On break

Going on holiday.

This will be the last blog entry for a couple of weeks. I will be taking my vacation soon after completing work on a story on Christians in Iraq, “now available.”:http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101040927-699409,00.html
Iraq is a powderkeg. On one hand I hope it doesn’t blow, ever. But on the other, more journalistic (and less human) one, I hope that if it does, it waits until I get back so I can cover it.
Have a good two weeks everyone.

God quote?

Hey, crack research team: Can anyone find me the exact quote of George W. Bush where he said something along the lines of “God told me to invade Iraq”? Or something like that. Or if that quote is bogus, can someone show me? I can’t seem to find that quote.
thanks!
[UPDATE: Got the quote. Thanks! It was: “God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them. And then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.”]
[UPDATE 2: And thanks for the supporting context. Seeing as it’s a translation of a third-hand account, I don’t think I’ll be using this quote in my story.]

It’s Worse Than You Think…

TIME weighs in on the FUBAR situation in Iraq, and it ain’t pretty.

TIME weighs in on the FUBAR situation in Iraq, and it ain’t pretty.

Important parts of the country, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers said, are controlled by rebels. Principal cities and major roads west and north of the capital are ruled by Sunni insurgents. Al-Sadr’s men launch uprisings at will across the wide Shi’ite belt, and even parts of Baghdad are no-go zones for U.S. troops and the frail forces of the interim Iraqi government. All this has helped make the peace much bloodier than the war: last month anti-U.S. attacks climbed to 87 a day, more than double the rate in 2003 and the first half of 2004. The U.S. death toll since sovereignty was returned to Iraq on June 28 has eclipsed the number killed in the invasion, and the total tally just passed 1,000. The wounded number more than 7,000. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld estimates that coalition forces killed up to 2,500 suspected insurgents in August, but the will of the rebels shows few signs of cracking. Attacks on U.S. troops increasingly come in the form of direct fire from small arms and suicide bombs, the tactics of a more sophisticated and in-your-face foe.

I don’t know if I can really put into words just how bad it is here some days. Yesterday was horrible — just horrible. While most reports show Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra as “no-go” areas, practically the entire Western part of the country is controlled by insurgents, with pockets of U.S. power formed by the garrisons outside the towns. Insurgents move freely throughout the country and the violence continues to grow.

I wish I could point to a solution, but I don’t see one. People continue to email me, telling me to report the “truth” of all the good things that are going on in Iraq. I’m not seeing a one. A buddy of mine is stationed here and they’re fixing up a park on a major street. Gen. Chiarelli was very proud of this accomplishment, and he stressed this to me when I interviewed him for the TIME story. But Baghdadis couldn’t care less. They don’t want city beautification projects; they want electricity, clean water and, most of all, an end to the violence.

And in the midst of all this violence, most of the Iraqi Interim Government is out of town. Security Advisors, heads of important ministries and the chief of the new Mukhabarat are all mysteriously absent. The Iraqi security forces are a joke, with the much talked about Fallujah Brigade disbanded for being feckless and — worse — riddled with insurgents who were being paid and trained by the U.S. Marines.

Thousands of Iraqis are desperate to get a new passport and flee the country. These are often the most educated Iraqis — the have the money to get new passports and travel — so the brain-drain will accelerate.

The poor and the disenfranchised are finding their leaders in the populist and fundamentalist Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr or in the radical Islam of the jihadis, who are casting a long shadow on this formerly secular country. Iraq has its own home-grown Wahhabists now, something it didn’t have 18 months ago.

In the context of all this, reporting on a half-assed refurbished school or two seems a bit childish and naive, the equivalent of telling a happy story to comfort a scared child. Anyone who asks me to tell the “real” story of Iraq — implying all the bad things are just media hype — should refer to this post. I just told you the real story: What was once a hell wrought by Saddam is now one of America’s making.

[UPDATE Sep 14, 2004 1210 +0300 GMT: I got the below email from an MP who served in Baghdad. He’s been back home for some months in American and gave me permission to print his views provided I strip the identification from it.

I saw your comment about not seeing much good being done by the US. I don’t know what’s going on now, but that sounds about right.

From my perspective as a grunt who was on the ground, we wanted to do all sorts of things to help, but we couldn’t. No matter what we wanted to do, my squad was not going to restore electricity to Iraq. Every day for several months we had to drive past a blown up power tower with lines dangling about 20 feet off the ground. (You may be able to spot this one: it’s new now, on the western side of Tampa around bridge 18 or so). It was disgusting to see it sit there on its side for so long.
So, all we got to do were hand out crayons and soccer balls to school kids. What else could we do? We wanted to help, but we were in the middle of a war and stuck in a behemoth of a bureaucracy. Our little efforts were indeed puny on a national scale, but it’s what we could do.

I don’t disagree with what you said or how you said it. I had the same frustration. However, if all those particular people can do is open a park, well, that’s all they can do, and I can see how they would be proud of it within their own little sphere of possibility.

I should expand on some of my thoughts. I’m not blaming the soldiers or think of them as evil bastards. I feel sorry for them, being put in a horrible position, and my anonymous soldier is right: If all they can do is open a park, then I will not begrudge them that. It doesn’t hurt, and if it makes it easier for the soldiers to get through the day, more power to them. It’s better than waiting around for the next attack. And they desperately need to feel they’re doing something. Otherwise, I would think they’d go mad. At least I get to feel that I’m bearing witness or something. And I’m here voluntarily. I can’t begin to imagine how it would feel if you were sent here against your will and then told what you were doing was a big fat waste of time and lives. I feel for the soldiers as deeply as I feel for the Iraqi people. As I said once before, we are all prisoners here.

[UPDATE 2: Oops! My apologies to Newsweek for ripping off their headline. I didn’t realize it at the time.]

This probably isn’t good…

Has North Korea tested a nuke?

This has little to do with Iraq, but there are various reports of a huge mushroom cloud following a tremendous explosion Thursday near North Korea’s border with China in Ryanggang province, a heavily militarized area. Thursday was the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean state, so the time and size of the cloud (two to 2.5-miles in diameter) suggest it might be a nuclear test, and there were worrying signs that the North was preparing to test a bomb.
Well, on the surface it looks like they have, but let’s wait to see what radiological and seismic tests indicate.

1,000

Another grim milestone in the Iraq war is imminent. Iraq Coalition Casualties reports there are 998 U.S. casualties as of Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. GMT +0300. By the time you read this, there may be 1,000 or more U.S. dead in Iraq.

Another grim milestone in the Iraq war is here. Iraq Coalition Casualties reports there are 998 999 U.S. casualties as of Sept. 7 at 11:45 p.m. local Baghdad time (GMT +0300). By the time you read this, there may be 1,000 or more U.S. dead in Iraq.

[UPDATE 12:08 local Baghdad time: And it’s here. CNN and “AP”:http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20040907/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq&cid=540&ncid=2100 are reporting 1,000 are dead.]

According to my own number-crunching, if the attack in Fallujah — which “killed 7 U.S. Marines and three Iraqi National Guardsmen”:http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/washpost/20040907/ts_washpost/a64921_2004sep6&cid=1802&ncid=1473 — had not occurred yesterday, America would have seen its 1,000 death in Iraq right around … Sept. 11. As it is, it looks like this morbid statistic will sadly come sooner rather than later.

On a sidenote — although a related one — it’s becoming more and more dangerous to work here. The feeling of tension and menace while traveling around is palpable. The threat of kidnapping is being driven home to us by the limbo in which Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, the two French journalists, linger still. One of the reasons for a sense of fear is the retrenchment of the U.S. forces in Baghdad. They’re not around as much, not as visible. In their place are the Iraqi security services such as the Iraqi National Guard and the Iraqi Police.

While it’s a good thing politically — for someone, I hope — that the Americans are adopting a lower profile, it’s unnerving, considering the hostility the Iraqi police have been showing to foreigners. I’m not just “talking about Najaf”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000810.php, either. I’ve heard credible stories of the police holding guns to photographers’ heads and raids on foreigners houses that led to children being knocked unconscious, along with money and phones stolen. And that’s here in Baghdad.
I’m due for a break this month for about two weeks and man, do I need it.

Chalabi Charges Dropped?

I went to the stupendously boring Ahmed Chalabi press conference this afternoon and he said all charges had been dropped against him.

What the hell? I went to the — I assumed — stupendously boring Ahmed Chalabi press conference this afternoon and it went something like this:

Chalabi: I was attacked this morning, but I’m fine, thanks.
Question: Can you tell us about the counterfeiting charges against you and the murder rap against your nephew?
Chalabi: Oh, those… (chuckle.) They were reduced to a summons. I went to the judge (al-Malaki) today and all charges have been dropped against us.

This was in Arabic, and I’m obviously paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it. But jeeze; what the hell? Dropped charges? I’ve got a call in to al-Malaki, but so far, no response on this. I wonder if it’s just a translation error. Very weird.

[UPDATE: Ho, ho. Turns out Chalabi asked that the charges be dropped — not that they were.]