Category Archives: Iraq

Links o' the day, 3/10/08

Sarah Winterburn wonders why Roy Keane is immune from criticism despite spending £30m on players and still being mid-table.

Rick O’Shea has links to 10 divinely designed churches.

Get your hands on a piece of dictatorial luxury: Saddam’s rocket-launching yacht is for sale.

It’s going to take over from Vista and you know Microsoft is going to give it a major push, so best take a look at Windows 7’s features (with video). And don’t forget Windows Azure.

It seems like a trivial quibble, but boot times are just too long in a world accustomed to instant gratification.

Tell Paulo what you think the world will be like in 12 months’ time.

I’m rapidly running out of energy.

Links of the day

Seven tips for resolving conflicts quickly and peacefully. We all go up against at least one nutjob in our lives, here’s a remarkably common sense guide to dealing with them. (Pick The Brain)

US regrets if women and children killed in Baghdad raid. But they were going after some fellas using a mortar so it’s all right. Collateral damage and all that. (AFP)

Clever uses for dental floss: beyond teeth. I love finding new uses for ordinary things. (Gadling)

Backpacker turns Burma activist via Facebook. I’m a member of his group, to which people are flocking. (Reuters)

Yet more on CNN, Burma and Myanmar. The name you use reflects the stance you’re taking. (James Fallows)

Renovating the biblical psalms. They’re beautiful poems as well as having religious significance. (Slate)

Man, 24, weds 82-year-old bride. “I’ve always like mature ladies.” (BBC)

Links of the day

Things that caught my eye when I should have been doing something more productive:

The mother of all battles: It’s a dance off! Princess Stomper produces this amazing video of characters from Morrowind, Oblivion and Guild Wars shaking their collective booties in a bid to resolve once and for all which is the greatest RPG of all time. Or at least have a lot of fun. (

Cool dude: A lone dreamer in the Aboriginal art boom. A lovely profile piece of Michael Nelson Tjakamarra, one of Australia’s best-known painters but a man who cares not for the trappings of fame and fortune. (International Herald Tribune)

Paranoid, much? Ethiopia accuses Norway of ‘destabilising’ region. That modern imperial power, Norway, is under fire for “repeated and widespread interference in destabilising the Horn of Africa”. All goofing aside, there are serious issues regarding the conflict with Eritrea. (AFP)

May the force be with them: NASA shuttle to launch Luke’s lightsaber. The original prop is going along with shuttle Discovery on its trip to the ISS in December. (

I have got to get me one of these: Practical fuel cells for electronics. Hydrogen fuel cells could run laptops for 50 hours at a go. (Technology Review)

These people can’t catch a break: Poor roads cost Cameroon cocoa farmers dear. A rubbish infrastructure means farmers get their beans to traders three weeks late — after the price had dropped. (Reuters)

The cows are screwed: The end of the world’s grasslands as we know them?  Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may prompt the large-scale conversion of grasslands to a landscape of woody shrubs, one study claims. (

Cheap plug: Policeman suspended for hugging bailed star. The story of the day as far as I was concerned while working the desk yesterday! Nine coppers are in trouble for welcoming Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt on his release from prison. (Irish Examiner)

All-round solutions: Blackwater flies… Blackwater Security, which provides “security solutions” to the US military in Iraq, is creating its own airforce. Feckin’ hell. (Scholars and Rogues)

I can empathise: The internet — why it’s better than real life. Glad to see I’m not the only one, though I have yet to embrace the likes of MySpace or Linkedin. (Sunday Business Post)

Big numbers: Iraqi pilgrims sent home amid violence. One million people have been ordered out of Karbala after 26 people die in two days of shootings. (AP/CBS)

Mothers’ boys: Even gangsters need their mamas. Nicaragua tackles gang violence by relying on guerrilla street cred and mothers’ love. Would this work in Limerick I wonder (sorry, cheap shot)? (

US torture, I mean interrogation rules

George Bush has signed an executive order prohibiting cruel and inhuman treatment in the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects.

I can’t make out if this is putting a stop to CIA practices or just a public relations smokescreen. The White House would only say that if the agency had a detention/interrogation programme, it would have to adhere to the Bush order.

Interestingly, a CIA official quoted in the text said: “It would be wrong to assume the programme of the past transfers to the future.” Is this a tacit acknowledgment of extraordindary rendition? Is he indicating the alleged abuses have taken place, but won’t from now on? A kindler, gentler intelligence agency.

A report by the Council of Europe, which is essentially a human rights watchdog, found evidence the CIA ran secret prisons in Bulgaria and Romania from 2003-05. The agency has denied this and said its counter-terrorism methods were lawful. Bush has admitted prisoners were held overseas, but wouldn’t say where.

An Teach Bán wouldn’t say exactly Bush’s order allows. The following are banned:

  • Torture or other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation and cruel or inhuman treatment.
  • Willful or outrageous acts of personal abuse done to humiliate or degrade someone in a way so serious that any reasonable person would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, threatening the individual with sexual mutilation.
  • Acts intended to denigrate the religion, religious practices, or religious objects of an individual.

The second point above seems to be a direct reference to Abu Ghraib. Every one of these points should be welcomed, although it should not have taken an executive order to enforce them.

I appreciate the US considers itself in a war against terrorism, and I also appreciate that the CIA may feel some … unethical … actions are necessary to gain intelligence on hostile groups. But inhumane actions only serve to rally people against American efforts.

However there’s an interesting line in the article: “whatever interrogation practices used must be determined safe on an individual basis”.

Perhaps I’m overly reading between the lines but a system that can be tailored to “individual” cases is ripe for abuse, even if this becomes written policy.

There’s no way any of these policies can be verified without external oversight of CIA actions, and let’s face it that’s not going to happen (at least not to the extent that would be necessary).

So in essence what we have here — even if it is a shift in policy — is good publicity. Bush makes all the right noises, the CIA acts suitably serious and talks about accepting the order, and everybody’s happy.

Except this isn’t going to go away soon. The legacy of the rendition programme will last for many years to come. Even if the order becomes the agency’s standard practice, who’s going to believe them?

Iraq rant


George W Bush is on increasingly shaky ground. Not only has Congress voted to pull US troops out of Iraq by April 1, 2008 (though he will veto this), but members of his own party are turning against him.

It’s about time.

He has been a disaster for the Middle East. It will take years to repair the damage his administration has done to the region, if that is even possible. Only the Australian defence minister has been forthright enough to admit his country is in Iraq for oil — it would be so refreshing for the US (and Britain) to at least admit this is a factor in keeping them there.

I won’t sit here and pretend a US withdrawal from Iraq will solve everything overnight. It’s scary to think of the future that awaits the Middle East once the occupation ends. A shambles of a nation bordering seven countries… It is worrying that Iraq is ahead of Somalia on the failed states index, as Somalia has essentially been an anarchy for years.

For a vision of where Iraq may be headed based on experiences in Basra, check out this report from the International Crisis Group.

I feel obliged to point out that, according to this map at least, much of the country is under Iraqi government control. However, it does not indicate if control is total, nominal etc. Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki says his nation’s army and police are capable of maintaining order once the US leaves. It is important for Iraq’s self-esteem as a country and the credibility of al-Maliki’s government that they do.

That the US military has begun arming Sunni militia to fight al-Qaida in Anbar province is tacit acceptance that an American victory is impossible. Not only that, it could allow old local grudges to be settled and set the scene for well-armed militias to rule the roost once coalition forces leave.

Bush has made much of the “liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein” and the “return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people” (quotes from this transcript). Liberation from a man the US helped put in power and whom the CIA assisted during the Iran-Iraq war.

Unfortunately Iraqis have used this liberation to catch up on decades of sectarian conflict which was oppressed under Saddam (and it is not the first country where this has happened).

I am not for one second saying that Saddam’s leadership was a good thing. Although relatively stable compared to its successor state, his was a brutal regime and many thousands of people suffered under it.

However, many thousands have suffered in a democratic Iraq. There have been months when as many civilians died as did during the whole of the conflict in Northern Ireland (c. 3,500). America does not have a good track record of encouraging or forcing regime change: just think of Chile, Cambodia and Guatemala.
It was natural that, in the power vacuum following Saddam’s fall, local groups would work to secure their vested interests. Hence the formation of an Iraqi parliament along sectarian lines (and feel free to leave a comment if I’m missing something here).

A fragmented Iraq is a dangerous thing, as it invites external actors. For example, Turkey has 200,000 troops along the border with Iraqi Kurdish territories. I have already written about what could come of this (here and here). Iran must also be looking at the situation, particularly given the history between it and Iraq.

To argue that the move by Republican senators Richard Lugar and John Warner (linked to in the first paragraph) isn’t significant because they have not set a date for the withdrawal of armed forces would be to miss the point — it underscores divisions within Bush’s party and a wider opposition to the war in Iraq.

It would require Bush to re-seek authorisation for the war, authorisation he has had since 2002. Although it would still be up to the president to pull out of Iraq, he would have to submit revised plans by October 16. These plans, the senators urge, would include “a drawdown or redeployment of forces”.

Bush wants to keep things as they are until the US commander in Iraq, General Petraeus, delivers his report in September — and Petraeus, using Northern Ireland as an example, has said countering an insurgency could take ten years or more.

Reports on Iraq are not worth waiting for. This week saw one by the Bush administration that said the Iraqi government had made satisfactory progress toward eight of 18 benchmarks, unsatisfactory progress on eight more and mixed results on the others. You can read the report here.

“I believe we can succeed in Iraq, and I know we must,” Bush has said.

There comes a time in every man’s life when he must realise he can not win. This is surely the time for Bush. A withdrawal plan must be put in place as soon as possible.

Would the situation in Iraq be any different if it was a force of UN peacekeepers? The UN is not the greatest organisation in the world but its cordial relations with Hezbollah in Lebanon demonstrates it has the capacity to sink substantial roots in the region.

It seems Bush is not the only US official with his head in the sand. Writes Anne Flaherty of AP:

At a news conference Friday (July 13), the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, said the number of battle-ready Iraqi battalions able to fight independently has dropped from 10 to six in recent months despite an increase in U.S. training efforts.

Pace said the readiness of the Iraqi fighting units was not an issue to be “overly concerned” about because the problem was partly attributable to losses in the field.

“As units operate in the field, they have casualties, they consume vehicles and equipment,” Pace said.

Hang on for just one moment please. Did he just say the loss of four battalions wasn’t something to be “overly concerned” about? A battalion can have hundreds of soldiers (I’m unsure of the exact make-up of an Iraqi battalion, but such a unit in the US army has 300-1,000 as far as I know).

That four battalions — lost either through attrition or lack of resources — can no longer act independently is not something that should be dismissed as a matter of no consequence. Their country needs them. I hope they are rebuilt and back in the field as soon as possible — for Iraq’s sake.

I invite your comments and observations.