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.