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.

Horrors of war linger…

For 34 days this summer, the Israeli and Hezbollah rockets and mortars whistled through the little villages like this one all across Southern Lebanon. More than 1,000 people, including many Lebanese women and children, were killed. Farther north, concrete cities were flattened. And then, the war ended on Aug. 14. Or did it?

BEIRUT — Thought you might like to see a portrait of the south I did for the Newark Star-Ledger. I have to say I was very pleased with the editing process and these guys gave great play for a story that I would have thought most American media were no longer following much.


MAROUAHINE, Lebanon — For 34 days this summer, the Israeli and Hezbollah rockets and mortars whistled through the little villages like this one all across Southern Lebanon. More than 1,000 people, including many Lebanese women and children, were killed. Farther north, concrete cities were flattened. And then, the war ended on Aug. 14.
Or did it?
Nearly two months after a fragile cease-fire was announced and nine days after Israeli promised it had withdrawn the last of its troops from Lebanon, citizens in these southern villages are skeptical. And angry.

You will have to enter some demographic information to see the whole story, but it’s not too odious a requirement.

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Concerning the control of oil

The United States has placed a proposed resolution before the U.N. Security Counil to lift most of the sanctions against Iraq. The draft also — surprise! — would grant the United States “broad control over the country’s oil industry and revenue until a permanent, representative Iraqi government is in place.” (_Washington Post_)

The United States has tabled a U.N. Security Council resolution to lift most of the sanctions against Iraq. The draft also would — surprise! — grant the United States “broad control over the country’s oil industry and revenue until a permanent, representative Iraqi government is in place.” (Washington Post)
“The resolution, which is to be presented to the 15-nation body Friday, would shift control of Iraq’s oil from the United Nations to the United States and its military allies, with an international advisory board having oversight responsibilities but little effective power. A transitional Iraqi government, which U.S. authorities have said they hope to establish within weeks, would be granted a consultative role.”
In an earlier article on B2I, I wrote about Feisal al-Istrabadi, a founding member of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy and an activist on various humanitarian issues relating to Iraq. Istrabadi is also a member of the planning committee for the State Department?s Future of Iraq Project, serving on its Transitional Justice and Democratic Principles working groups.
During his talk, he outlined the ideas for a transitional government.

It would last two to three years at most, must provide immediate benefits to the people of Iraq, would hold municipal elections within six months and regional elections within another six months after that and begin immediate criminal prosecutions. The other duties must be to fulfill obligations to the U.N. regarding weapons of mass destruction, he said, and human rights agreements must be adhered to. “It’s critical to me that the transitional period not be seen as a final status,” he said. “I don?t think the transitional government should be the government that signs a peace treaty with Israel. That should be the permanent government.”
And most important, he said, the United Nations should not _lift_ the sanctions. Instead they should be _suspended_ so that the transitional government doesn?t gain control of the country?s treasury and the permanent lifting of sanctions is an incentive to democratize.
“If you want to ensure the transitional figures do not become transitional in the Iraqi sense of the word — by that I mean lasting 40 years — you cannot hand over the purse strings of Iraq,” he said. “Saddam did not immediately rule by fear. He co-opted the elite during the 1960s and ’70s by drowning them in cash.”

Taking control of the oil industry, while looking really, _really_ bad to the rest of the world, is probably the best that can be made of a bad situation. Istrabadi’s right; if a transitional government took control of Iraq’s oil revenue, there likely result would be wholesale robbing that would make the looters in the closing days of the war look like pikers.
Granted, this will not help the United States’ image in Iraq or in the Arab world. They’re already convinced the U.S. was making an oil grab. The only way to combat this impression is to manage the oil industry in an enlightened and benevolent manner with no favortism given to corrupted Iraqis or American companies.
Handing out crony contracts to Halliburton subsidiaries and other, well-connected American corporations ain’t the way do this. There really don’t seem to be many good solutions to this mess.

Pentagon says chemical weapons will be used

CNN is reporting that the Pentagon is detecting preparations on the part of Iraq to use chemical weapons against U.S. troops. The DoD says it doesn’t know where the CW are, but that it will destroy them if it can find them.
Also, the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan instructed the its 135 or so inspectors to bug out from Iraq. CNN is reporting the U.N. can get them out in about two hours. Rumors swirl of a Bush announcement tonight. War tomorrow or Wednesday?
*UPDATE 10:09 AM EST:* Sir Jeremy Greenstock, British Ambassador to the United Nations, that the resolution will be pulled and “we will not pursue a vote.”. The diplomatic process is over. Greenstock criticized France specifically, but didn’t mention it by name. The U.S. and U.K. will pursue their own methods of disarmamemt.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Negroponte, called Iraq in “material breach” of 1441.

From the department of Newspeak

The U.S. twists the right of Iraq to self-defense to say it can strike first; Bush, Blair and Aznar meet for a war council; and the Navy dislikes pesky reporters.

OK. See if you can follow me here: The United States is concerned that Saddam Hussein could launch a first strike against the troops in the region — or Israel — once Bush signals that war is imminent, so the United States may have to strike first. But officials are concerned that if America strikes first, it will appear the _United States has started a war._
_38959027_tomcatap203.jpgDid I wake up in some weird alternate universe or something? After months of massing troops, threatening Iraq, bullying the United Nations, admitting that Saddam has not attacked the United States nor was it involved in Sept. 11, 2001, _now_ officials are worried they might look like they’re starting a war?
I thought Iraq was part of President Bush’s doctrine of “preëmptive self-defense,” which sounds an awful lot like “best defense is a good offense.” Which means, by definition, that starting a war is _kind of the whole point._
Most likely, this is some bonehead official talking smack to an ABC reporter. But it does highlight the problems facing the United States: namely, that this is a war of choice, not necessity. And that if it’s prosecuted without the aegis of the United Nations Security Council, it will be an aggressive war, which is _highly_ illegal under the U.N. charter.
The irony of all this is that if the United States doesn’t have a resolution, Iraq would be perfectly justified in attacking first, both under the logic of the Bush Doctrine and Article 51 of the the U.N. charter, which states, “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.” (George over at Warblogging has a nice take on this.)
This is just getting twistier by the moment. And now that war is looming ever closer, America is twisting Iraq’s legitimate right to self-defense to justify a first strike. I love America, I really do, but this is going beyond all reasonable standards for how a democratic country founded on some of humanity’s best ideals is supposed to act. To say the rhetoric coming from Washington is Orwellian is now to understate the case rather than blow it up into hyperbole. There seems to be no attempt to hide the propaganda, indicating a supreme contempt for the discerning facilities of the American people and other peoples of the world.
Meanwhile, Bush, Blair and Aznar are meeting in the Azores (say that three times fast) to work out some last minute diplomacy. This is interesting since it means Bush will have to get off the phone and actually spend some face time with his buddies. But wouldn’t it be better to have some face-time with countries like Freedom (neé France) and Russia who don’t support him? Back in 1990, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker was ubiquitous and the coalition was a big success. When was the last time Colin Powell went out of the country? Bush? I know it’s not a good time to fly, but still…
By not inviting representatives from France, etc., this loos like a war council aimed at getting a successful UNSC vote instead of a summit looking for common ground and a compromise out of the diplomatic marshlands. But this is just more down-the-rabbit-hole insanity, with U.S. foreign policy used to make possible a war on Iraq. Clausewitz once said, “War is regarded as nothing but the continuation of state policy with other means.” But as I said once before, this war is no longer a tool for state policy, but instead state policy has become a tool for war.
No Love Boat
In other news, the marriage between the media and the military is looking as rocky as Rick Rockwell and Darva Conger’s from Fox’s “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?” At least on the USS Abraham Lincoln. The “embedded” journalists on the Lincoln are monitored, minded and accompanied by escorts everywhere they go. Once, when mistakenly wandering into a meeting, two cameramen were confronted by armed guards.
Now, I know there are restrictions in war time; journalists need to understand that. And most of the time friction between reporters and the military is caused by misunderstandings rather than hostility. But I was pretty sure the Pentagon’s new policy for embedding journalists with the troops was a propaganda ploy, and if the events on the _Abraham Lincoln_ are indicative of how the press will be treated, I’m not confident this war will as aggressively covered as people think it will be.

War — What’s this one good for?

Following the news this week has been confusing to say the least. Did the United States have 11 votes on the Security Council? Eight? Nine? Four? The vote is going to happen Friday. Or maybe next week. The March 17 deadline for Iraq to disarm is firm, or maybe it isn’t. Maybe the United States will just say, “to hell with it,” and launch the bombers. Or maybe it will continue to go “the extra mile” for diplomacy. Who the hell knows?

cpe_baghdad_tigris_01.jpgFollowing the news this week has been confusing to say the least. Did the United States have 11 votes on the Security Council? Eight? Nine? Four? The vote is going to happen Friday. Or maybe next week. The March 17 deadline for Iraq to disarm is firm, or maybe it isn’t. Maybe the United States will just say, “to hell with it,” and launch the bombers. Or maybe it will continue to go “the extra mile” for diplomacy. Who the hell knows?
victorybonds.jpgIt’s safe to say that reading the current Security Council is like trying to read tea leaves in a still-swirling cup. No one knows where the votes will come down until the last moment.
The U.S., for geo-strategic reasons, wants to go to war, very badly. France and Germany, for their own reasons, want to stop a war, very badly. Tony Blair may want to go to war, but I doubt he wants to very badly. If he does, in fact, take the U.K. into battle, he needs a new resolution very badly, or he might see his own regime changed before Baghdad’s. The rest of the Council — Russia, China, Syria, Angola, Pakistan, Guinea, Bulgaria, Spain, Mexico, Chile and Cameroon — is basically for sale.
As Stratfor points out, this is now a bidding war and being in between the U.S.-U.K. and France-Germany teams is the best place to be. Angola, Guinea et al., can sit back, keep the game going for as long as possible, get the bids (for aid, investment, military cooperation, state dinners or whatever) as high as possible and not let anyone know their prices until the very last moment. Why is it so hard to count noses on the Council on the issue of Iraq? Because the courted countries don’t know how they’ll vote until the gavel comes down and all bids are in.
And then we’ll have Mr. Bush’s splendid little war.
Ironic, isn’t it? I thought the point of diplomacy was to avoid war, but this bizarro diplomacy is intended (by the United States) to bless a war — and to keep the appearance of a coalition by keeping Britain in the game. France knows that whatever its actions, it can’t stop this train wreck — George W. Bush has already said the United States doesn’t need the U.N.’s permission — so Jacques Chirac’s intransigence is intended to …. what? Cement France’s position as the leader of the European counterweight to America? Keep the United Nations relevant, as though the dominant member’s ignoring the Security Council doesn’t render it irrelevant anyway?
bhun.jpgThis kerfluffle stopped being about Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, national interests and the efficacy of the United Nations long ago. Oh, national leaders say these are the reasons, but so many have refused to bend or compromise that everyone is painted into a diplomatic or military corner. Bush can’t back down because America will look weak and encourage more terrorist attacks. Of course, by waging an aggressive war against Iraq, that will encourage more terrorist attacks, too. Tony Blair can’t back down because he’ll be just as dead politically as he will be if he takes Britain to war without a resolution, so he might as well go forward and hope for a quick victory. France can’t back down because Chirac has committed France to opposing America’s hegemony. Iraq can’t back down because the United States will accuse it of more delaying tactics and deceptions and attack anyway. There’s no longer a good reason for any of this.
This isn’t the start of World War III, it’s the start of World War I — a very stupid war, started thanks to a tangle of alliances, national pride and personal egos involved. It never had to happen. And — again with the irony — WWI is the war that brought the world to this point, spawning the League of Nations, the failure of which led to World War II and the later creation of the United Nations and the Security Council. It also saw the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Kingdom of Iraq. And let’s not forget the use of chemical weapons — allegedly the reason for the great big army in the desert. It was a war that embodied the Law of Unintended Consequences.
I promised I wouldn’t make predictions about the start of the war, so perhaps I can make one about the end of it. When it’s over and the dust has settled, the United States will stand supreme in the world, powerful but hated, its boot on the throat of Iraq. The international frameworks built over the last 50 years, including the United Nations, will lie in ruins or will be about to collapse. Resentful young men, hearts full of fear, hate and Allah will find refuge and a raison d’etre as explosive martyrs. The world will be less safe — for everyone. And thousands of people — soldiers, civilians, innocent or not — will be dead. And for no good reason at all.

Pentagon taking aim at independent journalists? Hey, that’s ME!

Question: Why does the Pentagon want to kill me? And why do the Brits want that damn resolution so bad? Three words: “War,” “crimes” and “prosecutions.” (In that order.)

Disturbing story here. BBC reporter Katie Adie claims a source in the Pentagon told her that satellite uplink positions of independent journalists in Iraq would be targeted in a war.

I was told by a senior officer in the Pentagon, that if uplinks — that is the television signals out of… Baghdad, for example — were detected by any planes … electronic media… mediums, of the military above Baghdad… they’d be fired down on. Even if they were journalists.

Naturally, I found this alarming, because filing with a satellite phone and laptop is part of my plan, although much of my time would be spent in Iraqi Kurdistan, not Baghdad. So I called the Pentagon and spoke with the Army’s Lt. Col. Gary Keck in the public affairs office.
“I don’t have any information on anything like that at all,” he said. “But we’re certainly not going to talk about targeting processing in any way shape or form.”
Fair enough, I guess. Then he referred me to Lt. Col. Ken McClellan, an expert on electronic warfare. Unfortunately, he doesn’t come on duty until 7 p.m. EST tonight, so I’ll have to wait until later. But it has to be assumed that if someone turns on a cell phone — or a sat-phone — then the emitter will be picked up by American sensors. And if that signal is next to an Iraqi command and control center, and one that had just been bombed no less, then that’s probably not a smart thing to be, as American pilots would likely assume a survivor of the bombing was trying to continue calling in orders.

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