Archive for the 'Uncategorised' Category

Syria imposes visa restrictions on Iraqi refugees

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Further to my post of last week, it turns out Riverbend was one of the last Iraqis able to escape to Syria without a visa. Syria used to allow any Iraqi to stay six months without a visa, but in the last few days imposed restrictions which mean that most Iraqis must apply to the Syrian embassy in Baghdad for visas before crossing the border. Jordan imposed similar restrictions two years ago. Syria is struggling to cope with the estimated Iraqi 1.4 million refugees living there. Puts the UK’s ‘refugee problem’ into perspective.

Riverbend - Baghdad Burning

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Riverbend, author of the Baghdad Burning blog, has left Iraq. Astonishing that she stayed so long, I guess. Goodbye Riverbend, and good luck in Syria.

Monday, September 10th, 2007

How many Arabists?

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

One of the breathtaking nuggets in the Iraq Study Group report is the following:

“All of our efforts in Iraq, military and civilian, are handicapped by Americans’ lack of language and cultural understanding. Our embassy of 1,000 has 33 Arabic speakers, just six of whom are at the level of fluency.”

How did that happen? One explanation is bureaucratic closed-mindedness:

The pathetic language skills at the embassy are as I understand it largely a side-effect of the security clearance process. Anyone who has spent time in an Arabic speaking country outside the framework of military or diplomatic service is generically excluded, leaving only those trained stateside at DLI and similar institutions, whose pedagogical techniques are basically back in the 60s.

This isn’t unique to the Baghdad embassy; the FBI, coincidentally, also has only 33 Arabists of its own - and again, one reason cited is that “it is easier to get a security clearance if you don’t have any interaction with foreigners”.

I can only hope that competent linguists are hired to work on a contract basis - because the idea of America’s Iraq policy being run almost entirely by people who can’t communicate with Iraqis is frightening.


Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

I realise I shouldn’t obsess over numbers, but whenever I stop reading Iraq news for a few weeks, it’s the numbers that bring home the scale of things, and how much worse they’re getting.

The annual budget for Iraq’s health ministry is $1.1 billion, according to This article, compared to just $22 million in 2002 - not to mention the sanctions back then. Yet infant mortality has risen over that time (130 deaths per thousand now, compared to 125 then). Meanwhile 7,000 doctors have left the country, at least 455 medical staff (including hospital guards) have been killed, and entire lorries of medical equipment are vanishing.

I’m not sure where all those figures are coming from (is that $22 million figure plausible?), but before the war I’d hoped this was an area that would improve just through Americans throwing money at it. Obviously I was wrong.

Also, up to 1.6 million internally displaced Iraqis (425,000 of them fleeing home since February), and about as many again living outside Iraq - so say UNHCR.

A well-ordered militia, or canny stockpiling?

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

A while back the New York Times and the BBC cheerfully reported that 25 Sunni tribes in Anbar had decided to support the Iraqi government in attacking insurgents.

Am I too cynical in thinking that the crucial sentence is this one:

In addition to the government’s blessing, Mr. Rishawi said, the tribes also wanted weapons and equipment to confront the Qaeda-backed insurgents.

Asking for weapons from the government isn’t a sign of loyalty - it’s about getting yourself the equipment to defend yourself against anybody - government, American, jihadi, whatever - who attacks you.

Every Iraqi grouping with an ounce of sense wants to keep itself heavily armed at the moment - and if the kit comes with a vague government permission to use it, so much the better.This isn’t any different from the militias that were incorporated into the various security forces, or the employment of tribes to guard oil pipelines.

Or am I being too cynical?

Phosphorus bombs in Afghanistan

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

Leaked emails from Major James Loden of 3 Para give incidental information about RAF use of phosphorus bombs in Afghanistan.

Iraq torture ‘worse after Saddam’

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

The BBC reports today that ‘the UN’s chief anti-torture expert’ Manfred Nowak believes torture may be worse now in Iraq than under former leader Saddam Hussein.

Nowak was speaking at a briefing on a new report by the human rights office of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq.

Here’s the UNAMI press release:

Latest UNAMI Human Rights Report on Iraq calls for firm action to tackle old and new human rights violations in Iraq [9/20/2006]


Baghdad- 20 September 2006 — The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) expressed concern that “human rights violations, particularly against the right to life and personal integrity, continued to occur at an alarming daily rate in Iraq.” In its latest human rights report for the months of July and August 2006 UNAMI affirms that number of civilians killed violently in the country were an unprecedented 3,590 in July and 3,009 in August. The report points that terrorist attacks, the growth of militias, the emergence of organized crime reflects a lack of centralized and authorized control over the use of force in the country, which results in indiscriminate killings of civilians. In this context, hundreds of bodies have continued to appear throughout the country bearing signs of severe torture and execution style killing. Displacement of population has also continued to grow and affected all Governorates.

The document also raises the alarm at increasing number of “honour crimes” affecting women in a disproportionately manner. “In their fight against generalized violence, central, regional and local authorities should provide greater protection to women from crimes committed within the family, including all types of violence against women and girls on the grounds of honour.” Torture remains a widespread problem in official detention centres while victims extra-judicially executed by death squads, insurgents and militias bear also signs of horrific torture. The report documents terrorist attacks aimed at inflicting death and injury to civilians and other attacks against minorities and religious pilgrims as well as professional categories such as journalists, lawyers and judges. “The inability of State institutions to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice and to provide adequate protection to ordinary citizens…risk polarizing Iraqi society to a previously unknown degree and result in a self-reinforcing pattern of sectarian confrontation.”

While progress has been reported in the transfer of detainees held by other authorities to the Ministry of Justice, the report raises concerns regarding an increase in the overall number of detainees, reversing an earlier trend. However, UNAMI states that “a growing perception of impunity for current and past crimes committed risks further eroding the rule of law.” For this reason, UNAMI also called for the full publication of the results of the Government inquiry into allegations of human rights violations committed in Al-Jadiriya detention centre in November 2005, and stated: “The publication of the Al-Jadiriya’s report, the establishment of a formal inquiry into this case and the prosecution of those found to be responsible for allegations of human rights violations, would serve the people and the Government of Iraq and provide a powerful signal that the country is firm in its commitment to establish a new system based on the respect of human rights and the rule of law.”

Oil Union Bank Account Frozen

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

More good news from Iraq - the General Union of Oil Employees has had its bank accounts frozen by the Iraqi government.

The union has been leading the fight against plans to transfer large parts of Iraq’s oil wealth to foreign corporations under Production Sharing Agreements, organising an anti-privatisation conference last year and planning another one this year, so I suppose it’s been asking for it.

No word as yet on why.

Coalition pressures Iraq to adopt detention without trial?

Sunday, April 16th, 2006

Reading this article, I find myself desperately struggling to find an innocent explanation - and failing. The gist is that the US can’t hand over control of prisons to Iraqis, because the Iraqi government has too much respect for human rights.

The commander of U.S. prison operations, which include Abu Ghraib and three other sites, said he could not predict when the Iraqi government will match U.S. standards of care for detainees and pass laws allowing it to hold people without trial — key conditions for handing over detainees, numbering 14,700 today.

The US authorities believe that they, unlike Iraqis, do have the right to waive due process:

while the United States points to a United Nations Security Council Resolution allowing it to detain people without charge as suspected guerrillas, the Iraqi government would need to pass its own legislation to do that

I’m not sure where they think this legal authorization comes from. All I can see is that Resolution 1511

authorizes a multinational force under unified command to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq

Resolution 1546

Decides that the multinational force shall have the authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq

If that’s all there is, this is as legally dubious as it is morally dubious - but quite possibly I’ve missed something elsewhere. Anybody want to see what information Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have collected on this?

I won’t go into the ethical and political dimensions to why this is bad; no doubt anyone reading this post will already be convinced that giving people a trial before jailing them is a Good Thing.