Escape from Iraq

A story I wrote appeared Monday in the Newark Star-Ledger, a great smaller paper that cares about foreign news. The story dealt with the plight of the Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

Lives suspended by war
AMMAN, Jordan — Rana crosses her legs on the threadbare carpet in her living room in this poor Palestinian section of town and watches as her three children light a candle. The kids are having a pretend birthday party without a cake or presents, but their faces are painted a magnificent shade of gold by the candlelight.

Across town, Hasa and his family sit in their richly-appointed apartment, with all the modern conveniences and bedrooms for everyone. The kitchen is especially bright and clean.

Rana and Hasa live in separate worlds, but have much in common.

Both families are Iraqi refugees facing an uncertain future in a foreign country. Both want to return to their shattered country. And both agreed to be interviewed and photographed for this story only if their real names would not be used because they fear deportation from Jordan and retribution in Iraq.
Driven from their homes by violence and threats of death, Rana and Hasa also provide rare portraits of the refugee life facing many Iraqis. The two families are among the 750,000 Iraqi refugees estimated to be living in Jordan, a country about the size of Pennsylvania and choking on the staggering burden of its new population. (The Iraqis account for about 15 percent of the people living in Jordan.)

Rana’s family is struggling to fit in and faces discrimination from other Iraqis, Jordanians and Palestinians. Jordanians, Rana says, complain to her that “you’re not wearing a hijab, you’re wearing tight jeans, you’re leaving the house.” Palestinians, meanwhile, say, “You killed Saddam.”
Hasa’s family, while well off, faces difficult circumstances as well. From their plush perch overlooking the local mosque, they made a comfortable life here after arriving in 2003.

Things have changed, though.

Hasa now complains government regulations make it impossible for him to run his businesses here or in Iraq, and his life savings is being bled dry.
At the same time, he rages at the U.S. government.

“We are in such a state that we who welcomed America now hate it, and hate the people as much as we hate the politics,” he says. “This isn’t the freedom we expected. This isn’t what we wanted.”

Two families in a country where they don’t want to be.

Two families in a country that really doesn’t want them.

“Please read the whole thing”: It should be noted that two days after the story appeared, the UNHCR raised the number of Iraqis who are displaced or refugees to 4.4 million — almost twice the numbers that were available to me at the time of my reporting. That’s 16 percent of the entire Iraqi population, making it the largest human catastrophe to hit the Middle East in recorded history. It dwarfs the Palestinian displacements in 1948 and 1967. If something isn’t done about this, it will further destabilize an already volatile region.

By the way, can someone recommend a good server host? Yahoo! is terrible and I keep getting 500 Server Errors preventing me from getting into the blog, rebuilding it, etc.

White House criticizes Democrats, gives GOP a pass

BEIRUT — U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi came under fierce criticism from the White House for her proposed trip to Syria tomorrow, but, oddly, a Republican congressional delegation yesterday to Syria was given a free pass by the same White House.
As Dana Perino, White House spokeswoman, “said”:

I do think that, as a general rule – and this would go for Speaker of the House Pelosi and this apparent trip that she is going to be taking – that we don’t think it’s a good idea. We think that someone should take a step back and think about the message that it sends, and the message that it sends to our allies. I’m not sure what the hopes are to – what she’s hoping to accomplish there. I know that Assad probably really wants people to come and have a photo opportunity and have tea with him, and have discussions about where they’re coming from, but we do think that’s a really bad idea.

Fair enough. But Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Joe Pitts, R-Penn., “met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday.”:
The Republicans released a statement that said, “We came because we believe there is an opportunity for dialogue … We are following in the lead of Ronald Reagan, who reached out to the Soviets during the Cold War.”
_Quelle horreur!_ Dialogue? Crickets were the only response from the White House.
Again in fairness, I spoke with a source at a Western embassy in Beirut about this, and the source said the Republicans had been discouraged from going, just as Pelosi and her delegation had been. But, the source said, if a Congressional delegation is determined to go to Damascus, the U.S. embassy in Beirut would help them out. (He asked for anonymity because he’s not authorized to talk to the press — he also committed the unpardonable sin of calling Congress a “co-equal branch of government.”)
Pelosi is the highest U.S. official to visit Syria since President Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s.

Muted reaction to mid-terms in Lebanon

BEIRUT — Reaction to the American mid-terms was muted in Beirut, a city still shell-shocked from the summer war with Israel and consumed by its own domestic political drama.
Much of Lebanon’s attention is focused not on American politics, but its own, which are dominated by roundtable talks taking place this week among the country’s powerful feudal lords who preside over their own sectarian fiefdoms.
“The Lebanese are reading the tea leaves as best they can,” said Paul Salem, the director of the Middle East Center for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, based in Beirut. “The (anti-Syrian) March 14 movement is fearing the loss of U.S. power and the other side is relishing the loss of US power.”
The “other side” is the pro-Syrian coalition made up of Hezbollah and its allies, which include the Free Patriotic Movement led by Maronite Christian Michel Aoun and a number of smaller parties. The roundtable talks are aimed at banging out a compromise on expanding the current government, a Hezbollah demand following the July-August war and its self-proclaimed “Divine Victory.”
The United States “will continue to back the March 14 government and the Siniora government,” Salem said. “That won’t change because both Democrats and Republicans agree on that.”
All across downtown, the commercial heart of Beirut, most people met the news that voters had delivered a sharp rebuke to President Bush with either blank stares or shrugs, despite widespread dislike for the administration’s policies and what is seen as unquestioning support for Israel. But among the Lebanese and expats who kept an eye on the elections, there was a palpable sense of satisfaction that the GOP had lost.
“The Democrats won so the authority can change in the U.S.,” said one man puffing on a waterpipe who declined to give his name. “There should be changes. There is not one region in the world that is comfortable with current American policies.”
Another man, Gabriel Abou Daher, 32, a television producer for a Beirut advertising agency, said he had been following the elections “closely” and was pleased with the results.
“It’s a message to President Bush over his international policies,” he said. “Maybe he will take another look at them.”
As for Lebanon, however, he is not expecting anything different. “We have seen both parties have the same policy regarding Israel,” Abou Daher said.
Others thought the Democrats would be even more pro-Israel.
“I get some satisfaction from seeing Bush get slapped in the face, but I don’t take any comfort in it,” said Marc Sirois, a Canadian and the managing editor for the English-language Daily Star newspaper. “The Democrats are more dependent on the pro-Israeli lobby for campaign funds and to get out the vote than the Republicans are.”
He also cautioned that Bush still had two years left in his term and he still has all the powers of the commander in chief “to do whatever he wants.”
“The only thing they (Congress) could do is cut the purse strings in Iraq,” he said.

Time to invoke Godwin’s Law?

Accompanied by Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. Bryan Brown, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, Wolfowitz observed that preventing terrorism “means more than killing or capturing terrorists.”… The 9/11 Commission report, Wolfowitz told committee members, noted that radical Islamic fundamentalists possess an intolerant, non-negotiable ideology and world view that has no regard for human rights or the rule of law…. Today’s radical Islamic terrorists, Wolfowitz pointed out, “remind you of the notorious Nazi groups like the SS that proudly wore the death’s head as their symbol.”

I wonder if it’s time to invoke Godwin’s Law on the national conversation, especially after this press release from the DoD:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 2004 — The Defense Department’s No. 2 official compared radical Islamic terrorists to Adolph Hitler’s dispensers of death — the dreaded “Schutzstaffel,” or SS — during Aug. 10 testimony on Capitol Hill.
Appearing before House Armed Services Committee to discuss the military’s role in carrying out the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations to deny terrorists places of sanctuary, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz observed that the United States and its allies “are fighting a cult of death, not life.”
Accompanied by Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. Bryan Brown, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, Wolfowitz observed that preventing terrorism “means more than killing or capturing terrorists.”
Ultimate victory over global terrorism, he noted, “requires sowing the seeds of hope, particularly in the broader Middle East.”
The 9/11 Commission report, Wolfowitz told committee members, noted that radical Islamic fundamentalists possess an intolerant, non-negotiable ideology and world view that has no regard for human rights or the rule of law.
Global terrorism is another manmade evil “that needs to be eradicated and discarded,” Wolfowitz said, “just as piracy and the slave trade were de- legitimized and driven to the margins of civilized life in the past.”
Terrorists’ extremist ideology, he said, must be “replaced by a hopeful vision of freedom.”
Wolfowitz characterized terrorists who routinely employ suicide-attack tactics as “people who worship death more than they seem to worship anything else.”
Today’s radical Islamic terrorists, Wolfowitz pointed out, “remind you of the notorious Nazi groups like the SS that proudly wore the death’s head as their symbol.” Under Heinrich Himmler, the SS, which was established as Hitler’s elite military force, stamped out dissent and propagated the Nazi vision of establishing a pure, “Aryan” race in Germany and in conquered territories.
Millions who didn’t fit into the Nazis’ world view, including political prisoners, gypsies, Jews, and mentally or physically challenged persons, were summarily killed or perished in labor and concentration camps.
Like the long-gone Nazis, Wolfowitz noted today’s Islamic radicals also rely on terror and “their ability to kill innocent people” to attain and retain power.
The cures for radical Islamic terrorism “must come from within Muslim societies themselves,” he said, and the United States “must support such developments.”
Such a goal is “ambitious,” Wolfowitz acknowledged. But, he pointed out, “the threat we face is ambitious” as well as “enormous and unprecedented.”

“Worse than a Crime”

More Americans and Iraqis dead as violence continues in Iraq. Meanwhile, the president refuses to back off June 30 because it’s the only thing the White House can control.

The situation in Iraq has deteriorated so far in the last two days that I frankly don’t know where to begin. But seven more troops have been killed since Monday morning:

American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 6, 2004 — Four Marines with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force were killed April 5 as a result of enemy action while conducting security and stabilization operations in Iraq’s Anbar province, a Combined Joint Task Force 7 news release reported today.

No further information on this incident was available.

Three Task Force 1st Armored Division soldiers were killed during separate attacks April 5 and today in Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district, according to another release.

The first soldier died of wounds received during an attack that took place at about 11 a.m. April 5. The soldier was traveling with a southbound convoy when it was attacked with small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire.

A second soldier died at about 9:30 p.m. April 5 when an RPG struck his vehicle during a firefight in the same area. An RPG attack at 12:30 a.m. today killed a third soldier, who was in a Bradley fighting vehicle.
The names of the Marines and soldiers are being withheld until their families are notified.

I’m on deadline again and can’t really give a complete rundown of the news, but check out Juan Cole, Billmon and Josh Marshall for some excellent roundups.

But If I can take a moment to be frank: I cannot begin to explain how angry I am at how Iraq has been handled. Arrogance, heads-in-the-sandness and a complete lack of understanding of the culture, people and history of the country has been the hallmark of Washington’s policy toward Iraq. The original plan called for 30,000 troops in August as happy natives bought Coca-Cola and waved little American flags. Such arrogance. Now the Pentagon is mulling extra troops. “There’s no history of ethnic violence in Iraq,” we were told by Iraqi exiles and Paul Wolfowitz. Well, maybe that’s because the Iraqis have been ruled by an iron fist for a long, long time. Tom Friedman once noted that by removing Saddam, we would find out if Iraq was the way it was because of Saddam or if Saddam was the way he was because of Iraq. I think we can now say it’s the latter. Saddam was brutal and — yes — evil, but when pro-American Iraqi bloggers say Iraqis “deserve” Saddam, that’s a sign that the ballgame is almost over.

I have to admit that until now I have never longed for the days of Saddam, but now I’m not so sure. If we need a person like Saddam to keep those rabid dogs at bay then be it. Put Saddam back in power and after he fills a couple hundred more mass graves with those criminals they can start wailing and crying again for liberation. What a laugh we will have then. Then they can shove their filthy Hawza and marji’iya up somewhere else. I am so dissapointed in Iraqis and I hate myself for thinking this way. We are not worth your trouble, take back your billions of dollars and give us Saddam again. We truly ‘deserve’ leaders like Saddam.

Iraqis were glad to be rid of Saddam, make no mistake. But they had and still have a very complicated stew of feelings as to the way it happened. But if even that glimmer of goodwill and gratitude is fading, what else is there? If they’re no longer even glad for that, then why the hell is the United States there?

And why this desperate clinging to June 30? It smacks of a security blanket, of a childish administration so at a loss as to what to do that the only thing left is to cling to the one thing it has control over: the date when sovereignty will be returned. But returned to … who? The IGC is reviled on the street. The interim constitution is rejected by most Shi’a. The Kurds just want to retreat to their mountains and the Sunnis are scared to death of everyone.

And it’s not like the U.S. is going anywhere. Large bases in al-Taji and elsewhere indicate that the U.S. is planning on a long stay. The Pentagon will still have control over the $18 billion “gift” to Iraq from the people of the United States — except the Iraqis don’t actually get the money or or have a say in how it’s spent. The country’s armed forces will still answer to the U.S. military. A reporter buddy who was in Iraq in December and January said — and I agree — that the CPA has spent a lot of time convincing a lot of Iraqis — educated and uneducated alike — that on July 1, the Americans will be gone. When Iraqis wake up and the Americans are still there, that will be a rude awakening for everybody.

The White House is “playing poker and has been bluffing for a long time with a pair of twos,” my reporter friend said.

And speaking of Americans, millions are so angry at the waste of lives, money, prestige. So very angry at the incompetence on the part of America’s leaders in the foreign policy sphere. How can anyone look at facts — real facts — and not see that what passes for “moral clarity” and “steely resolve” and “resolute leadership” is actually stubbornness, incuriosity and dangerous isolation from contrary views. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Mr. President. Your act doesn’t fool me. Your self-puffery doesn’t hide your lack of imagination and your disastrous policy choices made because you’re easily swayed by powerful viziers. Your lack of engagement has killed 624 Americans as of this writing, 59 British troops and 44 other members of your coalition. God knows how many Iraqis have died. Your generals don’t bother to keep track.

You should never be forgiven for these death — you should be held accountable. Come November, I hope that you will be, because your Iraq policy and, frankly, your entire administration is what Talleyrand said of Napoleon’s 1804 execution of the Duc d’Enghien: “It is worse than a crime; it is a mistake.”