Wednesday, April 9

From the NYTimes (LRR):

The view from a monastery in Northern Iraq

He came to this 1,600-year-old monastery 18 years before Saddam Hussein took power and has lived through military coups, droughts, two wars and now an American invasion. So when strangers arrived today saying Baghdad had fallen, the placid face of Father Paulus, a blind 71-year-old monk, betrayed little emotion.

"I am happy if the peace will be settled," he said, showing the cageyness of an Iraqi who has survived decades of authoritarian rule. "God willing, the peace will happen."

Today, Iraqi fighters withdrew from strategic Maqlub Mountain here north of Mosul. A few hours later, Kurdish fighters and American Special Forces soldiers rolled through the front gate of the monastery and declared it liberated. The monastery is named for a fifth-century monk, who is said to have lived in a cave on this mountain, and what is believed to be his body is watched over by monks here.

"God is here, Muhammad is here," he said. "We are protected."

Muhammad who? That Muhammad?

The frail, white-bearded Father Paul is a member of Iraq's Assyrian Christian minority, a group that makes up less than 4 percent of the country's population. For decades, Mr. Hussein's government favored Sunni Muslims, who account for only 20 percent of inhabitants, while suppressing Shiite Muslims, Kurds and Christians. What comes now is anyone's guess.

This is a rather strange little tidbit about the Archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Basra:(scroll down a few stories)

The Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Basra, Iraq, is showing journalists "the gift I have received from Bush." Archbishop Djibrail Kassab has put a label -- "April 3, 2:30 a.m." -- on his piece of U.S. shrapnel. "I was in my bed with the windows opened out in case the glass shattered," he told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. U.S.-led forces "bombed offices of the Foreign Ministry about 30 yards away," he said. "This is the fragment of an American missile that landed at the foot of my bed."

For more on the Archbishop and his relatives in the US, from an April 3 CNS story, go here.

Shi'ite group to boycott talks on Iraq

The main Iraqi Shi'ite opposition group said on Wednesday it would boycott a political meeting the United States is trying to arrange in southern Iraq next week because of the U.S. military presence."We are not going to take part in this meeting in Nassiriya. We think this is part of General Garner's rule of Iraq and we are not going to be part of that project at all," said Hamid al-Bayati, the London representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).The Bush administration has appointed retired Lt. Gen Jay Garner to run civilian affairs in Iraq alongside the U.S. and British military presence.The United States has identified some 40 Iraqi politicians it wants to take part in preliminary discussions on the political future of the country after the collapse of the Baathist government of President Saddam Hussein.SCIRI, which is based in Tehran and dominated by Iraqi Shi'ites, is one of the largest single groups in opposition to Saddam. It has taken part in meetings with other groups but has always been wary of cooperation with the United States.Bayati told Reuters by telephone from London that SCIRI's objection to U.S. plans was that Washington envisaged an interim authority without full sovereignty over the country.

"We could be part of an Iraqi government but we can't be part of a military rule over the country," he said.

The water-hoarding baptizing Army chaplain is being investigated

A chaplain from Houston assigned to the Army V Corps support unit in Iraq is now the focus of an Army inquiry for his practice of offering soldiers a dip into his 500-gallon pool if they agree to be baptized. A newspaper article about Josh Llano, 32, generated numerous e-mails and phone calls, said Lt. Col. Eric Wester, a chaplain and spokesman for the Chaplain Corps based in Virginia. Wester said the article, and the response, got the immediate attention of the corps' chief, Maj. Gen. Gaylord T. Gunhus, who has requested that top chaplain officials looked into whether the article was accurate. "The chief was immediately concerned about the nature of this article and negative reflection that it casts," Wester said. "The question then arose to what degree is the information in the article accurate. The content of the article clearly raises immediate questions."

Trying to bring order to Basra

For instance, in their first official act to try to establish order, British offficials said they had been in contact with a local sheikh, whom they would not name, to help form a council to begin to administer the city.But in interviews across the city, people said today that that would be a disaster.

"All the sheikhs in Basra were friends with Saddam," said Dr. Riva Kasim, a general practitioner in Basra General Hospital. "All the time Saddam gave money to them, and they watched as he would cut someone's ear who did not join the military or cut off someone's tongue who spoke out against the military."Although he did not know what sheikh the British had in mind, he said it did not matter. "All the sheikhs and tribal leaders are bad," he said.As he spoke alongside the Shatt al-Arab waterway that cuts through Basra, a crowd of about two dozen men quickly formed. They all agreed with the doctor."First, we want to thank the British and American army for giving us our freedom," said Abdul Aziz al-Salami. "But, if they put these people in power, there will be a revolt."

Baath party members remain in Basra

In Iraq towns, allegiances shift quickly to the winning side

From the Financial Times:

Hay Al Ansar, on the outskirts of Najaf in Iraq, was glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party government, when the city was seized by US forces last week.But they appear to be just as terrified, if not more so, of their new rulers - a little-known Iraqi militia backed by the US special forces and headquartered in a compound nearby.The Iraqi Coalition of National Unity (ICNU), which appeared in the city last week riding on US special forces vehicles, has taken to looting and terrorising their neighbourhood with impunity, according to most residents.

"They steal and steal," said a man living near the Medresa al Tayif school, calling himself Abu Zeinab. "They threaten us, saying: 'We are with the Americans, you can do nothing to us'."Sa'ida al Hamed, another resident, said she witnessed looting by the ICNU and other armed gangs in the city, which lost its police force when the government fled last week. One man told a US army translator on Monday that he was taken out of his house and beaten by ICNU forces when he refused to give them his car. They took it anyway.If true, the testimony of residents reveals a darker side to US policy in Iraq. In their distaste for peacekeeping and eagerness to hand the ruling of Iraq back to Iraqis, US forces are in danger of losing the peace as rapidly as they have won the war.

US special forces said they were looking into the complaints, which had been passed to them by US military sources. They declined, however, to discuss the formation of the group, how its members were chosen, or who they were.The head of the ICNU, who says he is a former colonel in the Iraqi artillery forces who has been working with the underground opposition since 1996, announced on Tuesday that he was acting mayor of Najaf, and his group had taken over administration of the city.Other Iraqi exiles, brought in by the CIA and US special forces to help assemble a local government over the next few days, say the militia is out of control."They are nobody, and nobody has ever heard of them, all they have is US backing," said an Arab journalist.

Some people have remarked that the blog looks weird - posts running way off the screen. I've done nothing to do the template in weeks, so I don't know why that is happening. Please post if you see a problem. I just republished everything, so let's see if that works.

From the Vatican today:

A senior US official suggested after talks with Vatican officials Wednesday that Washington had mended its rift with the Holy See over waging a war on Iraq which Pope John Paul II has firmly opposed."They recognise the decision on the war has been made by the president and they respected the conscience with which he took that decision," said John Bolton, US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

Bolton is the highest ranking official of US President George W. Bush's administration to meet with Vatican officials since the outbreak of the US-led conflict on March 20. "There wasn't any criticism about the conduct of the war," Bolton told reporters after talks with senior Vatican officials including Foreign Minister Jean-Louis Tauran."I think all of the representatives said that obviously that the decision on the use of hostilities is the decision the civil authority has to make and that decison is on the conscience of those who have to make it.""Their interest now is for the future, to ensure that we do not have a humanitarian tragedy in Iraq which has been one of the aims of our planners from the outset," he said.

In a short statement, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the US official had reiterated Washington's commitment "to respect the ius bello" or law of war, and ensure its forces spared civilian casualties.The Vatican had suggested "concrete ways" in which Muslim and Christian religious networks could be used to channel humanitarian aid in the country, given the destruction of ruling Baath Party networks by which the UN oil-for-food aid packages were distributed."The elimination of the Baath Party as a political force may mean the food distribution system comes apart as well," said Bolton. The Vatican, Bolton told a news conference at the US embassy to the Holy See, had been concerned "that we provide adequately for the reconstruction of Iraq."

The pope, who on Wednesday deplored the "death and destruction" wrought by the war, as well as fresh conflict in Africa, had been at the centre of intense diplomatic efforts to avoid the war, and was reported by aides to have been "deeply saddened and disappointed" upon its outbreak.Wednesday at St Peter's Square, he addressed a "sorrowful appeal to the political authorities, as to all men of good will, to commit themselves to cease violence and injustice..."

In the tense weeks prior to its conflict, the 82-year-old pontiff held talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Iraq's Deputy Foreign Minister Tareq Aziz at the Vatican, and sent separate envoys to Baghdad and to Washington.One newspaper said the pope had become irate with Blair at one stage of their encounter.

Bolton had separate talks with Tauran, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, head of the Italian Bishop's Conference, and US Cardinal James Stafford, each lasting about an hour. They were a "continuation" of the discussion Bush had with the pope's envoy to Washington in March, Cardinal Pio Laghi.Though he brushed aside suggestions of a rift between the Vatican and Washington over Iraq, Wednesday's discussions had an air of fence-mending about them.

Italian newspapers have reported that US ambassador to the Holy See, James Nicholson, had been working to mend fences with the Vatican.Indeed, Nicholson told reporters that Wednesday's meeting had been held "at our behest."Vatican officials, led by the pope himself, have in public statements attached great importance on the suffering of the civilian population and the need to avoid civilian casualties in Iraq.Bolton said he had pointed out the importance placed by "all the coalition forces" on avoiding civilian casualties. They were doing "everything humanly possible to avoid" such casualties, "and there wasn't any of criticism of the conduct of the war" by the Vatican officials.

From the BBC Reporters' Log

I want to talk to you about my favourite Saddam statues, in anticipation they may not be here for much longer. One of my favourites a moody looking Saddam on a tall plinth. And there are tiny little models of Mrs Thatcher, George Bush Senior and the President of France, Jaqcues Chirac cringing at his feet. This is a memorial to what the Saddam regime called the American occupation of Kuwait - the first Gulf War. Now I imagine that will probably come down pretty soon. There's another one by the telephone exchange saying "Saddam on the phone". They tend to be themed, these things.

There's a widespread rumor that Saddam Hussein is hiding out in the Russian Embassy. (See Command Post and other places for this) - let's hope it's not true, and that's just one of those wild Debkaesque rumors we've heard

But the question does remain - where did the Iraqi government go to? Those that have survived recent blasts, that is. Where are they?

On Basra

A more detailed account of how it fell and the tensions between Baath party operatives and the Iraqi army

the "rough" justice of looting, beatings and lynchings that is emerging there.

What is most interesting to me is that two days ago, the Brits announced that they were working with a local "sheik" (now identified as a "local cleric") to bring leadership and order to the city, but he was not named then, and still has not been named.

More from CNN here which describes a situation in which looting is no longer an oppressed people "letting off steam" against government buildings and Baath party offices, but involves guys with AK-47's robbing stores, getting away with it because there's no law enforcement, and looters moving on to the factories and business that we would assume would be needed for the city to get back on its feeet.

And still more

THEY lay in ambush all along the road to Basra, waiting every few yards: children, old men and youths with angry stares, cupping hands to their mouths, begging for water. If you slowed down or stopped, you risked the attention of snipers who were waiting yesterday amid the rubble of bombed-out buildings on all the main approaches to the city. Every few minutes a shot rang out, scattering those begging for water and sending cars careering off in all directions. If the snipers missed, those congregating on the roadside waiting for water took a pot shot at you with a rock. The passing column of British armoured vehicles was given the same treatment as they charged back into Basra, too busy to stop to dole out food or water, so they, too, were met with a fusillade of stones and abuse from the thirsty bystanders.


In a first step towards order, the Brits have started a gun amnesty program

But it is the high number of guns known to be in circulation that is now causing concern.An "amnesty pit" has been created close to one British compound in the city in the hope residents will dump their guns.
Captain Cliff Dare, of 3 Commando Brigade Engineer Group, said: "An amnesty is essential."Iraq has a culture of weapons. There are a lot of them around, most held quite legally."If we want to give the new Iraq a chance these weapons have to be taken out of circulation."

Should Iraq become Alaska?

For the idiots out there who have been pontificating for months that Pope John Paul II is an foolish, unrealistic appeaser who turns a blind eye to human suffering, take a look at what Michael has posted today.

If anyone is confused, as we have been around here, about how the roles of women in combat have evidently shifted of late, this is a helpful dialogue from Slate:

Women in the Air Force and Navy are currently allowed to pilot planes that engage in combat—by dropping bombs or by shooting at an enemy plane. They are allowed to serve on combat ships—which are used to launch cruise missiles and the aforementioned fighter planes. But in the Army and Marines, the services that supply the people who toil on the ground, women do not take combat jobs. In a combat position, as the Department of Defense puts it, a GI's "primary goal is to engage, close with and [neutralize] ... the enemy." Pvt. Jessica Lynch, for instance, an Army supply clerk, had been trained to use a gun to defend herself and her unit if need be, but she wasn't supposed to go around proactively "engaging" the enemy (and, of course, she didn't).

and then from the other writer:

Women find a way to get what they want (or close to it) by mastering the system. Desperate for action and eager to get out of a headquarters assignment, I agitated foreeeeever to be assigned to Intel in Iceland, a NATO tripwire in the '80s. Finally, an assignments chick whispered to me that I was never going to get that without a penis and a pilot's license. I did not file suit. I did not contact NOW. I did what all GIs, who are bred for craftiness in their mothers' wombs, do. I whispered back, "What assignment can I get somewhere near at least the possibility of action?" In other words, I settled. (As a non-pilot male would have. Still, a man can become a pilot, but a woman cannot become a man. And stay on active duty. But I digress.) Six months later, I was Chief of Intelligence in Ankara, Turkey. Not half bad for a community college dropout ghetto girl. Six months after that—the Persian Gulf War. Action.

That's the thing. Women GIs don't agitate to carry rucksacks and become snipers because they already feel like they are personally sticking it to the enemy. That overarching sense of mission and group endeavor supplants the need to have their individual fingers on the trigger. They feel that they are all shooting those guns, they're all dropping bombs on Baghdad. Women don't agitate for combat because the gains they have made and the acceptance they've mostly found imbue their non-combat roles with dignity, honor, and accomplishment. They don't agitate for combat because they know they are willing to enter the fray if required. Even I volunteered for the war zone. I was terrified, but I would have gone had hell frozen over and they needed me. (By the way, I don't think much turns on whether or not women "want" to be 'pounders. That's a societal decision.)


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