March 07, 2007

Perspective, and Values

Mohammed and Omar Fadhil, who write the blog, Iraq the Model, in an article published at Opinion Journal:
BAGHDAD--The new strategy to secure Baghdad has been dubbed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as "Operation Imposing the Law." After weeks of waiting and anxiety it is finally under way, and early signs are encouraging.

The government information campaign and the news about thousands of additional troops coming had a positive impact even before the operation started. Commanders and lieutenants of various militant groups abandoned their positions in Baghdad and in some cases fled the country. ...

This indicates that both the addition of more troops and the tough words of Prime Minister Maliki are doing the job of intimidating the militants. The extremists understand only the language of power, and any reluctance or softness on the part of the Iraqi or U.S. government would only embolden them. In this way the clearly voiced commitment of President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki was exactly the type of strong message that needed to be sent.


So after only a couple weeks we can feel, despite the continuing violence, that much has been accomplished. Many Baghdadis feel hopeful again about the future, and the fear of civil war is slowly being replaced by optimism that peace might one day return to this city. This change in mood is something huge by itself.

The brightest image of the past two weeks was the scene of displaced families returning home; more than a thousand families are back to their homes under the protection of the Army and police. This figure invites hope that Baghdad will restore its social, ethnic and religious mosaic.

Marketplaces are seeing more activity and stores that were long shuttered are reopening--including even some liquor stores that came under vicious attacks in the past. This is a sign that extremists no longer can intimidate people and hold the city hostage. All of this gives the sense that law is being imposed.


It is true that not all of Baghdad has seen the same amount of progress, but we realize that patience is necessary.
Patrick Cockburn:
Iraq's minorities, some of the oldest communities in the world, are being driven from the country by a wave of violence against them because they are identified with the occupation and easy targets for kidnappers and death squads. A "huge exodus" is now taking place, according to a report by Minority Rights Group International.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says 30 per cent of the 1.8 million Iraqis who have fled to Jordan, Syria and elsewhere come from the minorities.

The Christians, who have lived in Iraq for 2,000 years, survived the Muslim invasion in the 7th century and the Mongol onslaught in the 13th but are now being eradicated as their churches are bombed and members of their faith hunted down and killed along with other minority faiths.

The report, Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq's minority communities since 2003, written by Preti Taneja, says that half of the minority communities in Iraq, once 10 per cent of the total population, have fled.

One of the worst affected minorities is the small, 35,000-strong Palestinian community, many of whom had been in Iraq since 1948. Seen as being under the special protection of Saddam Hussein, they have suffered severely since his fall. Umm Mohammed, a 56-year-old grandmother, said the militias "are monsters, they killed my two sons in front of my house and later shouted that we Palestinians are like pigs."

A suicide car bomb exploded yesterday near the College of Administration and Economics killing 40 and injuring more than 30, mostly students. The college is part of Mustansariyah University, which Sunni insurgents denounce as controlled by the Shia Mehdi Army.
Yifat Susskind, Communications Director of MADRE, an international women's human rights organization:
Last week, Houzan Mahmoud [the international representative of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, a partner organization of MADRE] opened her e-mail and found a message from Ansar al-Islam, a notoriously brutal Sunni jihadist group. The message read simply, "we will kill you by the middle of March." Houzan is an outspoken Iraqi feminist. The 34-year-old journalist and women's rights activist believes that hope for Iraq's future depends on building a society based on secular democracy and human rights. For this, she has been condemned to death.

Houzan is hardly alone in this regard. Since the US invaded Iraq, women there have endured a wave of death threats, assassinations, abductions, public beatings, targeted sexual assaults, and public hangings. Much of this violence is systematic-directed by both Sunni and Shiite Islamist militias that mushroomed across Iraq after the US toppled the mostly secular Ba'ath regime. We've heard about the brutality of the Sunni-based groups, but much less about the Shiite militias that are the armed wings of the political parties that the US boosted into power. Their aim is to establish an Islamist theocracy and their social vision requires the subjugation of women and the elimination of anyone with a competing vision for Iraq's future.

The "misery gangs" of these Shiite militias now patrol the streets of Iraq's major cities, attacking women who don't dress or behave to their liking. In many places, they kill women who wear pants or appear in public without a headscarf. In much of Iraq, women are virtually confined to their homes because of the likelihood of being beaten, raped, or abducted in the streets.


[Houzan Mahmoud] has seen first-hand that for all its talk of bringing democracy to Iraq, the Bush Administration has traded the rights of more than half of the population-Iraq's women-for cooperation from the Shiite extremists whom it wagered could deliver stability. With those hopes dashed, the Administration is now backing a different horse-one that is just as woman hating and anti-democratic. As Houzan said, "Perhaps Bush's speeches about bringing democracy to Iraq made people in the US feel better about the war. But the US has only replaced Saddam's secular tyranny with an Islamist tyranny. Iraqi women are paying the heaviest price for this and genuine democracy is still a distant dream."

The next two weeks are bracketed by International Women's Day and the fourth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Dedicate this period to listening to Iraqi women like Houzan and you will hear a re-telling of the Iraq war-one that amplifies the truth that women's human rights and democratic rights go hand-in-hand and that the Bush Administration-for all its talk-has only contempt for both.
Patrick Cockburn again:
The Iraq conflict is the great crisis of our era, but television has found it impossible to cover it properly. The dangers to correspondent and crew are too great, and the limitations of being embedded with the US or British armies subvert balanced coverage.

Watching Tony Blair claim progress in Iraq as he announced a partial withdrawal of British troops last week, I was struck for the hundredth time by the favour done to him and President George Bush by the Iraqi insurgents and militias. By killing and kidnapping journalists - and thus making so much of Iraq a media-free zone - they have ensured that the White House and Downing Street can say what they like and get away with it.

Blair spoke of British achievements in security and economic development in Basra, but there were almost no journalists on the ground to check the truth of this. One of the infuriating aspects of covering Iraq in the past three years has been to hear the US and British governments claim that there are large parts of Iraq that are at peace and know it is untrue, but to prove that they are lying would mean getting killed oneself.

Iraq has become almost impossible to cover adequately by the old system of foreign correspondents, cameraman or woman, and crew. It is simply too dangerous for a foreigner to move freely around Baghdad and the rest of the country. It is bad enough for print journalists like myself but cameramen, by the nature of their trade, have to stand in the open and make themselves visible.


Iraq is worse than previous wars. The Sunni insurgents kill or kidnap cameramen just as they do any foreigner. They regard an Iraqi cameraman as a possible spy. Important events now go unrecorded in a way that has not been true of any other recent conflict.


It has never been true that foreign journalists in Baghdad spend their time cowering in their hotels or in the Green Zone. If this was correct, far fewer would have been killed or suffered terrible injuries.


The Iraq conflict should be the turning point in television coverage of events abroad. Because of the hostility to foreign journalists, battles are being fought of which only vague reports and rumours reach the outside world. The only way the vacuum of information can be filled is by using local cameramen on a full-time basis.
And from Baghdad further posts since February 20. I noted her most recent entries here.