Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
A little over a year ago, then-Baghdad Bureau Chief Dean Yates, my former boss, wrote an entry on this blog entitled ‘Is the war in Iraq over?’
Before he wrote it, Dean went to a famed Baghdad park to take the pulse of ordinary Iraqis, who were then cautiously venturing out to public places for the first time in years, a tentative sign that Iraq was finally emerging from height of the violence unleashed by the 2003 invasion.
For someone who covered the much of worst of the Iraq war — the car bombs, the suicide attacks, the sectarian executions that peaked in 2006 -2007 – from our sand-bagged bunker, it must have been a small miracle to see families dotting Abu Nawas park, a green stretch of trees, swings and benches along the banks of the Tigris.
Last night, I went back to Abu Nawas, named after a poet and bon vivant of the 8th and 9th centuries, to watch Iraqis celebrate Eid, the four-day holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month.
The blue-domed memorial Saddam Hussein built in Baghdad to honour Baath party founder Michel Aflaq, a Syrian Christian who started the movement that dominated Iraq for decades and governs Syria today, has been turned into a shopping centre for U.S. soldiers.
Aflaq’s tomb, sitting at the centre of a vault adorned with Koranic verses and Arabesque designs, has been boarded up to make way for a barber shop, a store selling kitschy Iraq souvenirs, a pirate DVD vendor and a ring of other stores.
The new mall at Aflaq’s tomb, located on what is now a U.S. military base in central Baghdad, has thus sealed off a powerful symbol of the deep, and often strained, shared history between Iraq and Syria, one which is being tested in a new feud between Baghdad and Damascus.
By Aws Qusay and Aseel Kami
Just the other day, a friend was complaining about the Iraqi army checkpoints all over Baghdad. “These checkpoints kill all the fun when I go out on a picnic with my family,” he moaned.
The next day, his wife found herself sitting among bleeding and dying colleagues at the Iraqi foreign ministry after a massive truckbomb devastated the facade of the building and cut down dozens of people in a cloud of shattered glass.
“It was judgment day,” his wife said about the scene. “Some people had lost their eyes. Everyone was crying or slaughtered by the flying glass,” she said.
Ban Ki-moon isn’t having a good year for public relations. Halfway through a five-year term as U.N. secretary-general, he’s been hit with a wave of negative assessments by the Financial Times, The Economist, London Times, Foreign Policy and other media organizations. In a March 2009 editorial entitled “Whereabouts Unknown,” the Times said Ban was “virtually inaudible” on pressing issues of international security and “ineffectual” on climate change, the one issue that Ban claims he has made the biggest difference on. The Economist gave him a mixed report card, assigning him two out of 10 points for his management skills while praising him on climate change (eight out of 10 points).
This week, Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper made an unpleasant situation much worse. It published a confidential memo assessing Ban’s 2-1/2 years in office from Oslo’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Mona Juul, to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Juul’s report is scathing — and it comes from a representative of one of the world’s body’s top financial contributors. She says the former South Korean foreign minister suffers from a “lack of charisma” and has “constant temper tantrums” in his offices on the 38th floor of the United Nations building in midtown Manhattan.
She describes Ban as a “powerless observer” during the fighting in Sri Lanka earlier this year when thousands of civilians were killed as government forces ended a 25-year civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels, trapping them on a narrow strip of coast in the country’s northeast. In Darfur, Somalia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Congo, she wrote, Ban’s “passive and not very committed appeals seem to fall on deaf ears.” She says that his recent trip to Myanmar was a failure and that some people in Washington refer to Ban as a “one-term” secretary-general.
Juul’s letter could hardly have come at a more inopportune time. Ban is planning to visit Norway in the coming weeks, where he intends to meet with government officials and visit the Arctic circle to see for himself the effects of global warming and the melting polar ice. Now U.N. officials fear reporters will be more interested in what he says about Juul’s memo than climate change.
So far Ban has not reacted to the letter. However, a Norwegian diplomat told Reuters that Ban’s press office had been instructed to hold off on confirming his visit to Norway shortly after the news of Juul’s memo began to spread.
Ban’s PR difficulties didn’t start this year. In March 2008, his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar sent a memo to U.N. employees explaining how to say his boss’s name. “Many world leaders, some of whom are well acquainted with the Secretary-General, still use his first name mistakenly as his surname and address him wrongly as Mr. Ki-moon or Mr. Moon,” Nambiar complained.
Then came Ban’s own speech to senior U.N. officials in Turin, Italy last year, in which he described how difficult it was to improve the working culture inside the United Nations. The secretary-general seemed to acknowledge that his internal management style had failed. “I tried to lead by example,” Ban said. “Nobody followed.”
Ban’s aides vehemently defend him, saying he’s being treated unfairly by the press. One senior U.N. official suggested privately that Ban could very well turn out to be “the greatest secretary-general ever.” They complain that people continue to compare him to his predecessor Kofi Annan, who was a very different U.N. chief and relied less on “quiet diplomacy” than Ban. Annan became a hero to many people around the world for standing up to the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Annan called the March 2003 invasion illegal. U.N. officials also complain bitterly about the indefatigable blogger Matthew Lee, whose website Inner City Press regularly accuses Ban and other U.N. officials of hypocrisy and failing to keep their promises to reform the United Nations and root out corruption. (Some U.N. officials accuse Lee of not always getting his facts right, but his blog has become unofficial required reading for U.N. staffers around the world.)
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, diplomats in New York say, is among those supporting a campaign against a second term for Ban. Juul’s memo said Helen Clark, New Zealand’s former prime minister and current head of the U.N. Development Program, “could quickly become a competitor for Ban’s second term.” But diplomats say they expect the United States, Britain and other major powers to reluctantly back a second term for Ban, if only because there appears to be no viable alternative whom Russia and China would support.
A recent article in the Times of London said the best U.N. chief in the organization’s 64-year history was not Swedish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dag Hammarskjold but the Peruvian diplomat Javier Perez de Cuellar, who held the top U.N. post for 10 years until 1992. Nicknamed “mumbles” because he was so difficult to understand, Perez de Cuellar kept a low profile and, like Ban, preferred backroom diplomacy, not Annan’s bully pulpit. Among the Peruvian diplomat’s successes were managing the end of the Cold War, leading a long-delayed revival of U.N. peacekeeping and encouraging member states to back a U.S.-led military operation to drive Iraq’s invading forces out of Kuwait in 1991.
Will Ban’s preference for quiet diplomacy make him as good or better than Perez de Cuellar? That remains to be seen.
A spate of bombs targeting churches in Baghdad this week has Iraq's minority Christian community trembling at the prospect of being the next victim of militants trying to reignite war.
Iraqi Christians, one of the country's weakest ethnic or religious groups, have usually tried to steer clear of its many-sided conflict. For the most part, they manage.
from The Great Debate UK:
-Tim Cocks is a Reuters correspondent based in Baghdad.-
For the U.S. military, it's the million dollar question -- or rather the $687 billion question, according to a recent estimate of the Iraq war's total cost. Is Iraq now stable enough for them to take a permanent back seat?
The short answer is no one knows. The only way they were ever going to find out was to leave Iraq's own forces to it and hope the whole thing doesn't come tumbling down. They started doing that on Tuesday when they pulled out of Iraqi cities.
It’s not quite as bad as it was back in 2003 when Gerhard Schroeder publicly chastised George W. Bush for invading Iraq and Condi Rice introduced a new policy in the White House called ”ignore Germany” (France was to be punished and Russia forgiven for their opposition to the war).
But relations between Berlin and Washington are probably as poor as they’ve been since Angela Merkel replaced Schroeder in 2005 and set Germany on a course of reconciliation with the United States.
The camps will probably be smaller and the skills on offer less photogenic to al Qaeda’s online video audience, but that is no deterrent to Arabs, Central Asians and Europeans making their way to the turbulent northwestern tribal areas.
In 2003, when U.S. troops stormed into Baghdad and the statues of Saddam Hussein were pulled down, I think I must have been elated like many other Iraqis. Today, after the six years of bloodshed and slaughter set off by the U.S. invasion, it’s hard to remember that feeling, which must have been one of enormous relief and joy. Instead I am left with mixed emotions, grateful that the horror of Saddam’s rule ended but also deeply saddened by the horrors that followed his fall.
I was eager to live in an Iraq without Saddam. I always hated his brutal rule of Iraq. He had taken us into wars in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed. Iraqis might also easily face death if they spoke out against Saddam or criticized his government. But if you kept your mouth shut and did not join any political party other than his now outlawed Baath party, you most probably would have been left alone.
When Saddam was ousted by the invasion, and Baghdad fell to U.S. troops on April 9, 2003, I thought then that Iraq would finally be at peace after a long period of tough times. I never imagined what followed. It never crossed my mind that tens of thousands would be slaughtered simply for being a Shi’ite Muslim or a Sunni, the two Islamic sects in Iraq. Millions would flee their homes. And that bombs laid by insurgents would mow down thousands more.
I sometimes wondered why did we get rid of Saddam if the killing continued, although for different reasons?
The violence has begun to ebb, but still my relatives and friends are scattered to the winds.
As an Iraqi journalist I have explored the social impact of war on my country. I have interviewed orphans and widows, and people whose limbs were blown off by bombs. It has left my heart full of more pain than I ever thought it could bear.
I have also seen Iraq, amid the violence and fear, embrace new freedoms in politics and also in life: we have cellular telephones and satellite television, both restricted or banned in Saddam’s time. Saddam’s government had long lists of forbidden items. One of them was satellite television. Anyone caught watching international news shows could be sent to prison for six months.
It is clear to me that Iraqi society would not have been allowed to develop had Saddam remained in charge. Now despite the dark years that have passed, we can at least cling to hopes of better times. We have a parliament that we elect, and not one-man rule.
This week, an Iraqi appeals court reduced to one year a three-year prison sentence handed to an Iraqi journalist who dared to throw his shoes at former U.S. President George W. Bush. I was impressed and had to raise my hat to the independence of the judiciary. I asked my parents what they thought the journalist’s sentence would have been had he committed the same offence during Saddam’s times. My mother answered: “He would not only have been executed without trial but all of his family would have been erased from the Iraqi map.”
By Aws Qusay
In fact, I and most Iraqis could not believe Saddam Hussein was really on his way out six years ago. Even after his statue was toppled in Firdos Square, many believed his real plan to eject the Americans would come, and that the easy invasion was really an ambush. In the end it kind of was, though not of Saddam’s doing.