One conservative blogger reacted to your piece today by saying that “When the New York Times prints a front-page exposé, essentially, about the improvements in Baghdad, that’s big news anyway you slice it.” Is the article being sliced the right way?
A lot of bloggers seem to be slicing and dicing it mainly into a story purely about improvements. They are indeed significant, but for Iraqis, it’s far more complicated. A lot of people I talked to described the current moment as — in all likelihood, but hopefully not — the calm before another storm. And when asked, no one said that life in Iraq today is what it was before the American invasion.
The streets are safer now than they were a year ago, and there are signs of life being better — but it’s still far from good.
The American commanders I’ve talked to have also offered pretty sober assessments — declaring that they’ve “created the conditions” for political reconciliation, noting that ultimately the future depends on the Iraqi government’s ability to come together and forge some kind of compromise.
One commander, Colonel J.B. Burton, whose unit was in charge of northwest Baghdad, recently put it very simply, in terms of golf. “We’ve got the ball on the tee,” he said,” but it’s not going to take much wind to blow it off.” [complete article]
Despite persistent sectarian tensions in the Iraqi government, war-weary Sunnis and Shiites are joining hands at the local level to protect their communities from militants on both sides, U.S. military officials say.
In the last two months, a U.S.-backed policing movement called Concerned Citizens, launched last year in Sunni-dominated Anbar province under the banner of the Awakening movement, has spread rapidly into the mixed Iraqi heartland.
Of the nearly 70,000 Iraqi men in the Awakening movement, started by Sunni Muslim sheiks who turned their followers against Al Qaeda in Iraq, there are now more in Baghdad and its environs than anywhere else, and a growing number of those are Shiite Muslims. [complete article]
The bullet tore through a red jacket that hung on the rack of the outdoor stall and struck Roba Taha in the foot. As her blood began to spill onto the sidewalk, so did the anger of scores of shopkeepers along this busy commercial street in Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood on Monday.
Some rushed the high school student to the hospital. Most rushed to a high-walled white dump truck to confront the driver, who allegedly fired several shots. Residents standing on their balconies yelled out that men were hiding in the bed of the truck. Frank Leever, 28, an Iraqi Christian shopkeeper, clambered up the back of the vehicle. “They are Afghanis. They are terrorists,” he recalled shouting.
The mob closed in, hurling rocks and accusations.
Monday’s incident offered a window into the collective psyche of a capital that is experiencing a lull in violence not seen since February 2006, when the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra triggered cycles of sectarian killings. Many Iraqis said they rose up against the truck driver and the men in the truck to preserve the gains in security Iraqis are enjoying. They also said they were anxious that violence could return, as it has many times since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. [complete article]
Iraqi journalists and international advocacy groups warned Tuesday that prosecuting an Associated Press photographer held for more than 19 months without charge is a worrisome precedent that threatens media freedom in the region.
The Pentagon also raised the possibility that Bilal Hussein, who was part of the AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo team in 2005, could continue to be held even if the Iraqi court acquits him.
A public affairs officer notified the AP last weekend that the military intended to submit a complaint against Hussein that would bring the case into the Iraqi justice system as early as Nov. 29.
Under Iraqi codes, an investigative magistrate will decide whether there are grounds to try Hussein, who was seized in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi on April 12, 2006.
Military officials have alleged that Hussein, 36, had links to terrorist groups but are refusing to disclose what evidence or which accusations would be presented.
The AP’s own intensive investigations of the case — conducted by a former federal prosecutor, Paul Gardephe — have found no support for allegations that he was anything other than a working journalist in a war zone. [complete article]
Abu Nawall, a captured al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, said he didn’t join the Sunni insurgent group here to kill Americans or to form a Muslim caliphate. He signed up for the cash.
“I was out of work and needed the money,” said Abu Nawall, the nom de guerre of an unemployed metal worker who was paid as much as $1,300 a month as an insurgent. He spoke in a phone interview from an Iraqi military base where he is being detained. “How else could I support my family?”
U.S. military commanders say that insurgents across the country are increasingly motivated more by money than ideology and that a growing number of insurgent cells, struggling to pay recruits, are turning to gangster-style racketeering operations. [complete article]
Five months ago, Suhaila al-Aasan lived in an oxygen tank factory with her husband and two sons, convinced that they would never go back to their apartment in Dora, a middle-class neighborhood in southern Baghdad.
Today she is home again, cooking by a sunlit window, sleeping beneath her favorite wedding picture. And yet, she and her family are remarkably alone. The half-dozen other apartments in her building echo with emptiness and, on most days, Iraqi soldiers are the only neighbors she sees.
“I feel happy,” she said, standing in her bedroom, between a flowered bedspread and a bullet hole in the wall. “But my happiness is not complete. We need more people to come back. We need more people to feel safe.”
Mrs. Aasan, 45, a Shiite librarian with an easy laugh, is living at the far end of Baghdad’s tentative recovery. She is one of many Iraqis who in recent weeks have begun to test where they can go and what they can do when fear no longer controls their every move. [complete article]