How Hot Does It Get In Iraq?

Well, I left a dozen eggs I bought in the local market in the car for day and forgot them. Well, my driver brought them to me the next day and they were softboiled from the heat. That’s how hot it gets here.

So, I left a dozen eggs I bought in the local market in the car for day and forgot about them. Well, my driver brought them to me the next day and they were softboiled from the heat.
That’s how hot it gets here.
Big posting coming in the next day or two on the delayed national conference, just be a little patient.

The upcoming Iraqi National Conference

Hey, did you know the Iraqis are about to hold a National Conference of 1,000 delegates to choose the 100 members of the interim Iraqi parliament?

Hey, did you know the Iraqis are about to hold a National Conference of 1,000 delegates to choose the 100 members of the interim Iraqi parliament? Not many in the western press seemed to notice, either. (Note the same AP story from Jamie Tarabay shows up five out of 10 stories, so dupes don’t count.) Robin Wright of the _Washington Post_ has a good story, too.
[UPDATE 28-July: Now they’re taking notice.]
But that matches my experience on the ground. While the media buzz about Afghanistan’s loya jirga seemed quite lively, I’ve not heard much interest among reporters here about the conference, which will, in essence, select the legislative branch of the Iraqi Interim Government. As Jamie says:

The conference was stipulated by a law enacted by the departing U.S. civil administration last month. Made up of delegates from Iraq’s 18 provinces as well as tribal, religious and political leaders, the gathering will choose 80 of its delegates to join a 100-member national assembly. The remaining members will come from the now-dissolved Iraqi Governing Council.
The assembly will have the power to approve the national budget, veto executive orders with a two-thirds majority and appoint replacements to the Cabinet in the event a minister dies or resigns.

And there are a lot of problems already, thanks in part to the fact that 19 or 20 (I’ve heard two numbers) of the seats are already apportioned to the former members of the old Governing Council. Yes, that means Ahmed Chalabi might be a parliamentarian, as well as the PUK’s Jalal Talabani and the KDP’s Massoud Barzani. If the heads of the parties decided to take the seats reserved for them, that should make for some interesting floor debates!
Interestingly, I was talking with my friend Sayyid Ayad Jumaluddin last night, and he said the Chalabi had not participated in any meetings leading up to the conference — which will be this week, but for security reasons the specific time and place have not been announced. Nor had anyone from the Iraqi National Congress sent any delegates to the National High Committee, a body that has been laying the groundwork for the conference. As Wright says:

Chalabi has been mobilizing a new Shiite bloc that includes supporters of rebel cleric Moqtada Sadr. Chalabi’s goal is to win a seat and ultimately become leader of the council to be formed at the conference, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials.

We’ll see. But right now, I think this puts Chalabi in the same rejectionist category as Sheikh Dr. Harith al-Dhari, the head of the Islamic Cleric’s Association and imam of the Mother of All Villages mosque. (Formerly Mother of All Battles mosque.)
I’ve spoken with al-Dhari and he rejected the whole idea of the interim government, as established by the TAL, as illegitimate. And Jamie quotes him as saying, “We decided not to take part in any political organization as long as the occupation exists in Iraq.” If, by occupation, he means the presence of any U.S. troops in Iraq, he’s going to be in the political wilderness for a long time. Just as well, as stories swirl about him darkly that he’s somehow connected with the hostage taking. A lot of foreign dignitaries come to him as their go-to guy on getting their nationals released although he claims no connection with kidnappers. Needless to say, his protests of innocence are met with skepticism.
On the other end of the religious spectrum, Moqtada al-Sadr’s organization has pointedly not been invited, Jumaluddin said, because of the arrest warrant hanging over his head. But subgroups of Sadr supporters have been invited and may eventually take part. The conference’s organizers, of which Jumaluddin is one, are waiting to hear from them.
But this conference should be fun to cover. It will be like an old-fashioned presidential convention, complete with smoke-filled back-rooms and arm-twisting. Expect a fair amount of political skullduggery and coalition building. Groups such as the Islamic Dawa Party (Hizb’dawa), SCIRI and the Iraqi Islamic Party can be expected to make a religious coalition while the KDP, PUK and INC will be a secular bloc. Further complicating matters is interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s party, the Iraqi National Accord, which has a long rivalry with the INC. Look for some fireworks between those groups as Chalabi’s minions — assuming they show up — try to undermine the INA and weaken Allawi before the parliament ever convenes. Anything to make Allawi look ineffectual strengthens potential challengers’ hands for the elections in January — and you know who (*cough* Chalabi *cough, cough*) will definitely be looking to fill Allawi’s chair next year.
But more grandly, the secular/liberal and the religious/conservative blocs will be the centers of power in Iraqi politics for some time to come, so watch the coalition building start now.
Jaime lists a lot of problems this week’s conference, including security, squabbling over how delegations from the provinces are picked and just general inexperience with democracy. Jumaluddin cautioned that the established parties, such as SCIRI, the INC and others with long experience opposing Saddam Hussein with have a real advantage over the newly formed local parties and independent candidates. They know how to cut deals, politick — and they’re well financed. The problem, however, is that they represent, in total, only about 20 percent of Iraqis (Not counting the Kurdish parties.) That means the majority of non-Kurd Iraqis are up for grabs — for parties that have no idea how to campaign or operate in a legislative body. I can barely imagine the outrage that will occur when some fledgling party gets its lunch handed to it by, say, Hizb’dawa, after the smaller party trades its votes on some key issue only to get screwed because its representatives didn’t understand the details of the bargain.
Jumaluddin also warned of stealth candidates. As in the United States, where a candidate — for example — runs as a moderate Republican but when elected turns out to be deeply conservative, some members of this week’s conference will attempt to push forward “independent” candidates in the interest of “representation.” These ostensibly independent candidates will be anything but. They will be cats’ paws for the major parties and can be expected to vote reliably with their patrons.
“Iraqis don’t know what democracy is,” said Jumaluddin as he chewed on a truly magnificent Cohiba. Then he told me a joke: An old woman asks her son, “What is this democracy I hear so much about? What does it mean?” Her son tells her that every four years there will be a new president. “Isn’t that wonderful, umma?” The old woman thinks about that for a moment, and then asks, “Does that mean every four years there will be looting and fighting?”
The Iraqis have an odd sense of humor.
UPDATE: Unregistered comments are back and seem to be working.

Back from Holiday

Hello all— Finally back from a much-needed holiday in Beirut, which I can report exceeds all expectations as a warm, friendly place. It’s incredibly refreshing to exit Iraq and find the part of the Middle East that really is full of warm, welcoming and funny people. I didn’t have to lie about my nationality, and it felt good not to have to constantly be on guard for someone trying to abduct me.

Hello all– Finally back from a much-needed holiday in Beirut, which I can report exceeds all expectations as a warm, friendly place. It’s incredibly refreshing to exit Iraq and find the part of the Middle East that really is full of warm, welcoming and funny people. I didn’t have to lie about my nationality, and it felt good not to have to constantly be on guard for someone trying to abduct me. Plus, the food is fantastic. Beirut has really come back since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, and signs of rebuilding are everywhere. It’s a bustling, busy city. Avoid the Mayflower Hotel in Hamra, however. It’s a nice place, but it’s overpriced.
But enough of Beirut. Two days back in Iraq and things are oddly quiet — at least in Baghdad. No major bombings or insurgency attacks, such as those seen last week. Word is, however, that Samarra south of Tikrit is heating up. Two 13th Corps soldiers were killed, one wounded and a vehicle damaged by a roadside bomb (IED) near the city at about 6:30 p.m. yesterday. The hostage crisis, which I wrote about for TIME last week, continues to escalate, with seven more poor bastards caught in the net of the insurgency. Juan Cole, as usual, has an excellent round up of yesterday’s situation.
But I want to talk a little about “the insurgency.” There seems to be a bit of romanticism regarding these guys among well-meaning folks in the West. For instance, I saw Massive Attack at the Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek last week while in Lebanon. One of the lead singers dedicated the concert to “the innocent child victims in Iraq, and to the heros of struggle!” I was completely with him on the first half of the sentiment; the innocent victims here, such as Ali Abbas, are heartbreaking. But to celebrate the people who kill the Ali Abbas’ of the world as members of La Resistance is just lunacy. Most of the Iraqi insurgency is made up of criminal gangs and mafias out for cash in a lawless environment, Islamist monsters looking to stop people from listing to music or dressing as they wish and Ba’athist thugs. A very small part of the insurgency can be said to be made up of Iraqi patriots. I don’t know what the percentage is. Most violence affects the Iraqis. They’re the ones who are still afraid to go out on the street or let their daughters go out past the gloaming.
Yes, one can argue that the occupation was unjust and cruel, illegal even (although the Security Council pretty much nixed the “it’s illegal” argument when they ratified the U.S. and Britain as occupying powers.) But don’t make heros out of cruel sons of bitches simply because you don’t think the U.S. troops belong in Iraq.
Anyway, I’m back, I’m rested and I hope to get some good stuff out in the next few weeks. August will be busy, and you’ll soon start seeing my work in the Boston Globe.
I hope to have the comments section fixed soon. At the moment, registration is still required to combat spam, but I hope when a new version of MT-Blacklist is made available from Jay Allen I can remove that burden. I want to keep the comments sections as lively and free-wheeling as possible.

Fear Factor

The piece I wrote for New York Magazine is up and titled “Fear Factor: An independent journalist in Iraq describes the ever-shifting safety rules—and coping mechanisms—of the Baghdad beat.

The piece I wrote for _New York Magazine_ is up and titled “Fear Factor: An independent journalist in Iraq describes the ever-shifting safety rules—and coping mechanisms—of the Baghdad beat.” Also, the TIME article on “hostages”:http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101040719-662774-1,00.html is available as well. Whew! Busy Monday.

Comments and Impressions

As you all know, I’ve been dealing with spam in the comments, trackbacks, etc. It’s become a grueling effort to moderate these comments to keep out the riffraff…. If I have not approved your comment, it was almost surely a mistake and not maliciousness on my part.) Anyway, I’m on a deathly slow Net connection here, which further complicates the comment-moderating chore.

As you all know, I’ve been dealing with spam in the comments, trackbacks, etc. It’s become a grueling effort to moderate these comments to keep out the riffraff. (Mind you, I’m not censoring anyone’s views. Everyone who legitimately wants to take part in the comments in welcome. Penis enlargement comments are not. If I have not approved your comment, it was almost surely a mistake and not maliciousness on my part.)
Anyway, I’m on a deathly slow connection here, which further complicates the comment-moderating chore. In addition, as of Wednesday, I’m on vacation for a week and I don’t plan to be online much. (Beirut awaits!) So as of tonight, I’m implementing TypeKey registration to keep out the cretinous spammers and to make my comment moderation easier.
You will need to register to leave a comments. Many of you have already done so. Thank you. After you’re approved, you won’t need to wait to see your comments show up and I won’t need to curse the heavens for slow net connections in my hotel, which — no lie — sometimes drop to 80 bytes/second.
(In the time it’s taken me to write this post, 31 porn comments have come in. I have to delete all of those. Like I don’t have enough to worry about.)
So that’s the story here with that. In other news, I’m having a hard time coming up with stuff to write on this blog. Everyday life in Iraq has stopped being something that I observe from a Western, outsider’s perspective and has become … my life. It’s what I do every day. So some impressions of a typical day.

  • Traffic, and lots of it. Much of Baghdad is a perpetual traffic jam in the middle and hottest parts of the day. It’s crushing, brutal and leads to hair triggers. On Thursday, the mother of all traffic jams hit because of the street battle on Haifa street, which left four Iraqi soldiers dead and at least 15 wounded. The Iraqi police wouldn’t fire on fellow Iraqis so they — rather uselessly — fired near the insurgents, hoping to “scare them.” Surprise! It didn’t work… Good job, guys.
    The reason I bring this up in the context of traffic jams is because I got caught on the edge of the battle when my driver’s car broke down after he forgot to put coolant in the car and it overheated. This little mishap followed his running out of gas in the middle of Baghdad because the night before he had been too tired to fill it up.
    He is no longer my driver, by the way. It’s not very cool being stranded on the street in Baghdad. While things are getting better, it’s still tetchy here for westerners, and my lame attempt at a beard is fooling no one.
  • The cops — despite their rather cowardly decision to not shoot RPG-wielding maniacs — are actually doing their jobs, especially the traffic cops. I saw one the other day writing a ticket for a guy who had the universal pissed-off look and aggrieved stance of everyone who’s ever been ticketed for illegal parking. I was so shocked to see a skinny little traffic cop earnestly writing a ticket to some young tough — and the ticketee actually standing for it — that I laughed out loud in delight. It was like seeing a unicorn.
  • It’s hot. I mean, really hot. You guys who complain that Riverbend doesn’t post anymore or berate her for not liking the heat, come on over here and stand around without A/C for days at a time. It’s getting up to 114 degrees F or so these days — in the shade. I’m lucky. I have A/C for a few hours at a time. Most Baghdadis aren’t so lucky, and they’re still frustrated over the electricity. And they should be. It’s been 15 months; it should be working now. And before anyone comes at me with the idea that Saddam starved the rest of the country to keep Baghdad in power, know this that you’re right. But from the Baghdadis point of view, they went from 20 hours a day to six to nine hours a day. Jonathan Thompson, the deputy director of the the Project Management Office, the umbrella agency that has to spend the $18.4 billion for Iraq’s reconstruction told me a while back, “Now everyone’s getting the same amount of electricity!” Great, that means everyone is getting the same crappy service. No matter how much you tell them that they’re better off, it still sucks. Think how NYC would be if it only got six to nine hours of electricity a day for 15 months. The Bronx would be in flames.
  • The new government has done a few things right — reserving the right to declare emergency law — and a few things wrong — supporting the Americans when they blow up houses in Fallujah and kill women and children. What its done right could still develop into a real problem for the government because it hasn’t bothered to actually declare an emergency anywhere and people still desperately want security. (Here’s a draft of the law.) There’s not a night that doesn’t go by that we journos in our little compound don’t hear some kind of rifle-fire, explosion or some otherwise nasty bit or ordnance.
    The wrong stuff is a catch-22 for Allawi & Co. If they support the American efforts to bomb Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi into submission — which inevitably blow up innocent people — they will lose what support among the Iraqi people they have now. Many Iraqis who had supported Allawi for his tough-guy bluster turned against him when he publicly rah-rahed the Americans’ bombing of a house in Fallujah, which killed at least 10 people, including several women and children. But if Allawi doesn’t support the American pursuit of Zarqawi — despite all evidence that most of the insurgency is made up Ba’athists and home-grown Islamic extremists — he runs the risk of irking his powerful patrons in Washington, who command what is still the only truly viable security force in the country, excepting the pesh merga in the north. Good luck walking that tightrope, Mr. Prime Minister.

  • Despite their complaining, I do see more Iraqis out in the streets and in the playgrounds later at night than I did two months when I got here. (Has it been two months already? Wow.) And some days the city feels positively normal. But all of us in the Tribe, as I call the journos here, are a little on edge because it’s a bit like some line in a movie. (“It’s quiet…” “Yeah, too quiet.”) It’s possible the insurgency is in a bit of a tiff at the moment, which could be a reason for the general downtempo of the attacks, or perhaps they’re just waiting for the right time for a spectacular attack. At any rate, Baghdadis don’t seem to be worrying too much, and it looks like they’re getting out more.

So those are some off-the-cuff impressions. I’ve been swamped with work this past week in preparation of my holiday, with much of my efforts going here. It’s a look at the hostage industry, and it’s my first byline in TIME. Vivienne Walt, the other reporter on this, did good work on the story of Muhammad Rifat. The story wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without her contribution. I plan to explore more on this topic, but by placing it the broader context of the financing of the insurgency. What other bad habits do these guys have that pays for their bomb-building? Should be interesting to find out, no?
Anyway, I probably won’t post before I leave, so in the meantime, enjoy your week(s) everyone.

Grim Milestone Reached

Yesterday the Multinational Forces in Iraq reached a grim milestone: The 1,000 military death was recorded.

Yesterday the Multinational Forces in Iraq reached a grim milestone: The 1,000th military death was recorded. The soldier, whose name has been withheld pending notification of his family, was injured Thursday night in an attack and died of his wounds Friday.
The total U.S. deaths in Iraq are 880, with Britain suffering 60 more and other members of the MNF-I sustaining 60 deaths. No one knows exactly how many Iraqis have died, but since the beginning of the war, the estimate of the number of Iraqis killed by Coalition/MNF-I actions ranges from 11,164 to 13,118, according to the Iraq Body Count.

Article in OJR on B2I

I’ve been swamped and the atmosphere is enough to make one want to lay down with a dry martini for much of the day…. Anyway, Mark Glaser of Online Journalism Review has a pice on B2Iwith some interesting comments from editors and readers. Somehow he has managed to sum up the challenges of juggling TIME,the New York Daily News and the blog better than I’ve been able to.

Hello all– Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I’ve been swamped and the atmosphere is enough to make one want to lay down with a dry martini for much of the day. Unfortunately, I have no olives.
Anyway, Mark Glaser of Online Journalism Review has a piece on B2I with some interesting comments from editors and readers. Somehow he has managed to sum up the challenges of juggling TIME, the New York Daily News and the blog better than I’ve been able to. I guess distance and perspective can help on that one.
I’m on a deadline today, but hope to have something up later tonight, local time, on the Interim Government’s first few days in office. Yesterday was a bad exception to the surprising peace of the first week.
UPDATE 0014 +0400 GMT Hey, the latest “TIME article”:http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101040712-660932,00.html is up. This was the embed I was on last week. I also had hoped to have something up, kind of a week in review piece, but I had two deadlines crash on me tonight. Tomorrow I’ll post, _inshallah_.