Kidnapping has been a popular way for insurgents to make an impact in the mayhem of Iraq. This week on War News Radio, a young Iraqi man tells a story that sounds more like a terrorist abduction than an arrest by the Iraqi government. Listen now to Duncan Gromko’s report.
Plus, another installment of Iraq 101 breaks down tribal affiliations at all levels. Find out how loyalty to the tribe can shape Iraqis’ relationship with the state and with each other. Listen now to the extended report from Hansi Lo Wang and Shelly Salant.
Finally, we take a look at how supporting the war led to the political defeat of a warhawk in Connecticut. Listen now to Eva Barboni’s report.
These stories, plus the week’s news, from War News Radio.
Marty Goldensohn: From Swarthmore College, this is WNR.
Eva Barboni: Iâ€™m Eva Barboni,
John Williams: And Iâ€™m John Williams.
He put a bag on my head and put the handcuffs on my hands, behind my back and started to shout at me to run. He made me run and run and run through the university with my head covered and my hands behind my back.
John Williams: This week on WNR, kidnapped â€“ or arrested. Sometimes in Baghdad itâ€™s hard to tell the difference. One Iraqi student lives to tell the tale.
Eva Barboni: Also, the truth about tribes: a social and political force in Iraq.
John Williams: Plus, a Connecticut hawk goes on the endangered species list.
Eva Barboni: But first, a roundup of this week’s news.
John Williams: Calling in the cavalry: On Tuesday, the US Military announced the second phase of Operation Forward Together, a large scale project to secure Baghdad. The security force of 40,000 Iraqi troops and 9,000 US troops currently stationed there will be bolstered by nearly 7,000 additional US troops redeployed from other parts of Iraq.
Eva Barboni: Major General William B. Caldwell stressed that the increased numbers alone could not bring peace. He emphasized the need for Iraqis to step up their commitment to resolving the violence, saying that, quote, “they have to be involved. The Iraqi people have to want this to work.”
John Williams: The added forces will nearly double the number of US troops in Baghdad, but the reinforcement plan comes as no surprise in light of continued strife in the capital city. On Wednesday, the Baghdad city morgue’s Assistant Manager, Dr. Abdul Razzaq Al-Obeidi, said that as many as 90% of the nearly two thousand people brought to the morgue in July died violent deaths.
Eva Barboni: The total number of deaths is up 16% from June and up 71% since January of this year. Most of the bodies were unidentifiable, and due to a lack of space in the morgue, mass graves have become the only viable solution for dealing with overcrowding.
John Williams: Though the newest phase of Operation Forward Together aims to end the plague of sectarian violence in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki harshly criticized its tactics. After an early morning ground and air raid on Sadr City in Baghdad by US-Iraqi forces, Al-Maliki chided military leaders on Tuesday, claiming they used excessive force. The Prime Minister, a Shiâ€™a, said he was, quote, “very angered and pained” after the attack on the area, a stronghold for the radical Shiâ€™a cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr and his militia, the Mahdi army.
Eva Barboni: And the violence isn’t restricted to Baghdad. On Thursday, in the Shi’a holy city of Najaf, a suicide bomber blew himself up in front of the Imam Ali shrine, killing at least 35 and wounding over 100. The blast occurred in the Grand Market, a shopping center outside the shrine packed with customers and pilgrims doing their morning shopping.
John Williams: The shrine, which holds the tomb of Ali, the prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law whom the Shiâ€™a believe to be Muhammadâ€™s rightful successor, was not damaged in the explosion. Police stopped the bomber at the last checkpoint before the shrine, where he detonated his explosives while being searched.
Eva Barboni: A Sunni extremist group, Jamaat Jund al-Sahaba, or Soldiers of the Prophet’s Companions, claimed responsibility for the attack, threatening Shi’a in a statement saying, quote, “our swords are capable of reaching deep into your regions.” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki condemned the attack, blaming the, quote, “barbaric massacre” on Saddamists and extremists trying to “inflame sectarian passions.”
John Williams: The Shiâ€™a Endowment, a group that is responsible for caring for Shi’a shrines in Iraq, called for restraint after the bombing, urging people to remain united against such, quote, “blind hatred and insistence on blasphemy.” The Endowment, in response to another attack on a Shi’a shrine, this one on Tuesday in Baqouba, demanded that the Iraqi government protect places of worship in the area.
Eva Barboni: Such attacks have led some in the Iraqi government to call for a partitioning of the country to physically separate the two sects. While in the past these proposals have been met with opposition from many wary of such radical measures, recent proposals have been getting more play in Parliament.
John Williams: One plan, backed by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the leading Shi’a block in Parliament, would create a Shiâ€™a controlled 9 province district in the South, taking advantage of a clause in the constitution allowing for federal states.
Eva Barboni: The district, much like Iraqi Kurdistan in the North, would control its own security and be able to profit from oil revenues. This prospect, especially, has Sunni leaders crying foul. While the Shi’a south has 60% of Iraq’s proven oil reserves, Sunni areas in the West and Northwest are poor in oil and other minerals. Some though, see the proposal as an empty threat, meant to win political concessions from Sunni leaders. Questions remain: Is separation good for Iraq now? In the future? One Sunni man we spoke with believes partitioning Iraq is just a quick fix to a larger problem. While it would decrease sectarian violence in the short term, eventually, he says, the tensions between Sunni and Shiâ€™a will again come to the surface, especially if Iran gets involved.
Itâ€™s going to decrease the violence, but believe me, within the country, it is not good at the end to the whole of Iraq. And the biggest problem as I see is how theyâ€™re all Shiâ€™a and all the South will be merged with Iran. And this is not good for the whole country and for the whole Middle East because Iran will take all the South, all the oil, and this will be a really big, big problem. And what Iâ€™m afraid of, after this is going to happen in a few years, there will be conflict between the Sunni side and the Shiâ€™a side.
Eva Barboni: US forces handed military control of three northern Iraqi provinces to Iraqi security forces this week, bringing the total number of provinces under Iraqi control to 4. The hand over also included US Forward Operating Base Dagger, raising the number of U.S. bases now under Iraqi control to 48. Despite the handover, American troops will remain in the three provinces to provide support.
John Williams: On Wednesday, an American military spokesperson said Marines have detained four men in connection with the January 7th kidnapping of journalist Jill Carroll. Carroll was working as a freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor when she was abducted on her way to meet a Sunni Arab politician in Western Baghdad. She was eventually freed in late March. The four detainees were arrested in a series of raids in a row of homes just west of Fallujah.
Eva Barboni: Emotions flared as witnesses testified on August 8th at a military hearing to determine if five soldiers accused of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and killing her family should be tried for their actions. Soldiers involved testified that they were demoralized by increased violence in the area where they were stationed.
John Williams: Private Justin Cross stated that he was, quote, “full of despair,” and he turned to painkillers for relief. Prosecutors dismissed the testimony, saying this case is about, quote, “murder, not war. Rape, not war,” and that the stress of war is no excuse. If prosecutors can prove that the attacks were premeditated, the soldiers could face the death penalty.
John Williams: This is WNR. Iâ€™m John Williams.
Eva Barboni: And Iâ€™m Eva Barboni. On Tuesday, 3-term Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman lost his bid in the Democratic primary. He was defeated by Ned Lamont, a millionaire cable executive whose campaign focused on the Iraq War. Not surprisingly much of the post-election punditry honed in on the war to explain the results. But how much of Liebermanâ€™s loss was really about Iraq? Steven Clemons, director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation says the Senatorâ€™s defeat was almost entirely because of the war.
I think in most other areas Senator Lieberman, with a few exceptions, was fairly consistent with the mainstream Democratic Party. There are people who disagree and think that Lieberman was out of step on a number of other issues, but when you really step back and look it was the war and his very, very close relationship with the president.
Eva Barboni: The image of President Bush kissing Lieberman after the State of the Union Address in 2005 was used to tie Lieberman with the president during the primary race, as was this comment in December of that year:
Sen. Joe Lieberman:
Itâ€™s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the Commander-in-Chief for three more critical years and that in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nationâ€™s peril.
If he ends up losing this campaign I think thatâ€™ll probably be the epitaph on the campaignâ€™s tombstone.
Eva Barboni: Jason Zengerle, editor of the New Republic. Heâ€™s written several articles about Liebermanâ€™s re-election bid. He says if Lieberman wants to win the general election â€“ in which he is now running as an independent under the party â€œConnecticut for Liebermanâ€ – heâ€™ll have to fight back against the impression that he is closely allied with the president.
You know I see now that he is being more critical of Bush. Iâ€™d imagine that heâ€™d have to do that in a general campaign. Even though he is going to be going for Republican votes there, I think even Republicans in Connecticut are unhappy about the war.
Eva Barboni: And Lieberman seems to be doing just that. In reaction to his primary defeat, the Connecticut Senator had this to say:
Sen. Joe Lieberman:
I think this was all about Iraq and expressing anger toward President Bush, and I am obviously not President Bush.
Eva Barboni: David Lightman, DC bureau chief of the Hartford Courant â€“ Connecticutâ€™s largest daily paper â€“ agrees that the war in Iraq and Liebermanâ€™s connection with the president led to his loss. But:
On the other hand he did get 48 percent of the vote, and he came up from where he was in the polls. So I wouldnâ€™t read the result as a rejection of Senator Liebermanâ€™s tenure as a Senator because again, he almost won this thing.
Eva Barboni: Though he warns against reading too much into Liebermanâ€™s narrow defeat, Lightman says that there is a something to be learned from the primary results.
Well I think the lesson whether voters validate it or not is going to be you better have some tough things to say against this war or the voters are going to jump all over you, in certain states. I mean people are against this war, but itâ€™s a matter of degree. They donâ€™t necessarily want troops out tomorrow or even in a year. They just want to see it managed better.
Eva Barboni: Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation and author of the blog the Washington Note dot com, agrees that Liebermanâ€™s primary loss will impact the campaign strategies of both Democrats and Republicans.
I think youâ€™re going to see two things. I think youâ€™re going to see the Democrats abandon what many of them were doing, which is to run right of the President and right of the Republicans on certain national security issues, and I think youâ€™re going to see more resistance within the Republican ranks to the White House.
Eva Barboni: Liebermanâ€™s loss on Tuesday seems to be part of a growing trend â€“ one that is sure to impact both partiesâ€™ strategies for the upcoming elections. An AP-Ipsos poll released this week showed that the Presidentâ€™s approval rating is down to 33%, matching his low in May. The same poll showed that 19% of those who backed the President in 2004 are ready to vote for Democrats in the midterm elections.
John Williams: This is WNR. Iâ€™m John Williams. We hear a lot about violence in Iraq â€“ kidnappings, murders, and beatings â€“ but most of the time it just seems like numbers. Duncan Gromko has the tale of one man whose experience seems more Orwellian than Iraqi.
Duncan Gromko: On a day that started like any other, Khalid Jarrar went to his university to pay his tuition. While his paperwork was being processed, he went to an internet cafÃ©.
I went to an internet cafÃ© to check my email and check the blogs and then went back to the financial department to see what happened. In a few minutes, an old man came in and asked where, is the message guy and they pointed at me. So they took me to a room and asked me all kind of questions of who am I and where did I come from. A few minutes later, a cop enters the room with a bag and handcuffs. He put the bag on my head and put the handcuffs on my hands behind my back and started to shout at me to run. He made me run through the university with my head covered and my hands behind my back until we reach a car. They put me in the car. I donâ€™t know who they are and what was wrong and what I did.
Duncan Gromko: They uniformed men took Khalid to the Interior Ministry â€“ a department of the Iraqi government.
I was in a room with interrogators with other people beating them, and they asked me questions like what is the name of your terrorist group? Who is your leader? Where do you get your funds from? And questions like that. That lasted for hours. Until this point I didnâ€™t know anything or where I was or what was wrong. They wouldnâ€™t tell me anything.
Duncan Gromko: Khalid was frightened, the interrogators started to beat him â€“ broke his glasses.
That wasnâ€™t my biggest concern at that time because we know thatâ€™s what happens in Baghdad everyday- that people get arrested. And the next day, or a few days after that, they find them dead on dumpsters or in the river tortured to death and punched, with eyes taken out, or their fingernails taken out. That happens everyday in Baghdad. So my broken glasses wasnâ€™t really my biggest concern I had in my mind. So they called the guard and told him to take me to prison. So I went and the guard took me to prison, which is a small room, about 6 by 2 meters. There was about 30 – 35 people in it. To be able to sleep, some nights we had to take turns. I have to sleep for 2 hours then stand for 2 hours because there isnâ€™t space to sleep at all to sleep in. All the people there were arrested in the same way. Some were very old, some were very young, as young as 16 or17. A lot of them were beaten very bad, especially the young ones, some of them had been there for months and everyone has a sad story that is just as sad as mine. They take you to the interrogation room and they keep beating you until you confess with whatever they want you to confess of. I donâ€™t like to talk about that because itâ€™s something that you want to forget.
Duncan Gromko: Trapped in this cramped cell, Khalid and the other prisoners found ways to pass the time, reading the Qurâ€™an.
Well inside prison, some people managed to smuggle some Qurâ€™an in. We spent a lot of our time talking, but a lot of the time reading the Qurâ€™an, worshiping. So, time passes.
Duncan Gromko: All the while, Khalidâ€™s family was desperate trying to find him â€“ fearing the worst. A friendly prison guard passed word to them.
After probably 3 or 4 days, I made a good relation with one of the staff of the prison there. He told my family that I was there, they started to put the pressure.
Duncan Gromko: Finally, Khalid found out that he was charged with making connections to foreign terrorists â€“ just because he had visited an English language blog. He was innocent. And he would be released â€“ for a price.
The interrogators blackmailed my family and asked for a lot of money. They made me sign a paper that I wouldnâ€™t tell any of the families of the people that were there that they are arrested and that I wouldnâ€™t tell anybody outside the prison about anything that I had seen in that building.
Duncan Gromko: Despite this promise to the government, Khalid says he that contacted family members of other prisoners.
I consider myself the luckiest among those people. I was beaten the less, I didnâ€™t spend a long time there, only 2 weeks. While usually, you have to stay there for 45 days before they decide to release you or not.
Duncan Gromko: Khalid was lucky to be released at all. He is a Sunni Muslim in a city controlled by Shiâ€™a dominated government. A police force saturated with Shiâ€™a militia.
Me and almost everyone that was in that room was from Sunni area, all of use were Sunni Iraqis. All the nature of questions that were asked me during interrogations were of sectarian nature.
Duncan Gromko: After his arrest, Khalid and his family fled to Jordan â€“ to them it was a kidnapping and could easily happen again. Khalid went back in school in Amman and will complete his engineering degree in one year. Living abroad has given him a chance to reflect. Whatâ€™s happened to him and others like him â€“ while a personal story, could change Iraqâ€™s future.
If you take away people there and put them in prison for sectarian basis for no crimes at all and torture them and kill them or blackmail them -doing that more and more leads to more tension between more people and that leads to more sectarian conflict. What happened all the time in Iraq, there was never really sectarian conflict. There was always conflict between people that are anti-occupation and the small minority of people that are pro-occupation. So there was already that conflict. Once that started, all these acts that now happen every day, it just increases this idea that this government is working for the interest of one of these sects against another. As an idea as and as a concept, this is very bad for the interest of Iraq.
Duncan Gromko: Khalid Jarrar is safe now in Jordan – has no plans to return to Iraq. He writes a blog about his life and his political views called Secrets in Baghdad. For War News Radio, Iâ€™m Duncan Gromko.
John Williams: Youâ€™re listening to WNR from Swarthmore College. Visit us online at warnewsradio [dot] org.
Eva Barboni: This is WNR. Iâ€™m Eva Barboni. It’s been said that in order to know Iraq, you have to understand its tribes. For some Iraqis, the tribe is a way of life, but for others, it’s the way of the past. Time for another edition of Iraq 101 prepared by Shelley Salant and Hansi Lo Wang.
This part of the desert is full of devil worshipers.â€ â€œWhat are they?â€ â€œâ€¦Theyâ€™re tough Arab tribes that live in the foothills and come out only to rob and kill. They can be pretty nasty customers, so you better keep your eyes open.â€
Hansi Lo Wang: The portrayal of an Iraqi tribe in the 1943 B-movie Adventure in Iraq is unfortunate, but perhaps typical, even outside of Hollywood. So whatâ€™s the truth about Iraqâ€™s tribes today? Itâ€™s all in the family â€“ though sometimes the family connections are complicated and difficult to trace. Iraqi tribal expert Amatzia Baram, professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of Haifa:
Thatâ€™s the image that our tribe consists of people who have some kind of blood connection. They are linked mainly by some kind of kinship.
Hansi Lo Wang: There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of tribes, both Arab and Kurdish, across Iraq. The exact numbers, as well as their size and territory, are unclear. This is partly due to a lack of anthropological research in the recent decade. Also because the word â€œtribeâ€ is open to interpretation. There are multiple levels of organization, beginning with the largest unit, the â€œtribal federation,â€ which can stretch across the country and comprise millions of people. Again, Prof. Baram:
One of them is called the Dulaym. It consists of about 2 million people living between Baghdad and westwards towards the Jordanian border. 2 million people â€“ itâ€™s almost a nation! And yet they see themselves as somehow connected by blood.
Hansi Lo Wang: The most basic tribal unit in Iraq is a Kham, five generations of men in the same family. The connections are about community, honor, and protecting one another.
The lower you go, the more this kind of blood connection means also commitment.
Hansi Lo Wang: Including a commitment to tribal justice. Again, Amatzia Baram.
The Kham is the unit that has to avenge your blood if somebodyâ€™s killing you. Or, if one of your own Khamâ€™s murdered somebody from another Kham or another tribe, then all the men in the Kham must raise the fund to compensate the other unit in order that they donâ€™t kill our own unit again as a retaliation.
Hansi Lo Wang: Sometimes, this payment of â€œblood moneyâ€ settles the dispute. But an unresolved grievance can last for generations, according to Prof. Baram.
In extreme cases, the tribe, whose men were killed, does not want to be paid any blood money, because the murder was too cruel and too premeditated. And it was also not just blood. It was also offense, very deep offend. In which case, blood feud can take a hundred years. Some take a hundred and fifty years. And you kill from them, they kill from you, and there is no end to it.
Hansi Lo Wang: Journalist-archaeologist Joanne Farchakh, who has spent time in Iraqâ€™s southern villages, says the tribe is a truly foreign social context for most Westerners.
People live together. They are extremely bonded together. The individuality as it exists in the West doesn’t exist in these societies. You as a person do not exist. You exist as a member of a family, and this family is a member of the tribe, and this family of the tribe will take care of you. And the family of the tribe will take decisions for you in your life. And that’s how things move.
Hansi Lo Wang: The very word tribe often evokes images of primitive life. But computer engineer Ahmed al-Amari says thatâ€™s a stereotype.
I want to clarify something. In the West, your guys have, you know, very bad image about the tribes. We are totally different than anyone else, their tribes. For example, the president of our tribe, heâ€™s educated man with a Ph.D.
Hansi Lo Wang: Salim al-Shalan lives in Dagharah, a town in southern Iraq. When asked about his tribal affiliations, he has no trouble remembering. Al-Shalan describes his tribe as very tightly knit.
(Voiceover) A neighbor takes from a neighbor, If our neighbors, if they need anything from us, they can take it, whether it’s food, or money that they need, even if it’s water. The relationships are really strong, it’s not like the situation abroad, no the relationships here are strong.
Hansi Lo Wang: Salim al-Shalan strongly identifies with his tribe. Professor Baram estimates that about half of Iraqis do. And among those who donâ€™t, most know at least their tribal origins.
The reason is that Saddam Hussein made it into a policy that people would know which tribe they had belong, so you usually no longer do. If you belong to a tribe, even though you donâ€™t remember it, but you had to find out in order to fill a certain form. You had to know. And if you belong to a tribe that Saddam doesnâ€™t like, you can forget about the job.
Hansi Lo Wang: In post-Saddam Iraq, says Middle East scholar Phebe Marr, author of A Modern History of Iraq, tribes are becoming more â€“ not less â€“ prominent in Iraqi society. They fill a vacuum.
We have a collapse of government, you know, collapse of institutions there. We have chaos. We have people killing one another. And so the most natural thing in the world is to fall back on your family, and the tribe is nothing but a big family.
Hansi Lo Wang: (Voiceover) Salim al-Shalan, the resident of Dagharah, agrees tribal ties are still important, especially given the current security situation, but, he says, Western influences, satellite television, and a more open society are causing these bonds to loosen. Still, he says, this affects the educated classes far more than the laborers or farmers.
Hansi Lo Wang: But tribal solidarity remains influential despite these new Western influences. Computer engineer Ahmed al-Amari says certain tribal leaders could play a key role in quelling Iraqâ€™s sectarian violence. In tribes containing both Sunni and Shiâ€™a groups, explains al-Amari, sectarian tensions can be eased by the sheikh. Tribalism also figures into Iraqâ€™s fledgling democracy, says Amatzi Baram. Not all politics is tribal.
But tribes can be voting blocs.
You go to a tribal sheikh or chief and you say to him, â€˜Look, why donâ€™t you get your people to vote for me? You have about, what, 5,000, 4,000 adults, men and women, who can vote. Why donâ€™t you tell them to vote for me or for my party, and I give you a pledge that when I come to power if Iâ€™m in the government, I will look after your village or your tribe â€“ where your tribe is at large.
Hansi Lo Wang: U.S. forces have also tried to benefit from the tribal authority in certain regions by working with leaders. But Baram says itâ€™s not always easy finding the tribal sheikh â€“ at least not the real one.
Often, somebody will come to the Americans and tell them, â€˜I am the sheikh of this and that tribe.â€™ Lying through his teeth! But what he wants is money. â€˜Give me money. Iâ€™ll control the tribe. Donâ€™t worry. They wonâ€™t shoot at you anymore.â€™ They gave him money, nothing happened. So you have to identify the right sheikh.
Hansi Lo Wang: According to journalist-archaeologist Joanne Farchakh, the U.S. has to strike the right balance in tribal relations: to give tribal sheikhs and leaders just enough power to keep the peace but not to keep control â€“ at least not long-term.
So it’s a question of a decision and choice. What do you want? Do you want to create for Iraq a democracy that’s similar to yours because you believe in it? Or do you want Iraq to maintain its social values and its social life and social context, and work with it as it is, trying to establish security, build a country, and wait for fifty years so people will change themselves and will see something else? And maybe they want to change. Maybe they don’t want to change.
Hansi Lo Wang: And maybe, concludes Farchakh, Iraqis like their tribal society the way it is -perhaps feeling secure not as individuals but as part of something larger. With Shelley Salant, Iâ€™m Hansi Lo Wang for War News Radio.
Eva Barboni: Reuben Heyman-Kantor provided translations for that piece.
John Williams: Thatâ€™s our show for this week.
Eva Barboni: WNR is a production of Swarthmore College.
John Williams: Find us online at warnewsradio dot org. There youâ€™ll also find instructions on how to subscribe to our podcast to get WNR on your computer every week.
Eva Barboni: Special thanks this week to David Rohde and Marge Murphy.
John Williams: Our behind-the-scenes crew includes Wren Elhai, Alex Marlowe Ginsberg, Elizabeth Threlkeld, Laura Pacifici, Nelson Pavlosky, Hansi Lo Wang, and Marty Goldensohn. I’m John Williams.
Eva Barboni: And Iâ€™m Eva Barboni. Until next time, thanks for listening.