Saturday, July 10, 2004

Bring out your dead (once in a decade) 

Phillip Adams in the "Australian" has a suggestion for the Good Lord:

"If the Almighty is reading this column, might I suggest something along the following lines: People should be allowed to return to life for, say, one day every decade, so that they can accept the bouquets, plaudits and gratitude of the rest of us."
The prospect of periodic reappearances by Phillip Adams is, however, hardly enticing, even if no one outside of three listeners of public radio would notice.

"Let's leave Karl Marx alone, but hardly undisturbed, in Highgate Cemetery. The massive sculpture of his formidable head is regularly smashed or bombed, but even worse are the ongoing attacks on his own personal 'ism'. Like Christ, he wouldn't take much pleasure in what's been done in his name, but he might well be miffed by the trumpeting and triumphalism of capitalism."
Poor misunderstood Marx and those horrible nasty people who won't leave him alone. Speaking of those in hell:

"And how would Hitler and Stalin feel about tjudgmentent of history and humanity? If extended from the great creative artists, such return visits would provide posthumous punishments."
Only if they have to read Phillip Adams.

By the way, Phillip, the Almighty is not reading your column; he's too busy going through Krauthammer's at the moment.


Off the wall 

The "Guardian", ca. 200 AD, reports on an important victory for international law:

"The International Criminal Court yesterday branded Rome's vast earth and brick barrier through northern Britain a political not a security measure, and a de facto land grab. The judges told Rome to tear it down and compensate the Pict victims...

" '"Rome is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the Hadrian's Wall being built in the occupied Pictish territory..., to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated," the court ruled...

" 'This is an excellent decision,' said the Pictish leader, Yas Arfa. 'This is a victory for the Pictish people and for all the free peoples of the world.'...

"But Rome rejected the ruling as politicised and one-sided, saying that it failed to address 'the very reason for building the fence - Pictish terror raids'."
Currently still before the Court, the Huns vs China (the Great Wall of China case), where the verdict is expected shortly.


Hugging for Columbine 

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle denies hugging Michael Moore after the premiere of "Fahrenheit 911":

"When asked about Moore's account of a hug after the premiere and the criticism Daschle has received for it, the South Dakota Democrat said he and Moore did not embrace. Daschle said his schedule forced him to arrive late and leave early."
Not to mention the sheer physical impossibility of it; their hands could barely reach far enough to touch each other.

This is what Moore told "Time" magazine's Richard Corliss about the incident:

"Among the clips in Fahrenheit 9/11 is one of minority leader Tom Daschle last year urging other Senators to follow his lead and vote for Bush’s Iraq war. Two weeks ago, at the Washington premiere, Moore sat a few rows behind Daschle. Afterward, says Moore, 'he gave me a hug and said he felt bad and that we were all gonna fight from now on. I thanked him for being a good sport'."
One of them is lying. A tough one: could Moore possibly ever tell a fib? Or could a Senate Minority Leader suddenly realise a political liability of too close an association with an extremist nutcake?


Friday, July 09, 2004

Why the World Council of Churches continues to be so relevant 

Australia gets savaged by the World Council of Churches:

"Australia had racist tendencies and should abandon its mandatory detention of asylum seekers, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches said today.

"General secretary the Reverend Sam Kobia called for the closure of the Baxter detention centre in South Australia, likening the facility to the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."
The report notes helpfully that the World Council of Churches is "described as the church equivalent of the United Nations." Which should destroy the organisation's credibility then and there.

Those like me, who have long memories, will also recall with some nostalgia the WCC's uncanny ability to put itself on the wrong side of just about every Cold War issue; naivete at best, infiltration by communist secret services for the less charitable. If the choice between communism and the Free World appears like a trick question for you, the chances are that your moral compass is too out of whack to allow you to make any decent contribution to any debate.

Either way, WCC + politics = major credibility gap, an equation that the shocked Rev Kobia is keen to perpetuate: "[Baxter detention centre] reminded me of the pictures I have seen of Guantanamo Bay ... but of course without the chains and the uniforms." So not like Guantanamo Bay.

As for Australia overall, "[w]hen I can see the way that the Aboriginal people are treated here, and listening to them, I would say that one cannot avoid to detect some racist tendencies here. I wouldn't, however, call the Australian people or country as racist in the same way I would have talked of South Africa in the apartheid period." I think I speak for all of us when I say this comes as a relief to everyone.

As John Newbury, a Methodist minister and a former WCC press officer, wrote in the "Guardian" (of all places):

"(WCC) has something to say on many things, including Iraq, the European Union, Liberia, Zimbabwe, the Congo - and disabled people. The trouble is that most of it is predictable... Too often, the organisation has appeared like many non-religious justice and peace pressure groups. If the WCC can connect with people's search for a meaningful spirituality, and offer something that speaks to their desires and needs, well, it might have a future."
But that might be too much hard work, and politics is so much more exciting. And unlike spirituality, it also gets you publicity.

Update: Gnu Hunter has more thoughts about the good Reverend throwing stones in glasshouses.


Al Qaeda's October Surprise 

The media reports that "[t]he US is tightening security in the face of a steady stream of intelligence indicating al-Qaeda may seek to mount an attack aimed at disrupting elections." Presumably by sabotaging the voting machines in Florida so that they don't punch clear holes through the ballots.

The story is illustrated with a picture of beaming Kerry and Edwards with arms around each other, and a caption: "High profile... will terrorists target John Kerry and John Edwards during their US presidential campaign?" Only if they are really really stupid.

And depending on what al Qaeda actually wants to achieve - a strategic or a symbolic objective. Al Qaeda seems to have smarted up recently, choosing to attack the weakest links, like Spain, in order to achieve clear political and military objectives (weakening the Coalition in Iraq, putting strains on Western alliances). From that point of view, attacking the US is not a good idea. In any arrangement, America is the strongest link; its people tend to rally around the President when under attack. Unless al Qaeda wants to take a gamble that months of relentless media commentary about Bush being too distracted by Iraq to focus on the war on terror will bear fruit, and that Americans, when reminded by another spectacular terrorist attack, will take it out on the incumbent who took his eyes off the ball.

But if al Qaeda is after a symbolic objective - hey, see? we're still alive and can smack you on the head whenever we want to! -then perhaps both Kerry and Edwards should be starting to get worried about their election-winning hair.


Thursday, July 08, 2004

Kerry's hair apparent 

This campaign will be run on important issues, at least according to John Kerry, speaking of his charismatic presidential ticket:

"We've got better vision, better ideas, real plans. We've got a better sense of what's happening to America - and we've got better hair."
Edwards, of course, changed his recently: "going shorter, for a more sporty, less adult-contemporary look." Will go well with Kerry's ever changing - albeit always "better" - positions on issues.

Edwards' shorter hair spoke today about his VP run: "This is a great privilege for me - a great opportunity to serve my country, which I love so dearly."

Edwards' adult-contemporary hair back in January had other ideas: "No, no. Final. I don't want to be vice president. I'm running for president." No wonder he trimmed it.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Abu Ghraib 

This is so funny, I have to quote it almost in full:

"Boy wizard Harry Potter has cast his spell over a new, but unusual, group of fans - for the past few weeks the cream of French academe has been coming to metaphysical blows over the true nature of the Potter stories.

"The opinion pages of the French broadsheet Le Monde have hosted a spirited discussion on the underlying political messages of JK Rowling's hugely successful series of children's novels.

"In short, is the adolescent wizard a running dog of neo-liberal capitalism or the Naomi Klein of wizardry, implacably anti-globalist and firmly on the side of the weak and oppressed?"
After the French finish with the poor Potter he will get totally deconstructed and will undergo a Foucaultian analysis of punishment and sexual perversion at Hogwarts.

"The debate was kicked off by Ilias Yocaris, who teaches at the Institut Universitaire de Formation de Matres in Nice, a teachers' training college. He maintains the Potter oeuvre is full of neo-liberal stereotypes.

"Potter's private school, Hogwarts, is represented as struggling against rules imposed by an interfering state system represented by the Ministry of Magic, while Harry and his friends are forced to defy the ministry to survive.

"His arch-enemy has a French name - Voldemort (Flight of Death), which has not endeared him to the Gallic sensibility any more than his personal philosophy, which appears to have come from Friedrich Nietzsche: 'There is no good and evil, just power and those too weak to seek it'."
One could add that Malfoy also's got the French ring to it. And Nietzsche or not, the philosophy seems to accurately describe the contemporary French foreign policy.

"The world of Harry Potter, [Yocaris] says, 'glorifies individualism, excessive competition and a cult of violence'."
And of course that scar on his forehead resembles one half of the runic SS symbol. But what if Harry is deep down really a leftie? After all, isn't magic just like socialism, where you expect to get something out of nothing without doing any work?

"[Yocaris' argument] provoked the considerable ire of Isabelle Smadja, a professor of philosophy whose 2002 book, Harry Potter and the Forces of Evil, identifies the teenage wizard as a lone fighter against the rise of new Nazism.

"Smadja defended the Potter series as 'a ferocious critique of consumer society and the world of free enterprise' and cast Harry as 'the first hero of the anti-global Seattle generation'."
Which is pretty curious, considering that the Potter series are one of the most parochial in recent memory - it's not until the book four that we even learn that there is a magic world beyond Great Britain, and it consists mostly of France and Bulgaria. There's just nothing for Harry to protest about.

Just as trying to discern politics in the Bible (was Jesus a capitalist or a proto-socialist?), politicising Potter is fun, but largely meaningless; neither book is really about politics. Yes, J K Rowling is a soft Brit leftie - bourgeois suburbs are bad, so is aristocracy; wizardry is meritocratic, Hogwarts multicultural; underdog is good ("half-blood" wizards, persecuted werewolves), top-dog rarely so (the posh, Aryan-looking, Malfoy dynasty) - but by the same token the conservatives can find a lot to cheer about too: the uncompromising struggle of good against evil, even when it's not easy or popular; the value of friendship, courage, and honour; the uselessness of bureaucracy.

But in the end, however hard French academics might try, the young 'uns of today will not form opinion on the war in Iraq, immigration, free market or globalisation after reading about the Philosopher's Stone or the Chamber of Secrets. And that's actually very good.


I'm not bored, I just like media-watching 

I know that people in Wales like to find a local angle, but this is quite something: "Investigations will continue today into the death of Catherine Zeta-Jones's troubled brother-in-law Eric Douglas." Eric Douglas, of course, was an entertainer in his own right, Michael's brother and Kirk's son, but for the Welsh he'll forever remain Catherine's brother-in-law.

Then there's this one, for the "No shit" category: "Tamil Tigers say elements opposed to peace behind suicide attack." As James Taranto would say: "What would we do without Tamil Tigers."

And another one: "Kerry, Edwards celebrate shared values, ambitions." Bet you didn't know they had so much in common?


An Aussie joins the "S team" 

Further to my profile of Saddam's all star legal defence team, this news that a prominent Australian lawyer was asked and has agreed to join the team (hat-tip my legal contact, Stew). John Marsden , a high-profile Sydney lawyer, former president of New South Wales Law Society, and a self-confessed "promiscuous homosexual" has been in the news last year when he successfully sued Channel Seven for defamation, after 7's show "Witness" aired allegations that Marsden was a pedophile. The case costed Channel Seven $600,000 in damages and indemnity costs for Marsden's legal bills of around $6 million, plus another $9 million in an out-of-court settlement for compensation for hurt feelings, and the TV network's own legal fees of around $20 million.

Marsden, well known for support for various PC causes, is also known for remarks such as "[M]y sexual preference is into masculine men, hairy men, men who look like men physically." The irony, of course, is that under this ultimate "hairy, masculine man" himself, Saddam, homosexuality was punishable by death.


The once and future movie-going experience 

I shouldn't write about a movie I haven't seen (no, this is not a post about "Fahreheit 911"), but since I'm not going to comment on the film's artistic merits, what the hell.

"King Arthur" is getting some atrocious reviews, mostly from the big children in the media who are disappointed that the magic is gone ("Troy" had the same problems, having been de-deified by its director). I, for one, while a fan of my name-sake, was always a bit sick and tired of all the ahistorical medieval add-ons (knights in shining armour, the Holy Grail, etc.) and wanted to see what a moviemaker would make of the "historical" King Arthur. By the sounds of it, the new film version is still somewhat off the mark: the new Arthur , according to Slate's David Edelstein, "is a battle-hardened warrior at the northernmost outpost of the Roman Empire, circa 452 A.D. ... He is a Briton, but he commands a Sarmatian cavalry for the occupying country." If that's correct, then it's incorrect. While Sarmatian cavalry was stationed in Britain during the late Empire, the Romans withdrew from the isles in 410 AD. The historical Arthur (to the extent we know him) was a war leader of a mixed Roman and Briton heritage, who lived and fought about a hundred years later than the new movie has him doing. I also gather that the film is pretty hostile to Christianity (what's new?). This again would be inaccurate. Arthur was most likely a Christian fighting against pagan Saxons.

Something else, though, in Edelstein's review caught my eye:

"[Arthur] is a Briton, but he commands a Sarmatian cavalry for the occupying country. He likes the Romans. He fights against his own people because he considers Rome the fount of democracy, religious tolerance, and the credo that men (and women) control their own destinies. Given the bloody repression practiced by Rome at the time, this is moronic, but Arthur is not presented as a moron, merely a soldier who is a tad out of touch - as much of a bleeding-heart liberal-humanist as a man who has lopped off thousands of insurgents' limbs can be."
God, it sounds like some Dark Ages version of Ahmed Chalabi or Iyad Allawi. I wonder if that's why, subliminally, the reviewers turn off the new Arthur? I was prepared to go and see "King Arthur" just as a piece of entertainment, but now with all the talk about "occupying country", "insurgents" and liking the US, sorry, Rome, I will definitely have to check out this shameless piece of political propaganda.


Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Good news from Iraq, Part 5 

Welcome to the fifth installment of "Good news from Iraq", and the first one after the transition of sovereignty. The media, much annoyed at having missed out on a photo-op, has had a field day trying to delegitimise and downplay the transfer: if it wasn't a sham because of the continuing Coalition presence, it was a meaningless gesture considering the litany of problems facing the new Iraq.

Yet, at the same time as the media was raining on the Iraqi parade, I've been able to collect even more good news stories that in most cases got drowned in the general negativity. Speaking of the media, read this first-hand account of why the Marines don't trust Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Baghdad bureau chief for the "Washington Post", to tell the full story.

For the previous installments of the "Good news" series see the links on the top of the side-bar; for "Good news from Afghanistan" click here; and for the latest Iraqi news, read on.

SOCIETY: The Iraqi provisional government led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was off to a good start even before the transition: "The first survey since the new government was announced by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about three weeks ago showed that 68 percent of Iraqis have confidence in their new leaders." Illegitimate? American puppets? For the world media yes, for the people who actually matter in this context - the Iraqis - fortunately not.

Much has been written about the transition to sovereignty, most of it negative. If you're sick and tired of the coverage read these three stories: "Following the formal handover of sovereignty to Baghdad, 15 Iraqi and Iraqi-American groups have issued an open letter to the American people, thanking them for the sacrifices they endured to liberate their country." This from the "New York Times":

"[T]he transfer marked a real if vaguely defined return of pride and dignity to the 1.3 million Iraqis who work for the government. 'Even the work is very beautiful today,' said Zeynib Manaa, a 24-year-old lawyer at the ministry. Workers said they saw the transfer as the start of a fundamental shift - not just for them, but for people who have criticized them for working for the new government and, they hope, for the insurgents carrying out attacks against people and facilities, including electrical lines. 'Before, sabotage could be justified as being against Americans, but not now,' said Ahmed Javel al-Awadi, manager of an office that researches issues like projected electrical demand. 'If someone does anything now, that means he hates the Iraqi people. It's a very big feeling when you control the country'."
And this from an Iraqi blogger: "Then suddenly Mr. Bremer appeared on TV reading his last speech before he left Iraq. I approached the TV to listen carefully to the speech, as I expected it to be difficult in the midst of all that noise. To my surprise everyone stopped what they were doing and started watching as attentively as I was." Make sure you read the whole thing.

Ahead of next year's elections, local administration and democracy grow: "Sixteen provincial councils have been established, along with 78 district councils, 192 city or sub-district councils, and 392 neighborhood councils." We should always remember the sacrifices that brave Iraqis made every day to build a better country:

" 'We still believe in democracy and freedom,' said Sheik Saud al-Shibley, a tribal leader and vice president of the national farmer's union, who has survived three assassination attempts. 'Everybody sees us and at anytime we can get hit ... (but) I don't care about these things, I carry on with life'."
Fortunately for Iraq, there are many people like him. Including many women: "As car bombings and mortar attacks rock the country with alarming regularity, many women in Iraq have quit school or left jobs. But with the power handoff last week, many are also seizing political opportunities and looking forward to democracy."

Saddam and his top henchmen are not the only ones to come before the new justice system:

"Khaiss al-Malek's bid to become a legend in the Iraqi resistance did not go quite as planned. In April his gang mounted a rocket attack on a US base, badly wounding a soldier, but the returning fire killed his two accomplices and he was caught. Instead, his footnote in guerrilla history is rather less glorious: in a trial last week at Baghdad's new central criminal court, he became the first Iraqi ever convicted of attacking coalition soldiers."
In the media news, the growth of talk-radio: "There are many things lacking in newly sovereign Iraq, but freedom of expression isn't one of them. Radio Dijla, a private talk-radio station, offers Baghdadis a chance to participate in frank, open discussions on a variety of topics ranging from electricity blackouts to Iraq's political future. The formula works -- after just two months on the air, Radio Dijla is already the most popular station in Baghdad." More on the station here ("And, after 35 years of Saddam Hussein's dictatorial rule, where voicing the wrong opinion could lead to a beating or even execution, Iraqis are eating it up."). When Iraqis get their very own Rush Limbaugh, the world media will have no choice but to announce the US occupation a complete failure.

On the TV meanwhile:

"Al-Sharqiya, meaning 'the Eastern one,' is Iraq's first privately owned channel. It launched satellite transmission to more than 90 countries on June 11, setting up as a rival to established Arab stations like Al Jazeera. Sharqiya's director said his current staff of 100 hopes to capture a wide audience by using political comedy and the kind of impartial news coverage unheard of during decades of rule by ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.'We have to face the problems of the Iraqi people. They need a smile and a laugh to release tension. By using humor, the message gets across faster,' said station director Alaa al-Dahan, speaking in Sharqiya's Baghdad office."
And Iraqi TV is getting a technological upgrade. But it's the printed media that is enjoying the greatest boom:

"Under the ousted leader Saddam Hussein's long reign Iraqis had only access to five state-controlled dailies. The newspapers had different names but they were almost identical in content.

"The media landscape in the country since Saddam Hussein's downfall has dramatically transformed, however. In the nearly 15 months since Saddam Hussein's overthrow, 278 newspapers have appeared, almost one every three days."
On the Iraqi streets, order emerges out of chaos: traffic police gets powers to issue tickets for numerous traffic violations; furthermore, there will be some stiff penalties for people who interfere or assault traffic police. The result: "Today I noticed and heard from many as well that the traffic was much more smooth and there were almost no traffic jams."

Meanwhile, cultural ties between Iraq and the United States are growing:

"[A] sister city program to provide a basis for relations between U.S. and Iraqi cities had been launched. Under the program, Dallas and Kirkuk; Tucson, Ariz., and Sulaymaniyah as well as Denver and Baghdad will become sister cities. [The US government] also brought the Iraq National Symphony Orchestra to Washington in December, and they performed with the U.S. National Symphony Orchestra at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Twenty-five Iraqis currently are studying in the United States on Fulbright scholarships, which were the first to be awarded since the fall of the former regime."
Six of the Fulbright scholars are women. And in France, at the Arab film biennale, the focus on the reborn Iraqi cinema.

And more American cultural imperialism reaches Iraq: "[L]ast week I saw a report on the Iraqi Al-Sharqiya TV about the first baseball championship in Baghdad... [M]oreover, it appeared that we also have a team or two for ladies." As the Olympic games approach, in other sports news:

" 'We were afraid to represent our country,' said Weali, 24, who is one of several Iraqi athletes getting a fresh start in the US. 'The dream was a fear for us.' The nightmare ended last year after the regime was toppled and Uday's corpse was found riddled with bullets from a shootout with American soldiers. Since then, Iraq's sports program has been rebuilding from the ground up, with a new Olympic committee and millions of dollars from the International Olympic Committee, international sports federations, and foreign governments."
HEALTH AND EDUCATION: Health system resurrected:

"Iraq's health system overall is off the critical list and more or less stable, if suffering occasional lapses. Last year, $245 million (£135 million) was spent on reviving its 240 crumbling hospitals, more than a dozen times the $20 million budget it had under Saddam (roughly 44p per person). This year, the spending will nearly quadruple to $950 million. The 32,000 doctors and nurses will be retrained to catch up on the past 15 years of medical science. Staff who fled to the US and Britain are occasionally coming back and state-owned hospitals that were once 'self-financing', Saddam-speak for making patients pay for operations, are free again."
Overall, "[h]ealth-care spending in Iraq has increased some 30 times over prewar levels." The man who was the acting Minister for Health until the responsibilities were transferred over to Iraqis in May, Jim Haveman, the former director of the Michigan Department of Community Health, says that Iraqis are now better off: "People are beginning to see there's a world out there. Saddam kept them isolated, now they're seeing it now they're eager to get there. People say it might be ten or fifteen years but I don't think so. I think it's going to take three to five." Haveman had also this to say about the Iraqi economy:

"During Saddam's reign, only 2 percent of the people had telephones, there was no Internet availability. Now, there are one million cell phones; they're selling 100,000 a month. People in Dearborn are talking to their families in Iraq, a whole new experience for them. Under Saddam, you could go to jail for six months if you were found with a satellite TV. Now, there are six to seven million satellite TVs out there, with 500 free channels. They were going for $690; now they're $120. So free enterprise works! They can get all the sex channels, Al Jazeera, movie channels."
Education system resurrected too: "As of January 2004, 860 secondary school master trainers, and 31,772 secondary teachers and administrative staff, were trained in programs funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development... School supply kits have been distributed to 1.5 million secondary school students, 808,000 primary school students and 81,735 primary school teachers." This also from the people on the ground:

"[P]arents, teachers and students said the schools have been a relative success. Batul Talib Gharibawi, director of Al-Ziba Primary School, cited as proof the fact that, during the year, three of her teachers became engaged. Teachers' pay - in recent years as little as $3 a month - has been boosted to as much as $200, she said. And it comes on time. 'Now lots of people want to marry teachers because they're getting good salaries,' she said. Before the war, the children's parents paid for the school's supplies, Gharibawi said. But with U.S. funds, Iraq's Education Ministry has been able to finance school operations centrally for the first time in years."
Progress on the higher education front: "Iraq now has 20 functioning universities and 43 technical institutes and colleges; ... [P]olicy at the institutions is set by their own presidents, rather than the central government; ... [U]niversity students for the first time have access to the Internet."

John Agresto, senior advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education is optimistic about the future. "Agresto stated that enrollment for first year students at colleges and universities in Iraq has risen from 60,000 in the last year of Saddam's regime to 90,000 for the 2003-2004 year. The struggle with rebuilding the higher education system in Iraq centred on overcoming the 'tyrannical culture of hesitation' and the 'socialist culture of entitlement,' he added." Having once lived under communism myself, I can well understand these challenges. Agresto also says that "[a] liberal arts education, the norm for millions of American college and university students, is now available to young Iraqis as well."

Says Thamer Ali, dean of mechanical engineering at Baghdad's Institute of Technology: "More than 40 years ago, most high-ranking Iraqis were educated in Britain, but under Saddam that changed. There was no information for about 20 years on what was going on in colleges abroad. So the system is still largely based on Britain 40 years ago." All that is now to change, as seven British colleges of further education play host to Ali and other Iraqi education professionals who are attempting to bring themselves up to date with the world's best practice in management, curriculum and teaching methods. Such consultations are already bringing results: Derby College is signing collaborative agreement with technology colleges in Kirkuk - staff exchanges will follow.

Iraqi education system is also getting help from people like Tom O'Connor, an associate professor of justice studies at N.C. Wesleyan College, who will lead faculty-development seminars for Iraqi teachers at the University of Sulaymania. "He will teach a seminar on forensic archaeology to professors from universities, technical institutes and colleges from across Iraq."

Last, but not least, read these two stories; the first one about Iraqi orphans and street kids:

"Muhammad is 18 and has been living without parents for 10 years, ever since his stepfather kicked him and a younger brother out of the family home. Muhammad says he spent several years living in state-run orphanages before the U.S.-led invasion. He says those years were the worst time of his life.

" 'It was torture, they were starving us to death and the officers used to come in and rape girls in Saddam's time,' Muhammad says. Muhammad says when the Americans came to Iraq, the children left the orphanages and began living on the streets near the hotels where foreigners stay. He says some foreigners were good and gave him money or clothes. Now, he and his younger brother live in a shelter, and say they are happy there.

"Children in the shelter have access to computer games and are taught how to write, read, and play music. Occasionally they are taken to cultural centers or a swimming pool. Many of the children say it is the life they have always wanted."
And the second one about new hope for those maimed over the years of strife:

"When Sardan Mohammed lost his leg to a landmine in the mountains of northern Iraq, he thought he would never work again, let alone find a bride. Ten years later he has started a blacksmith's workshop with another landmine victim, gained professional qualifications and earns a good salary. He's even found a wife.

"Sardan and his business partner Amir Mohammed are among thousands of people to benefit from a project to help victims of mines or other munitions in northern Iraq to start new lives. Located in Iraq's Kurdish zone, the Diyana Prosthetic Limbs Centre makes limbs for an average of 40 people each month from materials imported from Germany and offers training to integrate amputees back into the community."
ECONOMY AND RECONSTRUCTION: A symbolic moment: "For the first time in 14 years, the Iraqi Dinar's exchange price can be seen on the financial reports of the Arabic channels including the MSNBC Arabiya." And here's more on the newly opened Iraqi stock exchange, "launched without fanfare and staffed almost entirely by women, which aims to become the leading bourse in the Middle East. Trading on the first morning in late June was higher than at any time during the life span of the former Baghdad Stock Exchange but the new bourse has yet to establish regular opening hours."

Security situation of course impacts on economic activity, but there are good signs too:

"[I]n many parts of Iraq, the only sign of war is over prices. The main street of the country's Outer Karada district, for example, is now an Iraqi version of Hong Kong's famous Nathan Road, a two-mile long stretch of shops selling nothing but imported electrical goods. Whereas two years ago they sold mainly cheap Chinese-made copies boasting dubious 'Sony-style technology', now the latest brand-name versions are also available. Kurdish trader Delshad Dehlan, 34, busy counting brick-sized piles of notes from that day's takings into a 4ft safe, said: 'When there are explosions things get very quiet, but otherwise, it's true, we make good money now"."
Communications-wise, still not enough land-lines, but "[t]he overall number of telephones in Iraq, including cell phones, is up nearly 46 percent since before the war. Cellular phone usage has soared with more than 429,300 subscribers nationwide. More than 201,000 subscribers have had their land telephone lines reinstated."

Meanwhile one of the American experts who helped to set up the new Iraqi economy is optimistic about its prospects. Says Michigan State University President Peter McPherson: "Iraq had the per capita income of Australia 30 years ago. Iraq has seven major universities and lots of trained people. They'll have a stream of revenue if you get the security and political issues ironed out. Iraq will have a very strong and growing economy in the time to come." Another expert, Arkansas Insurance Commissioner Mike Pickens, has just returned from a two-month stint in Iraq, designing insurance laws that comply with international standards.

Iraqi blogger comments on a phenomenon not seen in Iraq for quite some time - the growth of employment for foreign workers in Iraqi private sector (and no, he doesn't mean Western "mercenaries"):

"I found there that it has become very common that some restaurants and hotels are using work agencies to get workers from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Moreover, many families in Baghdad started to hire maids through work agencies; the family would pay 1300 $ for the agency to cover the travel cost of the maid who will get a monthly payment of 100 $ at least.

"The question is why don't these people hire Iraqis instead? And why do these people (workers) risk their lives in coming to work in such a 'chaotic area'? I think the answer to the 1st question is that most Iraqis can easily find a job that pays more than 100 $ with less effort and commitments. For example a kid (in summer vacation)who help in cleaning the streets and river banks get paid about 120$ by the city hall a month for about 5 hours work.

"The answer to the 2nd question can be explained in 2 ways; there seems to be lots of job opportunities in Iraq as a result of private businesses' improvement and an increase in the life standard of a good proportion of Iraqis that made this process (importing workers) a real business and that enabled Iraqis to pay reasonable amounts of money to those workers that make it worthy the risk. The other answer might be that the security conditions in Iraq is not that scary to prevent workers from coming to Iraq and also that Iraq job market seems better for simple workers at least than that in India, Philippines, Seri Lanka and many other Asian countries!!"
Read more about Hindus who work in Iraq here.

On the electrical front, production has reached 4,100 megawatts, still short of the target of 6,000 megawatts by June 30, but with two caveats: it's still better than before the war, where the production estimates varied anywhere from 300 megawatts to 4,400 megawatts - it is also distributed more evenly across Iraq, which means that Saddam's favourite Baghdad doesn't get as much as it used to, but everyone else is. And in oil news, a Norwegian company has signed a contract to search for oil and develop fields in Kurdish-controlled areas. Meanwhile, "The reconstruction of Iraq will act as a catalyst for increased cargo and marine insurance opportunities in the Gulf, according to Europe's largest private insurance and reinsurance broker Heath Lambert."

Reconstruction progresses: "More than 77,000 public works jobs have been created through the National Employment Program." The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Works has been recently given $100 million from the International Bank to assist with various projects, including their new campaign "towards cleaner and more beautiful Iraq." Meanwhile, in Baghdad, out of bad things good things grow:

"The sprawling complex that once housed the fearsome Directorate of General Security in Baghdad is being turned into a housing center. The complex, a maze of high rises and cellars, was the part of Baghdad which Iraqis feared most under the rule of the ousted leader Saddam Hussein. It was ringed by a concrete wall adorned by colorful portraits of Saddam Hussein. The Ministry of Housing and Reconstruction has allocated a budget of $30 million to repair scores of buildings in the complex and turn them into residential flats."
The neighbours are assisting too, like Bahrain, which has been approached for assistance by Iraqis for the unusual but encouraging reason: "the democratic strides taken by Bahrain under the leadership of His Majesty King Hamad." Let's hope we can see more future cooperation between the more liberal Arab states.

Read also this story of now and then in Kurdistan:

"There are no beheadings in Kalak. Instead, there are weddings, picnics and soccer matches. Girls help their mothers bake bread, boys fish for carp in the river, and old men sit in the shade of mimosa trees, swapping lies and grumbling about the chaos elsewhere in Iraq. Life in Kalak was entirely different last year, just before the war started. The drab Kurdish village was one of the most dangerous places in Iraq, and most of its residents had fled. The only people left were seven stubborn villagers and a handful of Kurdish defenders with their trusty Kalashnikov rifles."
THE COALITION FORCES: Still helping the Iraqis out of sight of news cameras.

Wisconsin servicemen like U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt Ryon Oyen and U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt John Vicente are proud of their work. Oyen says that "[m]ost Iraqis he met were 'nice, accommodating and cooperative.' Most were also very poor. Some were scared. But 'once they were invited on our post and we built relationships, if anything (our relationships) became extremely casual'." Vincente adds that "[n]early every Iraqi he met was friendly and respectful, and he was respectful of them. On occasions when U.S. troops were attacked, he said Iraqi villagers would sometimes run out of their houses with guns to help protect them. He believes many of the people attacking U.S. soldiers are from outside the country." Meanwhile, Capt Peter O'Connor and other Florida servicemen deliver $900,000 worth of medical supplies to Iraqi hospitals. "They worked side-by-side with Iraqi physicians and nurses in hospitals that had long lacked modern supplies and equipment. 'They were so excited to be learning,' O'Connor said. 'They were starving for folks who were trained in current Western medicine'." And these impressions from Lieutenant Terry Kelley of Glenview: "Thousands of Iraqi children have come to know American soldiers as smiling giants dressed in sandy clothes who bring them soccer balls and candy and teach them words like 'cool' and 'OK.' " Elsewhere, "[s]econd Lt Annie Hart of Hattiesburg has enlisted the help of the William Carey College School of Business to provide supplies for a school near Atrush, Iraq, where she is serving with the Mississippi National Guard." Check out also this story about the soldiers of the 478th Army Engineer Battalion from Fort Thomas and their contribution to reconstruction of Iraq.

Meanwhile, Home Depot has donated $1 million worth of tools and equipment to help the US Army with their reconstruction work in Iraq: "The company said it is sending nine truck trailers to the military, filled with 100,000 tools and materials, including shovels, table saws, concrete mixers, safety scaffolding, power generators, light bulbs and jackhammers." Home Depot has previously donated $1 million and one million volunteer hours by its employees to help the military families repair and maintain their homes while their loved ones are serving in Iraq.

Besides reconstruction, there is also some religious outreach:

"Iraq may be home to thousands of mosques, but none are quite like its newest house of Muslim worship. Masjid ul-Mu' Mineen, or Mosque of the Believers, is a wholly American undertaking, replete with an imam who wears a flak jacket and the United States flag on his right arm.

"Launched nine days ago in the heart of the U.S. army's Camp Cooke, north of Baghdad, the project stands as a testament to the substantial effort the army is making to embrace moderate Islam, even as it chases down extremists who trade terror in the name of religion. It also stands testament to the perseverance of Maj. Abdul Rashid Mohammed, the U.S. Army's first-ever Muslim chaplain, and the man who gave first prayers when the mosque was opened June 17.

"The army was persuaded to pump an estimated $50,000 into reviving the mosque, hiring local Iraqis from the town of Taji to replace wiring, plumbing, doors and windows and landscaping the spacious courtyard. The result is an attractive but humble place Maj. Mohammed hopes will help Iraqis and Americans alike in better understanding each other."
And let's not forget the contribution of the Coalition partners - this from South Korea: "About 700 soldiers have been learning how to fix home appliances, build agricultural facilities, cook meals and cut hair for Kurd citizens in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. Three military doctors versed in Oriental or alternative medicines will provide acupuncture treatment as needed." East meets Middle East.

Of course, it's not just military personnel who assist in the reconstruction. There are many people like Canadian pilot Pierre Favre who has left his job with Alberta's Medivac services and is now flying between Jordan and Iraq with Air Serv, a Virginia-based airline providing humanitarian flights into Iraq. And it's also thousands of volunteers in the West, working hard to make a difference in Iraq - like Westminster High students who are collecting school supplies and donations as part of Operation Iraqi Children.

DIPLOMATIC SITUATION: The new Iraq is getting re-admitted to the family of nations. "Kuwait is resuming diplomatic ties with Iraq, 14 years after Saddam Hussein invaded his small neighbor and occupied it for seven months." And of course, "[t]he American flag was raised today over the US embassy in Iraq for the first time since the 1991 Gulf War." Conversely, the Iraqi embassy in now reopened in Washington. Iraq is also getting recognition from the International Monetary Fund.

One of the "under-the-radar" stories is the improvement in the relations between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds. Ankara seems to becoming more comfortable with the developments in Iraq, and pragmatically has "moved to perceive the benefits of a rapproachment with the Kurds, in order to have a certain weight in determining the future of Iraq." Iraqi Kurds, in turn, are recognising the need for over-the-border friendship as part of the insurance policy against the Sunni-Shia domination of Iraq. Hence, we are no longer surprised to hear that Kurdish leaders such as Talabani "denounced a decision by Turkish Kurdish rebels to end a unilateral ceasefire with the government as of June 1. 'War against Turkey is war against democracy... We are against such a war, we are condemning it and we are trying our best to prevent it,' Talabani said, while praising reforms undertaken by Turkey to enhance the cultural freedoms of its Kurdish minority."

Turkey, the Iraqi government and Iraqi Kurds are now cooperating on strategies to fight the Turkish Kurd Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), after Iraq placed it on its list of terrorist organisation. The Kurds are also seeking fiends elsewhere in the region:

"Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Mesud Barzani defended... the relations the KDP established with Israel [as] no different than the relations his people share with the Arabs. Barzani... issued a statement in reply [to claims that Israeli security personnel are already operating in Northern Iraq]: "Israel is a reality, a nation and a state. There are relations between Arab states and Israel. Arab relations with Israel are obvious. We cannot be any more Arab than the Arabs themselves."
It's not just the Kurds: "Iraq's new president, Ghazi al-Yawer, admitted that [Israeli] Finance Minister [and former Prime Minister] Binyamin Netanyahu inspired him to pursue a career in politics, in an exclusive interview with the Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat."

Iraq's neigbours are also changing their mind about security assistance. First, it was Jordan’s King Abdullah who expressed the willingness to send troops to assist the Iraqi authorities with maintaining security and order (recognising Jordan's willingness to help, Iraq has now abolished visas for Jordanians wanting to come to Iraq). Now it's Yemen's turn to volunteer peacekeepers, albeit only after the Coalition troops leave Iraq. And Bahrain has offered to help: "Bahrain is prepared to resume its contribution through a naval force to participate in securing Iraq’s territorial waters and also by training Iraqi forces in this field if asked by the new Iraqi government," King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa said.

SECURITY SITUATION: Yes, terrorists are still active, kidnapping and suicide bombing, but the two "uprisings" are no more. Read how the Americans have dealt with al Sadr's Shia revolt:

"The Army's powerful 1st Armored Division is proclaiming victory over Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr's marauding militia that just a month ago seemed on the verge of conquering southern Iraq.

"The Germany-based division defeated the militia with a mix of American firepower and money paid to informants. Officers today say 'Operation Iron Saber' will go down in military history books as one of the most important battles in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq."
One of the unsung heroes seems to be General Petraeus (I like the name; sounds like something out of "Gladiator", which is a good start under the circumstances), whose success in the north-west of Iraq has put him in line for bigger and better things:

"[After initial setbacks] the Pentagon turned to General Petraeus, the commander of the 101st Airborne, who won wide praise for his stewardship of the Mosul district in northern Iraq after the war. Under his command, the border with neighboring Syria was opened for trade, and Syrian electricity was imported in exchange for Iraqi oil. Mosul was the first city to hold municipal elections, Internet cafes were opened, and a tax-free business zone was established. His nation-building efforts earned him the title of 'King David.'

"In April, he was promoted from major general and appointed head of the recently established Office of Security Transition-Iraq (OST). The goal is to train and equip nine Army brigades - around 35,000 troops in all - a small coastal defense force and the beginnings of an Iraqi Air Force.

"As of last month [May], more 200,000 Iraqis were taking part in the various security components, including 87,000 police, 15,000 border guards, 28,000 ICDC personnel, and 4,000 Army soldiers."
The Iraqi forces were already taking on a lot of security duties weeks before the sovereignty transfer. Check out this profile of the brave Iraqis who want to help their own country:

"They are the thin blue line, the symbols of authority in the new Iraq, the defensive shield against the growing insurgency that was at least part of the reason for yesterday's surprise early transfer of power to an independent government. The new Iraqi police, still being drafted and trained to take over power from the occupying US army, are also the sacrificial victims of the terror campaign: more than 1000 have died in the past year, many in blasts specifically targeting their stations and recruitment centres. What makes an everyday Iraqi take up or hold an ill-paid job in which there are good chances he will soon die?

"Tariq Dawwah Ali, a 31-year police veteran who commands one of Baghdad's most central districts, looks at his new batch of recruits with admiration. 'They are all heroes,' he says. 'When the troubles began, our enemies began killing police because we hold out the prospect of peace and hope for Iraq'."
Women join in on the action too in the new security forces:

"Whipping out her handgun and slamming a magazine into the grip, 20-year-old Hadeel Alwan can't wait to start catching criminals. 'My biggest wish is to destroy terrorism,' said Alwan, one of the youngest of Iraq's new women police recruits. 'I want to go out on the streets and do everything a man does.' Battling a raging insurgency and an explosion of violent crime since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq has started hiring women constables for the first time in decades."
This also from the capital:

"Baghdadis are relieved and happy to wake up and see that the streets are being patrolled by Iraqi police forces and check-up points are set up in most of the main streets of the capital city on Tuesday morning, one week ahead of the handover of sovereignty to Iraqis. The Iraqi police also started search for weapons and saboteurs, and examining car registration papers and people's identification cards."
(More of the positive public reaction in Baghdad here: "A large Iraqi flag flapping on his Soviet-era jeep, 1st Lt. Shehab Abdul-Jabbar led an Iraqi National Guard patrol down Baghdad's heavily commercial Karadah Street. As he passed, merchants and shoppers smiled and waved their greetings. 'Way to go,' one man shouted from behind the small charcoal stove where he was grilling a splayed fish for lunch."). And from northern Iraq:

"The Iraqi Security Forces in the Ninevah Province increased their ability to protect Iraqi citizens and to react to emergencies, when they opened the first Joint Coordination Center in northern Iraq June 23. All security operations will operate from the Mosul JCC where a representative from every security force element will be stationed to facilitate coordination. Representatives from the Iraqi National Guard, Iraqi Police, Facility Protection Services and Iraqi Armed Forces will be stationed at the JCC to efficiently fight crime and terrorism."
And in Kurdistan, "Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani have passed the command of their peshmerga fighters to the interim government... The merger of the fighters with the Iraqi security forces is a boost to the interim government of Ayad Allawi."

Iraqification of security is already bearing fruits: "A crackdown in Baghdad is reported to have cut violence a few days after the handover of power to the interim government. Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib has revealed that since the transfer of power on Monday his security forces have thwarted five major car bomb attacks and arrested several foreign fighters." Iraq the Model has more reports from the Iraqi media.

Thanks for joining me again for the fifth installment of good news. Thank you also to all the bloggers and private citizens who have in the past spread the word about the series. Keep on spreading the good news.


Around the world in 9 blogs 

A shorter trip than usual this week - it's hard to travel with a bastard of a headcold.

Tim Blair notices that John Kerry is morphing into Al Gore - his past is an open book, constantly being rewritten.

Gnu Hunter watches as "moderates" and "hardliners" fight over a Sydney mosque. Moderates, by the way, are the ones who believe that "Jews are the underlying cause of all wars."

At Boils My Blood, the evil demon Azazel takes on a feminist who feels women's rights are under constant attack by the Howard government ("Oh yeah, of course she must mean the Get Back In The Kitchen And Cook My Dinner Bitch! Amendment Bill 1997").

Iraq the Model translates some reactions to Saddam's trail form the BBC Arabic forum.

Dean Esmay has some thoughts on the elections in Indonesia. If they can do it, why can't...
David Adesnik at OxBlog writes on... (ox)blogging, of course.

Peter Schramm at No Left Turns has some comments on Kerry's VPs.

At Brain Shavings they don't have much sympathy for Russians who don't want to learn Estonian.

Ed the Talking Horse fisks yet another BBC story - a kingdom for a horse, I say.


Monday, July 05, 2004

Fukuyama: state building vs. nation building 

Libertarian alert: Francis Fukuyama goes statist.

Kind of. This is how the "Observer" editors describe Fukuyama's opinion piece:

"Bring back the state: Francis Fukuyama shocked the world with his 'End of History' thesis that the market would take over the role of mighty nations. But 9/11 changed all that. Now, in this exclusive article, the world's foremost economic philosopher argues that our very survival depends on stronger government."
Alas, it seems that the editors and Fukuyama have somewhat different things in mind. Writes Fukuyama:

"It is important to distinguish between the scope of states, and their strength. State scope refers to a state's range of functions, from domestic and foreign security, the rule of law and other public goods, to regulation and social safety nets, to ambitious functions such as industrial policy or running parastatals. State strength refers to the effectiveness with which countries can implement a given policy."
Throughout his piece Fukuyama laments the insufficient state oversight, which resulted in numerous recent financial scandals; he decries the fact that many post-communist and developing nations suffer from the lack of the rule of law and are incapable of protecting their own citizens; he also notes that in the post S11 world defence and security are back on the top of the agenda for nation-states.

Now, one could see this litany of complaints as a call for a bigger and more interventionist state (increasing what Fukuyama called here "the scope of the state") - this is arguably what excites the left-wing editors of the "Observer". In reality, what Fukuyama seems to be arguing for is that the states do a better job at fulfilling their core functions: defending their citizens from both internal and external threats and providing a strong framework of rules and norms for the society and the economy to function within. This is pure classical liberalism. Hence Fukuyama's observation:

"From the standpoint of economic growth, it is best to have a state relatively modest in scope, but strong in ability to carry out basic state functions such as the maintenance of law and the protection of property. Unfortunately, many developing countries either combine state weakness with excessive scope, as in the case of Brazil, Turkey, or Mexico, or they do little, and what little they do is done incompetently. This is the reality of such failed states as Liberia, Somalia, or Afghanistan. Some, such as the Central Asian dictatorships that have emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, manage to be strong in all the wrong areas: they are good at jailing journalists or political opponents, but can't process visas or business licences in less than six months."
All that is true, and sadly nothing new, but to get his point across Fukuyama puts up a few unnecessary straw men.

Yes, Reagan and Thatcher were both in favour of reducing the scope of the state, but at the same time they were strong defenders of the nation state and defence hawks. The somewhat utopian version of a globalised world where foreign policy is nothing but trade policy smacks of Clintonism and the Third Way, not the Reagan-Thatcher paradigm. In other words, yes, "[t]he terrorist attacks on New York and Washington put back on the table foreign policy and security" but only for the Thomas Friedmans of this world; for the right, foreign policy and security never left the table.

And yes, the neo-liberal reform in much of the post-communist and developing world was more often than not unaccompanied by any significant attempts to create and foster stable civil societies and institutional frameworks, but the lack of the latter was not caused by the introduction of the former. Contrary to what Fukuyama seems to imply, (for example) privatisation did not make Russia incapable of effectively collecting taxes - that ability wasn't there to start with.

If Fukuyama is correct about something, it's the fact that the West has not been as good in exporting institutional reform as it has been in exporting economic reform. We made a lot of governments balance their budgets but how good were we at nation-building in remote (and not so remote) parts of the world?

Fukuyama, however, is wrong to put this failure exclusively at the Western feet. It takes two to tango. The reason why economic reform has been so successful around the world is that the governments who implemented it wanted it to succeed. The reason why the institutional reform hasn't, is that the similar willingness on the part of governments was missing in this case. The problem is that governments world-wide, from China to Malaysia, from South America to Russia, want strong Western-style economies without strong Western-style societies. I wrote about this problem quite recently here and here. In the former post I argued that

"Yes, you can take what you want out of the West - technology and economic progress, for example - you can modernise without Westernising. But only in the short term. In the long term, you have to realise that the reason the West (broadly construed) is so rich and powerful is because it's open and free. In the long term you cannot grow the fruits that you desire without the soil that makes it all possible."
As reader, Mark from Colorado, commented, the "root causes" of true and lasting prosperity are called "the rule of law, freedom and fair elections."

So Fukuyama is half-right - we have to become better at nation (or more correctly, society) building, but we also have to become much better at explaining to other countries why it matters and convincing them that it is in their interest to let us help them in that regard.


Asshole of the Week 

The choice is very easy: Robert Fisk, the leftie writer for the London "Independent", who decided to name in the print the Iraqi judge trying Saddam. This despite the fact that the Iraqi Special Tribunal has asked the media to protect his anonymity. Needless to say, the judge is now in fear for his life.

Simon Kelner, editor of the "Independent", had this to say: "This was not a British court, it was an Iraqi court. We don't want to compromise the judge's safety but the cameras showed side views of him and he was instantly recognised by many Iraqis." Ah, that's alright then.


Sunday, July 04, 2004

The S Team 

Saddam's defence team gets one more celebrity member:

"A daughter of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has joined a 20-member defense panel for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the team's chief Mohammad Rashdan announced yesterday.

" 'Aysha Qaddafi, who holds a doctorate in law, has called us offering to join the team, and we welcomed that. She is now member of the defense panel for the Iraqi president,' Rashdan [said]."
The Calcutta "Telegraph" is not very kind to Miss Qaddafi:

"Aisha, in her mid-20s, has been variously described as a 'law graduate' and a 'law professor'. Other than her pin-up good looks and blonde locks, not much is known about the daughter of the leader of Libya."
Regardless of her actual qualifications, judging by the photo at least she will add the newsworthy glamour to the team. Which might be exactly the plan for our PR-conscious times.

The presumption of innocence, fair trial and the right to legal defence are the fundamentals of any decent legal system. Saddam, just like anyone else deserves to be defended by professionals in a court of law. However, the rush of legal experts to defend him would suggest more than just widespread concern over fairness - in addition, or indeed instead, there seems to be the belief that Saddam is actually innocent, or if not technically innocent then at least he is a victim of the American power structure. In other words, Saddam is well on his way to becoming the O J of the Arab world.

One thing's for sure - since over 600 Arab lawyers have originally signed on to represent Saddam, the 20-strong defence team will be the cream of the crop. So, aside from Jordanian legal eagles, who else in on the S Team?

Tom Hughes, a solicitor from Tiverton, in Devon, England, is a surprise entry. The "Guardian" comments:

"The married father-of-three was approached... to join the team 'to review principles of international justice surrounding the forthcoming trial'. Information on Mr Hughes from the Law Society shows not a specialist in international law but a typical country solicitor: areas of expertise include crime (including motor offences); family law; general litigation; debt and money advice; employment; and neighbour disputes."
Doesn't sound like much of an international law background, but the "neighbour disputes" experience might come in handy when defending Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. The missing link is Hughes' one year stint at a law firm in France, where he met the French member of the S team, Emmanuel Ludot.

Of Emmanuel Ludot little is known outside his own country, except a for his penchant for controversial cases. In the past he represented a cancer sufferer suing over the Chernobyl disaster. In case you were wondering the suit wasn't against the Soviet Union but the French government for allowing people to consume food possibly contaminated by the radioactive fallout over France. According to one recent report, "Mr Ludot... called the Iraqi penal code 'Stone Age legislation' and said it was ill-suited to Saddam's case." One would have thought it was very well suited.

Another team member is British-based Giovanni di Stefano, multi-millionaire and former controversial director of Dundee football club. And a lawyer, apparently. One report says that "Mr di Stefano, who once reportedly said he would have been prepared to represent Adolf Hitler, lists road rage killer Kenneth Noye among his past clients." Di Stefano has in the past rubbed shoulders with some interesting characters. He had this to say about the late Serbian ethnic cleansing mass murderer Arkan: "He loved me very much as a human being. And I liked him as a person. He had good morals. He was a good person. And I'm not ashamed of saying it." He also claims to have met Osama bin Laden in Baghdad in 1998 (!): "He had a handshake like a woman. He had a soft voice. He spoke like a priest." Di Giovanni's legal qualifications have been queried by a Court of Appeals judge and he has been previously convicted of fraud.

Swiss barrister and academic Marc Henzelin seems a lot less colourful by comparison. A lecturer at the universities in Geneva and Hong Kong, Henzelin specialises in international criminal law. In the past he has represented Iraqi-based Iranian mudjahedin, Argentinian arms dealers, and Saddam's nephews and nieces whose Swiss bank accounts were frozen by the authorities.

Then there is American academic (Professor of Human Rights Law at American University in Cairo) and lawyer Curtis Doebbler. Doebbler is a former legal advisor to the Palestinian Authority, and has been representing suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay (or as this note delightfully puts it, he "served as an advisor to the Taliban on the laws of war"). As Doebbler says himself:

"I am a pacifist in so far as I will not use force to achieve political ends and in principle I reject the use of force by both governmental and non-governmental actors. At the same time, I can understand the frustrations of those individuals who turn to the use of force when they or others with whom they identify are being oppressed and have no adequate means of legal recourse...

"I ardently oppose American and more broadly western neo-imperialism which is being imposed through the exploitation of the majority of the people of the world and the economic and military dominance of the United States. I believe that all people have a right and a duty to take all necessary measures to end the United States' inhumane dominance of the lives of billions of people."
In other words, one of those violent pacifists.

And speaking of American connections, there is one sad omission from the S Team:

"Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark said Dec. 19 that he would represent Saddam, but added it was unlikely an international court would let a foreigner who didn't speak Arabic and wasn't trained in the Arabic legal tradition to appear in an Iraqi court."
Ramsey Clark - because no cause is too disgusting.

Looks like it's going to be an interesting trial.


Your Nutty Congressman of the Day 

Yesterday it was the Texan Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and her letter to Kofi Annan asking for the UN observers at the November presidential elections.

Today's winner is Congressman Jim McDermott from Washington state, who indulged his Indian audience in New Dehli with his update on the "October Surprise" conspiracy. McDermott observed that "[t]here are already rumours circulating that Osama bin Laden is being held somewhere already and it's only that they are trying to decide what day they should bring him out." God help the Bush Administration: if bin Laden is still at large comes the election they will be accused of dropping the ball on the war on terror and being too distracted by the side-show in Iraq. If they do manage to capture Osama sometime over the next few months they will be accused of cynical timing to assist them in "stealing" yet another election.


Happy 4th of July 

Happy 4th of July to all my American friends and readers. I'll have to visit one day and see the fireworks.

A piece of Chrenkoff trivia for today: my family doesn't know anymore what was the original spelling of our surname, but the version you are seeing now is courtesy of the immigration officials at Ellis Island. My great-grandparents had sailed to America sometime in the early 1910s and my grandfather was born in Chicago. What happened later is shrouded in mystery but the family legend has it that my great-grandfather died as a result of a run-in with the mob, and my great-grandmother fled back to Poland with my grandfather, fearing for their lives. The legend also has it that there were still some relations living in the US, but the surname has disappeared over there, probably through intermarriage. There are only eight Chrenkoffs in the world today, in Poland and Australia. Any readers out there with an even rarer surname?


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