Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas in Iraq

  • Baghdad celebrates first public Christmas amid hope, memories CNN:
    Welcome to the first-ever public Christmas celebration in Baghdad, held Saturday and sponsored by the Iraqi Interior Ministry. Once thought to be infiltrated by death squads, the Ministry now is trying to root out sectarian violence -- as well as improve its P.R. image. ... Many of the people attending the Christmas celebration appear to be Muslims, with women wearing head scarves. Suad Mahmoud, holding her 16-month-old daughter, Sara, tells me she is indeed Muslim, but she's very happy to be here. "My mother's birthday also is this month, so we celebrate all occasions," she says, "especially in this lovely month of Christmas and New Year."

    Father Saad Sirop Hanna, a Chaldean Christian priest, is here too. He was kidnapped by militants in 2006 and held for 28 days. He knows firsthand how difficult the lot of Christians in Iraq is but, he tells me, "We are just attesting that things are changing in Baghdad, slowly, but we hope that this change actually is real. We will wait for the future to tell us the truth about this."

    He just returned from Rome. "I came back to Iraq because I believe that we can live here," he says. "I have so many [Muslim] friends and we are so happy they started to think about things from another point of view and we want to help them."

    (Via GatewayPundit, with a roundup).

  • Christmas Hope Dawns in Iraq Zenit News Service. December 24, 2008. Iraqi bishops are welcoming signs of friendship extended to Christians of their country this Christmas.

  • Christmas in Kirkuk December 23, 2008. The most frequently recurring desire for Iraqi families is "to participate in midnight Mass." Problems connected to security do not permit this, but hope remains for the future. Prayers, the exchange of greetings with "Muslim brethren," and the sharing of food for the celebration are the sign of a shared objective: the return to normalcy.
  • December 22, 2008. Iraqi bishops tell AsiaNews about the climate in the country, on the eve of the holiday. Compared to the era of Saddam Hussein, there is greater freedom, but the danger of violence remains. The prelates emphasize the positive elements on the path of dialogue, and are asking the government for concrete steps in the protection of rights.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What can we be thankful for in Iraq?

In a survey of "random politically-incorrect reasons to be optimistic on Thanksgiving day," Victor Davis Hanson asks "What happened in Iraq?":

Lost? Quagmire? Out by March 2008 which was the promise Obama gave when he announced his run in February 2007? General Betray Us? Somehow between Gen. Petraeus’s 2007 congressional testimony (Cf. Hillary’s “suspension of disbelief” slur) and the present calm, the US military essentially won the war. All the front-page stories in our papers that Americans in Iraq were incompetent, barbaric, mercenary, and Hitlerian suddenly ceased, and in their absence there was—nothing? About five times as many Chicagoans died violently in October than did US soldiers in combat in Iraq. Just as the hysteria peaked as gas was supposedly fated to hit $5 a gallon, but silence followed when it descended below $2, and just as we were warned that spiraling home prices had ensured an entire new generation of Americans were shut out of the American dream, and then even greater furor followed when prices fell suddenly and Americans were robbed of their equity, so too with Iraq, which we were to assume, would always be lost, but apparently never won. Like it or not, Gen. Petraeus will compare favorably with generals like Sherman, LeMay, and Ridgway who likewise somehow found victory when failure seemed certain. For all the tragedy and mayhem, the thought that Saddam Hussein is gone and just five years later there is a stable and successful constitutional government in the heart of the ancient caliphate seems as surreal as it is encouraging.

On the one hand, it is indeed good news that the month of October 2008 saw the lowest death rate of U.S. troops in Iraq for any month since the war began; that in face the murder rate in Chicago exceeds the death toll of U.S. soldiers in the entire country of Iraq by 141.

On the other hand, factoring in the deaths of civilians in violent incidents in Iraq, it is evident how much more must be accomplished.

Still, all things considered, civilian casualties in Iraq have greatly diminished from the high point in August 2007, in large part as a consequence of the "Troop Surge". And the Iraqi government appears to be confident in maintaining security to the extent that it has approved a landmark agreement that will see all US troops withdraw by the end of 2011.

What follows is a brief November roundup of additional Iraq-related news we can be thankful for:

Regular updates can be found at the website for Multi-National Force Iraq - Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bridging the divide between Sunni & Shia

Sunnis and Shi'ites made an emotional reach across the sectarian divide on Tuesday, reopening a Baghdad bridge between the two neighborhoods of Adhamiya and Kadhimiya -- closed since a 2005 (Reuters):

[O]n Tuesday Sunni children from Adhamiya raced to see their Shi'ite friends in Kadhimiya. Women from the two communities met up on the bridge, kissing and hugging each other with joy.

"When the faces met, the lips smiled, hands shook, bodies hugged, the tears flowed out of joy. This is the Iraqi citizen," said Sheikh Ahmed al-Samaraie, head of Iraq's Sunni Endowment, which runs Sunni religious offices and mosques in Iraq. ...

"This day is a remarkable day, a day of a great Iraq. The day of meeting, love, brotherhood, affinity ... The day we proved to the whole world that we are one nation," Sayyid Salih al-Haidari, Samaraie's Shi'ite counterpart said in a speech. Delegations accompanying the two officials then went to pray together at a nearby mosque.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Christian, Sunni, Shia and Kurdish leaders join in a prayer for peace

In Iraqi Kurdistan Christian, Sunni, Shia and Kurdish leaders pray together in the Sunni al-Rashid Mosque, calling for an “end to violence" - reports:

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) – In the last two days attacks by suicide bombers and car bombs have sown death and destruction among the civilian population and targeted government and other political leaders. But there are also signs of hope, people who do not want to give in to the logic of violence perpetrated by terrorists.

Today at noon in the Sunni al-Rashid Mosque in Domez, Iraqi Kurdistan, more than 250 religious leaders, Sunnis, Shiites, Kurdish and Turkmen, as well as a ten-member Christian delegation led Mgr Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, held a joint prayer “to promote peace and end the violence” in the country.

The initiative came from Imam Ali Iman, head of the local Sunni community, who called upon the leaders of the various faiths and ethnic groups in the region “to pray for peace and stability’ in Kirkuk and across Iraq.

During the ceremony the spiritual leaders of the various communities prayed for the victims of last month’s attacks.

This is a strong signal that reiterates a desire to work together for “the good” of the country and “isolate the terrorist cells that want to sow death and destruction.”

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Christians and Muslims show solidarity for victims of Kirkuk attack

The latest Iraqi suicide bombing has resulted in a show of solidarity between Christian and Sunni-Shiite Iraqi citizens - reports::

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) – Kirkuk’s top religious and political authorities visited survivors who were injured in the 28 July suicide bomb attack in which scores of others were killed. Kirkuk’s archbishop, Mgr Louis Sako, along with Muslim religious leaders, both Sunni and Shia, as well as Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen tribal leaders, went to the city’s hospital to visit the wounded and offer them some comfort.

The gesture was significant because it saw the city’s political and religious leaders show “solidarity towards the victims of the massacre,” irrespective of creed or ethnicity, and reaffirm their “condemnation of every form of violence’, whatever its source. ...

At the end of the hospital visit, the delegation met the leaders of the most important Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), as well as their Turkmen counterpart, urging all of them to work together to bring calm back to the region.

“I call on political leaders to think about the common good of the population and fight the aberrant logic of violence,” Monsignor Sako said.

The prelate also said that he hoped that all political parties “will sit together around the table to talk and discuss,” putting aside threats and extremisms because “with violence nothing is obtained,” whilst with mutual “forgiveness” it will be possible to rebuilt unity and peaceful coexistence for all.

This morning’s initiative, which the Catholic Church strongly backed, was unanimously welcomed by both Muslim religious leaders and all political parties. All local media covered it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Iraqi Christians Rebuild Churches

VATICAN CITY, JULY 29, 2008 ( The Christian communities of southern Iraq launched a campaign for the restoration of churches that have been damaged due to negligence and the war, reports Zenit News:

The news, published by the "BaghdadHope" Web site, was given by Father Imad Aziz Al Banna, of the Archdiocese of Basra of the Chaldeans. He explained that the local Christian community requested that the government finance the project. The community is working in cooperation with the office in charge of non-Muslim groups, and other government ministries.

The priest mentioned the recent reopening of the church of Um Al Azhan in Al-Amarah, and expressed his confidence in the preservation of the Christian religious heritage. He affirmed his hope that the present security situation will encourage this initiative, which he said is urgent since some Christian families who fled southern Iraq are now returning.

The church, built in 1880, was restored. A Mass and baptism were held there, celebrated by Father Al Banna at the end of June.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Associated Press: ""US now winning Iraq war" + Iraqi News Roundup

In a press conference, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said that the the surge in Iraq has been a success by any measure:

“By every metric that we measure violence in Iraq, there has been a dramatic improvement from where things were before the surge,” Morrell said. “I’ll just point to one, and that is [that] in July of last year, we had 79 U.S. [servicemembers killed in action] in Iraq. We have four thus far this month.”

The dramatic security gains have provided room for political and economic successes. “You name it, it is happening in Iraq,” Morrell said. “Do you want to talk about political gains? We’ve had basically all the major benchmark legislation passed.”

The Sunni bloc has returned to the government, 10 of 18 Iraqi provinces are under local control, and Najaf International Airport has reopened. “You see a $300 million luxury hotel opening up in the Green Zone [and] $50 million in refurbishment of the airport road,” Morrell said. “There’s economic investment, and there’s political progress. There’s increased security. All those things are undeniable, and they are attributable to the fact that we plussed up forces in there.”

There were, of course, other factors at work in the security improvement, Morrell said, but the surge and the change in U.S. counterinsurgency strategy made all else possible. The “Anbar Awakening” that allied formerly insurgent Sunni Muslims with the coalition and influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s cease-fire were other factors, he said, but he noted they didn’t happen independently of other events.

(See also: "US now winning Iraq war that seemed lost" Associated Press. July 26, 2008).

It's a testament to the improving situation in Iraq that so many of our armed forces are now -- rather than being involved in armed combat -- are participating in what is more properly termed humanitarian services:

Relationships between the Iraqi government and former insurgents have improved, with reportedly more than 1,100 former fighters having reconciled with Iraqi Security and Coalition forces in the Salah ad Din province since May -- reestablishing their ties to the communities, rejoining their families in their homes and becoming active participants in Iraq’s future.

Security patrols continue, together with the confiscation of weapons caches -- During their month-long presence in al-Amarah, battalions from the 10th IA Div. have not seen a single gunfight, not one improvised explosive device attack, nor received any indirect fire:

Operations in al-Amarah began June 19. In a matter of days, IA and Iraqi Police detained approximately 200 criminals and collected more than 220 weapon caches. ISF found the caches in homes, businesses and public areas throughout the city of Amarah, containing 2,262 mortar rounds, 1,034 mines, 971 artillery rounds, 749 rocket-propelled grenades, 598 rockets, 259 missile launchers, 176 improvised explosive devices, 259 grenades, 43 DSHKA barrels, 141 explosively formed penetrators and 22 missiles.

All of this without a single shot fired.

Iraqis are also learning to fend for themselves -- a local Baghdad construction company rebuilt both lanes of a bridge damaged by a VIED in 2007; In July, the governor of Qadasiyah province assumed security responsibility from coalition forces, making it the 10th of Iraq’s 18 provinces to transfer security responsibility to the local government.

Further updates can be obtained courtesty of a blog entitled: Iraq's Inconvenient Truth.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki

On July 25, 2008 Pope Benedict XVI received Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamel Al-Maliki at Castel Gandolfo:

A Vatican communiqué stated that the talks were "cordial," and that they "provided an opportunity to examine a number of fundamental aspects of the situation in Iraq, also taking into account the regional situation."

"Particular attention was given to the question of the many Iraqi refugees," added the statement, "both inside and outside the country, who are in need of assistance, also with a view to their hoped-for return."

The text continued: "Renewed condemnation was expressed for the violence that continues to hit various parts of the country almost daily, not sparing the Christian communities which strongly feel the need for greater security.

"The hope was expressed that Iraq may definitively discover the road to peace and development through dialogue and cooperation among all ethnic and religious groups, including minorities, which, while respecting their respective identities and in a spirit of reconciliation and of searching for the common good, together undertake the moral and civil reconstruction of the country.

"In this context, the importance of interreligious dialogue was reiterated, as a way to religious understanding and civil coexistence."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Anbar Awaking Leader questions Obama's Plan of Withdrawal

During his tour of Iraq, Obama met with leaders of the awakening councils and tribal leaders in Al-Anbar province. According to Al-Arabiya TV, Dubai, during the meeting: Ahmad Abu-Rishah, head of the Iraqi Awakening Council, called on the Democratic candidate, Obama, to avoid talking about a near withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, ... saying the US withdrawal should take place after building up the Iraqi forces is completed in order to be ready to defend the sovereignty and the homeland, away from partisan, tribal, and sectarian affiliations."

At 1510 gmt, Al-Arabiya anchorwoman Maysun Azzam carries a three- minute live telephone interview with Ahmad Abu-Rishah, from Al- Ramadi. Following from BBC News is the full translation of the interview:

[Azzam] Does not this demand contradict the support that Obama received through statements by Iraqi political leaders on the importance to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops?

[Abu-Rishah] We stressed the need to support the Iraqi forces and security agencies in order to be able to protect the country after the US forces leave. We also stressed the need to provide economic and scientific support so as to rebuild infrastructure, which has been damaged because of wars. Thirdly, we stressed the importance of preserving the unity of the Iraqi people and land and denounce any plan to partition Iraq.

[Azzam] Excuse me, but cannot these requirements be met within a specific timetable for the withdrawal of US troops? Many countries depend on US military training and financial and economic support while US troops are not actually present on the ground.

[Abu-Rishah] As I told you, we stressed the need to support the Iraqi forces to be able to protect the country after the withdrawal of US troops. We also said it is necessary to implement the agreement between us and President George Bush on reinstating the former Iraqi Army on national and professional bases.

[Azzam] You say that the withdrawal should not take place unless the Iraqi forces are capable of taking control of the situation on the ground, while Obama speaks of withdrawal after two years. Does this mean you are pessimistic about the chances of the Iraqi forces taking control of the situation on the ground?

[Abu-Rishah] If things go seriously, the Iraqi forces can be built within a year. In the Iraqi war [word indistinct]. We used to form brigades in the army within months. Should things go seriously, the Iraqi Army would be built in a year. In the present, we do not have an army that can protect the country after the US forces leave. This army is not capable enough. We need to support this army by providing it with weapons and supplies. The Iraqi defence minister complains about the rise in the prices of weapons. Sometimes he takes weapons from Al-Ramadi. We want weapons from one country and the entire Iraqi Army should be trained on these weapon. It is not right to have part of the army trained on weapons from Al-Ramadi while the other part trained on Italian weapons, for example. We want weapons from the US Army that can be effectively used to protect the country, and the Iraqi Army should be fully trained on these weapons."

Originally published by Al-Arabiya TV, Dubai, in Arabic 1504 22 Jul 08.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Iraqi Military express reservations about Obama's plan of withdrawal

Iraqis like Obama more than his strategy by SABRINA TAVERNISE and RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. The New York Times July 17, 2008:

BAGHDAD — A tough Iraqi general melted into smiles when asked about Sen. Barack Obama.

"Everyone in Iraq likes him," said the general, Nassir al-Hiti. "I like him. He's young. Very active. We would be very happy if he was elected president."

But mention Obama's plan for withdrawing American soldiers, and the general stiffens.

"Very difficult," he said, shaking his head. "Any army would love to work without any help, but let me be honest: For now, we don't have that ability."

Thus in a few brisk sentences, the general summed up the conflicting emotions about Obama in Iraq, the place outside America with perhaps the most riding on its relationship with him.

There was, as Obama prepared to visit here, excitement over a man who is the anti-Bush in almost every way: a Democrat who opposed a war that many Iraqis feel devastated their nation. And many in the political elite recognize that Obama shares their hope for a more rapid withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

But his support for troop withdrawal cuts both ways, reflecting a deep internal quandary in Iraq: For many middle-class Iraqis, affection for Obama is tempered by worry that his proposal could lead to chaos in a nation already devastated by war. Many Iraqis also acknowledge that security gains in recent months were achieved partly by the buildup of American troops, which Obama opposed and his likely Republican opponent, John McCain, supported.

"In no way do I favor the occupation of my country," said Abu Ibrahim, a Western-educated businessman in Baghdad, "but there is a moral obligation on the Americans at this point."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Good News from Iraq (Roundup)

Some news and stories from Iraq you may not have picked up from your daily news ...

  • One hundred insurgents detained in Baghdad during past week, by Bill Murray. The Long War Journal:
    BAGHDAD, IRAQ: Iraqi and Coalition forces in and around Baghdad captured more than 100 insurgents and defused 147 improved explosive devices during the past week as part of continued security operations, according to Iraqi and Coalition spokesmen. One insurgent was killed, six kidnap victims liberated and about 700 kilograms of TNT discovered during security sweeps in the past seven days, said Iraqi Army spokesman Major General Qassim Atta during a press conference in Baghdad today.

    The current security plan, called Fardh al-Qanoon, or `Enforcing the Law,’ has been in place since early 2007, when U.S. planners began implementing a U.S. troop surge and divided Baghdad into separate security districts. Iraq forces now lead operations in all three of Iraq’s major cities, Baghdad, Basrah and Mosul and are operating in Amarah, where the Iraqi Army is currently battle elements of the Mahdi Army, said U.S. Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll at the same press conference.

    "So far in Amarah, there has been little resistance to the extension of the rule of law," Driscoll said. "There are still foreign terrorists who want to reconstitute their forces. Elements of Al-Qaeda and Iranian-supported Special Groups are still in Baghdad, but they are under pressure" ...

  • Ramadi Citizens Continue to Sign Up to Defend Their City, by Lance Cpl. Casey Jones. Iraq's Inconvenient Truth June 22, 2008:
    Over the last two years, Ramadi has seen a dramatic in the number of policemen as the city progressively moves toward the final steps in becoming fully independent.

    In 2006, there were very few police in Ramadi when violence engulfed the city, the citizens lived in fear, and al-Qaida had a firm grip on the region.

    In the first two weeks of 2007, the city experienced an unexpected surge of applicants seeking to join the force. During that two-week span, more than 1,000 applicants sought law enforcement jobs in Ramadi, according to Army Maj. Thomas Shoffner, operations officer for the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division. The turning point for the boost in applicants was the murder of a well-known sheik in August 2006. The murderers hid his body for 3 days denying his family the right to bury him in accordance with Islamic tradition. After the killing, tribal leaders could not tolerate al Qaeda’s lawlessness and violence throughout their land and formed an alliance against the terrorist network called, Sahawa al-Anbar, or the “Awakening Council.”

  • Marines Turn Over Outpost to Iraqi Army May 31, 2008:
    It’s a trend seen more and more frequently around al-Anbar province; Marines packing up their gear and returning their positions to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) so they can continue providing protection and security to the Iraqi citizens....
  • Improved Iraqi Forces Contribute to Four-Year Violence Low May 30, 2008:
    BAGHDAD — Last week, Iraq experienced the lowest level of “security incidents” since March 2004, a reduction that military officials attribute in part to improvements in Iraqi security forces.

    “The collective efforts … to increase the capacity of the Iraqi security forces is a key part of the reason why we saw last week the lowest level of security incidents in Iraq the past four years,” Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, said May 28 during a news conference in Baghdad.

    “It is also why we are seeing Iraqi citizens increasingly supporting their security forces by calling in tips on criminal activity and illegal weapons,” Bergner continued. “And it is why we are seeing the Iraqi security forces conducting effective operations in Basra, Mosul and Baghdad to enforce the rule of law.”

  • Democracy Takes Root in Arab Jabour , by y Sgt. David Turner. May 18, 2008 (Multi National Force Iraq):
    FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU — “Democracy is a new thing in Iraq,” said Sadi Kalif, the newly elected chairman of the South Rasheed Community Council. “When Saddam was in power, there were no elections. They just pointed to a person and said ‘You are in charge’.”

    After years of war and terrorist activity from insurgents and al-Qaeda in Iraq, the citizens of this area south of Baghdad are learning to trust the path of democracy. They are also discovering the process begins not at the top, but in their own neighborhoods.

    Members of the South Rasheed Community Council met in Bejiya May 14, where they elected their new chairman and met with Coalition and Iraqi forces. Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, responsible for the area for the past year, introduced the council to the incoming Iraqi Army commander.

    Leaders on all sides acknowledged that progress in the area is only possible while strong security forces are in place.

    “Al-Qaeda occupied this area for three years,” Kalif said. “It was like the Dark Ages … We had two previous elections, but nobody showed up because of al-Qaeda. If someone participated in the elections, they might get killed.”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bishop Hollis: "Light of faith is alive in Iraq, despite persecution by Muslim extremists"

Despite tribulations, the light of faith is alive in Iraqi Christians, British bishop says Catholic News Agency. June 19, 2008:

London, Jun 19, 2008 / 06:26 pm (CNA).- In a Mass celebrated on June 16 at the Cathedral of Westminster, the president of the Committee on External Affairs of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Bishop Roger Francis Hollis, said that despite the violence and persecution of Muslim extremists, “the light of the faith is alive” in Iraqi Christians.

According to L’Osservatore Romano, Bishop Hollis recently visited the Iraqi towns of Erbil, Kirkuk and Sulemanyiah. His visit came just days after the kidnapping and killing of the Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho.

During his homily at the Mass celebrated in London by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Bishop Hollis denounced the violence in Iraq and “the killing of laypeople and priests by Muslim extremists has been systematically and deliberately carried out.”

Addressing the hundreds of Iraqi Christians present at the Cathedral of Westminster, the bishop explained that his trip to Iraq allowed him “to share the faith with your bishops, priests and fellow citizens. I felt very encouraged and strengthened by their courage and fidelity.”

Read more about Bishop Hollis' visit to Iraq.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Iraqi Museum "Looted"? - Behind the Myth

Donny George, director of the Iraq National Museum, was asked earlier this year if the Pentagon had apologized to him for failing to guard his museum in April 2003, as Baghdad fell.

George sidestepped the question, telling the National Arts Club in New York that he was “satisfied” with the financial and technical help the United States has given the museum in the last two years.

“I will take that as an apology,” he said coyly.

But George expects no apology, and it’s not because the Americans are making amends for some terrible wrong. He expects no apology because he knows that he, not the Americans, should be apologizing.

He knows that the world’s ungrateful archaeologists, not Iraq’s liberators, should be apologizing.

The Single Backpack Theory: Proof archaeologists owe the U.S. an apology for their accusations on Iraq National Museum looting July 3, 2005.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sheikh Amed goes to Washington

Iraqi Sheik Offers To Take Fight to Bin Laden: Hero of Anbar Would Stir a Revolt in Afghanistan, by Eli Lake. New York Sun June 9, 2008:

WASHINGTON — The leader of the tribal confederation that has fought to expel Al Qaeda from most of Iraq's Anbar province is offering his men to help gin up a rebellion against Osama bin Laden's organization along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

In an interview, Sheik Ahmad al-Rishawi told The New York Sun that in April he prepared a 47-page study on Afghanistan and its tribes for the deputy chief of mission at the American embassy in Kabul, Christopher Dell. When asked if he would send military advisers to Afghanistan to assist American troops fighting there, he said, "I have no problem with this, if they ask me, I will do it."

The success of the Anbaritribal rebellion known as the awakening spurred Multinational Forces Iraq to try to emulate the model throughout Iraq, including with the predominately Shiite tribes in the south of the country. Today, the tribal-based militias formed to protect Anbaris from Al Qaeda are forming a political alliance poised to unseat the confessional Sunni parties currently in parliament in the provincial elections scheduled for the fall and the federal ones scheduled for 2009.

During his nomination hearing for taking over the regional military post known as Central Command, General David Petraeus said one of the first things he would do would be to travel to Pakistan to discuss the current strategy of the government in dealing with Al Qaeda's safe haven in the Pashtun border provinces. A possible strategy for defeating Al Qaeda would be an effort there along the lines of the Anbar awakening to win over the tribes that offer Osama bin Laden's group protection and safe haven.

"Al Qaeda is an ideology," Sheik Ahmad said. "We can defeat them inside Iraq and we can defeat them in any country." The tribal leader arrived in Washington last week. All of his meetings, including an audience with President Bush, have been closed to the public, in part because the Anbari sheiks, while likely to win future electoral contests, are not themselves part of Iraq's elected government.

Of his meeting with Mr. Bush, Sheik Ahmad said he was impressed. "He is a brave man. He is also a wise man. He is taking care of the country's future, the United States' future. He is also taking care of the Iraqi people, the ordinary people in Iraq. He wants to accomplish success in Iraq ..."

Read more of the New York Sun's interview with Sheikh Ahmed al-Rishawi

Sheik Ahmad has also expressed his cooperation with the Vatican in Muslim-Christian dialogue and expressed his concern over Al Qaeda's persecution of Chaldean Catholics in Iraq. In March 2008, Sheik Ahmad received a letter of commendation by the Vatican for "efforts to promote harmony and reconciliation throughout [the] region." See The Vatican, The Anbar Awakening and the "Protector of the Chaldean Catholics" May 1, 2008.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Peace in Iraq

An Iraqi girl holds up the peace sign as Cpl. Paul Roderick talks to a group a Iraqi children while on a dismounted patrol through the Ayasha village, northwest of Baghdad, May 29, 2008. Photo by 2nd Stryker Brigade 25th Infantry Division. (Via Iraq's Inconvenient Truth).

Saturday, May 31, 2008

America Magazine: "The Jesuits of Baghdad"

The Jesuits of Baghdad: 1932-69 - In the June 9-16 issue of America, J. Kevin Appleby and Pierre de Charentenay consider the current humanitarian crisis in Iraq, in particular the persecution and displacement of Iraqi Christians. Back in 2003, Fr. Joseph MacDonnell remembered his years at Baghdad College, a secondary school run by the Jesuits and staffed in part by priests from the New England province. The Jesuits were expelled from Iraq in 1969 by Saddam Hussein.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A "Salute" to Archbishop Timothy Paul Broglio

By way of some grumbling from Commonweal magazine about the "military-ecclesiastical complex" we get a link to Salute: The magazine for the Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA [PDF format].

The current issue features special Coverage of the Installation of Archbishop Broglio -- interviews with the Archbishop, his family and friends; the Archbishop’s homily for the Mass of Installation.

The interview with Archbishop Broglio is particularly fascinating, as he tells of his background as Secretary of the Apostolic Nunciatures in Côte d’Ivoire (West Africa, 1983-87) and in Paraguay (1987-90), followed by an eleven year stint with Cardinal Angelo Sodano in the Vatican ("he confirmed for me that authentic ministry in the Church is not about honors or positions, but service"):

AMS: You certainly have had extensive experience in dealing with all kinds of people and all kinds of situations, hard ones too, around the world, from the highest level of the Church, to some of the poorest parishes of the Church. How has this prepared you for this new assignment? The Military Archdiocese, after all, is a perfect example of the “global Church.” What are your goals?

AB: The Holy See has decided to give me another challenge. When I was first approached with the proposal of being named Archbishop for the Military Services in the United States, I was overwhelmed. I really am not sure exactly how I responded, but knew that, if asked, I would accept.

That afternoon, Divine Providence arranged that I accompany two young Puerto Rican priests to the Rooms of St. Ignatius in Rome. Privately, while there, I repeated Ignatius’ prayer “Take, Lord, my liberty, my understanding, my entire will. Give me only your grace which will be enough for me.” Once again, I placed my ministry in the hands of Almighty God.

As I learn more about the AMS, I am convinced that I can offer my talents and make a contribution. While the situation and the characteristics change for military personnel and their families, our ministry is still basically pastoral. I bring thirty-two years of ordained ministry to these new responsibilities, but more importantly the conviction that Jesus Christ established His Church as the instrument for the salvation of humanity. “Woe to me, if I do not preach the Gospel,” St. Paul tells us. My first goal is to facilitate the ministry of our chaplains and thereby minister to the military and their families. ...

Also of note is an article entitled "Christ in the Combat Zone" -- a Chaplain reporting on his second tour to Iraq.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Vatican, The Anbar Awakening and the "Protector of the Chaldean Catholics"

A quick recap: In September 2006, Sheikh Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha formed the Sunni Anbar Awakening, an alliance of tribes in the Anbar province, to counter -- with training by and cooperation with U.S. military -- the presence of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. “I swear to God, if we have good weapons, if we have good vehicles, if we have good support, I can fight Al Qaeda all the way to Afghanistan,” he was reported to have said ("An Iraqi Tribal Chief Opposes the Jihadists, and Prays" March 3, 2007).

As Steve Schippert noted at the time, most Americans were oblivious to Sattar's contributions to the counter-terrorist effort ("This Is Counterterrorism, Senator" National Review April 25, 2007):

The most significant local ally of Coalition and Iraqi government in Anbar province — and surely in all of Iraq — is Sheikh Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, or, more properly, Sheikh Abd al-Sattar, where “Abd” translates into “slave” or “totally subordinated” (to God, of course). Sheikh Abdul Sattar is instrumental in fighting and defeating al Qaeda; the incredibly influential Ramadi man sees al Qaeda as terrorists who seek to destroy his country and who are exploiting and murdering his people, Sunni and Shia alike. Al Qaeda wants him dead more than any other man in Iraq, and they have tried numerous times to kill him.

Sattar said recently, “The time for dictatorship is gone, and we are welcoming the new dawn of democracy and freedom here.” He is a powerful Sunni from Anbar province, and, on Iraqi national television, he has pledged his allegiance to Prime Minister al-Maliki — a Shia — and to the democratically elected Iraqi government. In an overt (and televised) gesture of his determination and solidarity with the Iraqi government, Sheikh Abdul Sattar sliced the palm of his hand with a knife and proceeded to pound the blade into the table before him.

The perceived civil war in Iraq is in many ways more a product of foreign Iranian and al Qaeda instigation than internal Iraqi hatred. Had al Qaeda not bombed the Shia al-Askari Mosque and had Iran not provided arms and funds to both sides of the ensuing sectarian killings, there is no telling where Iraq would be right now. It certainly was not in civil war then. Both Iran and al Qaeda require chaos and instability in order to achieve their aims in Iraq. Sattar’s mission is to foil their plans.

Part and parcel of the Anbar Awakening's success was the tribal alliance's ability to work cooperatively with Americans -- according to Col. Sean B. MacFarland of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division:
“If you talk to these sheiks, they’ll tell you that they’re in no hurry to see the Americans leave al-Anbar."

“One thing Sheikh Sattar keeps saying is he wants al-Anbar to be like Germany and Japan and South Korea were after their respective wars, with a long-term American presence helping ... put them back together,” MacFarland said. “The negative example he cites is Vietnam. He says, yeah, so, Vietnam beat the Americans, and what did it get them? You know, 30 years later, they’re still living in poverty.”

In fact, over the course of 9 months, the Sahwah Al Anbar, or "Anbar Salvation Council", was able to expel Al Qaeda from Ramadi (once an insurgent stronghold and the capital of Al Qaeda operations) and the Anbar province in general -- a victory which he dedicated to the victims of 9/11:
"In the month when the terrorists attacked the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, we dedicate the victory of Anbar Province to the families of the victims who suffered that criminal act," the letter said, which was addressed directly to Bush.

"With the help of the president of the United States, we pledge to continue to cooperate and communicate with you to continue to get good results," the letter said.

On September 13, 2007, al-Rishawi was killed along with two of his bodyguards by a roadside bomb near his home in Ramadi, Anbar, Iraq -- 10 days after meeting President George W. Bush at a U.S. base in Anbar. Sheikh Ahmed was selected by his fellow Sheikhs of Anbar province to lead the Sahawa Al Anbar and carry on his brother's legacy ("Iraqis vow to fight al Qaeda after sheikh death" Reuters Sept. 14, 2007).

* * *

This week, a friend forwarded me the following news story from the Arab press: A letter from Pope Benedict XVI to Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha (

The article is in Arabic, but the gist of it is that on April 28, 2008, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, President of the revival in Iraq in his official headquarters in the city of Ramadi, met Sheikh Iyad George Aziz, a major leader within the Chaldean Catholic community.

The article references a letter from the Vatican to Sheik Ahmed (delivered to him by Sheikh Iyad), responding to his Christmas and New Year's greetings and expressing the positive desire to join the Muslim-Christian dialogue. The full text of the Vatican's letter:

From the Vatican March 4, 2008

Dear Sheikh Ahmed Basi' Abu Risha,

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI was pleased to receive the Christmas and New Year's message which you sent to him, and has asked me to thank you. He appreciates the sentiment which has prompted you to write him.

In his message for the 2008 World Day of Peace, His Holiness extended an invitation "for every man and woman to have a more lively sense of belonging to the one human family, and to strive to make human coexistence increasingly reflect this conviction, which is essential for the establishment of true and lasting peace." With these sentiments, His Holiness encourages you and all men and women of goodwill in your efforts to promote harmony and reconciliation throughout your region.

With assurance of my prayers and good wishes, I am yours sincerely,

Archbishop Fernando Filoni

* * *
As readers are no doubt aware, by virtue of their Christian faith, the Chaldeans have been subject to horrible persecution, the imposition of jaziyah, kidnappings and even targeted assassinations by Al Qaeda in Iraq.

As my source reports, Sheikh Iyad has apparently agreed to join the Sahawa [Awakening], allowing Sheikh Ahmad to add "Protector of the Chaldean Catholics" to his list of formal titles in a public ceremony covered by Arab media:

After hearing Sheikh Iyad's account of the suffering that the Chaldean Catholics have endured in Iraq, Sheikh Ahmad publicly declared that from this time forward they would be under his protection, that anyone who killed a Chaldean will be regarded as one who has killed in a member of his tribe (under the medieval Islamic concept of qisas this is a capital offense), and money will be provided from the Sahawa al-Iraq treasury to rebuild the churches and cemeteries that al-Qaeda destroyed. He justified this by quoting from the Qu'ran and stating that there should be no compulsion in matters of religion because truth stands free from error.
Consequently, in a moment of Muslim-Christian solidarity, it would appear that the Chaldeans have a new and very significant protector from persecution at the hands of Al Qaeda.

Related Reading

  • "Ramadi from the Caliphate to Capitalism", by Andrew Lubin. Proceedings Magazine Issue: April 2008 Vol. 134/4/1,262 provides an detailed look at how Sheikh Sattar Abdul Abu Risha and his Sons of Anbar, together with the assistance of the U.S. Army's 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) and the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, turned around a city once regarded as "a lost cause" and proclaimed by Al Qaeda as the capital of their new caliphate.
  • Hope for Iraq’s Meanest City How the surge brought order to Fallujah, by Michael Totten City Journal Vol. 18, No. 2 Spring 2008:
    The results of the Anbar Awakening and the surge are plain to see. Since the Fifth Marine Regiment’s Third Battalion rotated into Fallujah in September 2007, not a single American has been wounded there, let alone killed. ...

    “The al-Qaida leadership outside dumped huge amounts of money and people and arms into Anbar Province,” says Lieutenant Colonel Mike Silverman, who oversees an area just north of Ramadi. “They poured everything they had into this place. The battle against Americans in Anbar became their most important fight in the world. And they lost.”

    (Michael Totten blogs regularly at Michael Totten's Middle East Journal).

  • Sons of Iraq Screened for ISF, by Spc. Amanda McBride. Multi-National Force Iraq Sunday, 13 April 2008. The "Sons of Iraq" (two thirds of them Sunni, one-third Shia -- formerly "Concerned Citizens Groups") are being transitioned to formal membership in the Iraqi Security Forces:
    “There is a phenomenal interest in the ISF,” said Getchell, a native of Bridgewater, Mass. “Those who have been in the Sons of Iraq program are our priority over those who are not part of the Sons of Iraq program. They stepped forward to defend and protect their areas, so they’ve already shown the propensity to be part of the security process.”
    In March, Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division and Sons of Iraq conducted a combined medical engagement in Arab Jabour, treating residents for minor injuries, such as scrapes, sprains and allergies.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pope Mourns Death of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho

Pope Mourns Death of Kidnapped Iraqi Prelate, Prays for Mercy for "Martyred Land" Zenit News Service. March 13, 2008:

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 13, 2008 ( Benedict XVI sent a telegram of condolence to the leader of the Church in Iraq, expressing his condolences at the death of the archbishop of Mosul, who was kidnapped Feb. 29.

In the telegram to Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, the Pope expressed his closeness "to the Chaldean Church and to the entire Christian community," reaffirming his "condemnation for an act of inhuman violence which offends the dignity of human beings and seriously damages the cause of the fraternal coexistence of the beloved Iraqi people."

Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul was kidnapped just after he had finished leading the Way of the Cross. The three men who accompanied the archbishop, including his driver, were killed.

The Holy Father's telegram gave assurances of his prayers for the 65-year-old archbishop and invoked the Lord's mercy "that this tragic event may serve to build a future of peace in the martyred land of Iraq."

The kidnappers revealed in a phone call Wednesday where the body of the prelate could be found. AsiaNews obtained reports that the archbishop had been dead for a few days when his body was recovered. The cause of death has still not been reported.

According to AsiaNews, Archbishop Rahho suffered poor health and needed daily medication, following a heart attack some years ago.

Iraq News Update

Updates from Multi-National Force Iraq on what our troops are doing to assist the Iraqi people

  • Salman Pak market opens for business, by Sgt. Natalie Rostek. March 13, 2008:
    COMBAT OUTPOST CARVER — A new market opened in Salman Pak March 11 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by leaders of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, local citizens and council leaders.

    The market consists of seven stores including two restaurants, a supermarket, an electronics shop, a photo shop, a sweets store and a cell phone store.

    Capt. Mathew Givens, projects planner for the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, said planning for the market began last December when 1-15th Inf. Regt. Soldiers in the area saw run-down shops where the new market now stands. ...

    “We chose the area because there is so much going on and it is at the beginning of the main part of town,” Givens said. “The JSS (joint security station), the government building and the Salman Pak Fire Station are right across the street. It’s in a central location.”

    Leaders of the 1-15 Inf. Regt. provided store owners with microgrants enabling them to refurbish their stores.

  • Hawr Rajab Sees Significant Economic, Quality of Life Improvements March 10, 2008:
    FOB KALSU — With security improving in Hawr Rajab, stores and schools are reopening and a number of programs are revitalizing a community once on the brink of chaos.

    In November 2007, al-Qaeda launched their last well-coordinated offensives into Hawr Rajab, killing a total of 12 members of the Sons of Iraq (SoI) and wounding eight. In the same firefight, two Iraqi Army (IA) Soldiers were killed and another nine wounded; four U.S. Soldiers were injured in the attacks.

    When the insurgents attacked, the SoI program in the region was still in its infancy, but the members were not deterred. With the assistance of Coalition forces and IA Soldiers, residents began to reclaim their community and insurgents not killed or captured were forced to flee.

    As rebuilding of the rural farming area began, community leaders ramped up efforts to re-establish ties with the government of Iraq (GoI).

    Sheik Ali Majeed Mushir Al-Dulaymi, leader of the SoI in Hawr Rajab, began meeting with Yousif Yaqoub Bekhaty, Rashid District Council chairman, and other council officials to request government assistance with reconstruction efforts. . . .

    The combined efforts of the groups, assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, mean residents of Hawr Rajab have access to resources for rebuilding their town.

    Life is returning to normal with the improvements, made possible by partnership between Coalition forces, SoI, officials from the GoI and Iraqi security forces. Hawr Rajab is becoming a beacon of change and potential for sustainable economic improvements.

  • The Thunder Rolls: Taji Rail Lines Open for First Time Since 2003 March 6, 2008:
    The railroad lines of the Taji Qada, north of Baghdad, have laid dormant since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, but as a result of the efforts of Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers, the first train let loose a thunderous blast of its horn March. 5, as it slowly rolled through the gates of Camp Taji.

    "This particular train … is part of a proof of principle,” said Cpt. James Kerns, a Harrison County, Ky., native, who serves as the assistant operations officer for the Base Defense Operations Command (BDOC), Multi-National Division – Baghdad. "(This mission was executed) to facilitate the Iraqi railroad infrastructure improvement so they can, in the future, utilize the train and rail system to carry goods."

    With a functioning rail system, the Iraqi Security Forces can benefit from the results as well as the people of Iraq.

    "It's an enduring mission. The Iraqi railroads are being put back in, and it's going to change the face of Taji," said Maj. Henry McNealy, a Dewey Beach, Del., native, who serves as the operations officer for the BDOC. "It'll become a consistent train; hopefully, over time, the infrastructure of Iraq will be rebuilt."

    The train is a big piece of getting Iraq back on line, McNealy added.

Additional News

  • Back in Baghdad, looking for the normal, by Caesar Ahmed, Los Angeles Times. March 13, 2008 - A physician-journalist who fled Iraq with his wife and young daughters goes home after hearing that things have improved
    I watched Iraqi television channels and noticed footage of new cars in Baghdad and municipal workers planting flowers in public parks. I talked to relatives and friends. "Come back," they said. "Baghdad is better now; Karada is like heaven."

    When my old company said it would rehire me, I bought a plane ticket.

    My mother and brother have returned to Baghdad, but I've seen them only once because they live across the city. On the phone, my mother begs me not to go out.

    The hardest part has been being away from my wife and girls. I had promised we would never be apart, but I have been away now for more than two months.

    Sadly, I'd rather they stay far away. In Egypt, they can lead a normal life, with security, electricity and hot water. In Iraq, they might see what I saw a few days ago: blood staining the ground after a bombing.

    But as I spend more time here, I realize many Iraqis are like me. They are sick of sectarian killings. A year ago, we just wished to stay alive. Now we dream about a normal life. We want to live in our homes and take our children to school.

    Some Iraqis are hoping again, even me.

  • The US has captured a senior al Qaeda leader with close links to Osama bin Laden and has transferred him to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
    Muhammad Rahim al Afghani, a senior aide to bin Laden, was captured in August 2007.

    Rahim was described as a “high-value” individual by Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman in a press briefing today that announced Rahim’s transfer to the military detention facility. “Prior to his arrival in Guantanamo, he has been held in CIA custody,” Whitman said, indicating he has been interrogated by the CIA for eight months.

    Whitman described Rahim as “one of (Osama bin Laden’s) most trusted facilitators and procurement specialists.” Rahim is from Nangahar province, Afghanistan, and joined al Qaeda in the mid-1990s. He served as a procurement agent, and then later as a courier for bin Laden. Rahim also helped facilitate bin Laden’s escape during the 2002 battle in Tora Bora in Nangahar province.

    Just prior to his capture, Rahim was providing aid to Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied extremist groups operating in Afghanistan.

  • Coalition targets al Qaeda's network in the Iraqi North March 5, 2008. As al Qaeda in Iraq is targeted in the northern city of Mosul, pressure continues to be applied to the terror network nationwide. US and Iraqi security forces have killed or captured 26 senior leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq's terror network over the past several weeks, Major General Kevin Bergner, the spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq said in a briefing in Baghdad on March 5. Many of those killed or captured have come from the northern regions, where al Qaeda is struggling to re-establish its network during a joint US and Iraqi military onslaught.

  • "Inside Iraqi Politics" is a special series dedicated to examining political progress in Iraq, with a focus on issues that affect the country's stability and the reconciliation between ethnic and religious sects. The product of more than a dozen interviews with American and Iraqi officials and months of research, the series presents a more comprehensive view of factors that slow progress beyond sectarian interest, including the rapid growth of the government, administrative inexperience, corruption, and the structure of the executive and legislative branches outlined in the Iraqi Constitution.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Remember Those Benchmarks? - Unheralded political advances in Iraq, by Fred Barnes. Weekly Standard 02/25/2008, Volume 013, Issue 23

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Friday, January 04, 2008

National Journal vs. The Lancet

In its latest issue the National Journal sets its sights on the problematic matter of wartime statistics, chief in point the oft-quoted study by the Lancet ("Data Bomb", by Neil Munro and Carl M. Cannon):

Over the past several months, National Journal has examined the 2006 Lancet article, and another [PDF] that some of the same authors published in 2004; probed the problems of estimating wartime mortality rates; and interviewed the authors and their critics. NJ has identified potential problems with the research that fall under three broad headings: 1) possible flaws in the design and execution of the study; 2) a lack of transparency in the data, which has raised suspicions of fraud; and 3) political preferences held by the authors and the funders, which include George Soros's Open Society Institute. . . .
Apprently even the anti-war Iraq Body Count disputes the findings:
Officials at Iraq Body Count strongly opposed the Iraq war yet issued a detailed critique of the Lancet II study. Researchers wading into a field that is this fraught with danger have a responsibility not to be reckless with statistics, the group said. The numbers claimed by the Lancet study would, under the normal ratios of warfare, result in more than a million Iraqis wounded seriously enough to require medical treatment, according to this critique. Yet official sources in Iraq have not reported any such phenomenon. An Iraq Body Count analysis showed that the Lancet II numbers would have meant that 1,000 Iraqis were dying every day during the first half of 2006, "with less than a tenth of them being noticed by any public surveillance mechanisms." The February 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque is widely credited with plunging Iraq into civil war, yet the Lancet II report posits the equivalent of five to 10 bombings of this magnitude in Iraq every day for three years.

"In the light of such extreme and improbable implications," the Iraq Body Count report stated, "a rational alternative conclusion to be considered is that the authors have drawn conclusions from unrepresentative data."

On a Related Note:

  • Anti-war Soros funded Iraq study Sunday Times January 13, 2008:
    The study, published in 2006, was hailed by antiwar campaigners as evidence of the scale of the disaster caused by the invasion, but Downing Street and President George Bush challenged its methodology.

    New research published by The New England Journal of Medicine estimates that 151,000 people - less than a quarter of The Lancet estimate - have died since the invasion in 2003.

    “The authors should have disclosed the [Soros] donation and for many people that would have been a disqualifying factor in terms of publishing the research,” said Michael Spagat, economics professor at Royal Holloway, University of London.