Greetings all. It’s been a while. I wanted to take a small post and update you all on what’s happening here.
As many of you know, for the past few months, I’ve been at Stanford as a Knight Fellow, researching foreign news and online content. This fellowship ends in June. I have decided to depart the Middle East then and head for Pakistan, where I will be working on a new blog project, InsurgencyWatch. You can read more about the idea behind the new site here. You can also catch its latest posts via the RSS feed to the right.
Back to Iraq will continue to exist, but mainly as an archive and republishing site for the new content on InsurgencyWatch. I hope you’ll all join me over at the new site, and we can make interesting things happen again in the field of foreign correspondence.
Is this a first? The latest from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (big pdf) gives a casualty number of almost 100,000 Iraqi civilians to date, which may be the first time a U.S. government body has released this information.
You can read the entire report, “Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience” (and order a printed copy) here.
So, Inauguration Day. It’s here and I still can’t quite believe it. Eight years of arguably the worst presidency in the history of the country are over and a new one begins with President Barack Obama. Like many Americans I am hopeful, anxious, enthusiastic and ready to move on. But I can’t help feeling a bit nostalgic for President George W. Bush.
I mean, he provided me and my colleagues in the war covering business with lots of work. I mean, *a lot of work*. I made a career covering Bush’s catastrophes across the Middle East, and that wasn’t the only region he royally screwed up. THese include Afghanistan/Pakistan, Russia, the Caucuses and — lest we forget — New Orleans right close to home. Any one of these would be a blight on a presidency and a boon for journalistic careers, but damn.
Anyway, welcome to the Big Game, President Obama. Time to get to work.
OK. I’m going to take an I-told-you-so victory lap on this one. The U.S. will lead a 20-nation coalition to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa. Many of you will remember I’ve been interested in pirates off of Africa since 2005. I even embedded with the Germans in 2007 on the FGS Bremen as they took part in CTF-150, designed to protect the sea lanes leading up to the Red Sea. Other embeds I pursued included the USS Stennis off the coast of Pakistan and the task force in the Persian Gulf charged with protecting Iraq’s two off-shore oil terminals.
It’s nice to see that something I’ve been trying to draw attention to is finally getting the press attention it deserves, given the threat piracy poses to trade and the tie-ins between global terrorism and non-state criminal organizations.
* Piracy 2.0: Deadly and Dangerous
* Silent war against terror waged in dangerous waters
* Patrolling the world’s dire straits (PDF)
Many news outlets are reporting that several Katyusha rockets from southern Lebanon have landed in western Galilee in Israel, injuring two. Israel has apparently flown sorties over the Lebanese border and responded with mortar fire.
Stratfor has some quickie insight that I find plausible:
“… a Stratfor source in Hezbollah also noted recently that the Iranians, preferring to keep Hezbollah out of the fight, were concerned that other Sunni militants in Lebanon could decide to launch rockets against Israel and draw the group into war. The key thing to watch for now is whether this rocket attack is the first salvo, or if this is an isolated attack. If the rocket attacks continue, it is far more likely to be Hezbollah than some Sunni militants acting independently.” (Emphasis mine — CA)
Regardless of who fired those rockets, the risks of a new war on Israel’s northern front has just gone up dramatically — and I suspect that Israel won’t make the same mistakes in 2006.
UPDATE 0649 PST: Well, maybe not, as it turns out. Both Lebanon and Israel seem to be downplaying the event, with Palestinians in Lebanon getting the blame and being accused of trying to widen the conflict. Israel has opened the northern bomb shelters amid signs of de-escalation. Still, this bears watching.