He works as a blacksmith in one of Baghdad’s swarming Shiite slums. But at least once a month, Abu Saif tucks a pistol into his belt, hops into a minibus taxi and speeds south.
His goal: to unearth ancient treasures from thousands of archaeological sites scattered across southern Iraq.
Images of Baghdad’s ransacked National Museum, custodian of a collection dating back to the beginning of civilization, provoked an international outcry in the early days of the war in 2003.
The ancient statues, intricately carved stone panels, delicate earthenware and glittering gold are now protected by locked gates and heavily armed guards. But U.S. and Iraqi experts say a tragedy on an even greater scale continues to unfold at more than 12,000 largely unguarded sites where illegal diggers like Abu Saif are chipping away at Iraq’s heritage. [complete article]
The meeting between the Marines and the power brokers of this border region began with pleasantries, an exchange of gifts, and the drinking of small cups of tea, very hot and very sweet.
But within a few minutes the subject turned to one of crucial importance to both sides: the possible rise of militias among Sunni tribes who feel disrespected and shut out of the mild economic upturn the region is enjoying.
The power brokers — the mayor, the sheiks, and the local Iraqi army general — are from the Albu Mahal tribe, the most powerful in the region.
The Mahals were the first of the tribes to join with the U.S. in fighting the insurgency while lesser tribes stayed neutral or assisted the insurgents.
Now that the insurgency has been largely suppressed, Mahal leaders feel it is their right to share in the benefits of peace, such as the flourishing downtown market in Husaybah and the recently opened port of entry that allows a free flow of goods to and from Syria. [complete article]