KURDISTAN, IRAQ – I liked almost everyone I met in Iraqi Kurdistan. But no culture is without its annoying bastards, and the idiot who drove me from Erbil to Suleimaniya was one of them.
A torrential storm blew into Erbil on my last morning in the city. Streets flooded, in some places with feet of water. The power was out everywhere except in my fake “Sheraton” hotel. A journalist friend who was staying in another hotel packed his bags and moved into the “Sheraton” while I was on my way out. His hotel was wet as well as dark.
“You might not want to drive to Suli today,” he said. “You’ll have to go over some steep mountain passes.”
“I’m from Oregon,” I said. “It rains eight months out of the year there. I’m not worried.”
I would have to find a new driver and translator in Suleimaniya unless I wanted to pay hotel accommodations for my guys in Erbil. So I asked Birzo, my translator, to find me a driver who would just drop me off at my hotel in Suli, then turn around and head back to Erbil. He took me downtown and set me up with a company that had a good reputation.
“This man will take you to the Suli Palace Hotel,” Birzo said as he introduced me to a fat grinning 20 year-old. “Normally it would cost 50 dollars, but it’s raining so he wants 60. He doesn’t speak English, but you should be fine. He knows where the hotel is.”
“Okay, Birzo,” I said. “Thanks for all your help.”
“If you have any problems,” he said, “just call me and I will translate for you over the phone.”
I loaded my luggage into the car and we were off.
As we were leaving the city, my driver said “We go Kirkuk.”
“No!” I said, more sharply than I probably should have.
“Kirkuk good, Kirkuk good,” he said.
“No,” I said. “Suleimaniya. We are going to Suleimaniya.”
“Erbil. Kirkuk. Suleimaniya.” he said. The fastest road went through Kirkuk. “Kirkuk good.” ...
Go read Michael's post at the link to find out what happened after that.
ITM on the shrine crisis. Mohammed at Iraq the Model has some thoughts on the recent bombing of the Shi'a shrine in Samarra:
It's not a secret who was behind the attack on the shrine and I am sure that who did it were the Salafi/Wahabis whether Iraqi or foreigners and with external support from parties planning to disrupt the political process in Iraq.
The reason I believe it's the Salafis who did it comes from their own ideology which considers all mosques built upon tombs as places of polytheism and infidelity and thus must be destroyed. This also applies to Sunni shrines like Abu Haneefa and al-Gailani; Salafis consider the Shia and the Sufis their worst enemies and they commonly refer to them in their speech with the term "tomb worshippers" or Mushrikoon Quborioon in Arabic.
It's worth reminding that this is not the first time Salafis try to destroy the shrines in Iraq; their armies invaded Iraq back in the 19th century and burned the shrines in Kerbala and Najaf before the Ottoman empire repelled them and stopped them from reaching Baghdad where they were planning to destroy the shrines of al-Kazum, Abu Haneefa and al-Gailani (Shia, Sunni and Sufi respectively).
Followers of other sects would not dare do something like this because they fear the wrath of the imams; our culture has many stories about the supernatural powers possessed by the deceased imams. These stories planted fear in our hearts from even talking badly about them, let alone blowing up their tombs!
This leaves only one faction that justifies and pushes for destroying these tombs and this is the Salafi ideology.
Of course there are some who invest this ideology for political causes and here we come to the second beneficiary who stands behind the first beneficiary who carried out the attack for ideological reasons.
This second beneficiary is the parties who would like to see the new Iraqi state fall apart and who are scared of the idea of a democratic, stable Iraq next door as such a neighbor would transmit the democratic infection to their peoples. This includes more than one neighboring country; one provides logistics and training, the other provides media support while another one endorses the remnants of the Ba'ath regime who lost a lot of their privileges when Saddam was toppled.
Now that we have outlined the identity of the perpetrators depending on motives, interests and ideology we can move on to talk a little about the reactions to the atrocity which has a lot in common with the reactions to the Danish cartoons (I'm comparing the reactions here, not the actions that triggered them). The two reactions are similar in two aspects a) Overreaction and b) Exploiting the atrocity to serve political causes.
As a person who lives in Baghdad I've been following the situation from the early hours after the attack; on Wednesday morning I was on my way to work when I heard the news on the radio and I began watching closely to probe the feelings of the common people. People were at work as they always are, clerks behind their desks, grocers looking after their goods and municipal workers picking trash from the streets and I haven't noticed any unusual feelings among the people I came in contact with. In general life was normal until noon in the Shia majority district of Baghdad and there were absolutely no signs of a crisis of any sort. But on my way home I saw the men in black take to the streets after Ayatollah Sistani issued his fatwa (I wish my Shia brothers bear with me and read to the end).
Ayatollah Sistani issued a fatwa on Wednesday that sounded peaceful and normal from the first look but if you look closer at each word you will find that the "safety valve" became the igniter this time.
Two years ago the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf was attacked and although this is the holiest shrine for Shia Muslims the incident wasn't met with that much angry reactions instead we heard soothing statements like "these are mere stones and we can rebuild them and make them even better than before".
This time things were different because the political situation is different; the Ayatollah called for nationwide protests (and not to attack Sunni mosques) and a week of mourning. Now let's examine the part that said "do not attack Sunni mosques"…the sentence openly accuses the Sunni of being behind the attack or why would their mosques be mentioned in the first place? ...
However, it seems there are also some positive outcomes from this incident and its aftermath; the first one in my opinion was the performance of the Iraqi army which had a good role in restoring order in many places. Actually the past few days showed that our new army is more competent than we were thinking.
But the latest events have also showed the brittle structure of the interior ministry and its forces that retreated before the march of the angry mobs (if not joined them in some cases) and I think the statements that came from the meetings of our politicians pointed this out so clearly when Sunni politicians said they wanted the army to replace the police and police commandos in their regions and this indicates growing trust between the people and the army.
The other positive side is represented by the line we've seen drawn between clerics and politicians.
In spite of the attempts of clerics to look like as if they were the defenders of national unity with all their meetings, joint prayers and hugs, the political leaderships got a sense of their growing danger and the meeting at Jafari's home (which al-Hakeem didn't attend) showed that the government is keen to keep the country intact and the government systems as functional as possible to contain the crisis. This meeting indicates that politicians have realized that those clerics whether Sunni or Shia are the origin of the problem and are ready to coup on even their political allies which made the politicians more aware of the danger imposed by clerics on the project of building a state ruled by the law.
Clerics will not stop and they will carry on with their plans and I suspect they will launch the next phase of their plan soon after they received instructions from Syria (the Muslim scholars) and from Iran (the Sadrists).
The objective of the second phase will to move the conflict from one on the streets to a conflict with America. ...
Mohammed calls on the Iraqi government to disband the religious militias.
Iran Focus: Terrorist training camps in Iran. In an exclusive report, Iran Focus identifies 20 terrorist training camps inside Iran:
London, Feb. 27 – Iran Focus has obtained a list of 20 terrorist camps and centres run by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The names and details of the training centres were provided by a defector from the IRGC, who has recently left Iran and now lives in hiding in a neighbouring country. Iran Focus agreed to keep his identity secret for obvious security reasons.
The former IRGC officer said the camps and the training centres were under the control of the IRGC’s elite Qods ["Jerusalem"] Force, the extra-territorial arm of the Revolutionary Guards.
“The Qods Force has an extensive network that uses the facilities of Iranian embassies or cultural and economic missions or a number of religious institutions such as the Islamic Communications and Culture Organisation to recruit radical Islamists in Muslim countries or among the Muslims living in the West. After going through preliminary training and security checks in those countries, the recruits are then sent to Iran via third countries and end up in one of the Qods Force training camps”, the officer said. ..
Full analysis and list at the link.