the Tigris, complete with a garden, a Marsh Arab reed house and a mini-militia. Who is going to kick him out? Next door is the Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who also won’t take kindly to an eviction notice. And these guys are going to be part of the new ruling aristocracy! What is the general populace to take away when they’re forced from formerly Ba’athist apartments on Abu Niwass street on the Tigris while their neighbors — who have a lot of guns and can get audiences with the British ambassador — sit around smoking excellent Cuban cigars (in the case of Jumaliddin) and thumbing their noses at the law? And that’s not even mentioning the number of Saddam-era generals who have decamped to swank apartments formerly held by government officials. Their location? Scattered throughout the Green Zone overlooking the trailer parks that currently house a large number of CPA workers.
Of course, the American presence in the Green Zone and at the Republican Palace is kind of the ultimate squatter outside the law. No one knows when that property will be returned to the Iraqi government — if ever. And if not, what kind of rent will be paid? The new government desperately needs to establish itself by reclaiming what is rightfully its property. But it doesn’t have the muscle to force people out and if it calls on foreign militaries to help it out, it looks weak to the people, further undermining its own legitimacy. What to do?
A big part of the problem is the relationship of Iraqis to the idea of government. They’re kind of like Texans taken to an extreme in their anti-governmental feelings. For 1,400 years, with only one recent exception in the form of Abdul Kareem Qasim (1958-1963), Iraqis have felt like their governments are an enemy, according to Jumaliddin, and fiercely resisted them.
“People hate the government and anything that belongs to the government,” he said as peacocks wandered among the date palms and the Tigris bubbled behind us. “Therefore, we have a long history of hating the government or the leaders.”
This is reflected in my driver’s attitude toward the new government. He hates it. He thinks they’re all thieves. How does he know this?
“I don’t know,” said S., “but I don’t like them.” (Here he shrugs.) “They are bad men.”
The land that produced the first code of laws has come to ridicule the idea that laws can govern a populace. It is the leaders who are the source of power, not the law. And to many in Iraq, the leaders now are outsiders and thieves, regardless of whether they’ve actually done anything to reinforce that opinion. (This is not to disparage S.’s judgment; he may be right in his opinion. My point is that he has no evidence to back up his claims other than his gut feeling.)
Is this the legacy of Saddam? Or was Saddam the product of the mindset?
This is a huge challenge in the New Iraq®, potentially more serious than any posed by Zarqawi or any other _bogeyman du jour_. The Iraqis I’ve become somewhat friendly with, including A. in the computer store where I buy my printer cartridges, all want someone to take control.
“We need strength,” said A. “We need the force to make people do what’s right.”
He’s referring to rumors that PM Allawi will institute emergency measures come July 1 in order to stabilize the country. That includes press restrictions, curfews, aggressive policing, etc. In effect, much of the same restrictions on civil liberties seen during the Saddam-era. I get the idea that most people wouldn’t mind it so much. At least it would be familiar.
But A.’s comment about using force really saddens me. And his mindset is part of the problem for establishing legitimacy for any new government here. In established democracies, the Law is more or less respected — not because people are particularly afraid of police thuggery or harsh punishment, but because the majority of people think it’s the just right thing to do in order to live their lives. Force isn’t required to _make_ everyone do what’s right (obey traffic laws, not shoot people, etc.); it’s required to _deal_ with those who have upset the public order. (Hm. Sounds a bit like preemptive war and defensive war, actually.)
In the middle of all this is the idea that justice is something to be administered personally, not by the hands of the judicial branch. For example, last week, six day drivers hired by the CPA to drive some trucks to Fallujah were murdered in that little Taliban-enclave. (This is legitimate resistance?) Anyway, today, their families turned up at the main Baghdad bus terminal and set every car from Fallujah on fire. Luckily no one was killed, but the families called for the head of the Fallujah imam who issued the fatwa used to justify the killings. The rule of law administered by a court system is meant to prevent this kind of thing. If Iraqis reject the Iraqi Interim Government as illegitimate, they will reject any court orders or verdicts that are handed down. And that way lies chaos.
I hope to have more on this later. But for now, the TIME Magazine project I spent the last week and a half researching is available “here”:,9171,1101040628-655426-1,00.html.