Georgia operations cease?

As of 0855 GMT Tuesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered a halt to Russian operations in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This is according to the Russian press agency Interfax. Hurriyet reports that French President Nicolas Sarkozy will attempt to cement a cease-fire.

“On the basis of your report, I have taken the decision to bring to an end the operation to force the Georgian authorities to peace,” Medvedev told Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, according to a Kremlin spokesman.

The ceasefire proposal is apparently the one drawn up by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was signed yesterday by Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili.

Not that this will return the region to normal. NATO’s eastward expansion has now finished, and American promises of friendship are not worth the paper they’re written on. As the Georgians have complained, why did the help the U.S. in Iraq if Washington turns its back on them when they come under attack? (That it appears that Saakashvili walked into a trap set by Russia is almost beside the point.) And could President Bush have appeared less concerned as he yukked it up with volleyball players in Beijing?

The world has entered a both a new period, but one that looks very familiar to those of us who remember the Cold War.

Not so fast, Wall Street Journal…

A Journal editorial picks up on Gina Chon’s non-scoop front-page story yesterday to crow that “Moqtada packs it in.” Well, as I pointed out yesterday, there was little in that story that was new, as Moqtada al-Sadr seemed to be more clarifying earlier instructions to his people than issuing new ones. He will still maintain secret cells to attack U.S. troops, for instance.

And does the Journal really want a kinder, gentler al-Sadr? Paradoxically, keeping him an angry, violent outsider will go a lot further toward advancing the Journal‘s goals in Iraq than having him as a peaceful political player. Because if he’s on the outside, his unruly Mahdi Army will continue to act like thugs, causing Iraqis to resent them and cling to the Maliki government (which the neo-cons at the Journal like.)

Having him inside the process, while decreasing the violence, gives him a chance to win at Maliki’s own game of politics, however. And if al-Sadr wins, does the Journal think an Iraq dominated by Shi’ite nationalists will be very friendly to U.S. interests? Perhaps it does, but I certainly don’t.

Like most Journal editorials, this is a grunt from the reptilian cortex, in line with the triumphalist bullying so common to that page.

‘So, three Sumerians walk into a bar…’

This is great, and a welcome respite from politics. Researchers have found the world’s oldest joke.

“Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap,” goes the joke, which dates from 1900 B.C. and which originated in what is now southern Iraq.

Now, I like a good fart joke as much as the next guy, but WTF? Does anyone actually get that?

No matter. Iraqi humor even today doesn’t quite translate into English, a fact that often left me feeling damn confused over gruesome tales that my Iraqi friends found hilarious.

Many of modern day Iraqi jokes deal with the Dulaimi tribe from Anbar and tend to focus on their perceived backwardness and sheer yokelry. One I remembered went something like, “A Dulaimi drove his cousin to Baghdad. His cousin sat behind the driver so he could take over the wheel after he killed the first guy.” Much laughter would then ensue, and no, I still don’t get it.

But the real genius of Iraqi humor was poking fun at Saddam and making word plays. (Too bad puns don’t translate well.) ‘Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the sickly vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council who today may or may not be part of the neo-Ba’athist insurgency (what’s left of it) often came in for humiliating jokes. The craven yes-man was often pictured impersonating a woman, for some reason.

Ancient humor was no different, and megalomaniacal rulers have always been good for a laugh. Some of the ancient jokes the researchers found poked fun at Egyptian pharaohs.

“How do you entertain a bored pharaoh?” goes one. “Sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile — and urge the pharaoh to go fishing.”

Put your favorite Iraqi joke — not jokes about Iraqis, mind you — in the comments.