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Ethnic Conflict, simply to be expected? - 09.28.2005

I have heard very different reports from my Iraqi contacts in Baghdad. While some urge me not to come to Iraq at this time, others seem to believe that I should still make the trip. Although nowhere in Iraq is “safe,” the stark difference of opinion between of Iraqis, raises many questions.

I would like to take a moment at this point to write about the situation in western Iraq, and the continuing exacerbation of ethnic conflict. I believe this is relevant to the dichotomy of opinion about the situation in Iraq. Several sources have discussed the appearance of not only sectarian, but clear ethnic divides in the recent conflict in Tal Afar.

Although the bulk of articles do not do enough to provide context to the situation in Tal Afar, the idea that what is happening in Tal Afar can only be seen as ethnic cleansing with intention is negligent at worst, and simplification at best.

The reality of modern Iraq, existing as not just a region, but specifically a “State,” a construct of the League of Nations decades ago, continues to have an impact today. The efforts of the League to define national borders that were of interest to the West, and clearly ignorant of tribal and historical ethnic ties, still encourages conflict today.

For the Occupation to support forces that were oppressed under the previous Regime will germinate ethnic conflict. In Iraq there is an active Resistance, which cannot be divorced from the years of ethnic tensions, inflamed first by the League of Nations, and stoked most recently by the efforts of Saddam Hussein to remain in power. The United States continues to claim it intends to construct a civil government that can defend Iraq’s sovereignty but, because of the active Resistance, the US and the MNF-I (Multi National Force-Iraq) will only inflame these ethnic tensions. Why? Because the only forces available to defend Iraq are those who belonged to various oppressed classes under Saddam, and those who make up the Resistance are often the same people who benefited from this past oppression.

The South appeared for a time to have a strong police force and relative calm, but there have also been well-documented cases of oppressive control and the imposition of force based on religious law. It now seems to be coming out that the calm in Basra was based primarily on the influence of Iran, who funneled training, weapons, and other support into the South of Iraq.

In many ways, it appears that what “calm” there has ever been in Western Iraq since the toppling of Saddam has been due to similar control and influence by Sunni “insurgent” militias. Perhaps it is inaccurate to represent many of the informally organized Resistance cells as “militia,” but I believe you understand the implication. If you are curious for examples, keep in mind the relative calm that occurred in Fallujah after the MNF-I left the area in mid-2004. Was Fallujah calm? Yes, but was it safe for Shiite Iraqis? It seems the area was probably as unsafe for Shiite Iraqis then as Basra is for Sunni Iraqis now.

If the US, the Occupation, and the MNF-I are going to rebuild Iraq, it seems they need to engage in more consideration of the impact of their actions. So long as the MNF-I fails to take into account the context and impact of its actions, it will be incapable of assisting Iraq and Iraqis in determining a stable future. It may be time to consider that the modern idea of the “State” must be re-examine. What relevance does the “State” hold in a world that is simultaneously being globalized, while in many areas of the world still strongly organized around family and ethnic ties?




In Katrina aftermath, Don’t forget Iraq… - 09.20.2005

It’s September 9th 2005. It has been nearly four years since September 11th. As we look to the news each evening, we are shocked by the images of the recent devastation in New Orleans. Some of us are outraged by the censorship of images coming from outside and even inside our own country. We are still not seeing bodies in either Iraq or New Orleans.

The sensationalist images seen on the nightly news are not truly descriptive of the devastation seen in New Orleans or Baghdad, and certainly not of the battles being waged on Iraq’s border with Syria. Al’Qaim and Tal Afar are just the latest in a lengthening list of western towns drifting back and forth between the control of the resistance and the state of simply being ignored. These are provincial, mostly Sunni, towns that the central government couldn’t concern itself with, except when it wishes to make an example of the resistance when they come to town.

Does this sound familiar? Perhaps this is the same sort of relationship that a large portion of the Gulf Coast seems to have with the United States’ central government as well. What little media we see demonstrates the situation of people forgotten by the United States in its efforts to eradicate Terrorism. We’ve already realized that the levees weren’t funded because of budgets slashed due to a desperate need for funds to cover the Iraq war.

Just as journalists now are venturing to New Orleans to cover the story, I will be traveling to Baghdad at the end of the month, to remind Americans about the ongoing devastation a world away from us. In order to make this happen, I still need to get funds and visibility in order to help shine the same kind of light on the Iraqi situation that independent media is now making an effort to bring to New Orleans.

In just over a month the Iraqis will be voting on their new constitution. I intend to be in Baghdad or elsewhere in Iraq when this happens. Whether this is possible, and certainly whether I can continue to remain there after the vote, depends very much on the funds I can raise before I leave and while I am there.

Please, if you aren’t in a place to donate funds, or perhaps feel too drawn to aid those in the United States, at the very least spread word of my project, of my site and blog, to others. By reaching out as far as possible, I believe we can find enough people who want to see truth from Iraq, to see the devastation there as much as we currently yearn for truth from New Orleans about Katrina, as much as we simultaneously cringe from and are fascinated to see, the wreckage of a great natural disaster.

Together we can make a difference. We can shine a light in the darkness, and provide what support we can to the Iraqi people.

Remember, to donate, see the link in the Donate section of the site!




Democracy, Late to Dinner as Usual - 01.30.2005

By one o’clock in Iraq, at least 27 Iraqis already lay dead. By the end of the day, Al Jazeera reports over 40 dead. As Zarqawi threatened the streets would run with the blood of the electors, this seems to be a victory for the pro-occupation forces, the Americans, and others involved in “securing Iraq.” When the final numbers come back, in what officials tell us could be as long as ten days, up to 8 million ballots are expected to be counted. 8 million voters would total less than sixty percent of the 14 million Iraqis eligible to vote (assuming that the 8 million number quoted corresponds directly to those voting within the country itself and does not include expatriate voters in other countries).

The election in Iraq seems to show little change for the situation there and certainly cannot at this early time be seen as a definite turning point in either direction. However, it is worth noting that, while the sort of spectacularly terrible attacks that Western media and insurgent communiqu?s prepared us for did not happen, there were still a vast array of attacks all across the country. Despite the overwhelming security presence, some 300,000 soldiers and police mobilized to protect the polls, more Iraqis were killed today than any other day in the past week. In fact, more died today even than on the worst day for occupation-related deaths, Wednesday, when 37 American soldiers were killed in attacks across the country.

The 44 Iraqis killed today is a much smaller number than those killed in the bombings in Karbala and elsewhere in March of last year. The elections, as a process, went off with few difficulties. All over Iraq people voted, but all over Iraq as well, people stayed home. At least 43 percent of Iraqis eligible to vote are believed to have stayed home. It could have been a referendum for peace. The election might have been a clear demonstration by the people of Iraq that they are ready to govern themselves through whatever form available. Rather than a clear referendum, the election results and the Iraqi people have demonstrated that despite occupation assurances of security and a free Iraq, the Freedom, as Iraqis are fond of describing it, has presented itself, but democracy seems to have missed the boat.

There is no freedom to vote, and even with freedom to vote, there is no freedom to elect. This election will not be like the one in the United States this past November. This Iraqi election is even less significant for the Iraqi people than the crafting of the American Constitution or signing of the Declaration of Independence was for most Americans of the day. The Occupation forces still provide the last word. Until the Iraqi people are permitted the privilege of self-determination, their can be no free Iraq, their can be no end to the Occupation, there can be no Mission Accomplished.

Self-determination would mean that Iraqis could vote for whom they wanted to vote. Self-determination would mean that Iraqis could choose not to vote, without being harassed by armed soldiers of another nation, if they so chose. Self-determination would mean that all Iraqis equally might have a say in their future, and that each individual could determine his or her future individually.

On Saturday, an elderly Iraqi man was quoted in the Boston Globe as saying that, having ten children and being unsure what to do with the Freedom, having never engaged in a free election in his life, and without anyone from the Coalition or Iraqi Government to school him, had made a decision that he thought the most fair possible. He would direct five of his children to vote for al?Sistani?s party and the other five to vote for Allawi.

This logic is endemic to the ?democracies? put forward by President Bush and the war on terror. In Afghanistan we have tribal elders directing the vote, in Iraq, a slightly more modern country, we have family elders directing the vote. Just ten days ago, during his inaugural address, President Bush informed Iraq and the world that democracy was coming, whether they were ?ready or not.?

In Iraq, democracy may be running a little late, but Bush logic and the Freedom are at the dinner table and moving towards the final course.

________

Also please consider supporting my continuing work in analysis of the situation from the States, or donating to fund my upcoming trip to Iraq to work as a journalist covering the situation facing the Iraqi people.




Project Site Back Online! - 01.25.2005

Greetings folks! AliveinBaghdad.org is back online, after a long period of difficulty with the hosting, servers, etc. Unfortunately, due to the crash we’ve lost our changes and will have to be reconstructing them over the coming days.

The good news is that many things have progressed. We’ve now obtained about a third of our budget in donation promises, and once they all arrive we will be doing well. The visa application process is underway, the application was taken earlier today to the Iraqi Embassy by Travel Document Systems, the company which is facilitating the visa process for the project.

The visa process could take 2 months, possibly even longer. Our itinerary is slated for travel on March 15th, but both the itinerary and the visa will have a window of about three months within which to utilize them for travel to Baghdad. It is my hope that through applications to various funding groups as well as accelerating my fundraising efforts, we will be able to obtain most of the still needed funds by the end of February, as well as having all promised donations come in the first week of March. If the visa comes in before the 15th this will make it possible to go within the desired timeframe. If either of these does not happen by then, I will simply keep working to make it possible to travel to Baghdad to cover the situation and speak with the Iraqis on the ground there as soon as possible.

I have so far enlisted the help of a half dozen volunteers who will be assembling and/or distributing the footage while I am still in Baghdad. By assembling a diverse network of volunteers here in the States to help with this project, it will be possible for the stories of the people living in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq to reach those of us living in the United States and the West with greater speed.

Please contact us at aliveinbaghdad@gmail.com if you are interested in volunteering on this project. As well donations are still greatly needed. We are taking donations of money as well as media equipment, minidv tapes, minidiscs, small digital cameras, etc. All of which are items that would greatly assist the project. If possible the project will also try and leave digital cameras with local Iraqis interested in documenting their experiences, and participating in the of archiving and distributing of these documentaries via AliveinBaghdad.org.

salaamu alaikum!




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