BEIRUT — Things are moving along, albeit slowly, for “my Iranian trip”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/04/iran_reporting_trip.php. I’ve discovered that I can’t just get a tourist visa and then write, although some people do that. Instead, I need to get a journalistic visa because if I go the tourist route, and I publish articles, the Iranians will likely not let me back in the country. This is unacceptable to me, as I don’t think you can do very good journalism with a one-off, parachute trip. You have to get to know the place, return many times, etc.
So, going the official route, with my hands raised and showing the Iranian information ministry that I mean no harm is the best route for me.
Many of you have already been exceedingly generous, and the fund is up to almost $1,600 now. I reckon about $4,000 is needed for a good two-week excursion to the Islamic Republic, as I’ll have to hire fixers, cars, hotels, etc. So if you want to contribute, please feel free to “hit the tip jar, donation fund, whatever you want to call it”:https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_xclick&business=chris%40back%2dto%2diraq%2ecom&item_name=Back%2dto%2dIraq%2ecom&no_shipping=1&return=http%3a%2f%2fwww%2eback%2dto%2diraq%2ecom&no_note=1&tax=0¤cy_code=USD&bn=PP%2dDonationsBF&charset=UTF%2d8.
Things here in Beirut, however, have entered a weird stasis. The National Reconciliation Council, which has been billed as the first time all the leaders of the various political factions have sat down together, seems intent on institutionalizing itself into a feckless club house in which “Michel Aoun”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Aoun, the former Army general stamps his feet to become president and Hizbollah’s General-Secretary backs him up on the conditions that they don’t have to disarm. This is, needless to say, unacceptable to the March 14 coalition that includes “Walid Jumblatt”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walid_Jumblatt, the Druze leader, and “Saad Hariri”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saad_Hariri, the son of the slain “former prime minister”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafik_Hariri whose assassination Feb. 14, 2005 started this whole thing.
People in Beirut are pretty fed up, but at least the security forces aren’t shutting down all of downtown every time the Council meets now, pissing off all the merchants there. There’s a real sense of disappointment among the young people I talk to that the so-called Cedar Revolution, which looked great on television and succeeded in getting the Syrian Army out of Lebanon (mostly), has run out of steam and has been hijacked by the same old families that have run this place (some would say into the ground) for decades.
One of my friends, the scion of a powerful Shi’ite political family opposed to Syrian influence, has pretty much thrown in the towel. The Syrian Army has left, but the influence is still there, he says, and “Ã‰mile Lahoud”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emile_Lahoud, Lebanon’s president and Syrian protégé, will serve out his term and the same old politics of old will prevail. Syrian President Basher Assad will wait out the Bush administration and things will return to the bad old days of the 1990s. He does allow that it won’t be quite as bad, but the days of total Lebanese sovereignty seem far away still.