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Category Archives: Iraq

Three unrelated items

73420_159175 1. Someone has to do it…

I see from SameSame that William Yang has been photographing Matthew Mitcham. “William Yang’s ‘Photographing Matthew Mitcham’ exhibits at Barry Stern Galleries, 19 Glenmore Road, Paddington NSW 2021, from December 14.”

I think I’ll check that one. 🙂

William Yang has appeared on this blog before: Very rare and special: pics from M’s Chinese New Year Party 3.

2. Tony Blair and the WMD Fantasy.

So many have commented on Tony Blair’s latest admissions, but one of the best I have seen comes from the Legal Eagle blog cooperative: BLiar: Warmonger by his own admission. It’s one of DeusExMacintosh’s excellent visual entries.

…And no, I’m not just being funny. There are now grounds for thinking that the 45 minute claim – the sole direct threat posed by Saddam’s regime to British interests – featured in the dodgy dossier and heavily promoted by number 10 spin-doctors, now seems to be based on gossip from an Iraqi taxi driver that had been clearly flagged as unreliable.

3. OMG: I agree with Paul Sheehan

You don’t see that every day! Sirdan and I were discussing the current push for recall elections, which has been brought on by frustration with the NSW government’s performance in recent years. Sounds a good idea, but I had doubts and it seems Paul Sheehan shares them exactly.

As for constitutional change, switching from four-year to three-year terms makes sense for NSW. But creating the capacity for recall elections is problematic. In California, even a popular governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been overmatched by the state’s structural crisis.

During a visit to California this year I saw the problem at first hand. The state constitution allows an unusually diverse array of grass-roots participation, with voter initiatives, referenda, voter ratification and recall elections. The result has created burdensome requirements on government, which should be allowed to govern.

California also has term limits. Members of the state assembly are restricted to three two-year terms and state senators are restricted to two four-year terms. But this, too, has had unintended consequences. It has served to gut the culture of compromise and the culture of experience.

The Herald, to its credit, has devoted a lot of space on its letters page to readers bucketing its petition for the introduction of recall elections. People think the media already has too much power.

Many also know that California is proof there is such a thing as too much democracy. They know not all that glisters in the golden state is gold.

 

Three blogs from Iraq or Iran

Once upon a time (2003-4 especially) Salam Pax was one of the most famous blogs in the world. It has also appeared in book form. Now it has revived after a long hiatus, appearing now with its archives intact on WordPress.

salampax

Always very human and very witty in the past, Salam Pax is back on form. See also I want Baghdad to feel like home again.

I have been out of Iraq for almost two years now. The Baghdad I left in 2007 was not the city I had grown up in and loved. She had become so different, so violent, so not herself that I didn’t feel I was abandoning her.

I remember the moment when it felt as if leaving wasn’t a choice, but a very clear necessity. I was sitting in my pyjamas on the ground in our front garden; my father, mother and aunt crouched beside me, also in their pyjamas. Two American soldiers pointed these absurdly large rifles at us and an unnecessarily aggressive Iraqi translator hissed: "We know you have explosives in this house. It’s better for you to tell us where they are than us going through the whole place and finding them." …

So, two years later, after all that, what on earth am I doing back here?

I wish I could say that it is a wider general trend of Iraqis returning. If you were following the news after the US "surge" and the widely publicised improvement in the security situation since that time, you might have the impression that Iraqis were returning in big numbers. The truth is many of those who did go back left shortly afterwards again, having found their homes occupied by other people, or their neighbourhoods still unsafe. But many of those kept returning, bringing more family members with them: one foot in Iraq and the other holding the door open just in case a quick retreat was needed. That’s where my family and I are now.

Since the war started, Baghdad has become for me the sort of place where you can never really judge how it is until you are there. Listening to the news from afar can be confusing and rarely gives you the full picture. When I moved to Beirut three months ago the picture got slightly less blurry. And now I want to see if the situation really has improved….

The other very famous Iraq blog Baghdad Burning – published as two books! – has not yet re-appeared. It is still worth reviewing the archives, however.

The third blog comes from Iran.

neoresistance

It is well worth visiting. 

And I have to acknowledge finding this one through Dangerous Creation, which itself has found more focus in recent times and has attracted a following from a number of new readers. My relations with that blog have been troubled, as many of you know, but it is only right to mention it in this context since without it I would not have seen Neo-resistance. If you have been to DC lately you’ll have formed your own opinion; I still look in on it and there are things to think about there, even if my blog is chalk to its cheese. This — Neo-Human, All Too Neo-Human – is pure coincidence, referring to The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq and written in 2007; but it is an odd coincidence.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2009 in blogging, Iran, Iraq, other blogs

 

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The Blood of My Brother: A Story of Death in Iraq (2005) ****

This amazing documentary begins a new category series “Best viewing 2009,” keeping in mind I rarely go to the movies and mostly watch DVDs borrowed free from Surry Hills Library. The category will also mark notable TV. The Blood of my Brother is one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever seen. To quote the Internet Movie Database, linked at the head of this paragraph:

THE BLOOD OF MY BROTHER goes behind the scenes of one Iraqi family’s struggle to survive amidst the carnage of the growing Shia insurgency. Nineteen-year-old Ibrahim dreams of revenge when his brother is shot and killed by an American patrol. With scenes of fighting and death on the streets of Baghdad, this is the closest most viewers will ever come to being in Iraq; kneeling in prayer amidst a thousand Muslim worshipers, feeling the roar of low-flying Apaches, riding atop a sixty-ton tank, driving with masked resistance fighters to attack American positions, fleeing the threat of an overwhelming response, the blood in the street, a tank on fire, or the cold, distant stare of a dead Iraqi fighter. Written by Andrew Berends

That’s the director, and the movie’s own website is here. 

bloodofmybrother 30bloo.600

For anyone who was there, whether as a US or other soldier or as an Iraqi on the ground, the film may well be quite traumatic, as even this trailer indicates.

For those of us who, like me, have merely seen much about the war in the news or on other documentaries, it is a salutary experience. It is as near as you could possibly get to being there. What I admire most is that no-one is demonised. There are sympathetic sequences of the US soldier’s viewpoint, but of course the principal viewpoint, as the summary indicates, is a Shia Iraqi family’s. And this is in the thick of the worst part of the worst part of the war.

One witnesses, without the film maker intruding his commentary, the full range of emotions. One is a fly on the wall in al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. One is left very conscious of the culture behind that, and of how alien it must have been to the US soldiers confronting it, but one gets deeper into what it is like to inhabit that world and that world-view than one could possibly get from the seconds of footage one normally sees, and yes it is very strange (to me) and very frightening, but such is the genius of this documentary that it really remains human. As I said, no-one is demonised – not by the film maker anyway.

This reviewer raises some interesting questions about the film; I would give it a higher rating.

One over-riding question that arises while watching Andrew Berends‘ 2005 Iraq-set documentary The Blood of My Brother is, how did an American filmmaker get access to all of this, short of joining Sayid Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army himself? Several reviewers have already commented that much of the footage here puts Western media coverage to shame, and it certainly does. We see inside a mosque during prayer time with hundreds of men lined up shoulder to shoulder; we watch Shia insurgents get charged up and then battle an American tank and an Apache helicopter (feeling oddly mundane compared to scenes from Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down); and we view badly wounded civilians inside an Iraqi hospital, including young children and elderly men. It seems clear that Berends has a viewpoint he wants to get across, although his goal appears to be more humanitarian than political…

That last point is I think the great strength of this film.

One can’t help thinking, however, about how superficial the success of the whole affair, so far as it is even remotely successful, will prove to be. Possibly much the same will prove true of Afghanistan.

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2008 in America, best viewing 2009, dvd, film and dvd, Iraq, Islam, terrorism, USA

 

A couple of serious quick responses to TV…

1. It would be such a good idea if people – especially but not only religious people – knew what science is and how it works

That one came to me after watching the first part of this on SBS:

inteldesign

It’s excellent.

NARRATOR: Lawyers for the parents may have impressed the judge and reporters. But many in Dover wondered, "Why is evolution taught as fact if it’s ‘just a theory?’"

ALAN BONSELL: Maybe Darwinism is the prevalent theory out there today, but it is a theory. It isn’t a law of science. It isn’t, you know, a fact. It is a theory.

BILL BUCKINGHAM: We just wanted alternative views talked about, too. We weren’t, we weren’t saying, "Don’t talk about Darwin." Talk about Darwin, it’s a theory. But that’s what it is, it’s not Darwin’s law, it’s not Darwin’s fact, it’s Darwin’s theory.

ROBERT ESHBACH: To say it’s just a theory is really a bit insulting to science because in science, a theory holds more weight than just a fact does.

KEVIN PADIAN (Dramatization): And here I think the term "theory" needs to be looked at the way scientists consider it. A theory is not just something that we think of in the middle of the night after too much coffee and not enough sleep. That’s an idea. A theory, in science, means a large body of information that’s withstood a lot of testing. It probably consists of a number of different hypotheses and many different lines of evidence. Gravitation is a theory that’s unlikely to be falsified, even if we saw something fall up. It might make us wonder, but we’d try to figure out what was happening rather than immediately just dismiss gravitation.

KEVIN PADIAN: Facts are just the minutiae of science. By themselves, they can be right or wrong. But a theory is something that has been tested and tested over and over again, built on, revised. It continues to be reworked and revised.

ROBERT MUISE (Dramatization): Dr. Miller, would you agree that Darwin’s theory of evolution is not an absolute truth?

KENNETH R. MILLER (Dramatization): Well, I certainly would, for the very simple reason that no theory in science, no theory, is ever regarded as absolute truth. We don’t regard atomic theory as truth. We don’t regard the germ theory of disease as truth. We don’t regard the theory of friction as truth. We regard all of these theories as well-supported, testable explanations that provide natural explanations for natural phenomena.

I don’t mind theological speculation, but I would never call it “science”.

The other thing I took from this program is how glad I am that we do not so far have the US-style tradition of local school boards here in NSW. With all the possible disadvantages we may experience in a centralised system, relying on boards and teams of experts to devise curriculum (even if implementation depends much on the local school), we gain far more, if this series is any indication. There are some things democracy is just not good at, and devising curriculum, in my opinion, is often one of them. By the way, one problem I always felt working in private schools was the sense that the “clients” owned me. That could have a plus side, but was also sometimes an unpleasant constraint. I am sure Aluminium knows exactly what I mean.

Here’s a good blog I have found, or that found me through “possibly related” yesterday: Professor Olsen @ Large. It’s biological. And American.

2. You didn’t really expect Howard, Bush and Blair to say anything new on Iraq, did you?

I refer of course to last night’s episode of The Howard Years: transcript.

FRAN KELLY: John Howard’s enemies were about to be handed more ammunition.

Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction.

The primary justification for the war did not exist.

(Excerpt, Lateline, 22 July 2004)

ABC JOURNALIST: Today the inquiry by former intelligence chief Philip Flood confirmed Australia’s spy agencies got it wrong.

(End of excerpt)

PHILIP FLOOD, INTELLIGENCE INQUIRY HEAD 2004: The intelligence was thin, ambiguous and inaccurate. And Australia shared in a general intelligence failure.

ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER 1996-2007: Everyone assumed from the Secretary-General of the United Nations downwards, everybody assumed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. That really wasn’t a subject of conjecture. I was very surprised that they weren’t found.

TONY BLAIR, UK PRIME MINISTER 1997-2007: I often think the simplest thing for us should have been in retrospect is just to have published the intelligence assessments, rather than actually the Government compile a report about them, what we should actually have done was just publish them.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER 1996-2007: The intelligence assessments may, in the final analysis, have turned out to be defective because stockpiles of WMD were not found although programs and the capacity to generate stockpiles were certainly found. But we didn’t take the country to war based on a lie. We didn’t invent the intelligence.

FRAN KELLY: John Howard had survived the war in Iraq. His future seemed secure.

Even if we are kind and take all that at face value, it still strikes me as very odd. Why wasn’t anyone taking any notice of what I thought was very persuasive argument at the time? Phyllis Bennis at the Institute for Policy Studies had a primer freely online at the time which was much closer to the truth than the “everybody assumed” of Downer’s selective memory. Then there was Scott Ritter, of course.

His views at that time are well summarized in War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You To Know a 2002 publication which consists largely of an interview between Ritter and anti-war activist William Rivers Pitt. In the interview, Ritter responds to the question of whether he believes Iraq has weapons of mass destruction:

There’s no doubt Iraq hasn’t fully complied with its disarmament obligations as set forth by the Security Council in its resolution. But on the other hand, since 1998 Iraq has been fundamentally disarmed: 90-95% of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capacity has been verifiably eliminated… We have to remember that this missing 5-10% doesn’t necessarily constitute a threat… It constitutes bits and pieces of a weapons program which in its totality doesn’t amount to much, but which is still prohibited… We can’t give Iraq a clean bill of health, therefore we can’t close the book on their weapons of mass destruction. But simultaneously, we can’t reasonably talk about Iraqi non-compliance as representing a de-facto retention of a prohibited capacity worthy of war. (page 28)

We eliminated the nuclear program, and for Iraq to have reconstituted it would require undertaking activities that would have been eminently detectable by intelligence services. (page 32)

If Iraq were producing [chemical] weapons today, we’d have proof, pure and simple. (page 37)

[A]s of December 1998 we had no evidence Iraq had retained biological weapons, nor that they were working on any. In fact, we had a lot of evidence to suggest Iraq was in compliance. (page 46)

I read that 2002 publication and found it quite convincing, and it did after all turn out to be pretty much on the mark, didn’t it? No, Bush just wanted to invade Iraq. Trouble is none of them really had any idea once they actually got there. Now, many gigabucks and heaps of bodies later, it may be that things are a touch better, but what actually has been achieved in relation to terrorism?

I’ll leave that there, but nothing last night came as a revelation – put it that way. Except that Downer is incredibly smug… A perfect yes-man.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2008 in America, Australia, Australia and Australian, Christianity, faith, faith and philosophy, History, Iraq, John Howard, memory, terrorism, TV

 

Reset – Dialogues on Civilizations | Essays: Benjamin Barber

benjaminBarber Can Islam Accommodate Democracy Or Democracy Accommodate Islam? by Benjamin Barber is one of the offerings this weekend from Arts & Letters Daily. Barber was known to me mostly for his 1995 book Jihad vs McWorld, of which you may form some idea from this 1992 Atlantic Monthly essay of the same name, which I read at the time. Subsequent events have made it more relevant.

The picture on the left and the quotation on the right below are from Barber’s site, linked at his name above.

The essay from A&L is a paper presented by the author at the Istanbul Seminars organized by Reset Dialogues on Civilizations in Istanbul from June 2nd to the 6th 2008.

There is a powerful rhetoric around today that claims Islam – not just fundamentalist or Wahhabist or Safalist Islam, but Islam itself is a religion hostile to democracy. Hostile not only to liberty, pluralism and the open society, but to modernity itself as it is defined by liberal values. The attitude evident in Samuel Huntington’s discredited notion of a “clash of civilizations” in which the West and the rest are locked in a struggle for survival, so foreign to discussions like our here in Istanbul, in fact remains ubiquitous in Western politics and media.

quote It is found not only in Bush’s zealous conduct of a disastrous war on the “axis of evil,” or Donald Rumsfeld’s assertion that Islamic fundamentalism is a “new form of fascism;” or in right wing paranoiac events like David Horowitz’s “Islamofascism Awareness Week,” but is reflected also in writings of liberals like Paul Berman who talk about how the West is “beset with terrorists from the Muslim totalitarian movements who have already killed an astounding number of people;” or in scholars like Bernard Lewis who announce in hushed tones of sympathy that “the world of Islam has become poor, weak and ignorant;” or in Muslim apostates like Ali Hirsi who combine a seemingly liberal appeal to feminist values with a total rejection of not just fundamentalism but Islam itself.

These arguments may in their polemical zealotry beyond rational rebuttal, but Professor Habermas would I think prefer that they be rationally confronted and refuted. That is certainly my view if we wish to get on with the difficult work of crafting democracy in societies that take religion seriously – nearly all societies. I want to offer six straightforward arguments, some historical, some sociological, and some philosophical – all reasonable and commonsensical in the broader sense of rational – that suggest why it is absurd to think that Islam cannot accommodate democracy or that democracy cannot accommodate Islam…

It would require a separate essay to suggest how deeply perverse the typical American understanding of democratization is when it comes to “helping” others achieve liberty.
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Posted by on July 5, 2008 in America, culture wars, current affairs, faith and philosophy, fundamentalism and extremism, globalisation/corporations, History, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Political, politics, religion, terrorism, USA

 

GWB’s song and dance man changes tune

We all remember him, don’t we? There was a time when we saw his face even more often than we saw George W Bush’s:

He looked decidedly uncomfortable in that one; and now we know why:
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Posted by on May 29, 2008 in America, current affairs, Iraq, Political, politics, terrorism, USA

 

There’s this guy who goes looking for chooks…

Now that might not seem a scenario for a great bit of television, not to mention a celebration of the extraordinary in the ordinary, but that is just what it turned out to be. Rare Chicken Rescue last night on ABC1: did you see it?

Rare chicken breeder Mark Tully goes on a 10,000km journey across Australia to track down endangered poultry. He has more than 200 breeds among his 2000 chickens, which he claims have saved his life.

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Posted by on May 7, 2008 in America, Australia, Australia and Australian, humanity, Iraq, TV, USA