Saturday, March 29, 2008


Zymurgian and I are talking about neckties. I admit that I know how to tie a windsor. My father was a politician, so I had to wear a necktie. With my father gone, I haven't worn a tie in more than a decade. But I still know how to tie a Windsor. The necktie is no longer used for it's original purpose, which was to be a knapkin. In an earlier time, this was a valuable skill. To wipe your face, and still look good. Can you tie a tie?

Odd Events in Iraq

One of the many problems with taking sides in the Iraqi power struggles is sorting out the loyalties of various groups of Iraqi people. Take this incident:

It appears that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's ultimatum to Shiite Muslim militiamen to surrender to the Iraqi government might not be working precisely as he had intended.

When nobody had turned up by Friday, Maliki gave members of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army militia 10 more days to turn in their weapons and renounce violence.

Instead, about 40 members of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army and National Police offered to surrender their AK-47s and other weapons this morning to Sadr's representatives in the cleric's east Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City.

One of the police officers told journalists assembled at Sadr's office that he was heeding a call by an Iraqi cleric based in Iran, Ayatollah Fadhil Maliki, to stop fighting fellow Muslims.

"We came here to tell our brothers, the followers of Sadr, that we will not be against you," said the officer, who was dressed in civilian clothes and had his face covered with a scarf and dark sunglasses.

Sadr's representatives refused to take the men's weapons, saying they belong to the government. Instead, the representatives offered the men olive branches and copies of the Koran.

(my bolds)

Part of the army and police are more loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr than they are to Nouri al-Maliki. This is a problem that American soldiers are stuck in the middle of, thanks to the idiocy of our shrub.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Late Boobie

Sorry I'm late, and the boobie takes a bow.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Iraq's Getting Worse

I really haven't felt like posting on the latest increase in violence in Iraq. I've been depressed enough, so thinking about impending disaster isn't high on my agenda. But what I'm seeing appears quite ominous, and the media is (as usual) clueless.
The cease-fire with Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army appears to be over. While Sadr's militia is lightly armed and (mostly) poorly trained, they number in the 60,000 to 80,000 range and have the support of several million Shia. al-Sadr had been content to avoid confrontation and await the end of the American occupation before pushing for more power, but his tacit control of Basra may have been too great a challenge to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Basra is the key to the oil:

al-Maliki's hold on power is tenuous at best, but he does have the support of both America and Iran. As usual, read Juan Cole for more in depth analysis, but here are a few bad signs:

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that members of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq
(ISCI, formerly SCIRI, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim); the Da'wa Party led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; and the Badr Corps paramilitary of ISCI have fled their HQs in Basra and Kut, because of the threat that they will be stormed by Mahdi Army militiamen [seeking revenge for the current offensive], In fact, some such buildings already have been attacked.

Eyewitnesses reported clashes on Tuesday in Sadr City, east Baghdad, led by Mahdi Army militiamen against American and Iraqi forces. The latter had encircled Sadr City, while the Mahdi Army roamed its streets within. The sound of gunfire could be heard, and helicopter gunships were seen hovering above.

This could turn into a very bloody escalation very quickly:

BAGHDAD — With the United States providing air cover and embedded advisers, the Iraqi government on Wednesday expanded its offensive against Shiite Muslim militias from the port city of Basra to the capital of Baghdad — and many of the provinces in between.

The day saw street battles in Baghdad and Basra, mortar attacks by Shiite rebels against Baghdad's Green Zone, bombing by U.S. aircraft and encounters that left government tanks in flames. More than 97 people were reported killed and hundreds were wounded since the operation began early Tuesday.

In Baghdad's Shiite Sadr City neighborhood, clashes between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi security forces supported by U.S. forces left at least 20 dead and 115 were injured. By early afternoon, people took to the streets in protest of the Iraqi government.

Mortar rounds crashed into the heavily fortified Green Zone for the third straight day, injuring three U.S. government employees, all U.S. citizens, said U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo.

Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who's directing the operation from Basra, gave the armed groups 72 hours to give up their weapons and surrender without consequences, warning that they'd be treated as outlaws if they didn't.

But al Sadr demanded that Maliki leave Basra and send a parliamentary delegation to hold a dialogue. Maliki immediately rebuffed the demand.

Maliki appears to be taking a huge risk in confronting the volatile city, which is dominated by the Mahdi Army.

Of course, the "success in Iraq" crowd are already spinning events. Check out this headline:

"New Iraq fighting arises from surge's success, Pentagon says"

I had to read that twice, just to be sure I wasn't hallucinating. They really are saying this:

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Pentagon on Wednesday said an eruption of violence in southern Iraq, where US-backed government forces were battling Shiite militias, was a "by-product of the success of the surge."

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said it showed that the Iraqi government and security forces were now confident enough to take the initiative against Shiite extremists in the southern port of Basra.

Whether this is propaganda or delusion I'll let you decide, but it's flat out wrong. The potential civil war that has been simmering in Iraq is now much closer to boiling over, and the American occupation forces are too small to contain it if it does. This could be a very bloody spring in Iraq.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bhutanese Democracy

Back on New Year's day, I posted on Bhutan's move to democracy ( Today, we have the results:

THIMPHU, Bhutan - Long known as a quirky holdout from modernity, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan ended a century of absolute monarchy Monday by electing a staunch royalist as its first prime minister. So it goes in Bhutan, possibly the first country in history where a king had to convince his people that democracy was a good idea.

Well, it's a step. They voted to replace the monarcy with royalists. Compared with the rest of the world, Bhutan looks pretty sane.

As the Toll Passes 4,000

A sad milestone, the number 4,000. 4,000 soldiers dead in a needless and pointless war. 4,000 families who've lost a loved one for no good reason. 4,000 reasons we never should have invaded Iraq, and 4,000 reasons we need to end the occupation as soon as possible.

Round numbers seem to have a symbolic impact. 4,000 stirs an emotional response that the prior number of 3,996 did not. Round numbers are easier to grasp as "statistics" when a long, slow process is grinding on. The individual numbers don't get much attention until they total up into a round number.

For the Iraqi's there aren't any round numbers to mark. The death toll has been so overwhelming that the world has stopped counting. We only get "estimates", as if Iraqi's don't really count. Some tragedies don't get quantified.

Today four more families are grieving as a result of the horrible misguided policies of the administration. They join 3,996 families before them. They don't feel like "statistics" or a part of a round number. They feel the pain of losing a loved one.

And for what? Iraq was never a threat to the United States, despite the administration's scary rhetoric. The invasion was an exercise in imperial hubris, and the ongoing occupation is the result of a stubborn refusal to face reality. It was morally wrong to use military force in an attempt to impose our will on Iraq, and was doomed to failure from the start. The ongoing disaster of occupation is, and will remain, morally wrong; therefore it is also doomed to failure. A variety of statistics may be reported, but that doesn't change the most basic fact: the occupation is morally wrong.

Brave and honorable soldiers are losing their lives for no good reason. They are not statistics, but good people who are serving the country. My thoughts and sympathies go out to they and their families. But for the administration that chose to waste their lives I have nothing but anger and contempt. The administration should be prosecuted for their criminal actions, including the deaths of 4,000 soldiers.

We need to end this war.

Added: More here:

Iraq war's 4,000 fallen