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Spending time in the United States after a tour of Iraq can be a disorienting experience these days. Within hours of arriving here, as I can attest from a recent visit, one is confronted with an image of Iraq that is unrecognizable. It is created in several overlapping ways: through television footage showing the charred remains of vehicles used in suicide attacks, surrounded by wailing women in black and grim-looking men carrying coffins; by armchair strategists and political gurus predicting further doom or pontificating about how the war should have been fought in the first place; by authors of instant-history books making their rounds to dissect the various fundamental mistakes committed by the Bush administration; and by reporters, cocooned in hotels in Baghdad, explaining the carnage and chaos in the streets as signs of the country’s impending or undeclared civil war. Add to all this the days alleged scandal or revelation an outed CIA operative, a reportedly doctored intelligence report, a leaked pessimistic assessment and it is no wonder the American public registers disillusion with Iraq and everyone who embroiled the U.S. in its troubles.


It would be hard indeed for the average interested citizen to find out on his own just how grossly this image distorts the realities of present-day Iraq. Part of the problem, faced by even the most well-meaning news organizations, is the difficulty of covering so large and complex a subject; naturally, in such circumstances, sensational items rise to the top. But even ostensibly more objective efforts, like the Brookings Institutions much-cited Iraq Index with its constantly updated array of security, economic, and public-opinion indicators, tell us little about the actual feel of the country on the ground.


To make matters worse, many of the newsmen, pundits, and commentators on whom American viewers and readers rely to describe the situation have been contaminated by the increasing bitterness of American politics. Clearly there are those in the media and the think tanks who wish the Iraq enterprise to end in tragedy, as a just comeuppance for George W. Bush. Others, prompted by noble sentiment, so abhor the idea of war that they would banish it from human discourse before admitting that, in some circumstances, military power can be used in support of a good cause. But whatever the reason, the half-truths and outright misinformation that now function as conventional wisdom have gravely disserved the American people.


For someone like myself who has spent considerable time in Iraq a country I first visited in 1968current reality there is, nevertheless, very different from this conventional wisdom, and so are the prospects for Iraq’s future. It helps to know where to look, what sources to trust, and how to evaluate the present moment against the background of Iraqi and Middle Eastern history.


Since my first encounter with Iraq almost 40 years ago, I have relied on several broad measures of social and economic health to assess the country’s condition. Through good times and bad, these signs have proved remarkably accurate as accurate, that is, as is possible in human affairs. For some time now, all have been pointing in an unequivocally positive direction.


The first sign is refugees. When things have been truly desperate in Iraq in 1959, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1980, 1988, and 1990long queues of Iraqis have formed at the Turkish and Iranian frontiers, hoping to escape. In 1973, for example, when Saddam Hussein decided to expel all those whose ancestors had not been Ottoman citizens before Iraq’s creation as a state, some 1.2 million Iraqis left their homes in the space of just six weeks. This was not the temporary exile of a small group of middle-class professionals and intellectuals, which is a common enough phenomenon in most Arab countries. Rather, it was a departure en masse, affecting people both in small villages and in big cities, and it was a scene regularly repeated under Saddam Hussein.


Since the toppling of Saddam in 2003, this is one highly damaging image we have not seen on our television sets and we can be sure that we would be seeing it if it were there to be shown. To the contrary, Iraqis, far from fleeing, have been returning home. By the end of 2005, in the most conservative estimate, the number of returnees topped the 1.2-million mark. Many of the camps set up for fleeing Iraqis in Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia since 1959 have now closed down. The oldest such center, at Ashrafiayh in southwest Iran, was formally shut when its last Iraqi guests returned home in 2004.


A second dependable sign likewise concerns human movement, but of a different kind. This is the flow of religious pilgrims to the Shiite shrines in Karbala and Najaf. Whenever things start to go badly in Iraq, this stream is reduced to a trickle and then it dries up completely. From 1991 (when Saddam Hussein massacred Shiites involved in a revolt against him) to 2003, there were scarcely any pilgrims to these cities. Since Saddams fall, they have been flooded with visitors. In 2005, the holy sites received an estimated 12 million pilgrims, making them the most visited spots in the entire Muslim world, ahead of both Mecca and Medina.


Over 3,000 Iraqi clerics have also returned from exile, and Shiite seminaries, which just a few years ago held no more than a few dozen pupils, now boast over 15,000 from 40 different countries. This is because Najaf, the oldest center of Shiite scholarship, is once again able to offer an alternative to Qom, the Iranian holy city where a radical and highly politicized version of Shiism is taught. Those wishing to pursue the study of more traditional and quietist forms of Shiism now go to Iraq where, unlike in Iran, the seminaries are not controlled by the government and its secret police.


A third sign, this one of the hard economic variety, is the value of the Iraqi dinar, especially as compared with the regions other major currencies. In the final years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, the Iraqi dinar was in free fall; after 1995, it was no longer even traded in Iran and Kuwait. By contrast, the new dinar, introduced early in 2004, is doing well against both the Kuwaiti dinar and the Iranian rial, having risen by 17 percent against the former and by 23 percent against the latter. Although it is still impossible to fix its value against a basket of international currencies, the new Iraqi dinar has done well against the U.S. dollar, increasing in value by almost 18 percent between August 2004 and August 2005. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis, and millions of Iranians and Kuwaitis, now treat it as a safe and solid medium of exchange.


My fourth time-tested sign is the level of activity by small and medium-sized businesses. In the past, whenever things have gone downhill in Iraq, large numbers of such enterprises have simply closed down, with the country’s most capable entrepreneurs decamping to Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states, Turkey, Iran, and even Europe and North America. Since liberation, however, Iraq has witnessed a private-sector boom, especially among small and medium-sized businesses.


According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, as well as numerous private studies, the Iraqi economy has been doing better than any other in the region. The country’s gross domestic product rose to almost $90 billion in 2004 (the latest year for which figures are available), more than double the output for 2003, and its real growth rate, as estimated by the IMF, was 52.3 per cent. In that same period, exports increased by more than $3 billion, while the inflation rate fell to 25.4 percent, down from 70 percent in 2002. The unemployment rate was halved, from 60 percent to 30 percent.


Related to this is the level of agricultural activity. Between 1991 and 2003, the country’s farm sector experienced unprecedented decline, in the end leaving almost the entire nation dependent on rations distributed by the United Nations under Oil-for-Food. In the past two years, by contrast, Iraqi agriculture has undergone an equally unprecedented revival. Iraq now exports foodstuffs to neighboring countries, something that has not happened since the 1950s. Much of the upturn is due to smallholders who, shaking off the collectivist system imposed by the Baathist’s, have retaken control of land that was confiscated decades ago by the state.


Finally, one of the surest indices of the health of Iraqi society has always been its readiness to talk to the outside world. Iraqis are a verbalizing people; when they fall silent, life is incontrovertibly becoming hard for them. There have been times, indeed, when one could find scarcely a single Iraqi, whether in Iraq or abroad, prepared to express an opinion on anything remotely political. This is what Kanan Makiya meant when he described Saddam Hussein’s regime as a republic of fear.


Today, again by way of dramatic contrast, Iraqis are voluble to a fault. Talk radio, television talk-shows, and Internet blogs are all the rage, while heated debate is the order of the day in shops, tea-houses, bazaars, mosques, offices, and private homes. A catharsis is how Luay Abdulilah, the Iraqi short-story writer and diarist, describes it. This is one way of taking revenge against decades of deadly silence. Moreover, a vast network of independent media has emerged in Iraq, including over 100 privately-owned newspapers and magazines and more than two dozen radio and television stations. To anyone familiar with the state of the media in the Arab world, it is a truism that Iraq today is the place where freedom of expression is most effectively exercised.


That an experienced observer of Iraq with a sense of history can point to so many positive factors in the country’s present condition will not do much, of course, to sway the more determined critics of the U.S. intervention there. They might even agree that the images fed to the American public show only part of the picture, and that the news from Iraq is not uniformly bad. But the root of their opposition runs deeper, to political fundamentals.


Their critique can be summarized in the aphorism that democracy cannot be imposed by force. It is a view that can be found among the more sophisticated elements on the Left and, increasingly, among dissenters on the Right, from Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to the ex-neoconservative Francis Fukuyama. As Senator Hagel puts it, you cannot in my opinion just impose a democratic form of government on a country with no history and no culture and no tradition of democracy.


I would tend to agree. But is Iraq such a place? In point of fact, before the 1958 pro-Soviet military coup d’etat that established a leftist dictatorship, Iraq did have its modest but nevertheless significant share of democratic history, culture, and tradition. The country came into being through a popular referendum held in 1921. A constitutional monarchy modeled on the United Kingdom, it had a bicameral parliament, several political parties (including the Baath and the Communists), and periodic elections that led to changes of policy and government. At the time, Iraq also enjoyed the freest press in the Arab world, plus the widest space for debate and dissent in the Muslim Middle East.


To be sure, Baghdad in those days was no Westminster, and, as the 1958 coup proved, Iraqi democracy was fragile. But every serious student of contemporary Iraq knows that substantial segments of the population, from all ethnic and religious communities, had more than a taste of the modern worlds democratic aspirations. As evidence, one need only consult the immense literary and artistic production of Iraqis both before and after the 1958 coup. Under successor dictatorial regimes, it is true, the conviction took hold that democratic principles had no future in Iraq a conviction that was responsible in large part for driving almost five million Iraqis, a quarter of the population, into exile between 1958 and 2003, just as the opposite conviction is attracting so many of them and their children back to Iraq today.


A related argument used to condemn Iraq’s democratic prospects is that it is an artificial country, one that can be held together only by a dictator. But did any nation-state fall from the heavens wholly made? All are to some extent artificial creations, and the U.S. is preeminently so. The truth is that Iraq one of the 53 founding countries of the United Nations is older than a majority of that organizations current 198 member states. Within the Arab League, and setting aside Oman and Yemen, none of the 22 members is older. Two-thirds of the 122 countries regarded as democracies by Freedom House came into being after Iraq’s appearance on the map.


Critics of the democratic project in Iraq also claim that, because it is a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state, the country is doomed to despotism, civil war, or disintegration. But the same could be said of virtually all Middle Eastern states, most of which are neither multi-ethnic nor multi-confessional. More important, all Iraqis, regardless of their ethnic, linguistic, and sectarian differences, share a sense of national identityuruqa (Iraqi-ness) that has developed over the past eight decades. A unified, federal state may still come to grief in Iraq history is not written in advance but even should a divorce become inevitable at some point, a democratic Iraq would be in a better position to manage it.


What all of this demonstrates is that, contrary to received opinion, Operation Iraqi Freedom was not an attempt to impose democracy by force. Rather, it was an effort to use force to remove impediments to democratization, primarily by deposing a tyrant who had utterly suppressed a well-established aspect of the country’s identity. It may take years before we know for certain whether or not post-liberation Iraq has definitely chosen democracy. But one thing is certain: without the use of force to remove the Baathist regime, the people of Iraq would not have had the opportunity even to contemplate a democratic future.


Assessing the progress of that democratic project is no simple matter. But, by any reasonable standard, Iraqis have made extraordinary strides. In a series of municipal polls and two general elections in the past three years, up to 70 percent of eligible Iraqis have voted. This new orientation is supported by more than 60 political parties and organizations, the first genuinely free-trade unions in the Arab world, a growing number of professional associations acting independently of the state, and more than 400 nongovernmental organizations representing diverse segments of civil society. A new constitution, written by Iraqis representing the full spectrum of political, ethnic, and religious sensibilities was overwhelmingly approved by the electorate in a referendum last October.


Iraq’s new democratic reality is also reflected in the vocabulary of politics used at every level of society. Many new words accountability, transparency, pluralism, dissent have entered political discourse in Iraq for the first time. More remarkably, perhaps, all parties and personalities currently engaged in the democratic process have committed themselves to the principle that power should be sought, won, and lost only through free and fair elections.


These democratic achievements are especially impressive when set side by side with the declared aims of the enemies of the new Iraq, who have put up a determined fight against it. Since the country’s liberation, the jihadist’s and residual Baathist’s have killed an estimated 23,000 Iraqis, mostly civilians, in scores of random attacks and suicide operations. Indirectly, they have caused the death of thousands more, by sabotaging water and electricity services and by provoking sectarian revenge attacks.


But they have failed to translate their talent for mayhem and murder into political success. Their campaign has not succeeded in appreciably slowing down, let alone stopping, the country’s democratization. Indeed, at each step along the way, the jihadists and Baathists have seen their self-declared objectives thwarted.

After the invasion, they tried at first to prevent the formation of a Governing Council, the expression of Iraqs continued existence as a sovereign nation-state. They managed to murder several members of the council, including its president in 2003, but failed to prevent its formation or to keep it from performing its task in the interim period. The next aim of the insurgents was to stop municipal elections. Their message was simple: candidates and voters would be killed. But, once again, they failed: thousands of men and women came forward as candidates and more than 1.5 million Iraqis voted in the localities where elections were held.


The insurgency made similar threats in the lead-up to the first general election, and the result was the same. Despite killing 36 candidates and 148 voters, they failed to derail the balloting, in which the number of voters rose to more than 8 million. Nor could the insurgency prevent the writing of the new democratic constitution, despite a campaign of assassination against its drafters. The text was ready in time and was submitted to and approved by a referendum, exactly as planned. The number of voters rose yet again, to more than 9 million.


What of relations among the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds the focus of so much attention of late? For almost three years, the insurgency worked hard to keep the Arab Sunni community, which accounts for some 15 percent of the population, out of the political process. But that campaign collapsed when millions of Sunnis turned out to vote in the constitutional referendum and in the second general election, which saw almost 11 million Iraqis go to the polls. As I write, all political parties representing the Arab Sunni minority have joined the political process and have strong representation in the new parliament. With the convening of that parliament, and the nomination in April of a new prime minister and a three-man presidential council, the way is open for the formation of a broad-based government of national unity to lead Iraq over the next four years.


As for the insurgency’s effort to foment sectarian violence a strategy first launched in earnest toward the end of 2005 this too has run aground. The hope here was to provoke a full-scale war between the Arab Sunni minority and the Arab Shiites who account for some 60 percent of the population. The new strategy, like the ones previously tried, has certainly produced many deaths. But despite countless cases of sectarian killings by so-called militias, there is still no sign that the Shiites as a whole will acquiesce in the role assigned them by the insurgency and organize a concerted campaign of nationwide retaliation.


Finally, despite the impression created by relentlessly dire reporting in the West, the insurgency has proved unable to shut down essential government services. Hundreds of teachers and schoolchildren have been killed in incidents including the beheading of two teachers in their classrooms this April and horrific suicide attacks against school buses. But by September 2004, most schools across Iraq and virtually all universities were open and functioning. By September 2005, more than 8.5 million Iraqi children and young people were attending school or university an all-time record in the nations history.


A similar story applies to Iraq’s clinics and hospitals. Between October 2003 and January 2006, more than 80 medical doctors and over 400 nurses and medical auxiliaries were murdered by the insurgents. The jihadists also raided several hospitals, killing ordinary patients in their beds. But, once again, they failed in their objectives. By January 2006, all of Iraq’s 600 state-owned hospitals and clinics were in full operation, along with dozens of new ones set up by the private sector since liberation.


Another of the insurgency’s strategic goals was to bring the Iraqi oil industry to a halt and to disrupt the export of crude. Since July 2003, Iraq’s oil infrastructure has been the target of more than 3,000 attacks and attempts at sabotage. But once more the insurgency has failed to achieve its goals. Iraq has resumed its membership in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and has returned to world markets as a major oil exporter. According to projections, by the end of 2006 it will be producing its full OPEC quota of 2.8 million barrels a day.


The Baathist remnant and its jihadist allies resemble a gambler who wins a heap of chips at a roulette table only to discover that he cannot exchange them for real money at the front desk. The enemies of the new Iraq have succeeded in ruining the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis, but over the past three years they have advanced their overarching goals, such as they are, very little. Instead, they have been militarily contained and politically defeated again and again, and the beneficiary has been Iraqi democracy.


None of this means that the new Iraq is out of the woods. Far from it, Democratic success still requires a great deal of patience, determination, and luck. The U.S.-led coalition, its allies, and partners have achieved most of their major political objectives, but that achievement remains under threat and could be endangered if the U.S., for whatever reason, should decide to snatch a defeat from the jaws of victory.


The current mandate of the U.S.-led coalition runs out at the end of this year, and it is unlikely that Washington and its allies will want to maintain their military presence at current levels. In the past few months, more than half of the 103 bases used by the coalition have been transferred to the new Iraqi army. The best guess is that the number of U.S. and coalition troops could be cut from 140,000 to 25,000 or 30,000 by the end of 2007.


One might wonder why, if the military mission has been so successful, the U.S. still needs to maintain a military presence in Iraq for at least another two years. There are three reasons for this.


The first is to discourage Iraqs predatory neighbors, notably Iran and Syria, which might wish to pursue their own agendas against the new government in Baghdad. Iran has already revived some claims under the Treaties of Erzerum (1846), according to which Tehran would enjoy a droit de regard over Shiite shrines in Iraq. In Syria, some in that country’s ruling circles have invoked the possibility of annexing the area known as Jazirah, the so-called Sunni triangle, in the name of Arab unity. For its part, Turkey is making noises about the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which gave it a claim to the oilfields of northern Iraq. All of these pretensions need to be rebuffed.


The second reason for extending Americas military presence is political. The U.S. is acting as an arbiter among Iraq’s various ethnic and religious communities and political factions. It is, in a sense, a traffic cop, giving Iraqis a green or red light when and if needed. It is important that the U.S. continue performing this role for the first year or two of the newly elected parliament and government.


Finally, the U.S. and its allies have a key role to play in training and testing Iraq’s new army and police. Impressive success has already been achieved in that field. Nevertheless, the new Iraqi army needs at least another year or two before it will have developed adequate logistical capacities and learned to organize and conduct operations involving its various branches.


But will the U.S. stay the course? Many are betting against it. The Baathists and jihadists, their prior efforts to derail Iraqi democracy having come to naught, have now pinned their hopes on creating enough chaos and death to persuade Washington of the futility of its endeavors. In this, they have the tacit support not only of local Arab and Muslim despots rightly fearful of the democratic genie but of all those in the West whose own incessant theme has been the certainty of American failure. Among Bush-haters in the U.S., just as among anti-Americans around the world, predictions of civil war in Iraq, of spreading regional hostilities, and of a revived global terrorism are not about to cease any time soon.


But more sober observers should understand the real balance sheet in Iraq. Democracy is succeeding. Moreover, thanks to its success in Iraq, there are stirrings elsewhere in the region. Beyond the much-publicized electoral concessions wrung from authoritarian rulers in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, there is a new democratic discourse to be heard. Nationalism and pan-Arabism, yesterdays hollow rallying cries, have given way to a big idea of a very different kind. Debate and dissent are in the air where there was none before a development owing, in significant measure, to the U.S. campaign in Iraq and the brilliant if still checkered Iraqi response.


The stakes, in short, could not be higher. This is all the more reason to celebrate, to build on, and to consolidate what has already been accomplished. Instead of railing against the Bush administration, Americas elites would do better, and incidentally display greater self-respect, to direct their wrath where it properly belongs: at those violent and unrestrained enemies of democracy in Iraq who are, in truth, the enemies of democracy in America as well, and of everything America has ever stood for.


Is Iraq a quagmire, a disaster, a failure? Certainly not; none of the above. Of all the adjectives used by skeptics and critics to describe today’s Iraq, the only one that has a ring of truth is messy. Yes, the situation in Iraq today is messy. Births always are. Since when is that a reason to declare a baby unworthy of life?


AMIR TAHERI, formerly the executive editor of Kayhan, Irans largest daily newspaper, is the author of ten books and a frequent contributor to numerous publications in the Middle East and Europe. His work appears regularly in the New York Post.


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Guest Middle-Class Exodus Begins



As Death Stalks Iraq, Middle-Class Exodus Begins


Published: May 19, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 18 — Deaths run like water through the life of the Bahjat family. Four neighbors. A barber. Three grocers. Two men who ran a currency exchange shop.

“The main thing now is to just get out of Iraq,” said Assad Bahjat, with his wife, Eileen, and their two children, Elvis, left, and Andres. More Photos »

But when six armed men stormed into their sons' primary school this month, shot a guard dead, and left fliers ordering it to close, Assad Bahjat knew it was time to leave.


"The main thing now is to just get out of Iraq," said Mr. Bahjat, standing in a room heaped with suitcases and bedroom furniture in eastern Baghdad.


In the latest indication of the crushing hardships weighing on the lives of Iraqis, increasing portions of the middle class seem to be doing everything they can to leave the country. In the last 10 months, the state has issued new passports to 1.85 million Iraqis, 7 percent of the population and a quarter of the country's estimated middle class.


The school system offers another clue: Since 2004, the Ministry of Education has issued 39,554 letters permitting parents to take their children's academic records abroad. The number of such letters issued in 2005 was double that in 2004, according to the director of the ministry's examination department. Iraqi officials and international organizations put the number of Iraqis in Jordan at close to a million. Syrian cities also have growing Iraqi populations.


Since the bombing of a shrine in Samarra in February touched off a sectarian rampage, crime and killing have spread further through Iraqi society, paralyzing neighborhoods and smashing families. Now, on the brink of a new, permanent government, Iraqis are expressing the darkest view of their future in three years. "We're like sheep at a slaughter farm," said a businessman, who is arranging a move to Jordan. "We are just waiting for our time." The Samarra bombing produced a new kind of sectarian violence. Gangs of Shiites in Baghdad pulled Sunni Arabs out of houses and mosques and killed them in a spree that prompted retaliatory attacks and displaced 14,500 families in three months, according to the Ministry for Migration.


Most frightening, many middle-class Iraqis say, was how little the government did to stop the violence. That failure boded ominously for the future, leaving them feeling that the government was incapable of protecting them and more darkly, that perhaps it helped in the killing. Shiite-dominated government forces have been accused of carrying out sectarian killings.


"Now I am isolated," said Monkath Abdul Razzaq, a middle-class Sunni Arab, who decided to leave after the bombing. "I have no government. I have no protection from the government. Anyone can come to my house, take me, kill me and throw me in the trash."


Traces of the leaving are sprinkled throughout daily life. Mr. Abdul Razzaq, who will move his family to Syria next month, where he has already rented an apartment, said a fistfight broke out while he waited for five hours in a packed passport office to fill out applications for his two young sons. In Salheyah, a commercial district in central Baghdad, bus companies that specialize in Syria and Jordan say ticket sales have surged.


Karim al-Ani, the owner of one of the firms, Tiger Company, said a busy day last year used to be three buses, but in recent months it comes close to 10. "Before it was more tourists," he said. "Now we are taking everything, even furniture."


The impact can be seen in neighborhoods here. While much of the city bustles during daytime hours, the more war-torn areas, like in the south and in Ameriya, Ghazaliya, and Khadra in the west, are eerily empty at midday. On Mr. Bahjat's block in Dawra, only about 5 houses out of 40 remain occupied. Empty houses in the area are scrawled with the words "Omar Brigade," a Sunni group that kills Shiites.


Residents have been known to protest, at least on paper. In an act of helpless fury this winter, a large banner hung across a house in Dawra that read, "Do God and Islam agree that I should leave my house to live in a camp with my five children and wife?"


"Shadows," said Eileen Bahjat, Mr. Bahjat's wife, standing with her two sons and describing what is left in the neighborhood. "Shadows and killing."

In Dawra, one of the worst areas in all of Baghdad, public life has ground to a halt. Four teachers have been killed in the past 10 days in Mr. Bahjat's area alone, and the Ahmed al-Waily primary school where the Bahjat boys, ages 12 and 8, studied, may not be able to hold final exams because of the killings. And three teachers from the Batoul secondary school were shot in late April.

Inquiry Implies Civilian Deaths in Iraq Topped Initial Report (May 19, 2006) Trash is collected only sporadically. On April 3, insurgents shot seven garbage collectors to death near their truck, and their bodies lay in the area for eight hours before the authorities could collect them, said Naeem al-Kaabi, deputy mayor for municipal affairs in Baghdad. In all, 312 trash workers have been killed in Baghdad in the past six months.


"Sunnis, Shiites, Christians," said Mr. Bahjat, a Christian who this month moved his family to New Baghdad, an eastern suburb, to live with a relative, before leaving for Syria. "They just want to empty this place of all people."


"We must start from zero," he said. "Maybe under zero. But there is no other choice. Even with more time, the security will not improve."


It is more than just the killing that has sapped hope for the future. Iraqis have waited for five months for a permanent government, after voting in a national election in December, and though political leaders are on the brink of announcing it, some Iraqis say the amount of haggling it took to form it makes them skeptical that it will be able to solve bigger problems.


Abd al-Kareem al-Mahamedawy, a tribal sheik from Amara in southern Iraq who fought for years against Saddam Hussein, compared the process to "giving birth to a deformed child."

As if to underscore the point, a scene of sorrow unfolded just outside Mr. Mahamedawy's gate, where an extended family gathered, full of nervous movement, and absorbed the news of the strangling death of their 13-year-old boy by kidnappers. A woman brought her hands to her head in the timeworn motion of mourning.


Even with the resolve to leave, many departing Iraqis said they consider the move only temporary and hope to return if Iraq's fractious groups are united and stem the tide of the killings.


Cars and furniture are sold, but those who can afford it, like the Abdul Razzaq family, hang on to their properties. In Khadra in western Baghdad, Nesma Abdul Razzaq, Mr. Abdul Razzaq's wife, has spent the past months carefully wrapping their photographs, vases and furniture in cloth and packing them in boxes. She spoke of the sadness of the empty rooms and the pain of having to build a new life in a strange place.


"I have a rage inside myself," Mrs. Abdul Razzaq said by telephone, as her area, since last autumn, has become unsafe for a Western reporter to visit. "I feel desperate."


"I don't want to leave Iraq. But I have to for the kids. They have seen enough."


In a quiet block in Mansour, a wealthy neighborhood in central Baghdad, where stately, gated homes are lined with pruned hedges, the Kubba family spends most of its time indoors. They have hung onto their lifestyle: three of their children study violin, flute, and ballet in an arts school outside the neighborhood despite encroaching violence.


Last fall, a foul smell led neighbors to the bodies of seven family members in a house several doors down from the Kubbas. They had been robbed. Fehed Kubba, 15, went to buy bread last year and saw a crowd near the bakery that he assumed was watching a backgammon game. When he pushed in to look, he saw a man who had just been shot to death.


But it was the increasingly sectarian nature of the violence, deeply painful to Iraqis who are proud of their intermarried heritage, that tipped the scales as Falah Kubba and his wife, Samira, considered leaving with Fehed, Roula, 13, and Heya, 12.


"The past few months convinced us," said Mr. Kubba, a businessman whose wife is Sunni. "Now they are killing by ID's. The killing around Americans was something different, but the ID's, you can't move around on the streets."


"At the beginning we said, 'Let's wait, maybe it will be better tomorrow,' " Mr. Kubba said.


"Now I know it is time to go."


Mona Mahmoud, Sahar Nageeb and Qais Mizher contributed reporting for this article.

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Guest Iraqi Charities Plant Seed of Ci




Iraqi Charities Plant Seed of Civil Society




Published: May 23, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 22 — In the wave of lawlessness and frantic self-interest that has washed over this war-weary nation, small acts of pure altruism often go unnoticed.

Najat al-Saiedi, right, delivering clothing for children in the Shoala neighborhood in Baghdad. She founded a group called Bilad al Rafidain — or Mesopotamian — Orphan Relief. More Photos »

Like the tiny track suits and dresses that Najat al-Saiedi takes to children of displaced families in the dusty, desperate Shiite slum of Shoala. Or the shelter that Suad al-Khafaji gives to, among others, the five children she found living in a garage in northern Baghdad last year.


But the Iraqi government has been taking note of such good works, and now, more than three years after the American invasion, the outlines of a nascent civil society are taking shape.


Since 2003 the government has registered 5,000 private organizations, including charities, human rights groups, medical assistance agencies and literacy projects. Officials estimate that an additional 7,000 groups are working unofficially. The efforts show that even as violence and sectarian hatred tear Iraq's mixed cities apart, a growing number of Iraqis are trying to bring them together. "Iraqis were thirsty for such experiences," said Khadija Tuma, director of the office in the Ministry of Civil Society Affairs that now works with the private aid groups. "It was as if they already had it inside themselves."


The new charity groups offer bits of relief in the sea of poverty that swept Iraq during the economic embargo of the 1990's and has worsened with the pervasive lawlessness that followed the American invasion.


The burst of public-spiritedness comes after long decades of muzzled community life under Saddam Hussein, when drab Soviet-style committees for youth, women and industrialists were the only community groups permitted.


Mr. Hussein stamped out what had been a vibrant public life. Since the founding of Islam in the seventh century, charity has had a special place in its societies. As far back as the 19th century, religious leaders, descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, formed a network called Al Ashraf that was a link between people and the Ottoman-appointed governor of Baghdad.


The Iraqi Chamber of Commerce dates from the 1930's, and its volunteers plunged into Baghdad's poor areas to conduct literacy campaigns in the 1950's, around the time of the overthrow of the monarchy.


Today's groups have picked up that historic thread and offer hope in an increasingly poisonous sectarian landscape that Iraqis may still be able to hold their country together.


Ms. Saiedi is a pragmatic 35-year-old who has neither a husband nor a job. After the American invasion she tried to find work at a cellphone company, one of the few types of private businesses that pay well, but was told that it was not hiring women because the job required travel. Boredom was part of her motivation: the risk of kidnapping has confined many women to their homes, and she had long hours at home with nothing to do.


So, together with a group of her close friends and two of her sisters, Ms. Saiedi formed a charity group, Bilad al Rafidain (Mesopotamian) Orphan Relief.


Once a month she picks her way around mounds of trash in Shoala in dainty sandals, taking blankets, slippers and towels to children there. The members take donations from friends and co-workers, and even people who visit the government offices where several of them work, and regularly give assistance to 520 children.


In lovingly rendered notebooks of various colors, Ms. Saiedi hand-writes the names of family members and the days that donations were made.


"There are families of children where fathers were killed in explosions," said Ms. Saiedi, wearing a colorful green hijab on a recent day. "Now the state is busy. If I don't care about them, who will?"


Wassan al-Sharifi, 28, an office assistant for a government official, said she had joined the group because "I like the spirit of its members."


"In spite of this bad situation, they're willing to help people," she said.


One delivery early this month took Ms. Saiedi to Shoala, to the home of Dumoh Mizher, a 31-year old Shiite widow, one of the women who runs a family of 15 children left fatherless after Ms. Mizher's husband and two of his brothers were killed in the town of Abu Ghraib in 2005, when Sunni Arab insurgents broke into their small shop and shot all three point-blank.








Children spilled through the doorway of the spare cinder-block house whose empty windows looked out onto a small pen with a goat. Framed photographs of the three dead men were set high on the wall, not far from portraits of Shiite saints.

"Who is who?" Ms. Saiedi asked, trying to calm the children down as they buzzed around her.


"Zaineb, where is Zaineb?" she asked, holding up a small pink dress wrapped in plastic.


Not all groups are a force for good. Ms. Tuma estimated that nearly 10 percent of the registered groups were involved in guerrilla activities and other crime.


One was funneling aid to fighters in the volatile town of Falluja, she said, and the government shut it down. Another was running a ring that sold Iraqi children into slavery abroad. She reported that group to the prime minister.


Iraq's religion-based political parties also have a hand in supporting the charity groups. Ms. Khafaji, who founded Al Rahma (Mercy) Organization, her shelter for homeless women and children, in 2005, gets some of financing from an office of the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.


The need here is growing. The number of acutely malnourished children has more than doubled, to 9 percent in 2005 from 4 percent in 2002, according to a report based on figures from the Planning Ministry that was released this month.


Homelessness has spread since 2003 and accelerated with the rise of sectarian violence, with Iraqis even squatting in an old movie theater in central Baghdad, Ms. Khafaji said. The Ministry of Migration estimates that 1.1 million Iraqis have been displaced since 2003.


Ms. Khafaji, 49, a former shopping center manager, said she felt a personal connection to homeless Iraqis. In 1969, Mr. Hussein's government executed her father, and her family was forced from its property. She and her siblings were separated for their safety, and their belongings were sold off.


"This made me feel homeless," she said, sitting in a large room in a worn building in central Baghdad that houses about 20 women and children.


Ms. Khafaji even looks for jobs and husbands for the women. A shy 30-year-old who fled an unhappy home life in Kut recently found work through the shelter, bringing tea to guests in a government ministry. Several others have married men in Sadr City, a Shiite district of Baghdad.


A visit to the shelter offers a tour of some of the miseries of poverty here.


The five children from the garage, ages 3 to 10, who were racing through the large concrete rooms of the building one day this month, squealing happily, are an example.


Their mother was killed by their father's friend in a domestic fight after she refused to give him ice, according to an account the eldest daughter gave a shelter worker. Their father, a drug addict, later sold one of his kidneys to raise the money he needed so he could marry again, the worker said. Their father came to visit the children once, but has not returned, workers said.


In another case, a man came to the gate a month ago and tried to leave two children, a 1-year-old and an infant less than a month old. The shelter could not take them.


"So many victims," Ms. Khafaji said, raising her hands and opening her palms in a gesture of fatigue.

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Guest Armed Groups Propel Iraq Toward






Armed Groups Propel Iraq Toward Chaos




Published: May 24, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 23 — Even in a country beset by murder and death, the 16th Brigade represented a new frontier.

Articles in this series are examining the police and other security forces that are contributing to Iraq's instability.

The brigade, a 1,000-man force set up by Iraq's Ministry of Defense in early 2005, was charged with guarding a stretch of oil pipeline that ran through the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dawra. Heavily armed and lightly supervised, some members of the largely Sunni brigade transformed themselves into a death squad, cooperating with insurgents and executing government collaborators, Iraqi officials say.


"They were killing innocent people, anyone who was affiliated with the government," said Hassan Thuwaini, the director of the Iraqi Oil Ministry's protection force.


Forty-two members of the brigade were arrested in January, according to officials at the Ministry of the Interior and the police department in Dawra.


Since then, Iraqi officials say, individual gunmen have confessed to carrying out dozens of assassinations, including the killing of their own commander, Col. Mohsin Najdi, when he threatened to turn them in.


Some of the men assigned to guard the oil pipeline, the officials say, appear to have maintained links to the major Iraqi insurgent groups. For months, American and Iraqi officials have been trying to track down death squads singling out Sunnis that operated inside the Shiite-led Interior Ministry.


But the 16th Brigade was different. Unlike the others, the 16th Brigade was a Sunni outfit, accused of killing Shiites. And it was not, like the others, part of the Iraqi police or even the Interior Ministry. It was run by another Iraqi ministry altogether.


Such is the country that the new Iraqi leaders who took office Saturday are inheriting. The headlong, American-backed effort to arm tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and officers, coupled with a failure to curb a nearly equal number of militia gunmen, has created a galaxy of armed groups, each with its own loyalty and agenda, which are accelerating the country's slide into chaos.


Indeed, the 16th Brigade stands as a model for how freelance government violence has spread far beyond the ranks of the Shiite-backed police force and Interior Ministry to encompass other government ministries, private militias and people in the upper levels of the Shiite government.


Sometimes, the lines between one government force and another — and between the police and the militias — are so blurry that it is impossible to determine who the killers are.


"No one knows who is who right now," said Adil Abdul Mahdi, one of Iraq's vice presidents.


The armed groups operating across Iraq include not just the 145,000 officially sanctioned police officers and commandos who have come under scrutiny for widespread human rights violations. They also include thousands of armed guards and militia gunmen: some Shiite, some Sunni; some, like the 145,000-member Facilities Protection Service, operating with official backing; and some, like the Shiite-led Badr Brigade militia, conducting operations with the government's tacit approval, sometimes even wearing government uniforms.


Some of these armed groups, like the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi police, often carry out legitimate missions to combat crime and the insurgency. Others, like members of another Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, specialize in torture, murder, kidnapping and the settling of scores for political parties.


Reining in Iraq's official and unofficial armies is the most urgent task confronting Iraq's new leaders. In speeches and private conversations, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki says he intends to clamp down on the death squads operating within the Iraqi government, and to disarm the militias that provide the street muscle for Iraq's political parties.


That presages an enormous political battle, one that extends beyond the Interior Ministry's police officers and paramilitary soldiers.


A larger and possibly more decisive struggle looms to disarm myriad other armed groups, including the Shiite militias, most of them answerable to the Shiite political parties that dominate the new government.

Armed Groups Propel Iraq Toward Chaos

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Published: May 24, 2006

(Page 2 of 6)




The outcome of the struggle has far-reaching implications for Iraq's future, as Iraqi and American officials try to curb the abuses that threaten to push the country closer to a sectarian war without impeding the government's ability to fight the Sunni-led guerrilla insurgency.


Bayan Jabr, who until Saturday ran Iraq's Interior Ministry, has dismissed complaints about the ministry's forces.

"I think they have the evidence now as to who is doing most of the killing," said an American official in Baghdad who is not authorized to speak publicly. "It's a question of political will, the political will to do what needs to be done."


"I have just not seen it yet," the official said.


Tales of Uniformed Killers


Every week, mothers and wives from Baghdad's Sunni neighborhoods stream into the makeshift human rights office at the Iraqi Islam Party, bearing tales of torture, kidnapping and murder at the hands of government security forces.


Most of the tales unfold in a grimly similar way: a group of Iraqis wearing official uniforms showed up at the house of a Sunni family and took away a young man. The family found his body a few days later, tossed into a ditch or laid out at the city morgue.


"It's the Ministry of Interior," said Omar al-Jabouri, who runs the Islamic Party's human rights office. Some of Iraq's new leaders, including its Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, are calling for a wholesale purging of the Interior Ministry, saying there are "thousands" of corrupt and brutal officers who need to be fired if the government ever hopes to secure the trust of Iraq's Sunnis.


"You ask me who is doing these things," Mr. Hashemi said. "The police, the militias, the political parties — we don't know. But some of these people are criminals. In the Sunni areas, there is no confidence in them at all."


It is impossible to know just how many rogue units exist among the 145,000 police officers, commandos and other officers operating out of the ministry, most of them trained under American supervision.


That uncertainty lies at the heart of the political struggle that is now shaping up in Baghdad: Sunni and Shiite leaders disagree fundamentally on the nature and scope of the problem itself, which makes it harder to solve.


Leaders of the Shiite coalition, the largest partner in the new government, say the protests about the security forces, as well as their own militias, are being exaggerated for political effect. They say they plan to resist any wholesale transformation of the Interior Ministry.


Car bombings and suicide attacks have markedly dropped in Baghdad over the past several months, and the Shiite leaders say a large-scale purge of the Interior Ministry, or a rehiring of officers fired after the fall of Saddam Hussein, would probably revive the insurgency.


"A lot of noise comes from the fact that they are doing their jobs," Mr. Mahdi, the Shiite vice president, said of the Iraqi security forces. "We are in a war."


Indeed, to Iraq's main Shiite leaders, complaints about the Interior Ministry distract from the far larger problem of Sunni death squads, consisting of people whom they refer to as "taqfiris," the Arabic word that describes someone who hunts down apostates and violators of the faith. It has come to be a shorthand for insurgents who kill Shiites. In this formulation, the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry is merely doing to Sunni insurgents what Sunni insurgents have been doing to the Shiites since April 2003.


"The problem is the Saddamists and the taqfiris," said Abdul Aziz Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the main Shiite parties that controls the government. "These groups are committing genocide against the Shiite people."


Rogue Units Suspected


Bayan Jabr, who until Saturday served as interior minister, hears the complaints about his forces and dismisses them with a wave of the hand.


"It's only rumor," Mr. Jabr said with a smile.


With a quick laugh and a fondness for powder-blue leisure suits, Mr. Jabr hardly seems a diabolical figure. A businessman and former newspaper editor, he portrays himself as a humble man thrust into a distasteful job.


"I'm not interested in occupying this job for myself," Mr. Jabr said. "This job does not suit my nature. Anything related to trade or business would be much better."


It was Mr. Jabr who presided over the rapid growth of the Iraqi security forces, and he has been the target of much of the criticism from Sunni leaders. He is a senior member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which oversees its own militia, the Badr Brigade. He was once one of the brigade's commanders.



Upon taking the helm of the Interior Ministry last spring, he purged more than 170 employees who had been hired by the previous, more secular-minded Iraqi government. And he brought the first of thousands of Badr gunmen into the ranks of the police.


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Christoph Bangert/Polaris, for The New York Times

Iraq's new prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, center, said he intended to clamp down on the death squads operating within the Iraqi government and to disarm the private militias run by various political parties. But his efforts are likely to set off an enormous political battle.


The Sunnis accused Mr. Jabr of allowing the largely Shiite police force to run wild in Sunni neighborhoods. American officials thought that was an exaggerated view of Mr. Jabr; they described him as a well-intentioned man who lost control of his ministry. For example, they point out, hundreds and possibly thousands of gunmen from the Mahdi Army militia, a rival to Mr. Jabr's Badr Brigade and loyal to the renegade cleric Moktada al-Sadr, also joined the police forces across the country.


While acknowledging the well-publicized cases of murder and torture within the Interior Ministry, American officers say that most of the atrocities are being carried out by a small number of rogues inside the government, or by groups, like the militias, that are not under Iraqi government control.


"The size of the problem is basically within a couple of brigades," said a senior American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, citing the delicacy of the subject.


The official, who works closely with the Iraqi government, said he believed there was one group inside the Interior Ministry that was responsible for many of the atrocities: the 28th Battalion, whose official assignment is to provide security for the ministry itself.


The American official did not specify which atrocities he believed the battalion was responsible for. "We are very concerned about it," the official said. "They form the core of the death squads."


The official was reluctant to go into detail. American and Iraqi leaders agree that the subject of rogue elements operating inside the ministry is a delicate topic, particularly since they are trying to bring Sunni leaders into the government. Some declined to talk about the 28th Battalion, while others, like Mr. Jabr, said they had not heard of it.


In an interview in his Green Zone office before his new appointment as finance minister on Saturday, Mr. Jabr seemed eager to prove that he was in command of his ministry; at one point, he passed around a photo book containing the confessions of insurgents. They were all Sunnis.


According to Mr. Jabr, forces under the control of the Interior Ministry cover only about 25 percent of Baghdad; the Iraqi Army and American army cover the rest.


"Why are we just talking about MOI?" Mr. Jabr said. "The issue is fighting terrorists. We are just a small part of those who are battling them."


Indeed, the possibilities for government-sponsored violence are enormous: aside from the police and commandos in the Interior Ministry, approximately 117,000 soldiers are trained and equipped in the Iraqi Army. There are more than 50,000 private security guards, most of them armed, roaming the country. Another 145,000 men are assigned to protect Iraq's infrastructure.


Each of these units, Mr. Jabr said, could be infiltrated by insurgents or commit atrocities against Iraqi civilians, with few people in the senior levels of the government ever being aware.


"I am not responsible for these people," Mr. Jabr said of the other Iraqi forces. "You can imagine. This is out of my control. Out of control."


Mr. Jabr offered an example: two weeks ago, his men arrested a team of bodyguards protecting a person whom Mr. Jabr would describe only as a "very senior Iraqi official." The bodyguards, Mr. Jabr said, were using their government identification cards and official positions to run a kidnapping ring and death squad.


The senior Iraqi official, Mr. Jabr said, apparently did not know what his bodyguards were up to. "They said, 'We sent him home,' referring to their boss, 'and then we do our job.' "


Mr. Jabr said criminals and terrorists often impersonated police officers, wearing uniforms that can be bought at bazaars.


One woman, interviewed in the Baghdad neighborhood of Ur, said a group of eight men wearing Iraqi Army uniforms pulled into a side street near her home and parked their two cars, a black sport utility vehicle and white sedan, earlier this month. From the back of the S.U.V., the woman said, the men in army uniforms hauled out a blindfolded passenger, who appeared to be still alive, and moved him to the trunk of the sedan. Then the men shed their uniforms, tossed them into the vehicles and drove away.


The woman, whose name was not made public to protect her from possible retribution, said she never saw the men again.


"They were terrorists," the woman said. "It's such a terrible situation."


Ministries' 'Little Armies'

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Where Sunnis point to the Interior Ministry, Shiite leaders are indignant about the Facilities Protection Service, a 145,000-man force spread throughout 27 Iraqi ministries, each with its own agenda. The officers, Iraqi officials say, are at the disposal of each minister.

"Now, in every ministry, there are 7 to 15,000 men who carry weapons and official identification cards," said Mr. Hakim, the Shiite leader. "They are under the command of the ministries. Some of them have committed many crimes."


One of the largest forces is assigned to the Oil Ministry, which maintains 20,000 troops to protect refineries and other parts of the country's oil infrastructure.


According to the force's director, Mr. Thuwaini, the first 16,000-member paramilitary police force was cobbled together in a haphazard way by a British-based consulting firm that neither trained the men nor checked their backgrounds for criminal records or ties to Mr. Hussein's security services.


"The British company hired people randomly, without training — they were profiteers," said Mr. Thuwaini, a Shiite civil servant not affiliated with any of the major parties. He took over the oil protection force in July 2005. "That is what we are trying to survive now."


The Facilities Protection Service was first set up in 2003 with only 4,000 men to protect crucial parts of Iraqi utilities like power plants and oil refineries. As insurgents stepped up their attacks, and the Americans needed to free up their troops for combat, the service was rapidly expanded. From August 2004 to January 2005, the number of the service's men grew to 60,000 from 4,000.


The man who oversaw that expansion was B. J. Turner, a 64-year-old consultant from Florida. Mr. Turner said he was the lone American assigned to the effort for the first several months. Facilities Protection Service guards received just three days of training and half the pay of regular police officers. They had no power of arrest.


"We actually trained people at times, firing one to two rounds, "Mr. Turner said. "Because that's all the ammunition we had."


Once the ministries starting paying their salaries, Mr. Turner said, the individual F.P.S. units became "little armies," loyal to the ministers who paid them.


Last month, an inspector general assigned to check American programs in Iraq released an audit of the $147 million F.P.S. program. The report said the auditors were never able to determine basic facts like how many Iraqis were trained, how many weapons were purchased and where much of the equipment ended up.


Of 21,000 guards who were supposed to be trained to protect oil equipment, for example, probably only about 11,000 received the training, the report said. And of 9,792 automatic rifles purchased for those guards, auditors were able to track just 3,015.


The Americans exercise no oversight over the F.P.S., nor does any central authority in the Iraqi government.


Oil Pipelines at Risk


As much as Mr. Thuwaini despairs over the men under his command, he saved his fiercest criticism for the pipeline protection units run by the Ministry of Defense. One of those units was the 16th Brigade, which he and other Iraqi officials said was operating as a death squad in Dawra.


Mr. Thuwaini said there were at least three other such brigades operating in Iraq that were also similarly out of control: the 9th, 10th and 11th Brigades of the Ministry of Defense's pipeline protection forces. Those three groups, Mr. Thuwaini said, appear to be cooperating with insurgents, regularly allowing oil pipelines to be destroyed.


Maj. Gen. Mahdi al-Gharawai, a senior official at the Interior Ministry, said he had no specific information on the 9th, 10th or 11th Brigades. But he said the Iraqi units assigned to guard the oil pipelines were widely regarded as useless. "Most of these oil pipeline protection brigades are corrupt and have ties to the insurgents," General Gharawai said.


Among the responsibilities assigned to Mr. Thuwaini's men is the protection of the oil refinery in Dawra. That, Mr. Thuwaini said, was a good thing.


"If those guys guarded the refinery," he said of the Ministry of Defense pipeline units, "it would be sabotaged every day."

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Curbing the violence in Iraq, American officials say, means shutting down the private militias that roam the streets of most cities. That includes the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army, both allied to the Shiite-led government.

American and Iraqi officials say they believe that the Badr Brigade is responsible for killing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Baathists after the fall of Mr. Hussein. The militia was set up in the early 1980's and trained in Iran, where many Shiite leaders were forced into exile during Mr. Hussein's rule.


The Mahdi Army, an informal militia that emerged after the American invasion to support Mr. Sadr, has engaged in two armed uprisings against the Americans and the Iraqi governments they backed.


Shortly after invading Iraq, the Americans outlawed the militias, but, despite many pledges to do so, they never disarmed them.


Now Shiite politicians say they need the militias to protect themselves from the insurgency. When the Shiite-led coalition first took power last spring, Mr. Hakim, whose party controls the Badr Brigade, publicly announced that it would carry on.


These days, the Mahdi Army is the most fearsome of the Shiite militias: after the bombing of the Askariya Shrine in Samarra in February, the militia's black-suited gunmen poured into Baghdad's mixed neighborhoods and killed hundreds of Sunnis. Through most of those chaotic days, the American military and the Iraqi police did nothing to stop them.


Militiamen or Policemen?


But confronting the Shiite militias head-on is a delicate and difficult task.


The two — government security forces on one hand, private militias on the other — are often indistinguishable. Many of the militiamen-turned-policemen, wearing Iraqi uniforms and driving Iraqi vehicles, carry out operations at the behest of their old commanders, sometimes after work.


Take, for instance, the case of Saud Abdullah Obeid, a 47-year-old Sunni man who disappeared from his Baghdad home last fall. According to his family, Mr. Obeid was taken away by a group of men wearing Iraqi commando uniforms and driving trucks bearing Interior Ministry insignia.


Shortly after Mr. Obeid was taken, the family said, they were contacted by members of the Mahdi Army, who demanded a ransom for Mr. Obeid's release. Iraqi officials told the family that Mr. Obeid was being held at the Mustafa Husseiniya, a Mahdi Army stronghold near Sadr City.


Mr. Obeid's relatives said they borrowed $50,000 from friends and turned it over to a middleman to deliver to the Mahdi Army. Mr. Obeid never came home. Instead, his body turned up in the city morgue, burned with acid and shot twice in the mouth.


"I can tell you, this government is the Mahdi Army," said Abdullah Obeid, the surviving son. "The government did this."


Late last year, a senior American commander said, American soldiers captured Mahdi Army fighters dressed in Iraqi police uniforms, carting away prisoners in Iraqi police cars to be tried in front of one of the Mahdi Army's Shariah courts, which operate independently of the government and deliver a harsh brand of Islamic justice.


"There are extremist elements of Badr and of the Mahdi Army who are using their positions in the police to carry out operations against the Sunni population," said a senior American military officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.


A Test of Political Will


Mr. Maliki, the new Iraqi prime minister, has taken the first small steps to control the militias. This month, the government decided to combine the different branches of the security forces in Baghdad to bring them under tighter control and curb the sectarian violence.


The key to Mr. Maliki's plan is a single uniform and a single identification card which, Iraqi leaders say, will allow them to spot private militiamen and rogue officers within the security forces.


Mr. Maliki also traveled to Najaf, the Shiite holy city, to persuade Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shiite religious leader, to deliver a religious pronouncement against militias.


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"Weapons should be carried only by government forces," Ayatollah Sistani said in his pronouncement. For all of his moral authority, though, it seems unlikely that the militias would disband merely at his command.

Mr. Maliki said he wanted to enforce a militia-demobilization law enacted by L. Paul Bremer III, who ran the Coalition Provisional Authority that ruled Iraq until June 2004.


But neither he nor subsequent Iraqi governments carried it out. The Bremer plan calls for militia fighters to be dispersed across the security forces so that their old units and chains of command are broken up.


In January, American military commanders said they would deploy more than 2,000 military personnel to work directly with Iraqi officers on the job, a four-fold increase.


Disbanding the militias means confronting the parties that control them, and the parties control the government. The Supreme Council, which controls the Badr Brigade, has 30 seats in the new Parliament; Mr. Sadr, who controls the Mahdi Army, has 31 seats.


Both parties appear to be reluctant to disband their forces, if only because of the inability of the government to guarantee their safety.


"We don't think the problem in Iraq is militias," Mr. Mahdi, the vice president, said. "People have to defend themselves."


In the end, whether the Iraqi government and their American backers are able to rein in the security forces will probably depend, more than anything, on political will. On that point, the Iraqis and the Americans appear to diverge.


Some American commanders say that a confrontation with Mr. Sadr and his militia is probably inevitable. Very few Iraqi leaders publicly agree.


Yet the dilemma for the Americans and the Iraqis seems clear enough. Without confronting Mr. Sadr, there seems to be little prospect of cleaning up the police force or the Mahdi Army. But, having faced two armed uprisings by Mr. Sadr in the past, the Americans hardly seem eager to incur the political fallout that another uprising would bring.


For their part, the Americans, privately at least, are hoping the Iraqis will take the lead. But they are not holding their breath.


"They need to begin by setting examples," an American official in Baghdad said of the Iraqi government. "It is just very noticeable to me that they are not making any examples."


"None," the official said. "Zero."

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Read and thanks the american angels for liberating Iraq. Don't be misled by the idiotic fanatic arabs' and muslims' arguement which suggests that the time now is worst than Saddam's time.


You can criticise the current terrible situation in Iraq but what you cannot say is that it is worst than before. The regaining of our humanity had its cost and this cost may seem higher than expected but then anxiety always makes us to expect more of the terrible things to happen and less of the good things to happen. We need to measure the situation not by using one tool as some people doing now, assessing the situation by one dimensional measure is always dangerous; our measure must embody a vision of the possible future...not the near one but the far one. Read now please:





The culture of a nation embodies institutions, values and norms of

behavior that are rooted in its history and collective memory. For the

Iraqis, that history is long and proud, extending back to the glory days

of Babylon, one of the great civilizations of the ancient world –

extending back even further, at least well into the third millennium B.C.


Iraqis often remind the world that their country is the "cradle of

civilization." Within its present borders lay the ancient southern

Mesopotamian city of Ur – birthplace of Abraham, and the even older Sumerian

walled City of Uruk. On the land that was to become Iraq, the great

Babylonian King Hammurabi constructed the obelisk which bears the earliest

written legal code yet discovered; on this land archeologists have

uncovered libraries of cuneiform tablets bearing, in Sumerian and Akkadian

languages, the earliest written epic yet discovered –the epic of

Gilgamesh. The culture of today's Iraqis – descendents of Sumerians,

Babylonians, Assyrians, Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Persian and Armenians – is a

fabric woven of many threads.



Cultural Life Under the Saddam Regime


Under the Saddam regime culture was bureaucratized: all expressions of

human creativity not in conformity with the totalitarian and capricious

nature of the regime were suppressed, and the proponents of alternative

views often paid the ultimate price for their "deviation." Cultural

endeavors were overseen by a few Ba'th Party loyalists who decided what

was suitable for publication and dissemination and what was to be

ignored or sequestered. In the words of Sayyar al-Jamil, writing in the

Iraqi liberal daily al-Zaman, the centralization of, and the control over,

cultural life, had "produced chauvinistic enclosure and official,

parrot-like dogmatic culture cast in molds prepared in advance in accordance

with pre-ordained specifications." As a result, Iraqi intellectuals,

writers and artists found themselves marginalized and distanced from the

social order and the cultural endeavor for 40 years. (3)


In the process, the Iraqi masses were on the receiving end of "meager

portions of defunct culture, fabricated propaganda, fiery

hero-worshiping poems, fancy carnivals and political gatherings in the service of the

dictates of the president and the political party."(4)


The 12-year sanctions on Iraq, following the invasion of Kuwait, have

also contributed their share to the decline of the cultural life in

Iraq. Writing in 2001 about the "The Cultural Scene in Iraq... Against the

Siege" writer Nada Omran pointed out that the Iraqi man of letters was

facing more than the struggle for survival. There was shortage of

printing facilities coupled with sharp shortage in paper and printing

material; for example, Iraq used to import 100,000 tons of paper per year,

ultimately reduced to 10,000 tons per year, beginning August 1990. Many

Iraqi writers, journalists, and artists were either unable or not

allowed to travel to attend conferences or because other countries did not

grant them entry visas. The cultural enrichment generated by encounters

with other writers and artists outside Iraq had been limited to the few

whose loyalty to the regime was not in doubt.


When Saddam's harsh measures against authors, poets, artists and the

intelligentsia in general were combined with the consequences of the UN

sanctions, the result was cultural atrophy.



The Post-Saddam Cultural Revival


The fall of the Saddam regime in April 2003 has brought with it

unprecedented cultural vitality, despite an environment affected by constant

acts of violence and terrorism, often directed against those who want to

lead Iraq out of the dark tunnel of the past. Indeed, and ironically,

it is partially the chaotic climate associated with weak or absent state

institutions that has permitted the unprecedented freedom of cultural

and artistic creativity. Although many writers, thinkers, novelists,

artists and intellectuals fled or were forced into exile during the

Saddam regime, many remained. Now, after years of being kept silent, the

varied political, nationalist, and ethnic groups, are able, finally, to

express themselves without restrictions or censorship but, regrettably,

not entirely without fear.


Today, Christian writer Yohanna Daniel says: "We are at a new stage

loaded, at least in theory, with good intentions and liberalizing and

humane ideas." For despite the violence and the lack of security, "the

cultural class" has flung open its doors to those who were, in the past,

forbidden or afraid to enter. Without exaggeration, Daniel says, Iraq

occupies a position second only to venerable Egypt in terms of the

number of newspapers, journals, magazines, radio and TV stations, both

public and private – and, in fact, Iraq is freer than Egypt in many

respects. (5)



Predominance of Poetry


Historically in Iraq, poetry has always had predominance over

playwriting and other forms of literature. It is a legacy of a tribal tradition

which favored the spontaneity and improvisation of the poet reciting

his poetry in public, often in praise of the ruler, as the highest form

of artistic achievement.


Under the Saddam regime as well there were court poets who were paid

generously to sing the praise of the leader who provided the central

themes for nationalist and personal glorification. Thus the Iran-Iraq war

was called al-Qadisiya – more often Qadisiyat Saddam – referring to the

battle in which the Muslim Arabs defeated the Persian Sassanid Empire.

The term um al-ma'rik (the mother of all wars) was employed to

designate Saddam's army's heroic stand against the so-called 30-country

coalition which expelled him from Kuwait. It was around these central themes

that poetry on demand was woven to perpetuate the myth of Saddam's epic

battles, and his regime employed the stratagem common to many

totalitarian regimes of turning stories of aggression and defeat into epics of

great proportions. On the other hand, though, some other, less official,

forms of poetry continued to be composed under the Saddam regime, as

poetry could use images that escaped the sharp eye of the censor


It is of course true that even in post-Saddam culture of freedom and

openness, many of the magazines, professional journals and daily

newspapers cannot possibly sustain themselves through subscriptions,

advertising in a moribund economy, or the revenue generated by the sale of their

products. It is only reasonable to assume that the funding of much of

this publication activity is coming perhaps from across the border or

through subsidies by the Ministry of Culture or other government

agencies. Nevertheless, the Iraqi cultural life is going through a period of

renewal and rejuvenation, often constrained, however, by fear of violence

or retribution.



I. Cultural Periodicals


When one surveys the cultural landscape in the post-Saddam era one is

struck by the diversity, quality, cultural scope, and analytical rigor

of the many periodicals born since the regime's demise. In a recent

dispatch, "Magazines Iraqis Read,"(6) MEMRI introduced its readers to some

of the periodicals that have proliferated during the past three years.

The present special report will look at the broader cultural and

artistic landscape. This survey is by no means all-inclusive but it is

intended to provide the reader with some understanding of aspects of Iraqi

life that may not be readily accessible to the Western reader in general,

and the American reader in particular. It will offer a flavor also of

what had been missing under a despotic regime which characterized

freedom of expression and artistic freedom as pernicious if not as high






The Mesopotamia periodical published by the Center for Iraqi National

Studies is devoted to reviving and promoting Iraqi identity and culture.

The editor is the playwright and novelist Salim Matar.


The most recent issue (no date provided) comprises issues Nos. 8 and 9

and is devoted to religion in Iraq, starting from the ancient Iraqi

religions and discussing Shi'ite Islam, Sunni Islam, Sufism and

Christianity, and ending with the religions of Sabeans, Yazidis, and Jews. The

last chapter of the issue discusses such topics as "Religious Tolerance

in the Iraqi Mind," "Religious Tolerance is a Humanist Demand," and "The

Dialogue between Creeds and Religions." There are 63 articles in this



An earlier issue of Mesopotamia – issue No. 2 – is devoted to the women

of Iraq. The issue's editorial states, "There can be no doubt that

Mesopotamian civilization would not have attained its historical

distinction and left its fingerprints without the celestial presence of woman

illuminating the skies of our history and our land."(7)



Al-Thaqafa al-Jadida (the New Culture)


This journal, first issued in 1953 (however, it is not clear whether it

has been published since then regularly) addresses a broad range of

topics – political, cultural, and economic. In the October 2005 issue,

there are articles dealing with oil wealth as well as with oil theft,

which is extensive and reported to be associated with Shi'ite militias in

the south which, in turn, have ties to Iran.(8) There are also items on

investment, business insurance, and views about the constitution and

citizenship. The journal includes a comprehensive article about tribalism

in Iraq by Fakher Jassim. In his introduction, Jassim writes:

The tribal phenomenon has occupied a large space in the Iraqi political

thought both in terms of government and in terms of opposition so much

so that no element of the political system is free of a tribal

dimension whether positive or negative...The placing of the tribal

consideration at the front of the public campaign in the current difficult

circumstances leads to destructive results.


Jassim maintains that tribalization distorts the political actions.(9)



Al-Yanbou' (The Fountainhead)


Al-Yanbou' is a literary journal is issued in Erbil, Kurdistan. Sunoor

Anwar's editorial, "Between Dialogue and Concessions," invokes the

words of Iraq's best known historian and sociologist, the late Dr. Ali

al-Wardi, that the domination of the idealistic or the poetic mentality on

the minds of many of Iraq's educated class serves as a veil that

prevents them from seeing things in a sound and rational manner that would

otherwise bring a modicum of realism into their thinking and prevent them

from falling into a simplistic mode of thinking of everything as

positive and negative.


On the front page of the journal is an anonymous poem titled "Where

Shall I Write your Name????" which may reflect the poet's longing for

stability. The poet is powerful and deserves to be translated in full:


"Where Shall I Write your Name????"


I wrote the letters of your name in the sand, and they were washed away

by the rain.


And I wrote them on the roads, and they were wiped away by feet.


And I wrote them in the air, and they were blown away by the wind.


And then I wrote them on people's faces, and they were lost to me.


I wrote them as tunes, and they flew away from me.


And again I wrote them in days, but the years erased them.


Shall I write it in the depths so it shall continue to pulse through

the veins?


I wonder: Where shall I write your name??



The issue also carries an Arabic translation of Canadian singer Celine

Dion's song "The Prayer." (10)



Gilgamesh (English)


Gilgamesh is quarterly containing articles translated from Arabic into

English. It is published by the respected Dar al-Ma'moun publishing

house in Baghdad and is edited by the Iraqi poet and writer Suhail Najm.

The main article is written by the Iraqi anthropologist Hamid

al-Hashemi, and it is about the late Iraq sociologist and historian Ali Al-Wardi.


The editorial is devoted to democracy and its victims in Iraq. It says

that the Iraqis have determined to march in the path of democracy

despite the many obstacles and despite much of the spilt blood because it is

the only path to a civilized life.


The issue includes more than 10 articles on poetry, prose and art. One

article researches the name of "Baghdad" in ancient languages; there is

a short play by Sabah al-Anbary and a review of a book by Iraqi

scientist Hussein al-Shahristani, "The Escape to Freedom." Dr. Shahristani has

recently joined the new Iraqi cabinet as Minister of Oil. (11)

According to Paul Bremer, Shahristani, a nuclear physicist who was trained in

England and Canada, was imprisoned by Saddam "for 11 years for refusing

to cooperate in the Baathists' secret nuclear weapons program."(12)



Al-Jandool Journal


The two most recent issues of al-Jandool available on the Internet are

those of August and November 2004. This journal is issued in the

Governorate of Qadisiya [south central Iraq] as a cultural/intellectual

journal with an impressive list of members on the advisory board. In the

August issue Hamid al-Hashemi analyzes "The Question of Violence in the

Iraqi Personality." Drawing upon the work of the distinguished Iraqi

sociologist Ali al-Wardi,(13) al-Hashemi suggests that "the tribal concepts

and values rooted in common Bedouin [traditions] have had considerable

influence... on the Iraqi personality in particular and the Arab

personality in general."


The article presents Al-Wardi's theory that the Bedouin culture is

characterized by three elements: (a) tribalism, (B) raiding, and ©

chivalry. Each of these elements is defined by the concept of "al-taghalub"

or predominance. The Bedouin individual seeks to win over or

predominate others by the force of his tribe, his personal strength and his sense

of superiority.


Because of a lack of rules to protect him or adjudicate his conflicts

with others, the Bedouin resorts to the use of force to avenge

transgressions against him. The author refers to political demonstrations

against the occupation forces in Iraq in which the demonstrators fire weapons

in the air as if they were going to participate in a battle.


These values coincided with the militarization of the Iraqi society

which has left "a heritage of means and culture of subordinating by force"

those social and political elements which are perceived by the rulers

as a threat to themselves Interestingly, the first recorded compulsory

recruitment to an army was under the Babylon King Hammurabi (1792-1750

B.C.E.) and the first military coup in the Middle East was in Iraq in



One of the most important tasks of the Iraqi intelligentsia envisioned

by the author is to spread the culture of tolerance and the supremacy

of law, and renounce violence in all its forms. Above all, it will be

important for the country to learn to substitute peaceful disagreements

for armed confrontations by such means as the ballot box and the

development of political parties and trade unions.(14) While the author does

not touch upon it, it is obvious that such parties and unions ought to

be open, democratic and, above all, competitive.



Hala (Welcome)


The first issue of Hala, an elegant and full-color journal, was

published in Baghdad. It describes itself as a monthly journal concerned with

unique characteristics of Iraqi culture. In her editorial, Iraqi

playwright Lutfia al-Duleimi writes that the journal is one step in many for

a national Iraqi cultural enterprise directed at confirming the

characteristics and uniqueness of the multi-faceted culture and space that is

"Iraqi in the geography of spirit and the geography of earth, water,

mountain and desert."


The editorial secretary and fiction writer Hassan Karim 'Aati writes

about Babylonian clay tablets dated 1000 B.C.E. that deal with the

eternal relationship between the master and slave, the ruler and the ruled,

between the authority and the individual and between the meaning and its

interpretation in the memory of the repressed.


The short story writer Dr. Loui Hamza writes about the "fence" which is

meant as an allegory of man's struggle with nature and with the

phenomena of existence, death, and life's ebb and flow as if to say that man

created fences to limit the size of the world around him at a time when

the question of size was subject to endless speculations.(15)



Al-Naba (News)


This journal, issued by the Shi'ite News Agency, is devoted to a

critical analysis of Arab and Western thought and the search for non-violence

and moderation. In an editorial titled "The Iraqi Culture and the

Horizons of Diversity," in issue No. 77, June 2005, editor Saleh Zamel

argues that the silence of the educated and the escape of others during the

Ba'th regime actively contributed to the creation of the dictator. He

condemns the educated person who "embellished the tragedy and polished

the picture of the dictator."


In the same issue, Sadeq Jawad Suleiman has written an article titled

"From Current Extremism to Future Moderation," urging the shift from

extremism to the middle road, from excessiveness to moderation, and from

fanaticism to forgiveness." An article by Dr. Ahmad Rasem al-Nafis,

titled "The fabrication of fact on our fabricated-upon history," discusses

extremist television preacher Sheikh al-Qaradhawi as an extreme example

of distortion of the truth.



Afkar (Thoughts)


This is an electronic magazine with a liberal bent. Its May 2006 issue

carries an article by Abd al-Khaliq Hussein, a retired Iraqi physician

and a prolific liberal writer who resides in England. In this article,

titled "The Silence of the Educated [intellectual] is a crime," Dr.

Hussein writes:


Arab liberals are engaged in a ferocious intellectual battle against

backwardness, deception, salafi tide, and the tyranny of political Islam.

In the course of their struggle they [Arab liberals] face harassment,

siege, banishment, and even physical liquidation by Islamist forces

[acting] together with the despotic governments...Despotic Arab governments

are responsible for the spread of extremist Islam.


Dr. Hussein compares those Arab governments that seek to undermine the

nascent Iraqi democracy to the case of a seagoing ship with 100 sailors

aboard, 99 of whom belong to one tribe and the hundredth belonging to a

hostile tribe. The 99 sailors pray to Allah for the sinking of the ship

so that the sailor from the hostile tribe will perish.(16)



Al-Adeeb Al-Iraqi (The Iraqi Man of Letters)


This journal is published by the General Federation of Iraqi Writers

and is dedicated to the exploration of modern literature. The journal

covers a variety of topics from plays to contemporary forms of prose and

poetry. The issue carries an interesting article about how movie

director Alfred Hitchcock viewed America.(17)



Ulum Insaniya (Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences)


This journal is bi-lingual. It publishes articles in all areas of

humanities and social sciences in both Arabic and English. In the issue No.

28 (May 2006), there are four sections in Arabic and one in English.

The Arabic sections are (a) History and Politics; (B) Economy and

Business; © Social Sciences; and (d) Language and Culture. Articles

published include D. Ismail al-Rubai' on "The Role of the Arab Intelligentsia

Regarding the Ottoman Coup 1908-1914," D. Ahmad Abd Al-Fattah al-Zaki,"

Electronic Teaching – An Urgent Necessity in the Age of Technology of

Informatics and Communications," and D. Jamal Hadhri, "The Genealogy of

Names in the Arabic Language."(18)



Al-Khashaba (the Stage)


This journal focuses on issues related to the theatre. In the first

issue of the magazine, May 16, 2006, an editorial bemoans the "tragic"

conditions which prevent Iraq's cinema, theatre, and TV actors from

finding work in their field and force them to spend their time under the heat

of the sun searching for employment to meet the basic needs of their



The editorial eulogizes a well-known Iraqi theater star, Ja'far

al-Sa'di, who passed away recently. Al-Sa'di "lived during the theater's

flowering and during its destruction. He was among the first of those who

retired under the previous regime in order not to lose the gratification

of the theater in their souls or be forced to bargain over their

culture and their art."(19)





This monthly, edited by Maysaloon al-Damloojy, is issued by the Iraqi

Independent Women Assembly. "Noon," the Arabic letter equivalent to "N,"

is the first letter of the word "Nisaa" or "Women." Issue No. 12,

published in February 2006, focuses primarily on the difficult status of

women in Iraq and the ways to improve it. It also includes interviews with

mothers who have lost their children in Saddam's war or to current

violence and terrorism.(20)



Munathamat Bint al-Rafidayn


Another women's magazine is munathamat bint al-rafidayn [the

Organization of the Daughter of Mesopotamia] whose mission is to give the women

the opportunity to express themselves "without pressures or

restrictions." It also seeks to encourage the participation of women in the social,

cultural and political domains in keeping with the drive toward

democratic transformation in a free civil society." Among the organization's

recent activities:

* The 9th course to support the democratic awareness of the Iraqi woman

* A training course for observing the media intended for media


* Various courses on the family laws in the context of democracy

* The publication of a pamphlet on "bint al-rafidayn"

* Training courses on the computer and the internet(21)

The pamphlet "bint al-rafidayn" covers a wide range of topics such as

mental health, the village woman, the civil society, and the family




Qadhaya Islamiyya Mu'assira (Contemporary Islamic Issues)


The double issue of the journal No. 31-32 (Winter-Spring, 2006) of

Contemporary Islamic Issues was published by the Center for the Studies of

the Philosophy of Religion in Baghdad. The central theme of the issue

is "living together in an environment of diversity and difference" and

fusing religious and cultural multiplicity. The recurrent theme in the

journal is the requirement of a Muslim society to adjust to a changing

world. A couple of quotations will illustrate the point. In one

instance, the journal writes that


We live in a time in which choice and selection have replaced the

surrender to fate. In the old days, one chose to follow fate, meaning

accepting that which has been preordained and living by it. However, the

fatalist outlook has surrendered today to an outlook of choice. The

development of science and human knowledge, and the advent of technology have

combined to open before the human being, and at all levels, new

horizons in his life.... The societies open before themselves new horizons

continuously and no one knows where this course [of development] will



Dr. Abdallah Ibrahim, a professor at the University of Baghdad, is

quoted as saying:


Religious diversity requires secularization: secularization of

religion, and subjecting the religious phenomenon to historical and critical

research. This cannot be accomplished except by separating the original

religious text from its subsequent interpretations, and subjecting these

interpretations to profound critique to determine to what extent they

are consistent with the times in which they were made, because the

interpretations oblige their people only [at those] times but they do not

bind us at all... [by doing this] we will liberate the religion from the

obstacles that prevent it from reaching us.(23)


Finally, the journal offers a comparison between Western modernity and

the failure of the Muslim society to attain it:

... Western modernity has accomplished much of its social, political,

economic and cultural promise... There is no doubt about its

achievements in such areas as technological development [and] human rights... The

Islamic societies have not reached even the [stage of] labor pains of

modernity... because they have not accumulated rational-critical

knowledge that would enable them to... change the traditional structures in

society and in their thinking. They continue to be dominated by

despotic-paternalistic norms built on obedience and submission and governed by

sectarian, class, gender, and religious order.(24)


Amidst rising anti-secular culture in Iraq, the call for secularization

has deep roots in the relatively secular tradition of Iraqi

multi-ethnic society. For instance, an article published in the daily al-badeal

al-demoqrati [The Democratic Alternative] questions the custom of

blasting prayers with powerful loudspeakers during the month of Ramadhan.

The author, Muhammad al-Hanafi, reminds his readers that "faith is in the

hearts of the believers and not in the loudspeakers on top of the

minarets and on the rooftops."(25)



Majalat al-Furat (the Euphrates Journal)


Another Islamic journal is Majalat al-Furat, a monthly electronic

Islamic journal published by the Euphrates Center for Islamic Communication.

The journal seems to have a Shi'ite orientation, judged by its

reference to the "so-called Association of Sunni Clerics." The articles are of

a religious nature, discussing, for example, the position of the holy

Shari'a regarding hypocrisy, the truth about death, and the Prophet

Mohammad's birthday.(26)



Islam and Democracy


Also in this genre is the journal Islam and Democracy issued monthly by

the Foundation for Islam and Democracy. The journal carries an

editorial by the chief editor entitled "Why Do We Choose Democracy?" Articles

include "The Questions of Multiplicity and Diversity in Contemporary

Political Thought," "The Shi'a and the National Question," and "The Iraqi

Constitution as an Enlightening Document for Islamic Democracy."(27)



Nussooss Iraqiya (Iraqi Texts)


This is a monthly journal focused on contemporary Iraqi literature and

issued on the internet by the "Iraqi Writer." Issue No. 17 of April

2005 has five sections: poetry, prose, story, translation, and dialogue.




Ashouriyoun (Assyrians)


The Assyrians are one of the oldest communities in Iraq, tracing their

presence in the country for more than 3000 years. The Ashouriyoun is a

monthly political journal issued by the General Conference of

Assyrians. The second issue includes an article discussing the status of the

Christian villages in Iraq and another article which deals with the

traditional medicines of the past.(29)



Baghdad (French)


After a three-year interruption the Ma'moun House for Publication and

Translation has renewed the publication of the magazine Baghdad in

French. Issue No. 346 is devoted to the exhibition by Iraqi painters of

their work in Paris and the collaboration between the educational

institutions of the two countries.(30)



Kurdish Literature


The limited facility with the Kurdish language limits our ability to

discuss the cultural life in Iraqi Kurdistan in any depth. However, three

publications will be mentioned. There is the Kurdish language magazine

called Panorama. The daily al-Taakhi which is associated with the

Kurdish Democratic Party publishes every Thursday an extensive literary

supplement which brings to the attention of its readers a selection of

prose and poetry by Iraqi, Arab and foreign writers. The supplement is

edited by Dr. Badrkhan al-Sindi.


The other Kurdish daily, al-Ittihad, published by the Patriotic Union

of Kurdistan, also publishes a literary supplement although the focus is

primarily on Iraqi writers and artists.



II. Theater and Stage


Under the auspices of the Department for Cinema and Theater of the

Ministry of Culture the national acting group has presented the play "The

Day after the Seventh," written by Mithal Ghazi and performed by some of

Iraq's leading actors such as Sami Abd al-Hamid, Leila Muhammad and

Faisal Jawad. The new play deals with an Iraqi man who participated in

most of the wars waged by the previous regime and emerged unscathed.

However, he discovered that he is afflicted with cancer and has but seven

days to live. And there starts his struggle, which is both an internal

struggle and a struggle against others, because he incapable of quietly

resigning to his fate. The theme of the work, according to the author,

is that the country should build itself on sound foundations before

embarking on change and the expulsion of the occupier. It is a subject

that must be debated calmly and deliberately without loud cheers and



The Iraqi League of Human Rights in collaboration with the Center for

Iraqi Civil Society staged a play in the City of Diwaniya called

"Innocent Dreams." It is a comedy about a woman in the countryside who must

deal with various educational, social and political issues. She must

confront such poor public services as the absence of potable water and

sanitation and the total absence of electricity.(32) Altogether, the

League has produced 12 theatrical plays, all of which deal with the

suffering of the Iraqis and their demand for decent shelter and food.(33)


In the neighboring city of Diwaniya a new play called "akfan

wa-maghazel" (Shrouds and Flirtations) by 'Ammar Nu'ma addresses the issues of

violence and mass graves through the prism of southern Iraqi mourning

rites. (34)


The National Acting Group staged on the National Theater the play "What

If?" written and produced by Qassim al-Sumari and performed by Sadiq

Abbas, Shahrazad Shakir, Sadik Marzook and Hatem Odah. The play examines

war – not as just a killing field, but as the antithesis of poetry. The

poet is the hero not because of his creative output but because of what

poetry represents – elevation of the spirit and a resounding hope. In

the words of the author, "it is a conflict between the tendency for

destruction represented by wars and the aspiration for life and

construction represented by the poet."(35)


The National Acting Group was also scheduled to present a play, The

Great Romulus, by Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt. In the words of

the producer Hatem Odah who also had an acting part in the earlier play

"Shrouds and Flirtations," "I see an attempt by great powers to make

great changes in spatial and temporal geography and to draw a new map of

the world... but I see a contradiction between this aim and the reality

because there are many unknown variables underlying these aims."


The International Peace Group for Dramatic Dance produced an

experimental modernist show called "al-Leila al-thaniya" (The Second Night). The

show was also scheduled to be presented in the National Theater.

According to the producer, Sarmad 'Alaa al-Din the dance group consists of 10

dancers each of whom tries to find his/her own style of dramatic dance

that will merge into the language of the body in order to give concrete

expression to the suffering of the individual and his/her internal and

external crises.(36)


One of the most interesting theatrical productions in recent times is

the play entitled "The Women of Lorca" which draws on several themes

from Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca's work. The writer and

producer of the show, 'Awatef Na'im – who is also one of the five women

actresses who make up the cast – is considered the premier stage actress in



Na'im imagines a group of Garcia Lorca's women – the protagonists of

"Blood Wedding," "Yerma," "The House of Bernada Alba," and "Mariana

Pineda" – gathered together at a bloody dinner at Bernada Alba's house – "a

house locked in permanent mourning not merely because of the husband's

death but because of the single despotic will of Bernada Alba which

turns the life of her five daughters in the original Lorca play into a

dark prison where windows are closed, curtains are drawn, the air is

rancid and the black color of mourning is omnipresent."


In discussing the play, Na'im said, "My choice of Lorca's work stems

from his concern about the freedom of women and his emphasis on her role

in defending their freedom. I strive to raise the voice of woman and

highlight the significance of her presence." The play is produced one day

at a time with little publicity in order to avoid acts of terrorism or

violence against the artists or the audience.(37)


The daily al-Mada's critic, Fathel Thamer, finds that the unique

character of Garcia Lorca's women is lost in the new rendering, as dialogue

gives over to what amounts to absurdist monologue reminiscent of

Becket's Waiting for Godot. But the critic also maintains that, in the end,

the dominance of Yerma came to confirm the eternal role of despotism and

the continuity of the executioner/victim dualism in human history.(38)


The Iraqi Hope Society is preparing to produce a play "Huquqana" (Our

Rights) which deals with woman's rights, her freedom and her equality

with man. It also deals with the children's rights and the methods of

child rearing, as well as with bettering society in general.(39)


The assassination of Atwar Bahjat, al-Arabiya TV reporter in Iraq is

the subject of a play titled "Atwar: the Eyes of the Truth." The dialogue

is written in verse rather than prose, and the lead role of Atwar is

played by a student at the Institute for Fine Arts for Girls in



The Youth Education Department in the Ministry of Culture is also

active in staging plays for a juvenile audience. The first festival was held

in Baghdad on April 2. As evidence of the danger that artists face, two

of the actors who were to take the lead roles in some of the plays for

the youth, Fu'ad Radhi and Haidar Jawad, were gunned down.(41)


School children are encouraged to participate in presenting shows that

are suitable for their age. Among the plays performed are "The

Consequence of the Lie," "The Table of Love," "Respect Your Aunt the Palm Tree,

"The Horse and the Rabbit," and "The Duck and the Grave News."(42)


The Kurds have had a great success in displaying their folkloric arts

both in the cities of Kurdistan and abroad. Their traveling group

(Gayran) has made appearances in Britain, France, Germany and the United

States and has cut two CDs. The group sings in Kurdish even if the song was

originally written in Arabic. The Kurds take a great pride in

distinguishing between their cultural heritage and the common Arabic heritage of




School of Music and Ballet


The School of Music and Ballet opened in Baghdad in 1969. Like other

cultural institutions it was looted in April 2003 and the mirrors used

for training ballet dancers were all smashed. Nevertheless, the lovers of

ballet and music brought back many of the former students, including

many teenage girls who take the ballet lessons. There are currently 200

students who study ballet or classical music. Many of the students of

music hope one day to play in the Iraq National Symphony.(44)



III. Funoon Tashkiliya (Plastic Arts)


The following are examples of the flowering of tashkiliya (the plastic

arts) in Iraq:


Munir Ahmad, 42, specializes in the use of Arabic alphabets (a form of

calligraphy) in his work. His exhibition was held in the city of

Nasiriya (a relatively safe city) which boasts a number of artists such

Kadhem al-Khattat, Nasser al-Seba'i, Kamel al-Mousawi, and Talal 'Abd and

Hussein al-Shannoun. The art in Nasiriya is influenced by Sumerian art

and by the existence of the great marshes with their vast vistas, birds,

and forests of reeds (used to construct homes for the marsh



The first exhibit of the works of the artist Ja'far Muhammad was opened

on April 15 in Madarat of Arts in al-Waziriyah in Baghdad.


Under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture an exhibition was held in

Baghdad on May 2-10 of this year featuring Arabic calligraphy and

Islamic ornamental works. One of the participants in the exhibition was the

Iraqi Fashion House, which offered a display of Islamic fashion that is

created from fabric decorated with Arabic calligraphy.(46)





Cartooning is another form of art in which Iraqis have excelled, and

exhibition of cartoons is common. The Association of Cartoonists

organized the first comprehensive exhibition with 25 participants presenting

various ages, styles and technical forms, a total of 100 pieces of their

"magical work." The cartoonists drew upon "human thoughts distilled

from the daily reality" of Iraq, including current "hot" events and

circumstances, the negative conditions and the administrative corruption

throughout the government agencies.(47)


In the city of Basra, the second largest city in Iraq, three young

cartoonists presented a collection of their work in an exhibit titled "The

administrative corruption – caricatures."(48) The exhibit reflected the

ubiquitous and deleterious manifestations of corruption which are

undermining efforts to build a system of accountability, which is a

fundamental precondition for the success of a democratic regime.



Posters Exhibition


In March 2006, for the first time in Iraq, 19 artists exhibited 40

posters in the open air near the Ministry of Culture in the center of

Baghdad. The artists consider their works as "reflecting the street language

with a powerful effect." The opening of the exhibition was delayed for

two hours because of the falling of mortar shells nearby. Nevertheless,

the exhibition was opened because "art is stronger than violence." One

of the artists, Rana 'Adnan (25), exhibited a work titled "The Road to

Life" which, according to the artist, "is an expression of her optimism

about the possibilities of a better Iraq and greater freedom."(49)



Fotografia (Magazine of Photography)


The undated issue carries an article, accompanied by photographs by the

photographer Ihsan al-Jezani. Rather than weeping over the looting of

the national museum and the national library in April 2003 and the

looting of Iraqi artifacts over the ages by Western archeologists, al-Jizani

uses his camera to recreate the past. His camera took him to the Louvre

in Paris and the museums in Berlin and London where so many artifacts

are on display. He was impressed, however, by the number of school

children who visited the museums and showed great respect for the artifacts

while, during his own childhood in Iraq, very little attention was paid

to "the names and symbols of our civilization" because the successive

governments were more disposed to hang the photographs of heads of state

than the pictures of the Iraqi civilization.(50)


Another Iraqi photographer who seeks to preserve the past through

photographs is 'Adel Qassim who had a personal exhibition of photographs in

al-Shahbandar Coffee Shop in Baghdad, a meeting place of writers, poets

and artists since it opened for business in 1917 on top of the old

Shahbandar printing shop which was closed for political reasons.(51)

Al-Shabandar is the Baghdadi version of Café de Flore in St.

Germain-des-Pres in Paris which was frequented by such literary and artistic

luminaries as Hemingway and Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoire, and Pablo

Picasso. Qassim's exhibition was open for more than three months. When

asked about the reason for focusing on the past, such as old homes,

pastoral village life, life in the marshes with its homes made of reeds, he

replied, "I rarely resort to photographing the destruction; as long as

there is life, there is beauty and there is blessing."(52)


The Ministry of Culture organized an exhibition of photographs under

the title "Aspirations for Peace," representing the work of Iraq's three

foremost photographers Sa'ad Nu'mah, Ahmad Abdallah and Abbas al-Wendy.

The photographs, primarily in color, represented the Iraqis' love of

life despite "the political challenges that are striking at this faithful




IV. Lectures and Seminars


The following is a sampling of lectures and seminars that have taken

place in Iraq:


The Arab-Swiss Cultural Center, known as Baghdad Gallery, organized a

lecture on "Democracy and the Government Systems" by the lawyer Hussein

Hafith.(54) Another lecture, delivered earlier in the year, dealt with

the "Tribal Authority in the Iraqi Culture."(55)


The same center also hosted a symposium commemorating the third

anniversary of the Swiss poet Jan Demot titled "The Talking Funeral of Jan

Demot from Baghdad to Sydney," hosted by the critic Jamal Karim.(56)



Al-Mada Cultural Week


The Foundation for Culture and Arts headed by Fakhri Karim, the

publisher of the daily newspaper al-Mada, organized a cultural week on April

22-28 in Erbil, the capital of the province of Kurdistan. The location

was chosen because of its relative security compared with anywhere else

in Iraq. The theme of the meeting was "Democratic Culture for a Free



The event was meant primarily for Iraqis although many other Arab

writers attended the event. There were a variety of seminars and symposia

offered to the participants on such topics as democracy, women,

minorities, and the economy. There were exhibitions for books, caricatures and

folklore. The cultural week was also culminated in the creation of "a

fund for the support of the Arab intellectual" and the creation of a

non-governmental organization called "the High Council for Culture" which

will take upon itself the uplifting of Iraq culture through a national

perspective that will encompass the interests of Arab intelligentsia.

The minister of culture in Kurdistan offered the poignant observation

that "the conditions for freedom require the flourishing of culture."(57)


The cultural event provided a forum for the use of new expressions to

reflect the current reality of Iraq. For the first time, according to

one observer, one could hear repeatedly concepts such as "the local

culture vs. the culture of exile," "the democratic culture," "the secular

culture," "the religious culture," and "the culture of resistance," which

was viewed by the participants as tantamount to "the culture of

dictatorship" which has left wounds in the body of the Iraqi culture from

which it continues to suffer.(58)


It is perhaps a characteristic of the new Iraq that the 400

participants, Iraqis and others, were entertained by the Iraqi symphony orchestra

which played compositions by Bach, Mozart and Debussy. Reporting for

the Saudi daily al-Riadh, Fatman al-Muhsin wrote that despite everything

else, "The educated audience lived hoping to regain what it has lost in

enthusiasm for art and life."(59) It will be recalled that the Iraqi

symphony orchestra performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.,

on December 9, 2003, amidst great expectations about the cultural

revival in post-Saddam Iraq.



Dangers to Iraqi Intelligentsia


"Writers without Borders" is an intellectual organization headquartered

in Berlin but headed by the Iraqi writer Ayad al-Zamili. The

organization has recently written to Iraq's new Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

expressing its concerns that Iraqi journalists, university professors,

writers and artists are being subjected to collective liquidation. In its

letter to the Prime Minister, "Writers without Borders" said that 150

university professors and scientists and 115 media people have been

murdered as a result of terrorism and sectarian violence. As a result, the

letter to the Prime Minister warns, the emigration of Iraqi

intelligentsia will continue unabated, impoverishing the cultural life of the



In one specific case, the Iraqi poet 'Adnan al-Sa'igh was invited to

read from his work at a special poetry festival called al-Marbad, in

Basra. Among his lines he read the following:




In my homeland


Fear binds me and divides:


A man writes


And the other –behind the curtain of my window


Observes me




My God


Is one


Not Catholic


Not Protestant


Not Sunni


Not Shi'ite



He was chased out of the meeting and threatened with death. A friend,

Abd al-Razzaq al-Rabi'i, was to describe him as "The defenseless – he

owns nothing but a pen in a forest of gun."(61)



Arab Writers Federation Boycotts the Iraqi Federation


The General Federation of Iraqi Writers was a founding member of the

Arab Writers Federation. In July 2004 more than 800 writers from all

across Iraq met to elect their federation leadership which was to attend

the Arab Writers Federation meeting in Alger the following year. However,

when the Iraqi delegation appeared in the conference they were snubbed

by the Secretary General of the Arab Writers Federation Dr. Ali 'Aqla

'Irsan, a Syrian national, who refused them admission and threatened to

leave the conference if the Iraqi delegation was let in. His ostensible

argument for denying the Iraqis access to the conference is that they

were under occupation.(62)


It is ironic that a representative of an authoritarian regime which

exercises censorship over cultural life should deny admission to a

delegation from a country that has recently emerged freer than any Arab

country, Lebanon being the exception. It is another indication that the

dictatorial regimes which neighbor Iraq suffer from nightmares that

democracy in Iraq would unleash forces that could destabilize their

illegitimate hold on power that can only be sustained through the force of

compulsion over frightened and intimidated citizens.



Proliferations and Drawbacks


The fall of the Saddam regime has released an enormous amount of

intellectual and artistic energy that was suppressed or misdirected for

almost four decades. The suppression was secular and political in nature.

There is a looming danger of a different kind of suppression carried out

by religious militias whose tolerance for liberal and secular culture

goes no further than the muzzle of their gun.


Branches of the national libraries have been looted and privately owned

bookstores in many parts of Iraq do not dare to offend the armed

religious militias that prowl the streets in complete freedom. Cinemas, one

of the most popular forms of entertainment for the vast majority of

Iraqis, are almost extinct because of threats against what is narrowly

perceived as lewd films or because people are afraid to congregate in one

building which could be blown up at will. This is the case also with

regard to other artistic events-a problem which is only exacerbated by the

unreliability of the electrical supply.


It is true that the press is relatively free, but editors exercise

self-censorship when it comes to criticizing the likes of the young radical

cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who will not hesitate to unleash the fury of his

militia against any journalist who might dare to criticize him. Other

militias are also known for enforcing their own version of the law,

including the use of extreme measure against individuals and institutions,

particularly secularists.





The revival of the Iraqi cultural scene reveals a strong current in

support of indigenous Iraqi culture, secularism, women's rights, and

opposition to terrorism and violence.


As in the past under Saddam, a large number of Iraqi writers, artists

and poets receive monthly salaries from the Ministry of Culture. For the

moment, at least, these salaries appear to be granted with no

conditions regarding the creative work of the recipients. How long this will

continue is not known, and very much depends on the nature of the

government that will eventually gain the upper hand in the country.


*Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst of MEMRI's Middle East Economic

Studies Program.



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Very interesting point by an Iraqi blogger.. I used to ask my brother in law about the reason behind keeping him reside with his wife and three kids in one of the hot spots of Baghdad despite having his buissness located in one of "safe " nearby provinces.. He used to say " I feel more free here, over there the system don't let you think and behave freely"!



It may sound a bit odd but that's really what I felt in Egypt that I don't feel in my war-torn city; for the first time in 3 years I felt the restrains of government…I told one of my colleagues I feel safe in Baghdad despite the dangers, I may feel afraid of terrorists or random violence but I never fear the government and that's not only how I feel, Iraqis are not afraid of expressing their differences with the authority because we in Iraq have more or les became part of that authority the day we elected our representatives while terrorists and militias are nothing more than temporary phenomenon that unlike constitution and elections have no solid foundations.


Of course our democratic foundations need a lot of work to meet our aspirations but we are walking this road and none of us is willing to go back and maybe the three thousands that were murdered last month tell that Iraqis are ready to pay the price and fight to preserve and improve our achievements. The magnitude of the change explains the confusion in some of our steps but we have not given up and we're not ready to surrender, not yet.

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