This week on War News Radio, an Iraqi journalist tells us the story of a suicide bombing that he witnessed during a political demonstration. Ayub Nuri prepared this report.
Next, we hear about a diverse group of Iraqi and American youth who assembled in Jordan to construct their own vision of what the war’s big players need to address. Kristin Caspar has this report.
We also talk to Congressional candidate Tom Perriello, whose background in Afghanistan has molded his understanding of US policy in the country. Elizabeth Hipple reports.
Finally, we examine the growing militant presence in Pakistan, despite generous counterterrorism aid from the US. Sonny Sidhu prepared this report.
These stories, this week on War News Radio.
VARIOUS: “From Swarthmore College, this is War News Radio.”
SONNY SIDHU: I’m Sonny Sidhu.
ELISE GARRITY: And I’m Elise Garrity.
CALE SALIH: Some of the Kurdish participants didnâ€™t know about some of the genocides that happened in the south of Iraq. It was so interesting to watch how different these kids thought.
SONNY SIDHU: As war rages on, civilians are setting aside their differences to look for solutions. This week on War News Radio: Hand In Hand. First, we hear a journalist’s account of a recent suicide bombing in the midst of a demonstration in Iraq.
ELISE GARRITY: Also we hear from Iraqi and American teenagers who came together to compare viewpoints on the war.
SONNY SIDHU: Then we chat with politician Tom Perriello about his insights into American foreign policy in Afghanistan.
ELISE GARRITY: Finally, we hear why Pakistani militancy is on the rise, despite billions in U.S. counterterrorism aid.
SONNY SIDHU: These stories, this week on War News Radio.
ELISE GARRITY: Earlier this week, people in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk took to the streets to protest an article passed by Iraqi parliament that postponed local elections. The demonstration became a target for a female suicide bomber who left dozens dead and hundreds injured. War News Radio’s Ayub Nuri spoke to Iraqi journalist Kamaran Najar who was just meters away from the blast.
KAMARAN NAJAR: The people of Kirkuk – Kurds, Arabs, Turcomans and Assyrians – marched to the governor’s office that day. That was the first time in Kirkuk that all of the different groups participated in a peaceful demonstration. All the slogans were also written on white banners to show that they all wanted peace. There were about one hundred thousand people there altogether.
KAMARAN NAJAR: The demonstration started at 8 o’clock in the morning and it was supposed to end at 10 o’clock, once the people had handed over their demands to the governor so that he would petition the Iraqi government. The demonstrators gave their petition to the governor and city council members and just as the march was about to end the explosion happened in the middle of the crowd.
KAMARAN NAJAR: I was about 30 meters away from the explosion. It happened in the middle of a crowd of elementary and high school teachers. There were also children and older people in the crowd. As the explosion happened, people ran though nearby alleys and streets to avoid the scene and soon after ambulances and police vehicles arrived. According to a hospital report, 25 people were killed and 200 were injured.
KAMARAN NAJAR: One day before the demonstration the police announced that travel by cars would be forbidden near the governor’s office. The security and police were able to protect the place to some degree, but a suicide bomber can always slip through easily.
KAMARAN NAJAR: I went to the bomb scene today. There were high ranking officers from the city police department investigating the bombing. It is not clear who did it and no one has claimed responsibility yet. But the head of the police, Ameed Sarhad, said that recently, Al Qaeda has been using women suicide bombers. It is likely that Al Qaeda was behind this bombing.
KAMARAN NAJAR: People who fled from the bombing ran through an alley near the office of the Turcoman front. Their guards thought that the people were attacking their office, so they opened fire on the people and injured a number of them. The demonstrators became angry and they set fire to some cars that belonged to the Turcoman office. The police soon arrived at the scene and provided protection to the office. Some guards have been accused of opening fire first. And health reports say that in addition to those injured by shrapnel from the bomb, about 13 people have been killed by bullets.
KAMARAN NAJAR: That day a number of reporters were injured in the blast. Yahaya Barzini, a reporter for the Associated Press, was injured. Sinna Muhammed was Al Baghdadia’s correspondent, and he was injured too. Reporters from Zagros and Baba Gurgur channels were also injured. Eight of the dead and 40 of the injured were teachers.
[Music Break: “Sugar Rhyme” by Bonobo]
SONNY SIDHU: This is War News Radio. Last week, 32 American and Iraqi teenagers came together to compare viewpoints on the conflict in Iraq and discuss possible solutions. Kristin Caspar talked to the founder and participants of the Youth Initiative for Progress conference, which took place in Amman, Jordan.
KRISTIN CASPAR: Michael Schoenleber, a 19-year-old American student from Li Po Chun United World College, founded the conference after a discussion in his school. Michael and several other students started to reach out to the international community. They wrote hundreds of letters until a response came from a former head of the World Food Program agreeing to help. This jump-started the process. Recruiting was challenge, but the result was a diverse mix of participants representing the wide variety of backgrounds and opinions found in both the United States and Iraq.
MICHAEL SCHOENLEBER: There were 16 Americans and I want to say that there were maybe 11 or 12 states represented, and then also we took into consideration their political opinions and where they fell on the political spectrum so that all opinions would be represented at the conference. And then the Iraqis came from all over the country as well. So there were, I think there were four Kurds, there were a number of Sunnis, Shi’as, Christians, there were people from Baghdad, Basra, Arbil, Kirkuk.
KRISTEN CASPAR: Many of the participants were surprised with how their stereotypes and biases were confronted during the conference. As for the Americans, their view of Iraq was based on what they had seen in the media. But during the conference, they faced a completely different situation. The Iraqis were also taken aback by the differences within their own group, realizing each individual had a strong opinion molded by their childhood experiences. Cale Salih, an 20 year old Iraqi Kurd who worked as a facilitator for this conference, said that she realized the ideological differences among the Iraqis reflected the lack of a unified viewpoint.
CALE SALIH: It was very different for all, depending on which ethnic sect they came from, which religion they came from, which region of Iraq. For example we had some participants who were refugees in Amman, and the impact of the war on their life was obviously very, very different. Some of them had lived in Baghdad before the war and had relatively normal lives before the war, and after the war their lives were completely turned upside-down and they became refugees. So they had a different story, they would come to the conference for example and say ‘Well before the war, we had mild problems in Iraq, after the war, Iraq is chaotic.’ Whereas, a Kurdish participant would then stand up and say: ‘Before the war we had complete chaos, we had genocide, we had a history of genocide, our families were being killed – this sort of thing – and after the war we’re finally beginning to achieve stability and peace.’ So it was very, very different depending on where they came from.
KRISTIN CASPAR: As commonly portrayed by the media, many Westerners see the major divide within Iraqi society as a rift between Sunnis and Shi’as. According to Michael, a larger problem seemed to arise instead between the Kurdish and the Arab participants during the conference.
MICHAEL SCHOENLEBER: A problem did emerge particularly in the beginning of the conference between the Kurdish Iraqis and the rest of the Iraqis. So that problem sprung from the fact that the Kurdish students referred to Kurdistan – the Kurdish region – basically as an independent country, and quite separate from Iraq. So the other students were offended by comments and actions that put that opinion out there, perhaps a little bit too strongly. So that problem did come into play in the beginning, but by the end of the conference, I think they had addressed it and they were cooperating with one another and there are plans right now to hold a conference between Kurdish Iraqis and Arab Iraqis perhaps maybe next summer.
KRISTIN CASPAR: The conference took place in three parts, all focused on building relationships and developing in-depth dialogue. One of the most eye-opening activities, says Cale, was one involving the construction of a timeline of the most important events in the history of the conflict. However, the participants did not meet eye to eye.
CALE SALIH: I was sitting in on the Iraqi timeline room and watching these Iraqi students discuss what were the ten most important events throughout the conflict. Now for example I would have thought maybe the Anfal genocide would be where they start, and some of the Kurdish participants brought it up and some of the Arab participants thought it was something else should be where they start. Some of the Arab participants didn’t know what Anfal was, some of the Kurdish participants didn’t know about some of the genocides that happened in the south of Iraq. It was so interesting to watch how different these kids had viewed the history of Iraq, viewed the conflict in Iraq, and indeed how I had viewed the history and the conflict.
KRISTIN CASPAR: While the Iraqi participants constructed their dialogue around personal events, Cale observed that the American participants seemed to shape theirs around the American presence in Iraq.
CALE SALIH: One of the main differences between the two timelines was that the American time line focused much more on when political goals in Iraq were achieved, when American foreign policy objectives were achieved or not achieved, what were the landmarks of these. Whereas the Iraqi timeline focused much more on more personal tragedy.
KRISTIN CASPAR: Following several days of discussions, the group drew up a declaration of intent, detailing important points that needed to be focused on for the future. According to Michael, the participants felt as if there was too much emphasis on pointing fingers and finding the origin of blame, and that they made a point while drafting up their own declaration to outline the points that need to be looked at in order to move forward and leave history to the past.
MICHAEL SCHOENLEBER: The document is broken into five different categories, the first one being education. They call for the standardization of curriculum across Iraq, standardization of curriculum, school hours, and examinations. Another one is that they called for an end to corruption in schools. Education goes on for quite a while and then the next category is infrastructure and it’s broken down into administrative problems, problems with water, electricity, transportation, oil, the next category is reconciliation, so they talk about refugees, international reconciliation, ethnic and religious reconciliation, and then they have rebuilding civil society where they talk about women’s rights, food security, freedom, the labor force, healthcare, orphans, prisons.
KRISTIN CASPAR: The conference allowed both sides of the conflict to see how the other side lived. With such an experience under their belts, they have all parted their ways to start their own projects that they had drafted during the conference, such as fundraising and providing aid to schools in Iraq. Looking back on the conference only a few days after its conclusion, Michael couldn’t have expected a better turnout for an idea that started only about a year ago.
MICHAEL SCHOENLEBER: I really didn’t plan for the conference to go as well as it did. By the end of it, all the Americans and the Iraqis had really formed close bonds with one another. The participants drafted a declaration of intent that highlights all kinds of problems in Iraq and possible solutions to those problems and then they also broke up into groups of four, two Americans and two Iraqis, and I’ll be helping them over the next six months launch their own initiatives to make more concrete progress in Iraq.
KRISTIN CASPAR: Today’s Iraqi youth has spent their most impressionable years in the midst of war. To drown out such a voice would be to misunderstand the situation itself. For War News Radio, I’m Kristin Caspar.
[Music Break: “The Plug” by Bonobo]
SONNY SIDHU: This is War News Radio. Tom Perriello has worked around the world, including in Afghanistan, as a consultant for the International Centre for Transitional Justice. He is now the Democratic nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia’s 5th District. Elizabeth Hipple spoke to him about where the United States has gone wrong in trying to improve security in Afghanistan, and what needs to be done about it.
ELIZABETH HIPPLE: Based on your experience working in Afghanistan, what would you say are the biggest challenges that country is currently facing?
TOM PERRIELLO: I think what has been the tragic flaw of our mission in Afghanistan is that the Bush administration has spent far too much time appeasing some of the very warlords who had been thrown off with some glee during the Taliban period. So what we’ve offered people, unfortunately, is not the choice between Al-Qaeda and democracy we’ve ended up offering a choice between sort of narco-trafficking druglords and a resurgent Taliban and I think people are sick and tired in Afghanistan of being offered those sorts of options.
ELIZABETH HIPPLE: Would you agree with Barack Obama’s opinion that the war in Afghanistan has suffered because of the U.S.’s focus on the war in Iraq?
TOM PERRIELLO: Absolutely but that began a long time ago. I think many experts feel like the reason we got on the wrong track in Afghanistan was that we were looking for a shortcut solution there so that we could get our troops and our focus onto Iraq so it’s been the flaw from the beginning and I think remains so now, but I do think there’s a mistake to think the answer is simply moving troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. If we don’t fix the political context we’re operating with, more troops won’t necessarily make that much of a difference. We have to make sure we understand what’s gone wrong and have a prescription that fits the diagnosis.
ELIZABETH HIPPLE: While it’s not as simple as moving troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, are additional troops in Afghanistan still an important part of any plan to make Afghanistan more secure?
TOM PERRIELLO: If it’s done in conjunction with changing our appeasement of the warlords, Bush’s policy is talking tough and carrying no stick, then I think it can be an important part of the combination, I also think there are NATO allies that are ready to put boots on the ground there as well so I certainly think we’ve seen that, but if you see in sort of Helmand province versus Kandahar province that the heavy footprint isn’t always what leads to a more secure area, we have to make sure we’re doing it smart…We’ve also put a tremendous of strain on our military and we need to make sure we’re respecting the length we need between tours, doing recruit we – one last point on this though is that I think we’re going to win this war, the struggle against Al-Qaeda, through our intelligence community and our diplomatic community not our defense contractors. We certainly need a strong military presence, they’ve done a tremendous amount for us, we need to make sure we’re investing in our intelligence community and our diplomatic community in the same degree.
ELIZABETH HIPPLE: How should we improve our investment in that intelligence and diplomatic community?
TOM PERRIELLO: Well you know I think one of the real shames of the Bush administration is that they just don’t seem to know how to do intelligence well, it’s almost as if they learned how to do it from a television show and think that busting kneecaps is the way to do it. The fact is our intelligence has been strong because we do our homework, we get out there, you triangulate, you build assets in the field, you know people who, you get people who can speak Farsi and Pashtun and these languages, this is what we need and I’d like to see recruiting a new generation of our best and brightest into intelligence. It’s not all covert, a lot of it’s overt, and I think particularly a lot of progressives think of it as being a nasty thing to do but the truth is good intelligence in the field is the key for us having a much smarter strategy for building a secure global community, so I think it’d be a great thing for us to be encouraging more folks to go into that, learning languages, being on the ground and being able to operate in those theaters.
ELIZABETH HIPPLE: It’s been almost seven years since The War on Terror started after 9/11 and five years since the War in Iraq started. Many Americans seem to be weary of war and increasingly isolationist. Is this concerning to you?
TOM PERRIELLO: Absolutely I think there is a real danger in a logic that says simply we need to start spending those dollars back home instead of in Iraq, that’s absolutely true and we’ve allowed our infrastructure to fall apart, on the other hand we cannot afford not to take the rest of the world seriously whether that’s issues like genocide in Darfur, or extreme poverty, the threat of Iran building a new non-proliferation network since the old one’s fallen apart and loose nuclear materials continues to be the single greatest threat we need to deal with energy independence and other issues. We cannot afford strategically to stop caring about the rest of the world but we also can’t afford, I think morally, when we still have 30,000 human beings dying every day of hunger and preventable disease, so I believe what we need is a new global engagement that focuses on good intelligence and good diplomacy, humanitarian relief, backing a grander strategy of how to build a global community on the rule of law, and I think that’s the long and short of it is.
ELIZABETH HIPPLE: Do you think there needs to be an attitude change among Americans towards foreign policy so that we see it not just in terms of the military, but in terms of “justice-based security”, which is a phrase you use?
TOM PERRIELLO: I think the change needs to happen in our leadership, not in our people. I’m incredibly impressed by the American people, the people in my district, when I go around, people know the Bush Administration has been a disaster on foreign policy but they also, I think, are right to be skeptical that the Democrats have a better alternative because the Democrats seem to say either, “Well we want to kill people too” or they say, “Forget about that, let’s focus on jobs back home,” neither is a satisfying answer. When I talk about justice based security solutions, people are hungry for something that they believe can make a difference in the world that is not the neo-conservative approach so I think the American people are with us or with this view, I think it’s the leadership that hasn’t been providing them with the alternatives.
ELIZABETH HIPPLE: That was Tom Perriello, Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives in Virginia’s 5th district. For War News Radio, I’m Elizabeth Hipple.
[Music Break: “Change Down” by Bonobo]
ELISE GARRITY: You’re listening to War News Radio. I’m Elise Garrity. President George W. Bush has always called Pakistan a major ally in the global war on terror. Since 2001, when the U.S. began underwriting Pakistan’s domestic counterterrorism efforts, Americans have “reimbursed” the Pakistani military for its troubles to the tune of 5.6 billion dollars, and sent billions more in non-military aid to the Pakistani government. But violent extremism is still on the rise in Pakistan, and the country’s mountainous Frontier Provinces are still a safe haven for al Qaeda and Taliban operatives. Even with billions in U.S. aid, why hasn’t Pakistan’s government made more headway against militants? My co-host Sonny Sidhu has this report.
SONNY SIDHU: Like a lot of people around the world these days, Pakistanis are feeling the crunch at the fuel pump and the food market. But Pakistan’s economic woes are compounded by a reported 7.5% unemployment rate, and an electricity shortage that has gripped the country’s towns and cities for months. Frustration is mounting, and according to Kalsoom Lakhani, Pakistani policy analyst and author of the blog CHUP – Changing Up Pakistan, most of it is directed at the new government.
KALSOOM LAKHANI: We have people that are disillusioned with the government, but most of the time people are disillusioned with the government. People, I think, really had hoped, with this new election in February, that when this new government came in it would automatically solve all these problems, and obviously that’s a very, a hope that wasn’t going to take place like, a few months after the new government took hold. But you know, I definitely see that people are frustrated, and whether or not that means they’re more likely to be recruited, I think that generally what we’re seeing is a vacuum of power, and I think whenever you have a power vacuum in a country, it is always more susceptible to be, for people to be influenced to go over towards other elements in the country. I do think people would be more sympathetic to those kinds of forces if they were to provide the services that the government was unable to provide, in that vacuum.
SONNY SIDHU: It’s called the Hezbollah model: a militant group building its political clout by providing vital services to local communities where the government hasn’t stepped in to help. According to 30-year old Ali Rizvi, this pattern has been going on in Pakistan for years. Ali is a farmer in Lahore who also blogs about Pakistani politics under the name Destitute Rebel. He has seen the social and political effects of the country’s spreading poverty firsthand.
ALI RIZVI: I’d say this has in some ways been affecting militancy for a long time, not just recently. It’s increased a lot now because usually in a household of five or six people when there’s not enough to feed the children, and there’s these religious organizations coming and sort of, you know, recruiting children, telling their parents that “We’ll provide them with food and education,” which is not available to them otherwise. People give up their children to these religious organizations, madrassas, where children are brought up among a militant culture, they’re taught hatred from the beginning, they’re brainwashed and they’re taught to believe that anyone who does not believe in what they believe in is wrong.
SONNY SIDHU: Kalsoom Lakhani of CHUP agrees that hardline religious parties in Pakistan appear to be benefiting from the government’s inabilities using the service-based Hezbollah model.
KALSOOM LAKHANI: After the earthquake happened, in 2005… the government wasn’t very good at getting services to the people, and you did see, like, Islamist parties having camps, like, when I drove up north to the disaster areas right in December of 2005, you saw all these, like, tents from these Islamist parties that were providing services, so yeah you can definitely see that happening. Whether that’s happening now, I’m unsure about.
SONNY SIDHU: But according to Pakistani political scientist and author Rasul Baksh Rais, the problem of militancy lies not only with the Pakistani government’s inaction, but also its attitude.
RASUL BAKSH RAIS: Actually, the problem is much deeper. If the rulers of Pakistan have contempt for law, and have no respect for constitution, and no respect for public mandates, how can you expect the rest of the society to be lawful, law-abiding… When you raise these questions to the Taliban or to those who are involved in militancy, and tell them that “You’re violating law!” and they’ll say, “Which law are you talking about, when the president, chief of army, has questionable elections, has questions about suspending the constitution twice,” committing acts of treason from their point of view, and “how can you say that we’re violating and what kind of permission have they got?”
SONNY SIDHU: Farmer turned blogger Ali also believes that militants have been helped by the general perception of Pakistan’s government and army as corrupt and lawless.
ALI RIZVI: The military has changed a lot in the last ten years. I’d say about ten years ago, the army was very respected. They were thought to be the only institution which was well-structured, non-corrupt. But now with war in the region, money coming in, equipment being supplied to troops on both sides, the army has sort of become more corrupt, you could say, you know? Making money off deals. And the public sees that. There is resentment of that. People resent it, people resent the establishment, people resent the government. So in a way, the government is pushing the people away.
SONNY SIDHU: The Pakistani government, responding to strong public sentiment against attacks on Pakistani nationals, has all but ceased military raids on violent extremist organizations. Instead it continues to engage in negotiations with what it calls “reconcilable militants.” According to Dr. Rais, the low-level sympathy that remains in Pakistan for these violent organizations is probably because of their reputation as critics of a profoundly unpopular government.
RASUL BAKSH RAIS: The general population is very silent, and that does not really help the security forces at all. The problem has been created by the political parties that took a populist stance, arguing that, why is it that the security forces are targeting our own people? And this was really confusing, because those who really attack the security forces or launch attacks across the border into Afghanistan, are not really our own people, but rather there has been a debate in Pakistan, and this debate is mostly in the English-speaking kind of circles in Pakistan and our, sort of, media, that these are our enemies. And we have to decide who our enemies are. And I don’t think that generally the public support these militants. When they start bombing people come out against them. They don’t have any respect for them. But also, they seem to be critical of the government, that why is it that they are allowing this… because they are not very clear about who these people are.
SONNY SIDHU: While Pakistan has experienced an obvious upswing in extremist activity these past few months, that doesn’t necessarily reflect a similar surge of extremist sentiment within the general population. In the battle of government versus militants, many Pakistanis hesitate to pick a side simply because they don’t really like either option. The government of Pakistan has disappointed its people for most of its 50-year existence. According to Ali Rizvi, Pakistanis are not more radicalized today than they were five years ago. They are simply fed up and hungry for change, and so far militant groups have done a good job pitching themselves as the alternative to the status quo.
ALI RIZVI: I’ve talked to several people in positions where they’re poor, they can’t feed themselves, and I’ve asked them, I mean, before these elections I talked to some people, “Why do you vote? Why don’t you vote?” People have been least bothered, but now they’re in so much of a crunch that they want to do something, but they’ve been sort of dead inside for the last 50 years, they’ve been depending on people to save them, but there’s been no salvation, and these militant organizations are offering them salvation in a way. So, it’s, yes, it is less of a food and poverty issue, it’s more of a something to get them out of the problems they’ve been in for the last 50 years.
SONNY SIDHU: For War News Radio, I’m Sonny Sidhu.
ELISE GARRITY: On a final note, Iraq will make it to the Olympics after all. In last-minute talks earlier this week, the Iraqi government agreed to restore its national Olympic committee, which it dissolved in May against International Olympic Committee regulations.
SONNY SIDHU: In return, the IOC lifted Iraq’s suspension from the games, which begin next week. The agreement comes just in time for Iraqâ€™s two track and field athletes to register for the games, while five other Iraqi athletes have missed their deadlines in archery, judo, rowing, and weightlifting.
ELISE GARRITY: That’s our show for this week.
SONNY SIDHU: War News Radio is a production of Swarthmore College.
ELISE GARRITY: Visit us online to listen to archived shows, learn more about the program, or subscribe to our podcast. That’s at warnewsradio.org.
SONNY SIDHU: On our site, you can also comment on this show or on our past programs.
ELISE GARRITY: Our behind the scenes crew for this week includes Alex Imas, Marge Murphy, and Asher Sered. I’m Elise Garrity.
SONNY SIDHU: And I’m Sonny Sidhu. Until next time, thanks for listening.