Mr. Maliki Goes to Washington

Nouri al-Maliki with Cheney and Speaker Dennis Hastert

This week on War News Radio, we follow Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on his trip to Washington, D.C. How was his visit received in America, in Iraq, and in the rest of the Middle East? Listen now to this report.

Then, we get a glimpse of the secret life of an Iraqi woman working as a translator for an American company. Listen now to Alex Marlowe Ginsberg’s report.

And, we hear a counterpoint to the idea that the U.S. should let Iraq’s civil war “play itself out.” Listen now to this report.

Finally, we hear the stories of three Iraqi exiles and ask why they left. Listen now to Sarah Whites-Koditschek’s report.

These stories, plus the week’s news, from War News Radio.

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Music Intro

Marty Goldensohn: “From Swarthmore College, this is WNR.”

Eva Barboni: I’m Eva Barboni,

John Williams: And I’m John Williams.


Members of Congress, it is my privilege- great privilege- and I deem it a high honor and personal pleasure to present to you His Excellency Nouri Al-Maliki, Prime Minister of the Republic of Iraq.

Eva Barboni: This week on war news radio, Mr. Al-Maliki goes to Washington. We find out how the Iraqi Prime Minister’s trip played in the U.S. and the Middle East.

John Williams: And, the secret life of an Iraqi translator.


Sometimes I feel myself crazy to say that, no, I am a translator and I work with the US forces.

John Williams: We hear from one woman about the dangers and advantages of working for an American contractor in Iraq.

Eva Barboni: Finally, fleeing Iraq. We follow three exiles and their decision to leave their homeland.

John Williams: But first, a roundup of this week’s news

Eva Barboni: With Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki standing by his side, President Bush this week announced the deployment of more Iraqi and US forces to Baghdad—about 4 thousand in all.

President Bush:

This plan will involve embedding more US military police with Iraqi police units to make them more effective. The Prime Minister advised me that to support this plan, he and General Casey have agreed to deploy additional American troops and Iraqi security personnel in Baghdad in the coming weeks. These will come from other areas of the country. Our military commanders tell me that this deployment will better reflect the current conditions on the ground in Iraq.

Eva Barboni: Both the President and the Iraqi Prime Minister agreed this would help reduce violence. But for now things are as bad as ever.

John Williams: Explosions in central Baghdad Thursday left at least 27 dead and over 100 injured as rockets, mortars and a car bomb blasted Baghdad’s commercial areas. Also in Baghdad, four people were shot and killed guarding a Sunni mosque.

Eva Barboni: At least one Iraqi we talked with believes these attacks were no coincidence, but a response to Prime Minister Maliki’s optimism on squelching terror.
Achmed a-Fadhil:

Achmed a-Fadhil:

After he said that Iraq will be the final point of terrorism, and the home of the world, after one day, a car exploded in the heart of Baghdad today and it killed more than forty Iraqis.

Eva Barboni: Achmed a-Fadhil lives in Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq.

John Williams: Deploying more US forces to suppress the violence in Baghdad is just the latest in a series of shifting tactics and strategies. The Washington Post’s Senior Military Correspondent, Thomas Ricks – who has been in Iraq five times- has seen these twists and turns, including wrong turns.

Thomas Ricks:

I keep on thinking of a Ferrari without a steering wheel: It’ll go fast, but it ain’t gonna take you where you need to get to. The worst tactic, I think, was in the fall of 2003, the kind of panicky reaction of top US commanders. They knew they didn’t have enough troops but they saw an insurgency rising and so they did big coordinate sweep operations where they scarfed up tens of thousands of military age Iraqi males. Now tactically, this had the effect of making their area of operations quiet, because all of the military age males were gone. Strategically, though, it helped create the insurgency. It took a lot of these guys, maybe average Ahmed’s kind of neutral offenders and it put them into Abu Ghraib, it put them shoulder to shoulder with hardcore al Qaeda guys because we didn’t segregate the population; it humiliated them, and they came out probably a whole lot less inclined to listen to the Americans than they went into those prisons.

John Williams: Thomas Ricks wrote Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. He appeared on the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC radio.

Eva Barboni: Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and 5 other Democratic Senators are calling on the Director of National Intelligence to prepare an updated National Intelligence Estimate – or NIE – on Iraq. Congress relies on these estimates to oversee foreign policy.

John Williams: In a letter to the Intelligence Director, John Negroponte, the Senators said the Administration’s efforts were, quote, “troublingly inadequate” in helping Congress to do that job.

Eva Barboni: What was lost has been found: an irreplaceable piece of looted Iraqi art. Shelley Salant who produced our series of Iraqis lost treasures has the details.

Shelley Salant: An ancient statue was repatriated and returned to the Iraqi people this week. It’s a headless stone statue of Sumerian King Entemena of Lagash which had been stolen from the National Museum in Baghdad during the US invasion 3 years ago. The missing statue was reportedly taken to Syria, sold on the antiquities market, and wound up in a warehouse in Queens, New York. It was handed over the Prime Minister al-Maliki during his visit to Washington. Just one of thousands of looted artifacts, this nearly 4,400 year-old statue is – according to archeologists – the most important piece to be recovered so far. For War News Radio, I’m Shelley Salant.

John Williams: In a surprising legal decision, the United Kingdom’s three most senior judges ruled that the relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq have the right to challenge the government on the legality of the war. Four relatives of British soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq brought the case.

Eva Barboni: Finally, biting the bullet: Saddam Hussein this week declared that, if convicted, he would rather be shot than hanged. In his first court appearance in over a month, the former Iraqi leader appeared no worse for the wear after his 17-day hunger strike and hospitalization. He was combative during the proceedings, arguing with the judge and even lashing out against his substitute attorney saying, quote, “you are my enemy.” The case will come to a close this fall, with the five judges set to issue a verdict on October 16th. Hussein, who is accused in the deaths of nearly 150 Shi’a, will be in court again in late August to face charges of atrocities against Iraqi Kurds.

Music 05:52

John Williams: This is War News Radio. I’m John Williams

Eva Barboni: And I’m Eva Barboni. On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki addressed a joint session of Congress, in spite of the objections of some House and Senate Democrats over comments al-Maliki had made regarding Israel. Our Washington correspondent Amelia Templeton attended the session. Amelia, what was the general tone of al-Maliki’s speech?

Amelia Templeton: Well, so much of the time, al-Maliki sounded like a man pleading for his country. He urged Americans to consider the international consequences of what was going on in Iraq, he also thanked the American troops for their support, but at the same time, he emphasized the need for them to say at least until the Iraqi army is better trained. In many ways, his speech sounded a little familiar- he brought up many of the same points we’ve heard in Bush “stay the course” speeches.

Eva Barboni: Did the Prime Minister say anything surprising?

Amelia Templeton: For the most part he was pretty diplomatic, but he did offer a couple of subtle criticisms of our involvement in Iraq. One good example was what he said about reconstruction:


Much of the budget you had allocated for Iraq’s reconstruction ended up paying for security firms and foreign companies whose operating costs were vast. Instead, there needs to be a greater reliance on Iraqis and Iraqi companies.

Eva Barboni: Can you tell us a little more about how the Democrats responded to al-Maliki?

Amelia Templeton: Sure. Senators Durban and Reid held a joint press conference and while they expressed a lot of respect for al-Maliki, they also suggested that they were skeptical of the hopeful –or somewhat hopeful- picture he painted of Iraq. They challenged his suggestion that great economic strides have been made, they pointed to the hundred people dying every day, and criticized al-Maliki for refusing to frankly discuss the sectarian nature of the violence in Iraq and for not acknowledging that there is a civil war, which I think both men believe is going on.

Eva Barboni: Now al-Maliki has received a lot of criticism from Democrats in particular about his refusal to condemn Hezbollah. Do you have any updates on that?

Amelia Templeton: Yes, actually. Durban and a number of other senators had breakfast with al-Maliki and the subject came up in the press conference. Here’s what was said:

Sen. Durban:

I asked him directly if he believes that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and he would not respond. And he questioned whether I had the right to ask him that. And I said when you raised criticism of Israel in this conflict I think it’s logical and reasonable to ask what is your impression of the enemy- Hezbollah. He still refused to reply to that.

Amelia Templeton: Of course, Durban did mention that al-Maliki’s Foreign Minister has said that Iraq would join a growing list of Arab nations that have condemned Hezbollah.

Eva Barboni: In Washington D.C., our correspondent Amelia Templeton.

John Williams: But how is al-Maliki’s trip playing in Iraq? For that side of the story, we turn to Elizabeth Threlkeld.

Elizabeth Threlkeld: When Baghdad resident Firas Serajaldeen broached the subject with a few friends, he got a scornful reaction.

Firas Serajaldeen:

I asked them, hey what do you think about Maliki’s visit. They laughed.

Elizabeth Threlkeld: But they weren’t all laughing at the same joke. The first friend questioned Maliki’s independence from the US – said he was in Washington to give thanks for making his premiership possible.

Firas Serajaldeen:

One of them said Maliki went to US because they give him what he couldn’t dream of. He wants to thank them for his position right now because they brought him here.

Elizabeth Threlkeld: The second, though, couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. For him, Maliki’s trip was business as usual.

Firas Serajaldeen:

He said, “Oh yeah, it’s a regular thing – a regular visit” whenever a Prime Minister goes to visits the US, and this isn’t going to change anything.

Elizabeth Threlkeld: A third friend had a suggestion for Maliki – that instead of visiting foreign leaders on their turf, he should invite them over. And went on to say…

Firas Serajaldeen:

He’s a really good prime minister. He should tell Bush and whatever people who ask him to visit that he can’t leave Iraq because Iraq is now in a critical situation. He should be very close to what’s happening in Baghdad to fix it and not go for a trip.

Elizabeth Threlkeld: But for these Baghdad friends, it was a case of deja vous. They’ve heard it all before.

Firas Serajaldeen:

The other prime ministers before him, they did the same. Ayad Allawi went to US and all the Congress they stood up for him and they clapped for him and they were so happy because it was first Iraqi Prime Minister to visit. Same as Maliki. So it’s not a big story and we all know that this visit is not going to change anything.

Elizabeth Threlkeld: At least they agree on something. For War News Radio, I’m Elizabeth Threlkeld.

Eva Barboni: Al-Maliki’s visit may be on the minds of most Iraqis, but how much attention is it getting in the rest of the Middle East? For an update on the coverage of al-Maliki’s trip in the Arabic language press, we turn to our correspondent, Reuben Heyman-Kantor in Cairo. Reuben?

Reuben Heyman-Kantor: Well, let’s start with Iraq. Alsabaah is one of the biggest Iraqi
dailys, and the day after Maliki’s visit to Washington, it ran a front page
story with the title “Maliki says: We’re committed to solving the militia
problem without exception”. Now, along with that article there was a huge
picture of Maliki speaking in front of Congress, so the visit is obviously
getting a lot of coverage in Iraq. But what’s interesting is how little
attention it’s getting outside of Iraq. Front pages of Arabic newspapers are instead being
dominated by coverage of developments in Lebanon. Let me give you
just one example: Al Ahram, based here in Cairo and is one of the largest daily Arabic language newspapers in the world. Now, I picked up Al Ahram the day after Maliki gave his speech in front of Congress, and there wasn’t any mention of it on the front
page above the fold. Instead the front page was full of pictures of southern
Lebanon. The only mention of Maliki’s speech was near the bottom of the
page, about a hundred word blurb, and half of that was devoted to the day’s
violence in Iraq. I checked out a few other papers, and most have given al-Maliki’s visit even less coverage than that.

Eva Barboni: How about television news, like al-Jazeera? Is al- Maliki’s visit getting
any coverage there?

Reuben Heyman-Kantor: Sure. Al Jazeera runs news bulletins a couple times an hour with a rundown of the top stories, and again, the day of Maliki’s speech, the story
was about number 3 or 4 after updates from Lebanon. But it was interesting,
the cut of Maliki’s speech that Al Jazeera did decide to broadcast was him
saying that Iraq is the “central front” of the war on terrorism, a line that
the Bush Administration has used since the beginning of the war. Now that
cut was run just a few seconds after another cut in which I think it was
Israel’s Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz referred to Hezbollah as a terrorist
organization. Now, most people in the Middle East consider Hezbollah a
legitimate resistance movement, so to have a clip of Israel referring to
Hezbollah as terrorists, and then a clip of Maliki referring to Iraqi
insurgents as terrorists, I think the irony is not lost here. But, again,
the central point to remember is that, in most of the Middle East, Maliki’s
visit wasn’t nearly the top news story; the press is just much more
focused on Lebanon right now.

Eva Barboni: Thanks Reuben.

Reuben Heyman-Kantor: No problem.

Eva Barboni: Reuben Heyman-Kantor, reporting from Cairo.

Music 13:03

John Williams: You’re listening to War News Radio. Find us online at war news radio [dot] org.

Daily Show Clip:

As for Maliki, his agenda for the meeting was quite clear. I want to learn from your great nation. Even if it means that I have to stay in America for weeks, months, years. The rest of my life. Please don’t send me back.

John Williams: While this incorrect translation of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from Comedy Central’s Daily Show was meant to be comical, recent events have been far more serious. The devastating car bomb, which exploded in Baghdad on Thursday, was detonated in a neighborhood where high-ranking government officials, including both Iraq’s president and vice-president, live.

Eva Barboni: With violence in Iraq showing no signs of letting up, the last holdout of the professional class are leaving the country. Sarah Whites Koditscheck reports that even for those with the means, it’s not easy.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek: Zeyad, a dentist, left Iraq last month. He now lives in Amman, Jordan.


The Iraqi exile community is growing each day. Each day there are thousands of Iraqis leaving, mostly now to Syria and Jordan and to other places. It usually started with the intellectuals and now it’s the middle class is leaving entirely, especially out of urban centers in Iraq such as Baghdad and Mosul and Basra.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek: Mohammad Rafi is planning to get out of the country soon. He recently graduated medical school and that makes him a target.


Anyone with a brain, medical students, they are so close. There are plans to force many Iraqis leave Iraq, especially Baghdad. Now in Baghdad- they’re living in hell.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek: The Monitoring Net for Human Rights in Iraq, a network of Iraqi organizations for human rights, reported in 2005 that over 1,000 academics and scientists had been murdered since the beginning of the war. Since then, over 40% of Iraq’s professionals have left the country. Mohammad has a theory about why insurgents would target intellectuals.


Because if we have any educated people in Iraq and doctors and professors they will still ask about what’s happening, and who killed people, and who stole the wealth of Iraq and so on. Terrorists don’t want that to happen.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek: In order to escape these types of threats, Iraqis are willing to go just about anywhere. We found Iraqis who had fled to Poland, Denmark, Malaysia, and Canada. But most cross the nearest border. In Jordan, where Zeyad has temporarily relocated, an estimated half a million of refugees live amongst six million Jordanians. Zeyad writes about all of this in his blog, Healing Iraq.


Well there is a noticeable community here. Iraqis are making a very large part of Amman. I mean my neighbors here in the building I’m staying in here-three of my neighbors are Iraqis, and the building only has 6 or 7 apartments. So yes, they are actually filling up the capital. Amman is a very small city and resources are limited.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek: Overwhelmed, Jordan has recently barred young Iraqi males from entering the country. However, this has not deterred Mohammad, the medical student, from trying to use Jordan as a transit point. From there, he will try to find a new home and a new job. Zeyad says it’s relatively easy to flee if you have the means.


It’s not that difficult to leave you can leave to Jordan, you can leave to Syria. It’s just a matter of renting a car or getting a plane ticket.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek: Actually, leaving is only easy for men –not for women. Ali Mohammad, an engineer, who left Iraq a year ago:

Ali Mohammad:

Actually, they are leaving Iraq not alone because as you know, young women in my country are not so free like here in Europe and America, so they are leaving with their families. If otherwise, they are not leaving.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek: Again, Zeyad.


It’s usually the staying part that is not easy. So anyone can leave, but where to go?

Sarah Whites-Koditschek: Leaving is easier than living. Life in a foreign country is expensive. Because Mohammad’s father is a chemistry professor, his parents will be able to support him to work as a medical intern. Some young expatriates feel like they need some support indefinitely. Iraqi engineer Ali Mohammad is now in Warsaw, Poland.

Ali Mohammad:

Of course I’m still not working, I’m dependant on my parents, and they prefer to send me outside Iraq just to keep me alive. I want to work myself, but the first problem I face is the language because here they are not speaking English and I can’t work with my degrees as an engineer here for the same reason.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek: Despite the financial problems, just getting out of Iraq is a huge relief. At first, Zeyad says, exiles don’t even realize how huge.


When we were back there we just kind of adapted to the situation so we didn’t actually realize what we were living in so when you come here and find people just doing normal everyday stuff you just think, wow, where was I living?-in a war zone. When you’re back there in Baghdad you don’t just think about it much you just adapt and try to continue to go on.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek: One day, the violence in Iraq will end. But with so many professionals in exile, the reconstruction will be that much more difficult. Mohammad, the medical student about to leave Baghdad, is not thinking about that far in the future right now.

Ali Mohammad:

Everyone who wants to leave Iraq, but not everyone can leave Iraq. Many on the higher education level can leave Iraq, but the poor cannot do so.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek: For War News Radio, I’m Sarah Whites-Koditschek.

Music 19:54

Eva Barboni: [station break 1] This is War News Radio. I’m Eva Barboni

John Williams: [station break 2] And I’m John Williams. Thousands of Iraqis are on the US payroll from Sulamaniyah to Basrah. Alexander Marlowe Ginsberg tells us the story of one woman’s experience.

Alex Ginsberg: A woman we will call Sulaf worries constantly about her husband and her children.


I have to worry since the moment I go to my job till the moment I enter home with my husband. Before, when my kids were at school I worried until they arrived home in the door.

Alex Ginsberg: Sulaf fears for her husband. His boss at the Electricity Ministry was recently kidnapped.


Today I begged him to stay at home and not to go to the office, but he refused. He rejected the idea and insisted on going there. I was totally afraid. Every ten minutes I tried to call him in order to make sure that he is safe.

Alex Ginsberg: Sulaf is in danger, too. From a safe, upper-class neighborhood in Baghdad, she drives to work each day through an area plagued by insurgents, sectarian militias, and the constant threat of roadside bombs. But she’s less afraid of this random violence than she is of being singled out. Sulaf is a translator for a security company with close ties to U.S. forces. This makes her a prime target for insurgents.


They think if you are working with Americans or with a foreign company, you are a traitor, you are betraying your country, and this is not true. I just want to help my country. I’m not a traitor.

Alex Ginsberg: But to the insurgents, she’s collaborating with the enemy -the Americans. Because of the danger, only her husband knows where she works

Sulaf: My neighbors keep asking me, where is your company? Can I come to your company? I have to lie because I must keep this secret to keep my life, to keep the lives of my children because at the first stage our company deals with the US.

Alex Ginsberg: Even Sulaf’s parents are in the dark about her job – for a reason.


They know that I am in an Iraqi company. They don’t know it is a foreign, otherwise they would not let me go there.

Alex Ginsberg: Her husband worries too, but supports her decision


He keeps telling me to be confidential, not to tell anybody about this foreign company because I will be in a great danger.

Alex Ginsberg: Shouldering the secret is difficult, sometimes Sulaf thinks she would rather die telling the truth than continue living a lie.


Sometimes I feel myself crazy to say, no, I am a translator and I work with US forces, and I don’t care about terrorists, and if they want to kill me, so let them kill me. I get bored of such life, I get bored of the feeling of being afraid all the time.

Alex Ginsberg: The secrecy is hard for all the people in her company, but it creates a kind of camaraderie.


If they want me to kill any terrorists or protect them by myself, I would do that wholeheartedly.

Alex Ginsberg: But she doesn’t need to; every US company in Iraq is protected by guards.


The whole location is secured. It is hidden, only the people who work inside know that this is their job and this is their company, but nobody outside knows that this is a foreign company.

Alex Ginsberg: Despite the dangers and the secrecy, Sulaf sees the upside.


I love my job. I really like it.

Alex Ginsberg: This job fulfills a dream for Sulaf. She went to college to study translation and has a degree from the Foreign Affairs Institute.


It’s my dream, I love to speak in English and talk with foreigners. I’m really happy with my job.

Alex Ginsberg: Although she didn’t have to fear terrorists when she worked for Iraqi companies, she had other workplace fears: discrimination against women.


When I used to work with Iraqi companies, I don’t feel that they deserve that I be their translator, because they are hateful persons. They used to humiliate me, I feel that, to humiliate my feelings and my translations.

Alex Ginsberg: Sulaf says, where she works now, they show her respect not only as a woman in the workplace, but also, as a human being.


I feel myself comfortable between them even though they are foreigners, I don’t feel they are foreigners. I feel that I want to complete my job wholeheartedly, because they deserve; because I love them; because they trust me; because they give me everything I want. For human reasons, we have lost the feeling of self respect; I regain this feeling when I work with them.

Alex Ginsberg: Despite all the violence in Baghdad, Sulaf’s job allows her to feel like she is not just waiting for the next explosion. For War News Radio, I’m Alex Marlowe Ginsberg.
John Williams: Recently we featured a new strategy for US forces in Iraq devised by Edward Luttwak, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. At the heart of it, letting a civil war play out until somebody wins. This week, we continue our discussion on whether this is a good idea. Margery Murphy, professor of American History at Swarthmore College.

Margery Murphy:

To say that we should let the Iraqi civil war play itself out is really not a strategy. It ignores history and it ignores the fact that we destabilized Iraq and that we failed to give them the appropriate security in the aftermath of the American incursion.

John Williams: Luttwak’s idea of letting this civil war “play itself out,” is becoming widely publicized, yet rarely criticized — so far. Without rebuttal, his op-eds have appeared in nearly every major print media outlet in the US, the UK, and Israel. Part of Luttwak’s appeal lies in his comparison between the American Civil War and Iraq’s.


You know we had the Civil War in the US; if a foreign army had intervened on the grounds that the slaughter was terrible and they come in the name of peace, there would still be probably two hostile republics periodically attacking each other.

John Williams: Maybe so. But Professor Murphy says that Luttwak ignores an important part of the equation. The human factor:

Margery Murphy:

“600,000 Americans died in the civil war, hundreds of thousands were crippled by their wounds. For 25 years after the war, the American currency remained unstable, several states in the South remained occupied by the US army for over forty years, not to mention that in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Civil Rights Movement had to right the wrongs perpetuated by a bitter peace.

John Williams: Regardless of what Iraq has already endured, Prof. Murphy feels the US cannot sit back and watch as Edward Luttwak suggests. The US is now morally obligated, she says, to try and put out the fire it helped ignite.
Eva Barboni: That’s our show for this week.

John Williams: WNR is a production of Swarthmore college.

Eva Barboni: Find us online at war news radio [dot] org. There you’ll also find instructions on how to subscribe to our podcast to get War News Radio on your computer every week.

John Williams: Special thanks this week to Paul Fisher.

Eva Barboni: Our behind-the-scenes crew includes Zachary Fryer-Biggs, Adam Clapp, Duncan Gromko, Janice Im, Laura Pacifici, Nelson Pavlosky, Karen Rustad, Aaron Schwartz, Hansi Lo Wang, and Marty Goldensohn. I’m Eva Barboni.

John Williams: And I’m John Williams. Until next time, thanks for listening.

Music Outro


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