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Monday, June 09, 2008

Sheik Ahmed goes to Washington

Iraqi Sheik Offers To Take Fight to Bin Laden: Hero of Anbar Would Stir a Revolt in Afghanistan, by Eli Lake. New York Sun June 9, 2008:
WASHINGTON — The leader of the tribal confederation that has fought to expel Al Qaeda from most of Iraq's Anbar province is offering his men to help gin up a rebellion against Osama bin Laden's organization along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

In an interview, Sheik Ahmad al-Rishawi told The New York Sun that in April he prepared a 47-page study on Afghanistan and its tribes for the deputy chief of mission at the American embassy in Kabul, Christopher Dell. When asked if he would send military advisers to Afghanistan to assist American troops fighting there, he said, "I have no problem with this, if they ask me, I will do it."

The success of the Anbaritribal rebellion known as the awakening spurred Multinational Forces Iraq to try to emulate the model throughout Iraq, including with the predominately Shiite tribes in the south of the country. Today, the tribal-based militias formed to protect Anbaris from Al Qaeda are forming a political alliance poised to unseat the confessional Sunni parties currently in parliament in the provincial elections scheduled for the fall and the federal ones scheduled for 2009.

During his nomination hearing for taking over the regional military post known as Central Command, General David Petraeus said one of the first things he would do would be to travel to Pakistan to discuss the current strategy of the government in dealing with Al Qaeda's safe haven in the Pashtun border provinces. A possible strategy for defeating Al Qaeda would be an effort there along the lines of the Anbar awakening to win over the tribes that offer Osama bin Laden's group protection and safe haven.

"Al Qaeda is an ideology," Sheik Ahmad said. "We can defeat them inside Iraq and we can defeat them in any country." The tribal leader arrived in Washington last week. All of his meetings, including an audience with President Bush, have been closed to the public, in part because the Anbari sheiks, while likely to win future electoral contests, are not themselves part of Iraq's elected government.

Of his meeting with Mr. Bush, Sheik Ahmad said he was impressed. "He is a brave man. He is also a wise man. He is taking care of the country's future, the United States' future. He is also taking care of the Iraqi people, the ordinary people in Iraq. He wants to accomplish success in Iraq ..."

Read more of the New York Sun's interview with Sheikh Ahmed al-Rishawi

Sheik Ahmad has also expressed his cooperation with the Vatican in Muslim-Christian dialogue and expressed his concern over Al Qaeda's persecution of Chaldean Catholics in Iraq. In March 2008, Sheik Ahmad received a letter of commendation by the Vatican for "efforts to promote harmony and reconciliation throughout [the] region." See The Vatican, The Anbar Awakening and the "Protector of the Chaldean Catholics" May 1, 2008.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Vatican, The Anbar Awakening and the "Protector of the Chaldean Catholics"

A quick recap: In September 2006, Sheikh Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha formed the Sunni Anbar Awakening, an alliance of tribes in the Anbar province, to counter -- with training by and cooperation with U.S. military -- the presence of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. “I swear to God, if we have good weapons, if we have good vehicles, if we have good support, I can fight Al Qaeda all the way to Afghanistan,” he was reported to have said ("An Iraqi Tribal Chief Opposes the Jihadists, and Prays" March 3, 2007).

As Steve Schippert noted at the time, most Americans were oblivious to Sattar's contributions to the counter-terrorist effort ("This Is Counterterrorism, Senator" National Review April 25, 2007):

The most significant local ally of Coalition and Iraqi government in Anbar province — and surely in all of Iraq — is Sheikh Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, or, more properly, Sheikh Abd al-Sattar, where “Abd” translates into “slave” or “totally subordinated” (to God, of course). Sheikh Abdul Sattar is instrumental in fighting and defeating al Qaeda; the incredibly influential Ramadi man sees al Qaeda as terrorists who seek to destroy his country and who are exploiting and murdering his people, Sunni and Shia alike. Al Qaeda wants him dead more than any other man in Iraq, and they have tried numerous times to kill him.

Sattar said recently, “The time for dictatorship is gone, and we are welcoming the new dawn of democracy and freedom here.” He is a powerful Sunni from Anbar province, and, on Iraqi national television, he has pledged his allegiance to Prime Minister al-Maliki — a Shia — and to the democratically elected Iraqi government. In an overt (and televised) gesture of his determination and solidarity with the Iraqi government, Sheikh Abdul Sattar sliced the palm of his hand with a knife and proceeded to pound the blade into the table before him.

The perceived civil war in Iraq is in many ways more a product of foreign Iranian and al Qaeda instigation than internal Iraqi hatred. Had al Qaeda not bombed the Shia al-Askari Mosque and had Iran not provided arms and funds to both sides of the ensuing sectarian killings, there is no telling where Iraq would be right now. It certainly was not in civil war then. Both Iran and al Qaeda require chaos and instability in order to achieve their aims in Iraq. Sattar’s mission is to foil their plans.

Part and parcel of the Anbar Awakening's success was the tribal alliance's ability to work cooperatively with Americans -- according to Col. Sean B. MacFarland of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division:
“If you talk to these sheiks, they’ll tell you that they’re in no hurry to see the Americans leave al-Anbar."

“One thing Sheikh Sattar keeps saying is he wants al-Anbar to be like Germany and Japan and South Korea were after their respective wars, with a long-term American presence helping ... put them back together,” MacFarland said. “The negative example he cites is Vietnam. He says, yeah, so, Vietnam beat the Americans, and what did it get them? You know, 30 years later, they’re still living in poverty.”

In fact, over the course of 9 months, the Sahwah Al Anbar, or "Anbar Salvation Council", was able to expel Al Qaeda from Ramadi (once an insurgent stronghold and the capital of Al Qaeda operations) and the Anbar province in general -- a victory which he dedicated to the victims of 9/11:
"In the month when the terrorists attacked the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, we dedicate the victory of Anbar Province to the families of the victims who suffered that criminal act," the letter said, which was addressed directly to Bush.

"With the help of the president of the United States, we pledge to continue to cooperate and communicate with you to continue to get good results," the letter said.

On September 13, 2007, al-Rishawi was killed along with two of his bodyguards by a roadside bomb near his home in Ramadi, Anbar, Iraq -- 10 days after meeting President George W. Bush at a U.S. base in Anbar. Sheikh Ahmed was selected by his fellow Sheikhs of Anbar province to lead the Sahawa Al Anbar and carry on his brother's legacy ("Iraqis vow to fight al Qaeda after sheikh death" Reuters Sept. 14, 2007).

* * *

This week, a friend forwarded me the following news story from the Arab press: A letter from Pope Benedict XVI to Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha (SahwataliIraq.com).

The article is in Arabic, but the gist of it is that on April 28, 2008, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, President of the revival in Iraq in his official headquarters in the city of Ramadi, met Sheikh Iyad George Aziz, a major leader within the Chaldean Catholic community.

The article references a letter from the Vatican to Sheik Ahmed (delivered to him by Sheikh Iyad), responding to his Christmas and New Year's greetings and expressing the positive desire to join the Muslim-Christian dialogue. The full text of the Vatican's letter:

From the Vatican March 4, 2008

Dear Sheikh Ahmed Basi' Abu Risha,

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI was pleased to receive the Christmas and New Year's message which you sent to him, and has asked me to thank you. He appreciates the sentiment which has prompted you to write him.

In his message for the 2008 World Day of Peace, His Holiness extended an invitation "for every man and woman to have a more lively sense of belonging to the one human family, and to strive to make human coexistence increasingly reflect this conviction, which is essential for the establishment of true and lasting peace." With these sentiments, His Holiness encourages you and all men and women of goodwill in your efforts to promote harmony and reconciliation throughout your region.

With assurance of my prayers and good wishes, I am yours sincerely,

Archbishop Fernando Filoni

* * *
As readers are no doubt aware, by virtue of their Christian faith, the Chaldeans have been subject to horrible persecution, the imposition of jaziyah, kidnappings and even targeted assassinations by Al Qaeda in Iraq.

As my source reports, Sheikh Iyad has apparently agreed to join the Sahawa [Awakening], allowing Sheikh Ahmad to add "Protector of the Chaldean Catholics" to his list of formal titles in a public ceremony covered by Arab media:

After hearing Sheikh Iyad's account of the suffering that the Chaldean Catholics have endured in Iraq, Sheikh Ahmad publicly declared that from this time forward they would be under his protection, that anyone who killed a Chaldean will be regarded as one who has killed in a member of his tribe (under the medieval Islamic concept of qisas this is a capital offense), and money will be provided from the Sahawa al-Iraq treasury to rebuild the churches and cemeteries that al-Qaeda destroyed. He justified this by quoting from the Qu'ran and stating that there should be no compulsion in matters of religion because truth stands free from error.
Consequently, in a moment of Muslim-Christian solidarity, it would appear that the Chaldeans have a new and very significant protector from persecution at the hands of Al Qaeda.

Related Reading

  • "Ramadi from the Caliphate to Capitalism", by Andrew Lubin. Proceedings Magazine Issue: April 2008 Vol. 134/4/1,262 provides an detailed look at how Sheikh Sattar Abdul Abu Risha and his Sons of Anbar, together with the assistance of the U.S. Army's 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) and the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, turned around a city once regarded as "a lost cause" and proclaimed by Al Qaeda as the capital of their new caliphate.
  • Hope for Iraq’s Meanest City How the surge brought order to Fallujah, by Michael Totten City Journal Vol. 18, No. 2 Spring 2008:
    The results of the Anbar Awakening and the surge are plain to see. Since the Fifth Marine Regiment’s Third Battalion rotated into Fallujah in September 2007, not a single American has been wounded there, let alone killed. ...

    “The al-Qaida leadership outside dumped huge amounts of money and people and arms into Anbar Province,” says Lieutenant Colonel Mike Silverman, who oversees an area just north of Ramadi. “They poured everything they had into this place. The battle against Americans in Anbar became their most important fight in the world. And they lost.”

    (Michael Totten blogs regularly at Michael Totten's Middle East Journal).

  • Sons of Iraq Screened for ISF, by Spc. Amanda McBride. Multi-National Force Iraq Sunday, 13 April 2008. The "Sons of Iraq" (two thirds of them Sunni, one-third Shia -- formerly "Concerned Citizens Groups") are being transitioned to formal membership in the Iraqi Security Forces:
    “There is a phenomenal interest in the ISF,” said Getchell, a native of Bridgewater, Mass. “Those who have been in the Sons of Iraq program are our priority over those who are not part of the Sons of Iraq program. They stepped forward to defend and protect their areas, so they’ve already shown the propensity to be part of the security process.”
    In March, Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division and Sons of Iraq conducted a combined medical engagement in Arab Jabour, treating residents for minor injuries, such as scrapes, sprains and allergies.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Reunion of Iraqi Christians and Muslims

Cardinal Emmanuel III DellyThis past Sunday, Christian worshippers in Baghdad celebrated Mass and welcomed Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, leader of the ancient Chaldean Church, recently elevated by Pope Benedict XVI in a symbolic expression of his sympathy for, and solidarity with, the Christian community of Iraq. Sameer Yacoub (Associated Press) reports:
Under heavy guard and broadcast live on Iraqi state television, the service was capped by a handshake from a visiting Shiite imam—a symbolic show of unity between Iraq's majority Muslim sect and its tiny Christian community. . . .

Delly presided over other services this week in Baghdad and the northern Kurdish city of Irbil, spreading his message of unity and forgiveness among Iraq's Christians.

"We are of one family, everyone should work for the progress of this country," he said during his sermon.

The frequent target of Islamic extremists, Iraq's Christians have been forced to flee by the tens of thousands or to isolate themselves in barricaded neighborhoods if they choose to remain.

"We pray today for the sake of each other and to forgive each other, as well to be directed to do good deeds," Delly said. "That is my demand for the Iraqis, moreover I urge the return home for displaced people and immigrants to their ancestral land."

Many people who filled the pews at the elegant brick Church of the Virgin Mary said they were taking advantage of a lull in violence to attend services and to congratulate Delly. The imam of a nearby Shiite mosque shook hands with him in the church's courtyard after the service.

"I came here to show the unity of the Iraqi people," said the black- turbaned imam, Jassim al-Jazairi. "We are happy with the cardinal. We are very proud of any person, whether Christian or Muslim, who raises the name of Iraq in the international arena."

This past November combat journalist Michael Yon released a truly epic photograph of Christians and Muslims, placing a cross atop the St. John's Church in Baghdad ("Thanks and Praise" Against The Grain Nov. 8, 2007). In "Come Home", Michael Yon provides the background to the story and the momentous events that occurred after the taking of the photo.

On November 19, 2007, Most Reverend Shlemon Warduni, Auxiliary Bishop of the St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Diocese for Chaldeans and Assyrians in Iraq officiated at a mass in St. John’s Church in Baghdad. He was welcomed home by a crowd of locals and American soldiers, who had fought hard to cleanse the streets of Al Qaeda. According to Michael Yon, "speaking in both Arabic and English, Bishop Warduni thanked those American soldiers sitting in the pews for their sacrifices":

. . . when al Qaeda came to Dora, they began harassing Christians first, charging them “rent.” It was the local Muslims, according to LTC Michael, who first came to him for help to protect the Christians in his area. . . . the Muslims reached out to him to protect the Christians from al Qaeda. Real Muslims here are quick to say that al Qaeda members are not true Muslims. From charging “rent,” al Qaeda’s harassment escalated to killing Christians, and also Muslims. Untold thousands of Christians and Muslims fled Baghdad in the wake of the darkness of civil war.
According to Michael Yon, the front pews of the Mass were filled with Muslims, to express their solidarity with their Christian neighbors and invite them back to Iraq. He concludes his post:
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any fighting. I can’t remember my last shootout: it’s been months. The nightmare is ending. Al Qaeda is being crushed. The Sunni tribes are awakening all across Iraq and forswearing violence for negotiation. Many of the Shia are ready to stop the fighting that undermines their ability to forge and manage a new government. This is a complex and still delicate denouement, and the war may not be over yet. But the Muslims are saying it’s time to come home. And the Christians are saying it’s time to come home. They are weary, and there is much work to be done.
Let us pray that it's only the beginning -- and give thanks to the U.S. and Iraqi military efforts to make this possible.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Persecution of Christians in Iraq

From AsiaNews.it and the Italian journalist Sandro Magister, a roundup of reporting on the persecution and martyrdom of Christians in Iraq:
  • Benedict XVI: Fr. Ragheed, a “costly sacrifice” so that Iraq may see the dawn of reconciliation June 6, 2007. AsiaNews.it.:
    “Without Sunday, without the Eucharist the Christians in Iraq cannot survive”: that was how Fr Ragheed spoke of his community’s hope, a community that was used to facing death on a daily basis, that same death that yesterday afternoon faced him, on his way home from saying mass. After having fed his faithful with the Body and Blood of Christ, he gave his own blood, his own life for Iraq, for the future of his Church. This young priest had willingly, knowingly chosen to remain by the side of his parishioners from Holy Spirit parish in Mosul, judged the most dangerous, after Baghdad. His reasoning was simple: without him, without its pastor, his flock would have been lost. In the barbarity of suicide attacks and bombings, one thing at least was clear, and gave him the strength to resist: “Christ – Ragheed would say – challenger evil with his infinite love, he keeps us united and through the Eucharist he gifts us life, which the terrorists are trying to take away”.

    He died yesterday, massacred by blind violence. Killed on his way home from Church, where his people, despite their decreasing numbers, bowed by fear and desperation, continued to come: “the young people – Ragheed told us just days ago – organized surveillance after the recent attacks against the parish, the kidnappings, the threats to religious; priests celebrate mass amidst the bombed out ruins; mothers worry as they see their children challenge danger to attend catechism with enthusiasm; the elderly come to entrust their fleeing families to God’s protection, they alone remain in their country where they have their roots and built their homes, refusing to flee. Exile for them is unimaginable”. Ragheed was one of them, a strong father figure who wanted to protect his children: “It is our duty not to give in to despair: God will listen to our prayers for peace in Iraq”:

    (More coverage of Fr. Ganni's death -- as well as his service in life -- can be found at Chaldean Thoughts.

  • The Chaldean Church mourns Fr. Ragheed Ganni and his martyrs AsiaNews.it. June 4, 2007. Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly together with all of the Chaldean bishops condemn this barbarous murder of the priest and his three deacons, massacred yesterday in Mosul after Sunday Mass: “A horrible crime against God and humanity , may these martyrs find eternal rest”. This afternoon the funerals will be held in Karamles. New information comes to light surrounding the murders.

  • A Final Appeal: Save Christian Iraq by Sandro Magister. www.Chiesa. May 28, 2007. It is the only country where the liturgy is still celebrated in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. But Christianity is in danger of dying out there. Killings, aggression, kidnappings. And now also the "jiza," the tax historically imposed by Muslims on their "infidel" subjects, those who have still not fled the country.

  • Patriarch Delly: World has forgotten Iraqi Christians AsiaNews.it. October 16, 2006. In the aftermath of the murder of the priest Paulos Eskandar, the Chaldean patriarch denounced the indifference of the international community which, coupled with persecution, threatens to "empty" the Middle East of its Christian communities.

  • Terrorists sack and occupy a convent in Baghdad June 1, 2007. Terrorists, believed to be Shiites, yesterday occupied the Convent belonging to the Chaldean Sisters of the Scared Heart in Baghdad.

  • Baghdad, the Mahdi army imposes the veil on Christian women May 30, 2007:
    Baghdad - “Extremist Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq are at war over everything, but united by one common denominator: the persecution of Christians”. So say the faithful of Baghdad. A letter is circulating the capital, warning Christian women to wear the veil in accordance with domestic segregation. The letter is signed by the Mahdi army, linked to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Iraqi Shiite cleric, who the US considers the greatest threat to security in the country. Upon till now the Sunni group of “the Islamic State in Iraq” was the most violent threat to the Christian community: from their imposition of the jizya – the “compensation” demanded by the Koran from non Muslim subjects – to their expropriation of property and forced conversions to Islam.
  • Iraqi government offers its “full support” to the persecuted Christians of Baghdad AsiaNews.it. May 24, 2007:
    The Iraqi government has expressed its solidarity to the Christians of Baghdad and has pledged to protect them. In a statement in English reported yesterday by the AINA news agency, a spokesman for the Iraqi government said that the “Iraqi Cabinet addressed the issue of threats and expulsions of Christian families in Baghdad by terrorist groups. The Cabinet expressed its full support to provide all necessary assistance needed to protect them, and provide any assistance to face this threat that is rejected by our orthodox Islamic religion and the forgiving Iraqi society, between all of its components—especially the relationship with our Christians brothers.”

Iraqi Christians under Saddam

Chaldean Christians lived by and large on friendly terms with the regime of Saddam Hussein and -- despite occasional attacks by Islamisists -- enjoyed relative peace and security. In fact, the Catholic News Service reports that some Iraqi Christians say it was better under Saddam (Catholic News Service, February 28, 2007):

Saddam Hussein's regime -- no matter how cruel and despotic -- kept the lid on any sectarian violence, said one Iraqi Catholic refugee in Jordan, who asked that his name not be used. He said Saddam, a secular leader, was especially good for Christians, as long as they stayed out of the way.

"Saddam (controlled) everything. Nobody could say anything bad especially (about) us Christians," he said. "Christians in the Middle East are very good people. We are peace-loving people."

Another refugee said that after years of living in fear and daily bombings many Iraqi Christians felt they were actually safer with Saddam.

"We are getting tired. When Saddam was in power there was no fighting. Saddam loved the Christians. We were safer with Saddam; now we just leave the country," he said.

In November 27, 2002, Sandro Magister reported on a dossier on the Chaldean Church compiled by Fides, a news agency of the Vatica´s De Propaganda Fide office:
The dossier gives a positive image of Christians in [Iraq]. Yes, there is the threat of war, the lack of food and medicine, the plague of emigration. In addition, "from time to time, incidents take place, especially since the gradual spread of a fundamentalist current in the Arab world."

But on the other hand, Catholics in Iraq "don´t undergo discrimination" and enjoy "religious freedom," even if it´s "within the limits set by the state."

And what about Saddam Hussein? Says Msgr. Antonios Mina, representative of the Chaldean church to the Vatican´s Congregation for Eastern Churches:

"Relations with the government are good. In the government, there is vice premier Tareq Aziz, who is a Chaldean Catholic; his wife is a strong believer. Patriarch Raphael Bidawid is highly esteemed, respected by the civil authorities."

Nothing new to this point. On the contrary. On repeated occasions, Patriarch Bidawid has praised Saddam Hussein in an even stronger manner. Most recently, in an October interview with "Panorama," he said:

"Christians here are privileged. Saddam gives us what we want, listens to us and protects us." Regarding Islamic extremists: "They have infiltrated the veins of religious power and are trying to steer it in their direction. But the government keeps them in check. Saddam is capable; he fools them into being more open in order to uncover them. He will get them."

However, as Sandro reported, the safety and security of Iraqi Christians under Saddam came at a great price -- the "deafening silence" to the ongoing systematic, state-sponsored persecution, torture and murder of Shiite Muslims -- as documented by the U.S. Department of State's 2002 International Religious Freedom Report on Iraq and the discovery of some 200+ mass-graves following the overthrow of Hussein's regime.
  • Iraq's Legacy of Terror: Mass Graves USaid.gov: "Since the Saddam Hussein regime was overthrown in May, 270 mass graves have been reported. By mid-January, 2004, the number of confirmed sites climbed to fifty-three. Some graves hold a few dozen bodies—their arms lashed together and the bullet holes in the backs of skulls testimony to their execution. Other graves go on for hundreds of meters, densely packed with thousands of bodies. . . ."

  • Computer expert follows Saddam's genocide July 27, 2007. "Set in a dingy underground bunker in Baghdad’s super-secure ‘Green Zone’, the office of Human Rights and Transitional Justice does not look like the incident room of the world’s biggest mass murder probe. . . ."

  • Iraqis Commemorate Discovery of Mass Graves - On May 15, 2007, the Iraqi people paused for a moment of silence in in observance of 'Mass Graves Day':
    According to the Iraqi government’s High Committee on Mass Graves, the mass graves were "an evitable result of the former regime's policy against the Iraqi people throughout three decades, reaching a peak in the period from 1979-2003, when former President Saddam Hussein monopolized authority."

    A blindfolded human skull lies on the ground at the site of a mass grave discovered at an area 20 Km south of the holy city of Karbala, central Iraq, 16 December 2006. The committee further explained that following a series of mass killings in 1979 that coincided with Saddam's seizure of power and targeted certain religious and secular figures, the former president issued retroactive Decree No. 461 of the year 1980, ordering the killing of everyone who belonged to the Shiite Daawa Islamic Party or propagated its policies. Thousands of Iraqis were killed and buried in unmarked mass graves.

    According to the website of the committee, the former Iraqi regime detained a large number of Kurds, who are loyal to current Iraqi Kurdistan’s President Massoud al-Barazani, liquidated and buried them in southern and central Euphrates provinces in the early 1980s.

    One of the gravest crimes committed by Saddam's regime was the chemical bombardment of Kurdistan's city of Halbaja on March 16, 1988, leading to the deaths of 5,000 people, mostly women and children. In the same year, the then government conducted a series of campaigns against Kurds in what is known as the Anfal Campaign. Nearly 182,000 Kurds were killed and buried in several mass graves all over Iraq, the website said.

    In 1991, around 350,000 Iraqis were also believed to have been massacred following an uprising staged by Iraqis against the then government.

* * *

As Gerald Augustinus (Where's the Outrage?") and Amy Welborn (Where's the Coverage? Open Book June 7, 2007) note, there is a dearth of attention given to Christian persecution in Iraq by the mainstream media outlets. The plight of Iraqi Chrisians merits greater attention and recognition -- from American Christians, from the U.S. media, and from the Bush administration as well.

However, I'm likewise wary of an inclination (among some critics of the Iraq war) to contrast treatment of Iraqi Christians in pre and post-war Iraq as an indictment upon U.S. foreign policy in Iraq. The assertion that "things were better under Saddam" begs the question: better for Christians, yes, but at what cost? -- It is often the case that vehement criticism of the conditions in postwar Iraq comes with little if any recognition of the horror that occurred before.

The Iraqi Ambassador to the Holy See, Assyrian Albert Yelda, addressed the tension between Iraqi Christians and Muslims in an interview with AsiaNews.it:

. . . the priority is to “regain stability, guarantee security for the entire population and keep the country united, not create barriers”. “Now is not the time to speak of safe haven for Christians, an idea which I do not support at all” he underlined. “Christians must remain in their homeland and the government is doing all it can to guarantee their security not only in Baghdad, but also in those areas where terrorism has so far not taken over”.

Only “by remaining united, Christians, Muslims, Turkmen, Kurds and Yezidi will web e able to uproot this evil from Iraq and the entire region”. Ambassador Yelda underscored that “the issue of terrorism is a global problem; this is why the international community must provide the Iraqi government with the necessary means to quash this ideology of evil which they are attempting to impose on us”.

“External elements – he added – are trying their very best to divide the government and the people; this is why the world cannot, must not abandon us. The International Community must remain by our side, because if there is no peace in Iraq, then there cannot be peace in the rest of the region”.

Background

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

War "no good to anyone" - The words of a Pacifist Pope?

On August 13, 2006 Pope Benedict gave a first-of-its-kind television interview with German televisions ARD-Bayerischer Rundfunk, ZDF (complete transcript available on the Vatican website). We'll get the to the content and commentary of the interview in our upcoming Pope Benedict roundup, but this past week there has been much discussion on a particular segment:
Question: Holy Father, a question about the situation regarding foreign politics. Hopes for peace in the Middle East have been dwindling over the past weeks: What do you see as the Holy See’s role in relationship to the present situation? What positive influences can you have on the situation, on developments in the Middle East?

Pope Benedict XVI: Of course we have no political influence and we don’t want any political power. But we do want to appeal to all Christians and to all those who feel touched by the words of the Holy See, to help mobilize all the forces that recognize how war is the worst solution for all sides. It brings no good to anyone, not even to the apparent victors. We understand this very well in Europe, after the two world wars. Everyone needs peace. There’s a strong Christian community in Lebanon, there are Christians among the Arabs, there are Christians in Israel. Christians throughout the world are committed to helping these countries that are dear to all of us. There are moral forces at work that are ready to help people understand how the only solution is for all of us to live together. These are the forces we want to mobilize: it’s up to politicians to find a way to let this happen as soon as possible and, especially, to make it last.

That war is, indeed, "no good for anyone" prompted the following protest from First Things' blogger Robert Miller:
I find it difficult to understand how the pope says this. Along with many others, I often invoke the Second World War as the paradigm example of a just war, of a case where morality not only permitted but required the use of armed force in order to combat evil. But here Benedict, expressly mentioning the world wars, says that they brought no good to anyone. No good to Elie Wiesel, and all the other prisoners liberated from Buchenwald? No good to the peoples of France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and others saved from Nazi domination? No good to the Poles and other Slavs, destined to slavery to support the Third Reich? No good to the young Joseph Ratzinger, who, freed from service in the Wehrmacht, was able to enter seminary, study theology, become a priest and a professor, and live to become pope?

As it stands, this statement from Benedict is unsupportable. All serious people know that war is a terrible reality to be avoided whenever possible, and Benedict should certainly say this. But he is also a great theologian, well able to make moral distinctions. He ought not make statements that can so easily be understood as endorsing a dangerously naive pacifism that is incompatible with the Catholic moral tradition.

Needless to say, Miller's challenge caused quite a stir.
  • Mark Shea says "I basically agree with Miller", howbeit issuing a plea for context:
    On the whole, though I disagree with the Pope's remarks as they stand (since I believe in Just War teaching), I find myself thinking that I'd rather live in a world of people who err as the Pope does than in a world of War Zealots and Master Planners with big ideas for a New American Century based on "creative destruction" and other Machiavellian schemes. In short, I don't have much in the way of solutions, but I have a clearer and clearer idea of who I trust as I try to think things through.

    CAEI reader M.W. Forrest also speculates:

    For perspective, I think we should take into consideration that he was speaking to German reporters. What grievances did WWI and WWII solve for the Germans? WWI brought them the lost of some of their most productive land in the west and economic collapse. WWII gave them 1/4 of their country put in communist oppression.

  • Amy Welborn blogged the piece, with a not-entirely-unexpected 120 comment reaction and some good exchanges on pacifism and the just war tradition ("No Good War?" August 16, 2006).
Looking at Pope Benedict's remark in and of itself, Robert Miller's reaction is understandable. But this is not the first time that papal statements on war have resulted in a plethora of conflicting interpretations. Back in May, this blog took a stab at assessing various positions and papal pronouncements on the war in Iraq and the legitimate use of force (Toward a Proper Understanding of the Catholic Just War Tradition Against The Grain May 18, 2006).

In response to that particular post, "rcesq", a member and contributor to the RatzingerFanClub's EzBoard forum, pointed out to me that, in Cardinal Ratzinger's address in Normandy on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of D-Day (reprinted as Chapter 6 of Values in a Time of Upheaval, first published April 2005, new edition by Ignatius Press 2006) -- we have good reason not to hasten to the conclusion from such papal comments as "war is the worst solution for all sides" and "today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war"" -- that we are in the presence of a pacifist-pope.

What follows are my friend rcesq's observations, quoted in full (with permission) for your consideration:

* * *

[In his Normandy address], the Cardinal describes how the Nazis had seized power and caused
justice and injustice, law and crime [to become] entangled by carrying out both the legislative and administrative functions of the state. It was therefore in one sense entitled to demand that the citizens obey the law and respect the authority of the state (Rom 13:1ff!), while at the same time this government also employed the judicial organs as instruments in pursuit of its own criminal goals. The legal order itself continued to function in its usual forms in everyday lives, at least in part; at the same time, it had become a power that was used to undermine law.
According to the Cardinal,
[t]he only way to shatter this cycle of crime and reestablish the rule of law was an intervention by the whole world. . . . Here it is clear that the intervention of the Allies was a bellum iustum, a "just war" . . . perhaps the clearest example in all history of a just war.
Calling WWII a "just war" is pretty obvious and most commentators would place that conflict squarely in the just war tradition as you have explained. What's interesting, though, is that the Cardinal does not justify the war on the ground of self-defense. After all, each of the Allied powers had been attacked first by the Nazis.

Instead, Ratzinger considers the war justified because it liberated the German people from their criminal government, gave them freedom and restored the rule of law. He describes it as an "intervention" -- which sounds like the language used in AA programs when family and friends gather together to "stage an intervention" for the benefit of letting a drug or alcohol addicted friend or family member know that help for self-destructive behavior is available and required. Such a "therapeutic" approach to justifying war is not something I saw [in my prior blog-discussion of just war].

The Cardinal goes on to declare that this "real event in history shows that an absolute pacifism is untenable." Even though it appears that some just war moralists are heading in the direction of pacifism by setting the bar for justifying war impossibly high, one would expect this far more rational conclusion from someone as grounded in reality as Joseph Ratzinger, who knows well that man is fallen and sinful and will fall and sin over and over again.

It seems unusual and is, to me, unexpected, that the Cardinal would open the door to justifying military intervention "against unjust systems of government," when the intervention "serves to promote peace and accepts the moral criteria for peace." Does this allow a "pre-emptive war" against a criminal regime that flouts resolutions of the United Nations to disarm, terrorizes and kills thousands of its own people, repeatedly attacks it neighbors without provocation, and credibly boasts of having weapons of mass destruction? One could argue that it does. After all, one can look at such a regime as suffering from an addiction that requires intervention. Unfortunately, the address just offers this tantalizing thought and then moves on.

Farther on in the address, the Cardinal turns to the phenomenon of "terror, which has become a new kind of world war." He contrasts the destructive powers that lay in the hands of recognized superpowers -- who one hoped would be susceptible to reason -- with those potentially in the hands of terrorists, who cannot be counted on to be rational because self-destruction is a basic element in terrorism's power. He identifies as a "basic truth" that it is impossible to overcome terrorism by force alone, but notes that:

the defense of the rule of law against those who seek to destroy it must sometimes employ violence. This element of force must be precisely calculated, and its goal must always be the protection of the law. An absolute pacifism that refused to grant the law any effective means for its enforcement would be a capitulation to injustice. It would sanction the seizure of power by this injustice and would surrender the world to the dictatorship of force. . . .
Again, the Cardinal's thoughts suggest that it could be entirely legitimate for a country like Israel to use force against terrorists who try to undermine it; provided that the force is "precisely calculated." Naturally you have to ask how you calculate force precisely, even with so-called smart bombs: human error will occur and you can end up with horrible misfires. But I think that the Cardinal's reasoning does contradict those pundits who claim that American and Israeli soldiers are somehow acting immorally because their cause is unjustifiable.

The Cardinal posits another limit to the justifiable use of force against terror: "strict criteria that are recognizable by all," and cautions against one power's going it alone to enforce the rule of law (not stated but obvious: unilateral U.S. action). He also calls for an investigation into and addressing of the causes of terrorism that "often has its source in injustices against which no effective action is taken." This formula for dealing with terror strikes me as a fair balance of realism and idealism, practicality and morality. It's certainly not woolly headed or starry eyed -- which is how some of the bishops' pronouncements sometimes sound to me.

Ultimately, however, Cardinal Ratzinger advocates the way of Christ. Forgiveness is necessary to break the cycle of violence.

Gestures of humanity that break through [the cycle] by seeking the human person in one's foe and appealing to his humanity are necessary, even where they seem at first glance a waste of time.
These thoughts may be useful tools to assess what is happening now with Israel. I think it's possible to see their influence in Benedict XVI's endorsement of the G-8 position while he is pleading for an end to the violence and prays so fervently for peace. [The Ratzinger Forum; edited by: rcesq at: 8/2/06 5:32 pm]

* * *

"As is usual with Cardinal Ratzinger's writings, he sketches ideas, asks provocative questions, but offers no definitive answers," concludes "rcesq". At the end of my own post, I closed with the pressing need for some kind of authoritative clarification on the status of the "just war tradition", together with the proper interpretation of papal pronouncements on the war in an informal context.

Ratzinger's own thoughts on the use of force, as published in Chapter 6 of Values in a time of Upheaval will hopefully alleviate somewhat Robert Miller's concerns of a "dangerously naive pacifism."

Reading the diverse reactions on Open Book, I found Tom Haessler's comment on the different papal "styles" especially helpful:

Benedict XVI's theological and homiletic rhetoric is more kerygma (proclamation) than didache (teaching). John Paul the Great was immersed in Aquinas and modern phenomenology. Benedict XVI is immersed in the Fathers, especially in Augustine. The parsing of various aspects of just war theory is quite foreign to his approach. He's trying to call all to their senses, to awaken new communities of conscience, to help us discover new zones of sensitivity and awareness not previously attended to; he's NOT playing Jesuit anagrams with just war theory. Far from believing that military force is always wrong, he's supported the Afghanistan and Kosovo interventions. But he'd be the last one to insist that his own prudential judgments trump every careful scrutiny of all pertinent aspects of an enormously complex problematic. He's asking that he be heard, not that he be obeyed. . . . we're all orthodox Catholics here, trying to discover God's will in fidelity to all the values and norms we've learned through our membership in the Body of Christ. We all have something to teach (through our own experience), and we all have something to learn.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Deadline Nears for Christian Hostages in Iraq

Last minute appeals are being made to the captors of four Christian peacemakers in Iraq, as the deadline set by their captors approaches [NOTE - tomorrow, Dec. 8 - CYB].

The four have been accused by their kidnappers of spying for foreign forces occupying Iraq, despite the fact that they have consistently opposed the occupation and invasion of Iraq.

The men's captors — called Swords of the Righteous Brigade — have threatened to kill the four tomorrow, unless Iraqi detainees have by then been freed from prisons administered by Iraqi authorities or the United States.

Appeals, highlighting the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams have come from all over the world - most notably from Muslims.

Source: Last minute appeals made for Christian peacemakers Ekklesia.co.uk. Dec. 7, 2005.

A profile of the members of the Christian Peacemakers and their work in Iraq can be found here. (See also this report from SperoNews).

Update "Lobbying goes on as Iraq hostage deadline passes", Ekklesia.co.uk. Dec. 12, 2005.

Pray for them.

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Monday, February 07, 2005

The Prospects for Democracy in Iraq

I recently finished Michael Novak's The Universal Hunger For Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable. The title alone is in reference to Samuel P. Huntington's book of the same name. Novak is not ready to concede to those who portray Islam is irredeemable and irrevocably opposed to democracy. He challenges Muslims to find within their tradition resources to justify cooperation with the West in building a free, just and democratic society. Along the way he revisits topics familiar to readers of his earlier works (moral virtue and the free market; the Catholic Church and democracy). While much attention these days is paid to Islamic fundamentalist apologists for a religious jihad on the West, Novak presents the thought of some Muslim scholars who beg to differ. (For a summary, see this review by John Fonte, National Review Dec. 31, 2004).

Novak's book received mixed reviews from critics -- ex. Alan Wolfe (America Nov. 8, 2004) and William H. Peterson (Washington Times Dec. 21, 2004). Lawrence Uzzell, writing in First Things, expressed his skeptical about the capacity of Islam or the Iraqi people themselves to embrace democracy, dismissing Novak's work as "like much current thinking in Washington, so naively optimistic about the prospects for universalizing American-style democracy that it borders on utopianism." Uzzell would probably say the same regarding Novak's "naively optimistic" faith in the Iraqi people when he predicted that "Election day in Iraq may surprise the press" ("Positive Indicators" National Review January 26, 2005) -- but we all know how that turned out. So, who really knows?

All in all, it's a good read and offers much food for thought.

On a similar note, Mystery Achievement has a very interesting post on "God, Man, And Law In Iraq". He's been reading John Courtney Murray's We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition -- what some might consider another "naively optimistic" piece of political philosophy -- and pondering the prospects for democracy in Iraq:

. . . there is a thread of his thought I want to unspool here that I think might be useful for assessing the prospects for democracy and the rule of law in Iraq (and other Muslim countries, inshallah). The thread runs like this:
  • Good laws commend themselves to (potentially) the consciences of all people because they all have the capacity to recognize the Good by virtue of their having been made in the image of God. This is what, in theory, makes the rule of law possible.
  • The most important freedom protected by law is the freedom of worship (which includes the freedom not to worship).
  • Laws designed to protect freedom of worship are properly understood not as articles of faith (that is, statements of creedal content which are owed what the New Testament refers to as "the obedience of faith"), but rather as "articles of peace" (that is, arrangements that establish and maintain social peace by ensuring fair and impartial treatment of all religious groups before the law in a religiously pluralistic society).

If the above is true, then what I propose is this: That Iraq -- or any other Muslim nation adopting democracy and the rule of law -- is capable of establishing and maintaining a peaceful, religiously pluralistic society.

Mystery Achievement invites your comments on the above propositions. Have at it!

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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Iraqi Elections - Ongoing Roundup of Blogs & Commentary 

Iraqi Election Watch provides inside information from Iraq on the historic Jan. 30 elections compiled by FDD staff and fellows.
  • Iraqi Media Excerpts from Iraqi news sources on developments related to the election.
  • Iraqi Blogs - Highlights from Arabic and English-language blogs that provide new or interesting information on what's actually happening inside Iraq.
  • Democracy Activists - Reports from Iraqi democracy activists on the ground.
  • FDD Analysis - Commentary and analysis on the campaign, voting, and final results.
From the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD).

83 year old Iraqi woman voting for first time

  • From Oswald Sobrino (Catholic Analysis):

    The AP photo by Adam Butler records an 83-year-old Iraqi preparing to vote in London. The AP reports that "[t]his is the first time she has participated in an Iraqi election" (see other AP report). The faces and smiles tell the story of freedom. All eyes are on the Iraqi elections this weekend. We pray that God will protect the brave who dare to go and vote for a decent and dignified future for themselves and their families (see London Timesonline report, "Voting fever takes hold of a people finally free to choose"). Thanks to President Bush and our military for making this future possible. Since the picture speaks for itself, no further commentary is needed today.

  • John Schultz (Catholic Light) passes along an email from Battalion Chaplain Lyle Shackelford delivering the voting machines and the ballots to villages and cities throughout Iraq, who asks for prayers on behalf of all who read:

    . . . There is unlimited potential for God's presence in this process but if we do not pray, then our enemy will prevail (See Ephesians 6:10-17). A prayer vigil prior to the end of the month may be an innovative opportunity for those within your sphere of influence to pray. This is a political battle that needs spiritual intervention. A powerful story about God's intervention in the lives of David's mighty men is recorded in 2 Samuel 23:8-33. David and his warriors were victorious because of God's intervention. We want to overcome those who would stand in the way of freedom. David's mighty men triumphed over incredible odds and stood their ground and were victorious over the enemies of Israel. (Iraqi insurgents' vs God's praying people). They don't stand a chance.

    I will pray with my soldiers before they leave on their convoys and move outside our installation gates here at Tallil. My soldiers are at the nerve center of the logistic operation to deliver the voting machines and election ballots. They will be driving to and entering the arena of the enemy.

    This is not a game for them. It is an historic mission that is extremely dangerous. No voting machines or ballots, No elections. Your prayer support and God's intervention are needed to give democracy a chance in this war torn country. Thank you for your prayer support for me and my family. Stand firm in your battles.

  • Lane Core Jr. (Blog from the Core explains why our future hangs in the balance on January 30-31, 2005:

    If we do not succesfully plant the seeds of democratic government in the Middle East — beginning with Iraq, and expanding thence over the years & decades & generations -- our children and grandchildren will be condemned to live in a world where freedom of religion and conscience -- where the rule of law and respect for individual dignity -- won't even be memories because they will have been obliterated.

    The power of the United States of America — military, financial, diplomatic, and cultural — to project its force around the world, to remove despotic regimes and enforce the beginnings of freedom amongst peoples who have never known it, or have no living memory of it, is what stands between us and the Dark Ages of the Future.

    That, and the courage of Iraqi citizens — those who stand for office, and those who vote. Please keep them, and our soldiers in Iraq, in your prayers these days.

  • Senator "No Blood for Oil" Kennedy took the opportunity to raise the spectre of Vietnam, calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops following the election. Belmont Club responds, marshalling the witness of Chaldean Bishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk.

  • The Daily Demarche has a special request

    For all the Bush haters out there, for all the pundits who think it is clever to spell Republican with a triple "k", I have a challenge for all of you. For one day, less probably by the time you hear of this, devote some of that energy to wishing success to the people of Iraq in this election. Forget for one day your raging anger and calls for us to abandon Iraq. It’s not going to happen, and for this single day we could use your support. You can resume your attacks on the Administration on Monday - because you live in a free land.

  • Ali -- an Iraqi blogger in Baghdad:

    All my life like all Iraqis, I was not in control of my life. I started looking to myself as a humanist many years ago. Maybe it's because I lost belief in my government and even sometimes in my country and my people. My country was just a stupid large piece of dirt that meant nothing and offered nothing to me but suffering and humiliation. . . .

    Now, and thanks to other humans, not from my area, religion and who don't even speak my language, I and all Iraqis have the real chance to make the change. Now I OWN my home and I can decide who's going to run things in it and how and I won't waste that chance. Tomorrow as I cast my vote, I'll regain my home. I'll regain my humanity and my dignity, as I stand and fulfill part of my responsibilities to this part of the large brotherhood of humanity. Tomorrow I'll say I'M IRAQI AND I'M PROUD, as being Iraqi this time bears a different meaning in my mind. It's being an active and good part of humanity. Tomorrow I and the Iraqis that are going to vote will rule, not the politicians we're going to vote for, as it's our decision and they'll work for us this time and if we don't like them we'll kick them out! Tomorrow my heart will race my hand to the box. Tomorrow I'll race even the sun to the voting centre, my Ka'aba and my Mecca. I'm so excited and so happy that I can't even feel the fear I though I would have at this time. I can't wait until tomorrow.

Joyful Iraqi Exiles Vote in Landmark Election by Suleiman al-Khalidi. Reuters. Jan. 28, 2005.
Man drives to Calgary to vote in Iraqi election (14 hours!) - CBC News. Jan. 28, 2005.
Iraqis in Australia cast first votes in election, by Michael Perry. Reuters. Jan. 28, 2005.
  • Jeff Jarvis (BuzzMachine has a roundup of quotes from Iraqi bloggers' as they anticipate the vote. "They all should be an inspiration -- and perhaps a shame -- to those of us who have become blase about democracy and freedom, who growl over our choices and don't even bother showing up at the polls. Democracy is fragile and precious; we forget that. These people don't." Here's a Iraqi bloggers covering the election, also courtesy of Jeff.
  • FriendsofDemocracy.Org, another organization bringing you "ground-level election news from the Iraqi people."

  • Radioblogger has a photo-blog of proud Iraqis voting in El Toro, California. Lots of smiling faces and an interesting story -- two Iraqis men "came to vote today, with their families, and recognized each other. They started talking and realized that they hadn't seen each other in fifty years. They were about ten years old in Iraq the last time they saw each other." What a reunion! jubilant Iraqis exit the polls

  • How do you begin to contain the emotion of contributing to freedom for the very first time in over 50 years. And for many - the first time ever in their life?" -- Kevin McCullough captures the emotions of many Iraqis with another series of photos.

  • Michelle Malkin shares a relevant question from a reader: "Why don't we see the human shields at the polls in Iraq? They were willing to protect Iraq from bombs before the war started. Why aren't they protecting Iraq now?"

  • From BlogsofWar:

    Atheer Almudhafer, from Falls Church, Va., gives the Iraqi sign of victory after casting his absentee ballot at the New Carrollton, Md., voting station, Jan. 28, 2005. His finger is marked with indelible blue ink, intended to prevent double voting. "I give the sign of peace and voting. Together it is victory." [Defense LINK]

  • A history lesson from Arthur Herman ("Sic Temper Tyrannis: 1649 and now" NRO, January 28, 2004):

    This election, which many hope will spark a democratic revolution for the Middle East, falls on the same day -- January 30 -- as the event which set in motion the modern West's first democratic revolution more than 365 years ago. It was on that day in 1649 that King Charles I of England was beheaded after his formal trial for treason and tyranny, an epoch-shattering event that destroyed the notion of divine right of kings forever, and gave birth to the principle that reverberates down to today, from President Bush's inaugural address last week to the Iraqi election this Sunday: that all political authority requires the consent of the people. Although few like to admit it now, it was Charles's execution, along with the civil war that preceded it and the political turmoil that followed, that established our modern notions of democracy, liberty, and freedom of speech. When Thomas Jefferson wrote that "the tree of liberty must sometimes be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants," he was thinking primarily of the legacy of the English civil war.

  • Captain's Quarters relays this report from FoxNews

    Thousands of people are now walking a 13-mile stretch between Abu Ghraib and Gazaliyah to cast votes in the elections, military sources tell Fox News. The mass march has been caught by unmanned drones, and Fox says they will soon have pictures of the subtle demonstration of the Iraqi desire for liberty.

    More as it develops. Fox also reports long lines in most polling stations, with some even calling for more ballot materials as they run out of ballots faster than they anticipated.

  • Arthur Chrenkoff has more reactions of Iraqi voters (E-Day & E-Day, Part II, including this from sometime Chrenkof correspondent:

    Haider Ajina: "I just called my father in Baghdad to see if he and the rest of my Iraqi family over there have voted yet. He said we were all just heading out the door, but we will wait and talk to you (chuckling). I heard a strength and joy in his voice and could hear the rest of my relatives in the back ground. It sounded like a family reunion. My 84 year old Iraqi Grandmother will be voting for the first time in her life. My father (a naturalized U.S. Citizen) said we are all getting ready to go vote in a school near by. This school was just being built when I left Iraq in the late 70's. I know where it is and I can picture my father, uncles aunties and cousins along with the rest of the family walking through my old neighborhood to that school and vote. My father said 'For the first time in my life I voted in the U.S. and now I can vote in Iraq. We want our voices to count, we want to decide our future and we want the world to know we have a voice in our future and in our government, this will give the Iraqi government true legitimacy, just like in America'.

    "I can now dream of the day when I can take my family to meet my extended family and the places were I played and grew up. They will also see what our men and women in our military fought for.

    "To all the men and women who have served and serving in Iraq, to all the families of those who have paid the ultimate price to all those who have suffered during their service in Iraq, my family’s and my deepest thanks, gratitude and pride both from the U.S. and Iraq for all the sacrifices, endurance and service for our great country and Iraq and the Iraqis. God bless all of you and keep you safe."

  • Voices from the Revolution - Friends of Democracy interviews with citizens from the Zy Qar province and reports that the Election Goes Smoothly in Kirkuk ("During the elections the kids have nothing to do as everyone is busy voting").

  • More photoblogging the election from Ryan in Baghdad ("Farmer by genetics, Lawyer by training, currently "vacationing" in Iraq and advising the Iraqi government on border security issue"). Ryan cites a pertinent quote from Natan Sharansky's The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror:

    Any time ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom, not tyranny; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of the secret police."
BREAKING NEWS! - Iraqi Voting Disrupts News Reports of Bombings, by Scott Ott [Scrappleface.com]

(2005-01-30) -- News reports of terrorist bombings in Iraq were marred Sunday by shocking graphic images of Iraqi "insurgents" voting by the millions in their first free democratic election.

Despite reporters' hopes that a well-orchestrated barrage of mortar attacks and suicide bombings would put down the so-called 'freedom insurgency', hastily-formed battalions of rebels swarmed polling places to cast their ballots -- shattering the status quo and striking fear into the hearts of the leaders of the existing terror regime.

Hopes for a return to the stability of tyranny waned as rank upon rank of Iraqi men and women filed out of precinct stations, each armed with the distinctive mark of the new freedom guerrillas -- an ink-stained index finger, which one former Ba'athist called "the evidence of their betrayal of 50 years of Iraqi tradition."

Journalists struggled to put a positive spin on the day's events, but the video images of tyranny's traitors choosing a future of freedom overwhelmed the official story of bloodshed and mayhem.

Amid Attacks, a Party Atmosphere on Baghdad's Closed Streets, by Dexter Filkins. New York Times January 30, 2005.
Iraqis Express Pride, Hope at Election, by Ellen Knickmeyer. Associated Press. January 30, 2005.
Iraq election declared 'success' BBC News. January 30, 2005.

  • Iraqi bloggers Mohammed and Omar @ Iraq The Model conclude: "The People have won"

    The first thing we saw this morning on our way to the voting center was a convoy of the Iraqi army vehicles patrolling the street, the soldiers were cheering the people marching towards their voting centers then one of the soldiers chanted "vote for Allawi" less than a hundred meters, the convoy stopped and the captain in charge yelled at the soldier who did that and said:< p>"You're a member of the military institution and you have absolutely no right to support any political entity or interfere with the people's choice. This is Iraq's army, not Allawi's".

    This was a good sign indeed and the young officer's statement was met by applause from the people on the street. The streets were completely empty except for the Iraqi and the coalition forces ' patrols, and of course kids seizing the chance to play soccer! . . .

    I walked forward to my station, cast my vote and then headed to the box, where I wanted to stand as long as I could, then I moved to mark my finger with ink, I dipped it deep as if I was poking the eyes of all the world's tyrants.

    I put the paper in the box and with it, there were tears that I couldn't hold; I was trembling with joy and I felt like I wanted to hug the box but the supervisor smiled at me and said "brother, would you please move ahead, the people are waiting for their turn".

  • Iraqis fight a lonely battle for democracy, The Guardian January 30, 2005. Michael Ignatieff explains why "whatever your view of the war, you should embrace today's election":

    Just as depressing as the violence in Iraq is the indifference to it abroad. Americans and Europeans who have never lifted a finger to defend their own right to vote seem not to care that Iraqis are dying for the right to choose their own leaders. . . .

    The Bush administration has managed the nearly impossible: to turn democracy into a disreputable slogan.

    Liberals can't bring themselves to support freedom in Iraq lest they seem to collude with neo-conservative bombast. Anti-war ideologues can't support the Iraqis because that would require admitting that positive outcomes can result from bad policies. And then there are the ideological fools in the Arab world, and even a few in the West, who think the 'insurgents' are fighting a just war against US imperialism. This makes you wonder when the left forgot the proper name for people who bomb polling stations, kill election workers and assassinate candidates - fascists.

  • Liberty Marches Forward - Citizen Smash, aka. "Indepundit", has a another roundup of photos and stirring quotes:

    We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of Liberty." -- John F. Kennedy

    "The battle is now joined on many fronts. We will not waver; we will not tire; we will not falter; and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail." – George W. Bush

  • Via Little Green Footballs, an email from Mike, a major stationed in the Sunni Triangle:

    The polls closed at 1700 (5PM) our time and 8AM CST but the initial reports are that 72% of the Iraqis voted. Folks we should be ashamed. We can’t get that many people to vote in the US and no one is trying to kill us.
  • Via Michelle Malkin, a child's display of solidarity with Iraqi voters:

    10-year-old Billings girl, Shelby Dangerfield won't be going to the polls. But she will be will be showing her support by wearing ink on her finger - just like those Iraqis who have voted.

    "It will symbolize our support if we wear ink on our fingers," Shelby said. "We're not forcing them to vote, but they have a chance to do it and they should take that chance."

    "10-year-old supports vote of Iraqi people" Billings Gazette January 30, 2005 .

  • President Congratulates Iraqis on Election The White House. January 30, 2005.

* * *

So that's the roundup for the weekend . . . stay tuned to the various blogs mentioned above for the results and the aftermath, and please keep the people of Iraq, together with our troops, in your prayers.

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Saturday, January 01, 2005

Iraq - Bringing in the New Year with a Prayer

We still dream of a democratic Iraq ruled by the law
And this is something we deserve…this is the land of the first law in history
I still find my home in Iraq… it's still the best place in the world in my eyes
I will not waste a minute listening to the pessimists
Instead, I will add a brick to the house we're building
And I will write a word….and pray

I will pray for the ones who fought for the Iraqi freedom
I will pray for the hundreds of thousands who won't spend the night with their families, staying awake on the front
line to keep me safe
I will pray for the ones who gave their lives for the sake of others' wellbeing
I will pray for those who went through all the pains
And never lost hope
I will pray for a free and democratic Iraq
I will pray for the world's peace

Happy New Year.

Mohammed, Iraq The Model

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Sunday, July 25, 2004

Spirit of America

Readers might notice the 'Spirit of America' logo in the margins of my blog -- if you haven't checked it out, it's one of those organizations that's assisting the U.S. military in making a real difference in the reparation and rebuilding of a new Iraq.

I know that many Catholics are divided on the U.S.-Iraqi war and our ongoing presence in Iraq, but perhaps we can unite in supporting SOA's various projects, some of which are listed below:

  • In response to a request from Captain Justin Thomas for musical instruments for Kurdish villages in Northern Iraq Spirit of America provided $4500 for pianos and violins. These instruments were presented to village elders in Byara and Khormal where people had been forbidden to listen to or play music for years under the Islamist Government of Kurdistan.
  • Lt. Col. David Couvillon and fellow marines handed out nearly 500 red, white and blue soccer jerseys to children in Wassit Province, Iraq. The kits included an insert with images of the American and Iraqi flags, photographs of American men, women and children and the greeting "A gift of friendship from the people of the United States to the people of Iraq." Federal Express donated express shipping of the jerseys to the Marines.
  • In response to a request from the U.S. 1st Marine Division, Spirit of America donated 10,000 school supply kits, 3 tons of medical supplies and 2 tons of Frisbees printed with "Friendship" in English and Arabic. These items will be given to Iraqis by the Marines as gifts of friendship from the American people.
  • U.S. Marines distributed 2,000 dental kits to villages in and around Al Hillah. Al Hillah is south of Baghdad and is where the ancient city of Babylon is located. Burghard emailed, "These are our friends, and had exceptionally kind words when we brought the dental kits to them. They reacted differently than what we would see during a basic humanitarian assistance project. They considered the dental kits gifts from friends in America, quite literally as the small leaflet indicated."

Current Requests from Spirit of America. Some of the current projects (for which donations and materials are needed) include 27,000 more school kits for Iraqi children; sewing machines for Sewing Centers being set up by the Director of Economic development; tool sets to assist U.S. Marines and SeaBees in training Iraqi men as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and masons . . . READ MORE.

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Saturday, July 10, 2004

Iraqis say goodbye to Paul Bremer

Last week the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority handed over power to the free nation of Iraq. From what is being reported by Iraqi blogs, Paul Bremer gave an incredible speech on the day the U.S. transferred sovereignty to Iraq, which stirred many a soul and moved many of those who heard it to tears. It went unreported by the mainstream press -- no doubt because it didn't involve Iraqi insurgents and the loss of American lives. Writing for "Iraq The Model", Mohammed expresses thanks to Bremer on behalf of the Iraqi people, and, later, discusses the negligent coverage of the U.S. press. Ali, another Iraqi blogger, posts his thoughts:

The speech was impressive and you could hear the sound of a needle if one had dropped it at that time. The most sensational moment was the end of the speech when Mr. Bremer used a famous Arab emotional poem. The poem was for a famous Arab poet who said it while leaving Baghdad. Al-Jazeera had put an interpreter who tried to translate even the Arabic poem which Mr. Bremer was telling in a fair Arabic! "Let this damned interpreter shut up. We want to hear what the man is saying" One of my colloquies shouted. The scene was very touching that the guy sitting next to me (who used to sympathize with Muqtada) said "He's going to make me cry!"

Then he finished his speech by saying in Arabic,"A'ash Al-Iraq, A'ash Al-Iraq, A'ash Al-Iraq"! (Long live Iraq, Long live Iraq, long live Iraq).

I was deeply moved by this great man's words but I couldn't prevent myself from watching the effect of his words on my friends who some of them were anti-Americans and some were skeptic, although some of them have always shared my optimism. I found that they were touched even more deeply than I was. I turned to one friend who was a committed She'at and who distrusted America all the way. He looked as if he was bewitched, and I asked him, "So, what do you think of this man? Do you still consider him an invader?" My friend smiled, still touched and said, "Absolutely not! He brought tears to my eyes. God bless him."

Another friend approached me. This one was not religious but he was one of the conspiracy theory believers. He put his hands on my shoulders and said smiling, "I must admit that I'm beginning to believe in what you've been telling us for months and I'm beginning to have faith in America. I never thought that they will hand us sovereignty in time. These people have shown that they keep their promises."

Dr. Foad Ajami (author of the excellent Dream Palaces of the Arabs), writes of the transfer of power, and responsibility:

America is not to stay long in Iraq. No scheme is being hatched for the subjugation of Iraq's people. No giant American air bases on their soil are in the offing. In their modern history, Iraqis witnessed direct British control over their country (from 1921 to 1932), followed by a quarter-century of a subtle British role in their politics, hidden behind a façade of national independence. Ours is a different world, and this new "imperium" is the imperium of a truly reluctant Western power.

What shall stick of America's truth on the soil of Iraq is an open, unknowable question. But the leaders who waged this war--those "architects" of it who have been thrown on the defensive by its difficulties and surprises--should be forgiven the sense that things broke their way during that five-minute surprise ceremony yesterday morning. They haven't created a "new" Iraq, and sure enough, they have not tackled the malignancies of the Arab world which lay at the roots, and the very origins, of this war. America isn't acquitted yet of its burdens in Mesopotamia. Our heartbreaking losses are a daily affair, and our soldiers there remain in harm's way.

But we now stay under new terms--a power that vacated sovereignty 48 hours ahead of schedule, and an Iraqi population that can glimpse, just a horizon away, the possibility of a society free from both native tyranny and foreign control. There is nervousness in Iraq: the nervousness of a people soon to be put to the test by the promise--and the hazards--of freedom.

["Iraq's New History" Wall Street Journal June 29, 2004]

Related Links & Updates:

  • "Blogging the watchdogs", by John Leo. U.S. News and World Report July 19, 2004. Mr. Leo covers the lapses (and deliberate maliciousness) of the mainstream press:

    The Washington Post said Bremer left without giving a talk. The Los Angeles Times did worse. It missed the speech, then insulted Bremer for not giving it. A July 4 Times "news analysis" said: "L. Paul Bremer III, the civilian administrator for Iraq, left without even giving a final speech to the country--almost as if he were afraid to look in the eye the people he had ruled for more than a year." This is a good one-sentence example of what readers object to in much Iraq reporting--dubious or wrong information combined with a heavy load of attitude from the reporter.

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Sunday, June 27, 2004

The Passion over Fahrenheit 911

Liberals are fawning over Michael Moore's "mockumentary" Fahrenheit 911 with a religious furvor akin to Catholic zeal for Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ. Does anybody else find the sentiments expressed in this review by Stewart Klawans for The Nation oddly familar to those expressed by Christians exiting the theater after seeing Gibson's dramatization?:

You don't much monitor your own reactions. But then, as you leave the movie house, you might notice that the sidewalk chatter sounds oddly muffled, the traffic looks a little blurred, as you begin to realize that your attention has not come outside with you; it's still in the dark, struggling with the feelings that Fahrenheit 9/11 called up and didn't resolve. Are you outraged, heartbroken, vengeful, morose, gloating, thoughtful, electrified? Moore has elicited all of these emotions and then had the nerve--the filmmaker's nerve--to leave you to sort them out. . . . I think there are two bundles of messages in Fahrenheit 9/11, one political and one emotional--and while the first is about as ambiguous as a call to take up pitchforks and torches and storm the castle, the second is too complex to unsettle those in power. It works to unsettle you. It's what makes Fahrenheit 9/11 a real movie.

In lieu of the Stations of the Cross, watching Michael Moore reveal that the Bush administration engineered the war in Iraq with the sole motive of making profits off Arab oil and Halliburton labor contracts is something of a religious epiphany. ;-)

* * *

The reason I don't like Michael Moore is NOT because he's anti-Republican -- it's entirely possible to offer criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the war in a reasonable and civilized manner. The problem with Michael Moore is that he so effectively contributes to the dumbing down of the Left by his willing indulgence in radical conspiracy-theorizing and vulger anti-Americanism, as recently exposed by David Brooks ("All Hail Moore" New York Times June 26, 2004).

Here's Moore on how he really feels about Americans:

"They are possibly the dumbest people on the planet . . . in thrall to conniving, thieving smug [pieces of the human anatomy] . . . We Americans suffer from an enforced ignorance. We don't know about anything that's happening outside our country. Our stupidity is embarrassing. . . .

"That's why we're smiling all the time. You can see us coming down the street. You know, `Hey! Hi! How's it going?' We've got that big [expletive] grin on our face all the time because our brains aren't loaded down."

Here's Moore on the complexities of the U.S. - Iraqi conflict (in an interview with the Japanese press):

"The motivation for war is simple. The U.S. government started the war with Iraq in order to make it easy for U.S. corporations to do business in other countries. They intend to use cheap labor in those countries, which will make Americans rich."

And here's Moore -- in his message posted on his website, April 14, 2004 -- on the Islamic fundamentalists who are ambushing our troops and beheading hostages:

"The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not `insurgents' or `terrorists' or `The Enemy.' They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win."

This coming from a self-proclaimed "filthy-rich multi-millionare" who portrays himself on screen as a scruffy blue-collar "man of the people" while living in a posh apartment in Manhattan and demanding up to $38,000 in "speaking fees" for a single engagement at Kansas University.

In related news, Ralph Nader accused Moore of selling out his friends for the Democratic Party Establishment in an open letter to his website.

Related Links:

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Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Prayers for my brother Nathan

On one hand, he's not going to Iraq with his unit. . . . On the other hand, the reason he's staying behind is because he's having persistent migraine headaches for which they haven't found a reason.

*sigh*

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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Good news from Iraq?

Prisoner abuse, Shia uprising, prisoner abuse, Fallujah, prisoner abuse, lost heart and minds, prisoner abuse... Oh, did I mention prisoner abuse?

The news from Iraq has been consistently bad for two month now, with one "quagmire" after another cheering up the media, the left and the "Arab street", and depressing the hell out of most conservatives.

So, for a change, here's some good news from Iraq that you might have missed . . . READ MORE

Blogger Chrenkoff takes it upon himself to give a "fair and balanced" portrayal of Iraq, given the media's lack of emphasis on the positive.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Help from the Homefront

Sg. Brian Horn from LaPlata, Maryland, is an Army Infantry Soldier with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the Kirkuk area of Iraq who has a reputation for taking care of his soldiers. He and his friends have agreed to distribute the contents of any packages that come to him addressed "Attn: Any Soldier" to the soldiers who are not getting mail. Learn more about Operation "Any Solder" and its Success Stories! Participate!

(Thanks I. Shawn McElhinney for bringing this to my attention)

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Against The Grain is the personal blog of Christopher Blosser - web designer and all around maintenance guy for the original Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club (Now Pope Benedict XVI).





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