Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dubai's Default

For those following Dubai's default, the Emirates Economist blog is likely to have interesting links.

The New York Times reports that the UAE's central bank (i.e. Abu Dhabi, the more conservative and richer emirate to Dubai's west) will loan money to Dubai's banks to cover its postions. The crisis brings up a number of issues, including whether Dubai's business model is viable, the relationship between Abu Dhabi and the rest of the emirates, and the struggle for control and independence between the emirates. If you look back through Emirates Economist's archive, you will find plenty of discussion and pointers to books, articles, and other material on the Emirates.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

ISA Conference and Update

I have been unable to post lately due to a very busy schedule that included preparing a paper for a conference of the International Security Studies Section of the International Studies Association. The conference was on "Insecurity and Durable Disorder: Challenges to the State in an Era of Insecurity" and I presented a paper on the strategic implications of the relative decline in the power of leading nation-states and the implications of the impending crisis in the welfare state compact. The conference was a good opportunity to meet security studies specialists and discuss a range of topics. Plus, it gave me an opportunity to return to Monterey and enjoy the fall weather there.

In other news, the October edition of the California Bookwatch had the following to say about "Iraq in Transition":
IRAQ IN TRANSITION: THE LEGACY OF DICTATORSHIP AND THE PROSPECTS FOR DEMOCRACY is a 'must' for any library strong in considering the social issues of the Middle East. It comes from an officer and Middle East specialist in the Marine Corps and traces the country's history, from its invasion and the collapse of its government, to modern political and social developments, and blends information from both English and Arabic sources to provide a more well-rounded consideration than most.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

October Conference Paper

I will be presenting a paper at the ISSS/ISAC conference on "Insecurity and Durable Disorder: Challenges to the State in an Age of Anxiety." The conference is hosted by the Naval Postgraduate School and the Monterey Institute for International Studies. They have set up a very extensive schedule of panels on various issues surrounding the topic. My panel regards "Strategy, War, and the State" and my co-panelists come from Oxford and the RAND Corporation.

My paper is tentatively titled “Avoiding Heroic Illusions: Reconciling Strategy and State Power in the Coming Era.” The abstract follows:

For at least the past quarter-century, the state power of the most developed nation-states has been on the wane, ushering in a period of limited warfare. This argument is two-fold. First, state power, that portion of national power that can be mobilized and controlled by the state government to serve its ends, is generally in decline as governments’ extractive power and capacity wanes. By comparison, the relative power of non-state actors is increasing, making for a much more chaotic security environment. Second, policy-makers must realistically assess capabilities and set grand strategies appropriate to this limited power. This means a turn away from the annihilatory military strategies of the nationalist period and a return to the more circumscribed strategies of attrition that were used prior to its rise. For politicians and strategists, this portends an era of grappling in the murky darkness with an unseemly and intertwined cast of characters and threats. Conflicts will be layered, with participants ranging from criminals, opportunistic businessmen, and insurgents to state intelligence and military institutions. Each group of participants will be fighting their own war for their own ends, making singular, kinetic solutions impossible. For conventional militaries, the need to patiently deconstruct these layered wars in the face of limited means and support will prove to be a daunting task.

I've been doing a great deal of reading that has spiraled around this topic and I am still unsure exactly how I want to focus my paper. I'm struck by Philip Bobbitt's (The Shield of Achilles) idea of the next conflict among types of the market-state. I do not fully agree with him, but I do think that a major point of conflict within states is going to be over the challenge between welfare policies and the idea of the free market, especially as the most developed states age and face ever-growing bills for various programs and entitlements as their productivity declines. As these issues weaken the most developed states, developing states with much different ideas about the role of the state with regard to the society and economy will be expanding their search for markets and resources in the most unstable portions of the world, potentially precipitating conflict. The confluence of these dynamics will cause significant challenges for the states trying to hold on to the status quo. I'm still working out how to capture this and focus my argument.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rembrandt Comes to Oman for Ramadhan

For the month of Ramadhan, Oman's al-Salmi Library, a foundation with a history of over 100 years, is sponsoring a groundbreaking exhibit of Rembrandt works in the capital, Muscat. The exhibit, which will cost over $1 million, will be free to the public and open daily at the Grand Hyatt Muscat. The impressive Hyatt is located along the shore of the Gulf of Oman and will be a fitting location for the Middle East's first exhibit of this kind. UAE and Qatar have much more glitzy projects to attract international cultural attention, but I find it fitting that an Omani family that has been dedicated to collecting cultural works in the form of rare Arabic books, letters, and manuscripts for over 100 years is responsible for this exhibition. The story can be found here at Khaleej Times.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dubai in Mexico: Hydra Wave Mazatlan

I recently spent a day in Mazatlan, Mexico and was surprised (somewhat) to find that Dubai has made inroads there with its far-flung real estate enterprises. Hydra Properties, a company based in Dubai, one of the seven United Arab Emirates, is building the Hydra Wave project, a glittering seven-tower project, 37 stories at its highest, including commercial, residential, and hotel spaces. There will be a 5-star hotel, spas, the whole nine yards, in typical Dubai fashion. I have not done the research to find out how the schedule is holding up in the current economic environment. From an AMEInfo article on the project:

'We have chosen to launch our property in Mazatlan because, like UAE, it offers visitors diverse choices in tourism including its rich heritage and traditions, and colorful colonial-style architecture,' said Dr Sulaiman Al Fahim, Chief Executive Officer, Hydra Properties.

I find this quote interesting because as I was making the trip from the airport to the coast and back, I found the area to be strangely reminiscent of Oman and the UAE in a number of ways. The roadways and the roadside shops and sights were very much like those you'd find in the Gulf outside the cities. The coastline is ripe for Dubai-style glitz and I think that the project will do very well there if the economic environment turns around. My only question would be when Emirates is going to start service to Mazatlan. Probably not any time soon, so I don't think you'll be seeing too many Arab tourists at the project yet.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Oman's Salalah Greenery Under Assault

The southern reaches of Oman, known as the Dhofar region, are well known for the summer monsoon season, or khareef, which brings rain, relatively cool temperatures, and lush greenery to the Arabian Peninsula. This happens during the peak of summer, drawing tourists from all over the Arab world to enjoy the respite from the scorching heat elsewhere. It is also bringing teens in 4x4s that are evidently tearing up the beautiful natural areas around the city of Salalah.

Anyone who has been to Salalah has been awed by the rich history and amazing beauty of the area. Once prosperous for its role in the frankincense trade, Salalah and the surrounding area is rich in archaeological treasures. The famed Queen of Sheba had a summer palace here and frankincense from the trees of Dhofar was shipped off by camel caravan and by sea from Salalah's ports to all the great powers of the time. The natural beauty is amazing as well, as the mountains are green with vegetation and stunning waterfalls captivate all who visit. This natural beauty, especially around Wadi Darbat, is being ruined by thoughtless visitors who tear up the greenery with their cars, prompting the local authorities to erect fences and impose other controls on an area that was until recently open to be enjoyed by all, with no fences to be seen. I took the picture above two years ago, standing on a rock right next to the falls. No fences to be seen. Kids with too much time and money and too little respect for anything or anyone are to blame.

Read the story here, from eTurboNews.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Iraq in Transition in Barnes and Noble

A few Barnes and Nobles are carrying Iraq in Transition: The Legacy of Dictatorship and the Prospects for Democracy on their shelves. It is pretty amazing to me to see it on the shelf like this! If you'd like to see it in your local bookstore, ask a salesperson. Between Rumsfeld and "Idiot America" though?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Barzani: Kirkuk is Kurdish and Should Be Part of Kurdistan

From the Arabic daily, Asharq Alawsat: Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, in a statement in Irbil today asserted that "The idendity of Kirkuk is Kurdish, like that of Irbil and Suleymania and Dohuk" and that "it is a part of Kurdistan, and all the historical and geographical documents confirm that." He warned those that believe that the delays in resolution of the issue of Kirkuk will cause the Kurds to forget the matter "Never in thousands of years will we forget [the need to] implement this constitutional article, because it is the only solution." He was referring to Article 140 of the constitution that called for a referendum on the identity of Kirkuk by December 31, 2007, but has been repeatedly delayed.

The rhetoric is amping up ahead of the Kurdish regional elections scheduled for the 25th of this month (July) as politicians posture and burnish their credentials for the general electorate. The strong words, however, also heighten tension with the central Iraqi government and the non-Kurdish citizens of Kirkuk. The tensions highlight the unresolved issues that still stalk stability in Iraq and must be dealt with in the near term.

Only in Saudi Arabia

A family from near Mecca is filing suit in a Saudi sharia court against a jinn (genie) who they accuse of harassing them with strange noises, threatening phone calls, and even throwing stones at the children. The story can be found in numberous places. The CNN version is here.

Midwest Book Review on Iraq in Transition

One of the first reviews of Iraq in Transition comes from the Midwest Book Review's July newsletter. Click the link to read the whole review. Here is, in part, what they have to say:

..."Iraq In Transition: The Legacy Of Dictatorship And The Prospects For Democracy" by combat Marine officer Peter J. Munson is such a timely and useful
contribution to our understanding of the political and military forces behind the nightly news headlines from that embroiled nation. ... Of special note is the concluding chapter regarding what we ourselves have learned from our experiences in Iraq over the past several years and what those 'lessons learned' mean in terms of our future relations in the Middle East and around the world. Enhanced with the inclusion of a selected bibliography, extensive footnotes, and a comprehensive index, "Iraq In Transition" is highly recommended for academic and community library Iraqi Studies and International Studies reference collections, as well as non-specialist general readers with an interest in understanding the events of the past several years in Iraq and what America can expect in the years to come.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

More on Helmand Province

Ahmed Rashid, writing in his book Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (Penguin, 2009, p. 319) about Afghanistan's Helmand Province:

The center of the country's drug trade was Helmand, a province the size of Wales, with a population of one million. Helmand had once been the epitome of progress. ... in the 1960s Morrison-Knudsen, the company that built the Hoover Dam in the United States, was hired by USAID to build a dam and 300 miles of irrigation canals that would irrigate the Helmand Valley. The project was highly successful, creating 250,000 acres of arable land out of the desert, which quickly became the fruit and bread basket for Afghanistan and led to the training of an entire generation of Afghan engineers and agricultural extension workers. Hundreds of American families lived in Lashkargah, the capital, and a former American community center still boasts the remains of a dance floor, cinema, bar, and library. ... The irrigation system collapsed after the Soviet invasion, but the land was arable and farmers turned to cultivating

Friday, July 3, 2009

Saddam on Iran and More on the Helmand River Valley

First, some news from Iraq. The FBI recently released transcripts of its interrogations of Saddam Hussein, in which he detailed his fears of the Iranians and cited them as his reason for maintaining that he had WMD when he actually did not. The Arabic daily Asharq Alawsat has taken up the story as its leader, with a large picture of Saddam shaking his finger during his trial and the headline "Saddam Hussein: The Iranians Do Not Understand Anything Except Breaking their Heads." AAwsat has run several lead stories jabbing at Iran lately, perhaps showing many Arab leaders' apprehensions about what recent events will ultimately mean for stability in the region.

Following up on my last post, the Wikipedia page has interesting information on Lashkar Gah. The name is Persian for "seat of the army" owing to its long history as a military encampment, predating the Arab invasion I blogged about last. It was also the focus of a major U.S. aid project well prior to the Soviet invasion. I wonder if any of this is remembered there today:

The modern city of Lashkar Gah was built as a headquarters for American engineers working on the Helmand Valley Authority (HVA) irrigation project in the 1950s, modeled after the Tennessee Valley Authority TVA in the US. Lashkar Gah was built using American designs, with broad tree-lined streets and brick houses with no walls separating them from the street. In the wake of the Soviet invasion and the long Afghan civil war, the trees mostly came down and walls went up.
The massive Helmand irrigation project in the 1940s-1970s created one of the most extensive farming zones in southern Afghanistan, opening up many thousands of hectares of desert to human cultivation and habitation. The project focused on three large canals: the Boghra, Shamalan, and Darweshan. Responsibility for maintaining the canals was given to the Helmand Arghandab Valley Authority (HAVA), a semi-independent government agency whose authority (in its heyday) rivaled that of the provincial governors.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Bust and the Arab Conquests

I am currently reading Hugh Kennedy's "The Great Arab Conquests." In reading his chapter on the conquest of Iran today, I found an interesting link to current events.
"The most determined resistance the Arabs faced in the lands of the Sassanian Empire came from the area of eastern Sistan, the Helmand and Kandahar provinces of modern Afghanistan. ... The desert areas of southern Afghanistan are a difficult environment for any invading army. The scorching head is very debilitating and the rugged hills provide endless points of shelter and refuge for defenders who know the area well. " The Arab Muslim army did not fare well. It assembled at a base camp in Bust, which is near modern Lashkar Gah (which I believe means "seat of the army", potentially from this history?), and pursued their enemies northeast, into the mountains of what is now Oruzgan Province. The Arabs found the terrain, heat, and lack of supplies to be too much, to say nothing of their enemies' use of the terrain against them.

U.S. Marines in Operation KHANJAR (a curved dagger) are operating in the same areas today against Muslim Taliban fighters that are the descendants of those Sistanis that so fiercely resisted the Arab Muslim advance almost 1300 years ago. They are much better equipped to fight in this difficult area, but its nature has changed little. Marine spokesmen reported that the only casualties taken early on in the assault were due to the heat.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Iraq is in Transition

On June 30, 2009, American troops pulled out of the cities after over six years' struggle to secure them. Iraq on June 30, 2009 was much safer than any June 30th in the past several years. The mood was largely festive as the Iraqi security forces taking sole responsibility for policing the cities decorated their posts and vehicles with flowers and balloons, but one tragic event reminded all that much remains to be resolved. A car bomb in the still contested city of Kirkuk underlined the issues yet to be resolved there and elsewhere as Iraqis take more and more responsibility in determining the trajectory of their transition.

BBC's pictures of Sovereignty Day.

In all, the death toll for Iraqis was higher in June than in recent months, owing largely to a number of car bombs probably meant to strike dread in the hearts of Iraqis as the Americans readied for their pullout.

More stories on the pullout: NYT, Gulf News, Asharq Alawsat, Reuters on the Kirkuk car bomb, Sydney Morning Herald on the same

Azzaman in Arabic - "Obama Warns of Difficult Days Ahead,""Sadr Calls His Supporters to Stop Attacks in the Cities"

Looking toward the elections, many inside and outside of Iraq see Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki positioning himself to become Iraq's new strongman. Some of the latest flavor: Time, UPI, CBS.

In other news, Marines in Afghanistan kicked off a massive ground and heliborne assault into the Helmand River Valley to clear Taliban and secure the local populace. See the Small Wars Journal Blog's roundup of news articles on the story. BBC reports officers on the ground as saying it is the Marines' largest assault (largest heliborne assault I would assume) since Vietnam.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Strand Books on Iraq in Transition

Strand Bookstore is a major bookseller located in New York City. Operating there since 1927, they boast "18 miles of books" at their Broadway and 12th location, with kiosks also in Central Park. Hailed by George Will, this operation has been independently owned by the Bass family since its founding. They offer this review of Iraq in Transition:

"In this remarkably comprehensive chronicle of the recent history of Iraq Marine officer and scholar Peter J. Munson offers readers a glimpse at the country from an insider's point of view."Iraq in Transition" takes a fully objective stance as it considers not only what has been written and reported on by residents of the West, but also pays a close consideration to the Arabic literature produced throughout the fallen dictatorship and earliest attempts at democracy. Brimming with historical information, which gives the reader a clear context in which to consider the current situations at play, this book offers insight and hope for this mending nation."

The review and more information about the store can be found by clicking here. They are offering the book for order at a very attractive price as well!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iraq in Transition is Shipping

Books are shipping from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Amazon has the book listed as "in stock." Barnes and Noble has not changed the status to "in stock" but the book has shipped to pre-order customers as of today. Order yours!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Books in Hand

Nearly four years after I first got it into my head to write a book on Iraq I finally got my hands on the finished product. The publisher's shipment arrived at our door today while everyone was away today and I am almost in disbelief that these are actually my books!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

First Copy Arrives

The first copy of the book that I know of being delivered arrived yesterday morning to my in-laws in Ohio. They ordered directly from the publisher. Other copies should be arriving soon!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Retailer Shipping Update

Amazon's web page for Iraq in Transition has been updated and lists the book's status as in stock on June 17 and it is advising customers that the book should be arriving within a few days after that. Other retailers have not changed their June 30 availability dates, but most retailers should be getting the book on a timeline similar to Amazon. I'm really looking forward the book getting out there in people's hands.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Production Complete - Ready to Ship!

Production on Iraq in Transition is complete and it is in the publisher's warehouse. Pre-ordered copies will begin shipping out this week. For those who pre-ordered through a retailer, the book may take a bit longer to arrive to you as it has to make its way down the chain from wholesaler to retailer to ship.

If you have not ordered a copy yet, you can do so directly from Potomac Books. When checking out, use the source code "IRAQ09" to receive a 25% discount. Just click here to order now.

The book details those social, cultural, and political factors in Iraq prior to 2003 that affected the trajectory of transition after the U.S.-led invasion removed Saddam Hussein and his regime. The book explains the phenomena behind the Sunni insurgency, the rise of Shi'a political power, the constitution and political process, and the sectarian violence that almost tore the country apart. Recent developments in Iraq are addressed up to the results of the critical provincial elections in the first months of 2009. The book is extensively researched and footnoted, making it a perfect single-volume read for a general reader or an indispensable research aid for specialists. Footnoted materials include English, Arabic, and French language sources.

For those who want to understand the feasibility of the democratic goals set forth for Iraq, the tortuous issues still unsolved, and the details behind the costs and casualties of the Iraq war, this is the book. Rather than rehashing American policy debates or falling into the rut of partisan finger pointing, this book explains the issues, the characters, and the facets of Iraq itself. Topics include the Sunni insurgency, al-Qaeda in Iraq and Abu Musab al-Zarqaqi, Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's role in politics and violence, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's effect on the constitution and the elections, sectarian and intrasectarian violence including the battles between the Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq, the 2005 and 2006 national elections, the 2009 provincial elections, the debate over federalism, the disputes over Basra and Kirkuk, the role of oil, the Nouri al-Maliki government and its attempts to impose security, the Surge under General David Petraeus, and the Awakening (Sahwa) of the Sons of Iraq. If you know of someone who is looking for a good book on Iraq, tell them about Iraq in Transition.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Looking for a Good Book on Iraq?

Of course, there are tons of books out there on the war, but my aim was to distill the available information on Iraq into one account that explained how Iraq's recent history prior to 2003 has affected what went on after the invasion. You can read dozens of books, from academic histories of the country to journalistic and other first-hand accounts of what has gone on from 2003 to present, but they leave you with an incomplete picture. When I started studying the Middle East, I wanted one, timely and topical book to explain how past and present interact in Iraq and could not find it. So, I set out to create that book for all those who are looking for more than a policy critique or a memoir. Iraq in Transition aims to explain Iraqi society, culture, and politics before and after 2003 to all readers. In this, it is far different from all the other books out there, which tend to focus more on U.S. policy and military actions than the critical Iraqi landscape and the many unsolved issues that will shape the country's future as U.S. troops continue to draw down there. You can order this book today and be reading it before the end of the month! Just follow the links to the left to order from the bookseller of your choice.

Production Complete

Production of Iraq in Transition finished up this week and the books should be on their way to the warehouse. Next week, they should ship out to pre-order customers. I am not sure how it works for those who ordered through Barnes and Noble or Amazon. It may take some additional time for it to go to the wholesaler, who will then ship the books to the retailers, who will then ship the books to you. As soon as I get some info on the timeline, I will post it here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Jacket Pictures

Not the best pictures, but you get the idea. If you click on the pictures, you'll be able to see them full size and read the blurbs on the back.

Just Received a Production Dustjacket

The publisher just sent me a production dustjacket of the book. It is the first tangible thing beyond the first proof PDF that I have to show me that the book is actually becoming a reality. I'll post a picture of it later. The books should be through production and in the warehouse by the end of the month, then pre-ordered copies will start shipping to arrive in June.

For those of you on Facebook, you can find a page about the book here and link it to your profile if you are interested.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Production Starts Today

The book has been transmitted to production. By the end of May, copies will be shipping to those who pre-order. Order your copy today from Potomac, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, or Borders.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Book Goes into Production This Month

I have turned in the final edits and the index for the book. That will all go to the typesetter to be incorporated into the book and then the final version will go into production on the last week of April. If all goes as scheduled, the book will be in the warehouse before the end of May and in stores in June. You can pre-order your book today from the publisher, Borders, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Loose Ends

Some of Iraq's loose ends are threatening to unravel in recent days. As the Sunni Awakening councils or Sons of Iraq are being dismantled and their members going unpaid, grumbling is increasing. Declining oil revenues mean that the government is unable to expand its jobs programs and the economy is slowing, leaving these fighters with few options for employment. Many of the former insurgents feel like they have been wronged by the central government and are threatening a return to their old ways. Already, Al Qaeda in Iraq is trying to reinvigorate itself in several areas. Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin report in the International Herald Tribune.

Second, Saif Hameed and Ned Parker of the LA Times report two suicide bombs detonated yesterday, demonstrating the seams that the insurgents are targeting. One bombing in the Abu Ghraib area near Baghdad targeted a Sons of Iraq leader. The other bombing hit a Kurdish man's funeral in the contested Jalawla area of Diyala Province. The sectarian violence that gripped the country was primarily between Arab Sunnis and Arab Shia. The Kurds and the Arabs have not come into major confrontation as of yet. The borders of the autonomous Kurdish region, particularly around Kirkuk, are hotly contested. The issue was scheduled to have been resolved in 2007, but has been delayed time and again. The political contest to determine the fate of mixed areas along Kurdistan's border could easily spill over into increased violence. These do not represent new trends. They represent the loose ends that will continue to plague Iraq, and could dramatically unravel, until the root political and economic issues are laid to rest.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Table of Contents and Introduction

The Table of Contents and the first chapter for Iraq in Transition can be seen at the embedded links. Just click on the colored words in the last sentence to go through to the pdf file. These are the first page proofs, so there are a few very minor glitches that you will notice, but otherwise they are very close to what the final product will look like. Happy reading!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Advanced Praise for Iraq in Transition

The cover for the book is being transmitted for production, including several early endorsements for the book. I am honored that such distinguished people said these things about my work.

From General Anthony Zinni, USMC (Ret.), former Commander, Central Command, U.S. Peace Envoy to the Middle East, and author of The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America's Power and Purpose:
Peter Munson brings his expert knowledge, interest, and experience to this superb work. He describes, in depth, those factors of culture and history that worked against the overly optimistic assessments of Pentagon planners in the work up to the Iraq intervention. This is a must-read for those who want to understand the critical lessons of failing to include a true understanding of complex cultures and situations in planning for war.

From Steven Metz, Chairman of the Regional Strategy and Planning Department and Research Professor of National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College and author of Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy:
Peter Munson provides a powerful and erudite explanation of what he calls ‘the strange ways of Iraqi politics,’ illuminating what Americans have learned in six torturous years and suggesting what we should have known from the beginning.

From Vali Nasr, Professor of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Politics, Tufts University and author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future:
Peter Munson has written a highly accessible and empathetic history of the Iraq war. Drawing on diverse sources and his own personal observations, he identifies the social, political, and economic factors that have shaped Iraqi society, and he charts how the U.S. mission in Iraq has unfolded since the fall of Baghdad. Munson’s understanding of academic works on Iraq and debates in policy-making circles is impressive. He has combined that insight with a soldier’s ground-level observations to provide a unique perspective. Instructive, informed, well researched, objective, and thoughtful, the book does well to make accessible complex issues to general readers, and all along remains true to other interpretations by academics, journalists, and policy-makers.

From Ahmed S. Hashim, Professor of Strategic Studies, United States Naval War College, and author of Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq:
Iraq in Transition is one of the most detailed and readable analyses of the evolution of the violence within Iraq. The author has delved deep into Iraqi sociopolitical and economic dynamics to provide us with a thorough description of the origins of the conflict within and among the various communities within the country.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

First Page Proofs are Ready

Yesterday I received the first page proofs by email. These are proofs of the pages as they will actually look when printed. I have two weeks to review them for errors, build an index, and get the files back to the publisher.

Here's what the first page of chapter 2 will look like:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Book is Moving Along

I finished the last of the updates regarding the provincial elections last week and sent them on to the publisher. The manuscript is now being typeset and I should have the product back at the end of this week. At that point, I will check it over one last time for corrections and updates and put together the index. Once that is all done, I will validate any of the corrections or updates I requested and then the book will go to the presses, hopefully in time for a June release as scheduled.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Provincial Seat Allocation - Further Cause for Discontent

The official results are out for Iraq's provincial elections, providing much tinder for discontent with the political system. The big winners percentage-wise are even bigger winners in the allocation of seats in the councils. This is good news for al-Maliki's State of Law list, who saw its control of provincial councils boosted, as well as ISCI and the Sadrists, but is a major blow to all of the Iraqis who spent their votes on the numerous individual and small party candidates that ran in opposition to the politics of the main established parties. Due to the threshold required to actually gain a seat, votes split among the many alternative candidates go unrepresented. They are essentially discounted, with the resulting math giving the main parties an even bigger allocation of seats than their vote percentage would indicate. Reidar Visser, a research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs offers a thorough analysis of the results.

This will do little to steel confidence and interest in the political system, especially for those fed up with what they see as the corruption and self-interest of the established parties that continue to benefit from the system they have created. Unless the opposition realizes the need to create a strong and unified alternative, more of the same can be expected in the national elections later this year.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

State of Law List Turns to Coalition-Making

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law Alliance has turned to the task of making the coalitions required to run the provincial councils. The Alliance formed a central subcommittee charged with approaching the other lists to form coalition governments in the nine provinces where State of Law won. Prominent among the other lists State of Law has contacted is the Sadr-supported Liberals’ Independent Trend (Tayaar al-Ahrar al-Mustaqil). According to a State of Law representative, the two lists have "made great strides" toward agreement on the conditions that would underly a ruling coalition. The report in Wednesday's al-Sabah newspaper is typically vague, but it is interesting that al-Maliki's list is prominently touting its advances toward the Sadrists in Sabah, the government's mouthpiece. It would seem that the Sadrists are not as down and out as a political force as many would believe.

The article also reported that the final results of the elections will be announced on Thursday and that 32 polling centers' results were discounted due to irregularities, up from earlier reports of 30.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fraud Allegations in the Iraqi Provincial Elections

The Independent High Electoral Commission is poised to announce the final results of Iraq's provincial elections amidst what news sources have called "minor" fraud. The announcements should be out on Tuesday or Wednesday. By most measures the electoral fraud was indeed minor when you consider the background within which the elections were conducted. What matters here, however, is not how the elections hold up to international scrutiny, nor their comparison to any objective standard, but rather how the Iraqis themselves view the elections and their results. On this account, evaluations of the elections are a bit more cloudy.

While the level of fraud may indeed be minor, any tampering is likely to be seen by the losers and their supporters as evidence that they were cheated out of their rightful voice. A report in February 16th's Azzaman newspaper alleged that as many as 250 of the winning candidates in the elections (out of a total of 440) provided forged diplomas when they applied for their candidacy. The electoral law required that candidates have at least a high school diploma, so these winners would be ineligible for their seats on the councils on the face of it.

A council member quoted in the article also stated that the votes of up to 30 election centers in Baghdad, Mosul, and Diyala were discounted due to fraud. It seems that some of these stations' votes were discounted because the voting totals there exceeded 100 percent of the registered voters in the district, indicating that ballot boxes were being stuffed.

While these violations may not have significantly affected the outcome of the election, they will heighten the discontent of those who feel that they have been cheated out of their representation. Even where these feelings are completely unfounded, the hint of irregularities opens the way for people to challenge the validity of the whole process. Accompanied by high handedness of the victors in distributing the spoils or prolonged quarreling over ruling coalitions, these allegations of electoral fraud could be a major incitement toward defection from the political process. In short, while the fraud may be statistically insignificant, it could be turned by wily politicians into a major factor in driving discontented Iraqis to obstruct the political process, to return to violence, or to justify other non-democratic tactics to get their way in the future.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Iraq Tense Ahead of Arbaeen

Shi'a pilgrims are flooding into Iraq and heading toward Karbala for the commemoration of Arba'een. Arba'een, simply Arabic for forty, marks the fortieth day after the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib and his companions at the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE. This battle came on Ashura, Arabic for ten, the tenth day of the month of Muhharram.

Hussein was the son of Ali ibn Abi Talib, cousin of the Prophet Muhammed, and Fatima, the Prophet's daughter. Hussein and his companions were hunted down and killed by a force of the Umayyad caliph, Yazid, headed by Umar ibn Sa'ad. Hussein's martyrdom did much to crystallize a sense of persecution in the followers of Ali (Shi'a Ali). The Shi'a were often a repressed minority throughout Islamic history and the Ashura and Arbaeen rituals have been powerful reminders of this status and the trials they have gone through at the hands of others.

This year, the situation is tense as pilgrims flock to Karbala for Arbaeen. Four bomb attacks since Wednesday have killed at least 46 people and the Iraqi government has set out heavy security in the areas in and around Karbala to attempt to prevent further violence as reported by AFP.

Many analysts do not believe that these attacks will bring about a revival of the wave of sectarian war sparked by the bombing of the Askariyya Shrine in 2006. The shrine, located in Samarra, is the resting place of the 10th and 11th Shi'a Imams and was blown up by Sunni militants linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq. The violence that came in the wake of this bombing had more to do with battling for strategic control of territory between Iraqi groups than sectarian animosity. As such, the situation has been sorted out and is much more stable today than it was in 2006. More bloody attacks, however, could certainly result in some degree of increased sectarian violence and will hamper attempts to create trust and reconciliation through national, rather than sectarian, political cooperation ahead of national elections later this year.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Abd al-Khaliq al-Mukhtar

For years, most news out of Iraq has centered on violence and politics. Today, a different kind of somber news dominated headlines in Iraq. An immensely popular actor, Abd al-Khaliq al-Mukhtar, made his return to Baghdad after a lengthy absence.

Born in Baghdad in 1960, al-Mukhtar would go on to be one of Iraq's greatest actors. He graduated with a bachelors degree in theater from Baghdad University's Academy of Fine Arts in 1982. He attained a masters there in 1989 after service as a reserve officer in the Iran-Iraq War that left him severely wounded. The wounds would haunt him for the rest of his life.

He worked in theater and television, earning accolades and influential positions in the Baghdad art scene. Perhaps the peak of his popularity came when he portrayed former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Said in a television series. Al-Said was an influential politician during the British-installed monarchy and lost his life in the 1958 Revolution. In the wake of the 2003 invasion, his portrayal of al-Said struck a chord with the Iraqi people.

Al-Mukhtar's wounds and the severe bleeding that followed permanently damaged his kidneys, sapping his ability to pursue his work in recent years. He required constant medical attention and some of this treatment may have led to a fatal infection. In his last days, al-Mukhtar held out hope that he would be able to travel to Amman for kidney replacement surgery. He told Abd al-Jabbar al-Atabi of Elaph that he longed to return to Baghdad and breathe the air that would heal his body and his soul.

But al-Mukhtar succumbed to his ailments on Sunday, 8 February, in Damascus. His body did return to an emotional welcome in Baghdad on Tuesday, where fans and fellow artists choked the streets and carried his coffin to the National Theater before the procession went on to his final resting place.

For once, Baghdad mourned not a victim, but a national hero.

Photo from Elaph. Elaph in Arabic on the funeral procession in Baghdad. Elaph in Arabic on his death. NY Times blog on the same.

Iraq Updates - Parliament and Entry Through Kurdistan

Two issues are prominent in Arab media headlines on Iraq now that coverage of the elections has died down a bit.

First, the Iraqi National Assembly has been unable to elect a new speaker of the parliament, despite several attempts, to replace current speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani. The various political factions have been unable to come to an agreement on who the candidates should be, prompting several walk-outs to ensure no quorum was available. The latest is that the voting has been delayed until 18 February. Mashhadani is from the Sunni Tawwafiq bloc and the position is considered by many Sunnis to be part of the three-way sectarian power sharing agreement, under which the Shia have the prime ministership, the Kurds the presidency, the Sunnis the vice presidency and evidently the speakership. Other parties are not so convinced. The parliamentary deadlock over the issue is indicative of the continuing contentious nature of the Iraqi political system and the difficulty of exceeding the sectarian bounds set by the early success of political parties that were organized along sectarian lines. It does seem, however, that Iraqi politicians are becoming more adept at handling these issues with the passing of each deadlock. Al-Dustour reports in Arabic here.

Second, in a crackdown on Kurdish attempts to act as a semi-state, the Ministry of the Interior has announced that foreigners shall not enter Iraq through Kurdish border crossings without official visas from Baghdad and that those who did enter without an Iraqi visa would be arrested. For his part, a Kurdish representative spoke to Kurdish support for this decision. This represents Baghdad's attempts to expand its control and services across the country and to assert the unity of Iraq. The central government's capacity is still sorely lacking in this campaign, but it is slowly on the rise. With regard to Kurdistan, however, the biggest issue, Kirkuk, is still looming on the horizon. Al-Hayat reports in Arabic here.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Iraq's Provincial Elections - The Initial Results

I'm working on an analysis of the initial results of the provincial elections. This will likely be the last bit included in the book as the rest of it is near the end of the typesetting process. I will post at least a portion of that analysis soon, but in the interim, here are some links and a quick synopsis.

A rundown of initial results of the January 31, 2009 provincial elections in Iraq can be found at the NY Times Baghdad Bureau Blog. A good, but brief, snapshot comparison of the 2005 and 2009 elections is here, also at the NYT blog. Alissa Rubin's analysis in the NYT is here.

For those who can read Arabic, the Independent High Electoral Commission's reports can be found on the press releases page. Scroll down to the releases from February 7, the title of the section is اعلان النتائج الاولية للانتخابات and links to results from each province are found at the bottom of the section.

In a short synopsis, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law Coalition (List 302) dominated much of the south, coming out in the top position in nine provinces and winning seats in every province except Anbar and Nineveh. The list gained large pluralities in Basra (37 percent), Dhi Qar, (23.1 percent), and Qadissiya (23.1 percent) and won a critical 38 percent in Baghdad.

ISCI was significantly weakened, but retained some power throughout the south, with their Martyr of the Mihrab and Independent Force List (List 290) finishing second to State of Law in six provinces and registering a third place ranking in two more. In Baghdad, though, the list’s 5.4 percent of the vote placed it behind five other lists. This was a crushing blow for a party that had controlled 54.9 percent of the Baghdad council for the three years prior.

The Sadrists made a modest showing, but their Liberals’ Independent Trend (List 284) won seats in eleven provinces, placing in the top three in Baghdad, Babel, Dhi Qar, Maysan, Najaf, Qadissiya, and Wasit. The Fadhila Party (List 174), former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's list (List 153), and Jawad al-Bolani's Iraqi Constitution Party (List 482) all won small numbers of seats across much of Iraq.

In the critical Sunni Anbar Province, the Iraqi Islamic Party, which allied with Ahmed Abu Risha (brother of slain Awakening leader Abd al-Sattar Abu Risha) and his faction of tribal forces, was relegated to a third-place position with 15.6 percent of the vote (List 433). This was a major realignment, compared to the 81.6 percent the IIP won in the 2005 elections that were boycotted by almost every other Sunni political force. Saleh al-Mutlaq’s Iraqi National Project Gathering (List 149) took the top spot, with 17.6 percent of the vote. The Alliance of the Awakening of Iraq and Iraqi Independents (List 239) followed closely, gaining 17.1 percent of the vote. Thus, the Awakening members were not completely successful in their quest to oust the IIP from Anbar.

What does all of this mean? I'll post soon on more election details and, more importantly, the implications behind the numbers.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Iraqi Bloggers on the Election

The NY Times ran an op-ed on the Iraqi elections from the point of view of three Iraqi bloggers.

A few of their comments:

Although you can still see the spark in the eyes of Iraqis as they dip their fingers in the indelible ink, there is an air of “been there, done that,” indicating that the novelty of voting has disappeared. We understand the process — we’ve done it four times. ...
It was clearly far from perfect. In many places people were denied the right to vote when their names couldn’t be found in the registers. The huge number of candidates — nearly 15,000 for 440 seats on the councils of the 14 provinces holding elections — isn’t really a sign of political maturity, but rather shows a combination of greed and ignorance about the duties of council members.
But, by Allah, we’re looking at our own politicians for answers instead of looking abroad. If we manage to repeat this success in the national elections at the end of this year, I think we can confidently say that we’ve got the hang of this democracy thing.

-Salam Pax, The Baghdad Blogger

Most of the people I know were not voting based on sects, but on sense. We are sick to death of corruption and sectarianism, and desperate for a change. ...
On my way home I developed an obsession of looking at the fingertips of every man and woman I passed. Too many had no ink. I hope the electoral committee does its part better than we did. I hope the election will not be fraudulent and the winners will not let us down. And I hope the people who didn’t vote this time will do so next time, and a real democracy will be achieved in the land where the first laws of the human race were set.
-Dr. Mohammed, Last of Iraqis

Early Saturday morning, I got a bunch of text messages on my cellphone asking me to vote for Mohammed Shakir, the Iraqi Islamic Party’s candidate for governor of Nineveh Province. Not me: we gave the Islamic Party a chance in previous elections, but they disappointed. ...
Mosul has been one of the most violent spots in Iraq, almost unbearable to live in. We have electricity for only two to four hours a day. The provincial council is responsible for public services and local security; it is now dominated by Kurds, even though Arabs are the vast majority in Mosul.
The Kurds undoubtedly voted for their own candidates, while the Arab vote was most likely splintered. In the end, I guess, no one group will dominate; we must hope
the new council will make a change for the better.
-Bookish, Mosul is in My Heart

Their comments bring several thoughts to mind. First, the security situation and the political process have improved in many ways in Iraq. Only eight candidates were killed prior to this election in contrast to hundreds of deaths in the run up to previous elections. The improved security situation also allowed for much more robust campaigning in Iraq, from tours and stumping, to animated banners on Iraqi blogs, forums, and other websites, to the text messages mentioned by Bookish, to outright bribes.

This brings up a second point. A major theme in the elections has been Iraqis discontent with corruption, poor performance, violence, and sectarianism. For this reason, many hoped that these elections would mark a significant defeat for sectarian and religious forces in Iraq, and in a way, they did.

Yet, for several reasons, the religious parties are still strong in Iraq. Da'wa, at the head of the State of Law List, ISCI (Martyr of the Mihrab List), the Sadrists, and the Iraqi Islamic Party all fared relatively well in the polling. These parties are well established, have significant material and organizational resources, and have the momentum of prior electoral campaigning and name recognition behind them. Perhaps more importantly, although many Iraqis were fed up with these parties, the opposition, whether secular, moderate, or tribal, did not coalesce into a single (or even a few) force capable of competing directly against these religious lists. Therefore the votes of those looking for a significantly different way in Iraq were split among a myriad of lists. Finally, views of Nouri al-Maliki's performance, once the subject of ridicule, have turned around significantly with late improvements in security and services, buoying support for his State of Law List. This List came out on top in many provinces, relegating ISCI to a secondary position across southern Iraq. It is hard to say, however, what Maliki's coalition has in mind for the future of Iraq. The once-weak prime minister is now accused by opponents of angling to become a new Iraqi strongman.

In any case, the elections were a significant step forward and are a potential stepping stone toward more meaningful national elections upcoming later this year, but there are still a great number of obstacles on the path to stability in Iraq. The country's thorniest issues are yet to be solved and the institutions that underpin a true, peaceful democracy will take years or decades to build. It would not take much to push Iraq back into chaos at this point, but the country has undeniably begun to take its first tentative steps in the right direction. Do not believe those who say that, with one more election, Iraq will have a true democracy. At the same time, it cannot be said that the events of January 31st, and all that led up to it, are meaningless.

About the Blog

I have started this blog to provide information about the release of my first book, Iraq in Transition: The Legacy of Dictatorship and the Prospects for Democracy. It is due out in June 2009 from Potomac Books. In the blog, I will provide updates on the book's status, as well as commenting on current events in Iraq when I have the time. I look forward to starting a dialogue and reading the comments of those who happen to pass by the blog.

In addition to my blog posts, I plan on adding a number of links to other blogs and websites on Iraqi and Middle East issues in general. Hopefully these resources will prove useful.