Tag Archives: Iraq

Awesome Iraqis

Despite the Iraq war, some Iraqis are doing some amazing things. Possibly because they fled Iraq a few years ago.

For example, this Iraqi immigrant to Sweden has done some math thing I don’t understand:

A 16-year-old Iraqi immigrant in central Sweden has single-handedly figured out a formula with Bernoulli numbers that is normally reserved for much more seasoned mathematicians, earning him praise from professors at prestigious Uppsala University.

Mohamed Altoumaimi, who moved with his family to Sweden six years ago, is a first year student at the Falu Frigymnasium high school in Falun in central Sweden.

Long interested in mathematics, Altoumaimi has spent the last four months toiling over his notebook in an attempt to write a formula to explain a number of complex relationships dealing with Bernoulli numbers.

The numbers are named for the 17th century Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli and consist of a sequence of rational numbers which are important for number theory.

Altoumaimi’s high school plans to take advantage of the teenager’s skills with numbers next autumn by having him serve as an instructor for several math teachers in Falun and explain his work to them.

Uh-oh, I guess it’s not all that:

The Falu Kuriren newspaper, which ran the original story, said Altoumaimi was the first person to crack the puzzle and had enlisted the help of a senior lecturer at Uppsala University to check his formula.

But a statement published on the university’s website said the reports were inaccurate.

“Senior lecturer Jan-Aake Lindhal verified the formula, but added that although correct, it was well known and readily available in several databases,” the statement said.

Ah, the internet. You do a search for a little background on a blog post you’re writing, and you find posts like this on obscure message boards:

later he will calculate how to blow 50 thousand people at one time..

Keep it classy, internet troll.

And here’s another guy. This Iraqi immigrant to UAE does a bunch of extreme sports and intends to go into space:

He has been hailed as Iraq’s superman: a role model for the nation’s youth who flies, glides, dives and races motor­cycles. He has already made the Guinness World Records by taking part in the first ever skydive above Mount Everest. But last week Fareed Lafta, a Dubai-based extreme sports fanatic, returned to Baghdad to seek backing for his ultimate ambition – to be the first Iraqi in space.

Before he leaves the earth’s atmosphere, Fareed, 30, plans to become the first civilian to skydive above Baghdad since the war – a mark of the improved security environment. He has brought his rig and parachute with him and is ready to go as soon as he can get clearance from the authorities.

“Diving over a city that has suffered from war is recognized in the skydiving community as a symbol that the war is over. Because I want to say to all the world that we are now in peace, and it’s not war any more,” he said.

Raised in Baghdad, he left with his family for Dubai at the outbreak of war in 2003.

Mr Lafta’s web site is a work in progress. Check back some time. In the meantime, you can friend him on Facebook and ask “shaku maku?”

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Seriously?! Iraqi Hero Denied Visa

For some reason only Fox News has this story, which is the reason I’m linking to a Fox News story instead of a historically more reputable source.

An Iraqi translator who has earned commendations for risking his life repeatedly to save the lives of many American soldiers in combat has been denied a visa to live in the United States because of nonviolent actions he took to overthrow Saddam Hussein — at the same time the U.S. government was calling for regime change in Iraq.

Because Iraqi translators are seen by jihadists and former Baathists as “traitors,” Jasim’s life is at greater risk the longer he stays in Iraq, according to multiple State Department and U.S. military officials. A number of translators and their families have already been tortured and/or murdered.

Jasim said his stepbrother, in fact, was captured in the fall of 2007 and was tortured to death in an effort to get to him. The U.S. Army officer who received and processed the report on the murder, Major Leslie Parks, told FOXNews.com that Jasim’s stepbrother was tortured with an electric drill through his eyes.

The State Department, meanwhile, has told Jasim that he must wait three more years before he can apply for a waiver of its visa rejection.

During his three years as a translator, Jasim has exposed himself to enemy fire in the course of saving American lives. Three different Americans who served with him in Iraq told FOXNews.com that they are alive today because of Jasim.

“The only reason I am here today is because of Jasim,” said Elisabeth Keene, a U.S. Army specialist who serves in a combat unit. “He saved the life of everyone in my unit.

“On several occasions while our guys were putting rounds down range, Jasim put himself in harm’s way to pull the wounded out and treat them,” Keene said. “Jasim is a hero to everyone he has ever met.”

“I owe my life to Jasim … hands down,” said Master Sgt. Jason Krieger, who went on over 200 combat patrols with Jasim. “I consider him a brother, not only in arms, but in love as well.”

Jasim even received letters of recommendation from a couple of two-star generals. It is unusual for a translator’s visa application to be endorsed even by one general.

Some of Jasim’s supporters believe the State Department has ulterior motives for denying the visa. “When all the other agencies, including DHS, give their stamp of approval, I have a hard time believing that there is a generous explanation for this decision,” says Maj. Leslie Parks, who served in Iraq coordinating outreach to local Iraqi civilian and government officials.

Parks, who worked with Jasim and estimates that the translator has gone on 1,300 combat patrols, believes the State Department may be singling out Jasim for being a “nuisance.”

“Jasim’s been high-profile for a while, starting with being featured on 60 Minutes in early 2007 (as ‘Timmy,’ his previous cover name) about translators who weren’t getting the visas, despite their lives being threatened,” Parks said.

“He’s also been a whistleblower on a few occasions, exposing potentially embarrassing information regarding the Embassy and other U.S. and Iraqi government agencies operating in the Green Zone.”

Starting a few months ago, Jasim organized his fellow translators to oppose a provision negotiated by the State Department to hand over the names and personal information of all translators to the Iraqi government. Translators feared that their lives would be at risk if their identities were learned by Iraqis who view them as “traitors.”

For now, Jasim continues his work with U.S. forces, hoping that the country he has served loyally for the past three years will welcome him, his new wife and their baby. Asked if he regrets his decision to support the U.S., he replied, “No, I’m proud of what I’ve done. I have to do what is right.”

So this is what’s coming out of our gargantuan embassy in Baghdad? I hope our new Secretary of State’s regime can get this mess cleaned up pronto.

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Three Years in Prison for Shoe-Thrower

Iraqi journalist Muntazar al-Zaidi, the man who did what millions of people would have liked to have done, was sentenced to three years in prison. His lawyers plan to appeal. After all

Zaidi’s relatives accused the Iraqi government of hypocrisy. They asked why American security contractors and Iraqi politicians had yet to be tried for alleged crimes while Zaidi faced charges.

“Nobody summoned [guards with the U.S. security firm] Blackwater for what they did to Iraqis. [Parliament member] Mohammed Daini, who is suspected of killing dozens of Iraqis, is in Baghdad now. Why are they not able to detain him? Why do they do this with Muntather Zaidi,” demanded his uncle, Haidar abu Karra.

What I like about this story is that it is clear that Iraqis have a national identity, contrary to what many politicians and most of the media have been trying to tell us since we went in and busted up the place.

Reporting from Baghdad — “Long live Iraq,” Muntather Zaidi declared in court today, according to his lawyers, after a judge sentenced the improbable hero of Iraqi nationalists to three years in prison for hurling his shoes at former President George W. Bush.

“This is an American court. Those are their agents,” family members and supporters chanted. “Down, down to Iraqi judiciary. Down, down [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] Maliki. Zaidi is a hero.”

Sobbing relatives and his lawyers vowed to appeal the ruling, which appeared to tap patriotic fervor in Iraq six years after the U.S.-led invasion. Many lived vicariously through the oft-televised footage of Zaidi’s deed at a Dec. 14 news conference held by Maliki with Bush, in his last visit as president.

“There is an honorable motive behind what he has done,” Saadi said. “This is a shoe [thrown] toward the president of the occupying state and not the tons of rockets and bombs that the Americans hit the Iraqis with!”

People rallied to Zaidi after the verdict. Iraq’s journalist union called on Maliki to pardon the reporter. Two lawmakers with Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr’s nationalist political movement attended the trial in a show of solidarity.

Sort of along those lines, this Los Angeles Times article reports that some Iraqis are deciding not to try to go to the US, after all.

The local news, meanwhile, reports on America’s economic woes, of foreclosed homes being auctioned off for a pittance. Word filters back from Iraqis in the U.S. who are unable to find work, struggling to afford medical care, and devouring savings that once seemed everlasting.

“It used to be that going to America was a dream. No more,” said Raheem, 56, a former teacher and experienced reporter who is one of the local cast of journalists, interpreters, drivers, guards, technicians and general fix-it men and women who have kept The Times running here since the war began.

Now the economic aspect invariably creeps into the conversation. One rumor making the rounds is that things in the United States are so bad, new refugees could be sent to Guam.

“Life here has been difficult. We did not arrive at the perfect time,” one former Times staffer wrote last month from his new home on the icy East Coast.

By the time most applicants had gone through the requisite Department of Homeland Security checks, interviews and medical exams, the U.S. stock market had begun to tank. Iraq’s government, meanwhile, had begun making life here more attractive by giving pay raises to civil servants, many of whom juggle their state jobs with work for American news and nongovernmental organizations.

Even with unemployment in Iraq officially at 18% — far higher than in America — Iraqis are eligible for monthly food rations no matter what their income. In a society where bank loans and credit cards are virtually unheard of, most people own their homes outright. And many Iraqis are flush with cash after years of having little to spend money on.

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And Muntazar al-Zaidi is up to 47,162 fans on Facebook today.

Woohoo!

Woohoo!

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Iraqi Govt Minister Quits in Disgust

What’s going on in Iraq these days is something I don’t pay enough attention to. So this news story took me by surprise.

This is the entire article:

February 12, 2009
Reporting from Baghdad — It sounded like a dream job: $10,000 a month, a fleet of fancy cars, a house and best of all, said Nawal Samarai, a chance to improve the lives of widows and millions of other Iraqi women affected by the U.S.-led invasion and its aftermath.
By Tina Susman and Caesar Ahmed

But in a rare show of public muscle-flexing by an Iraqi woman in a high-profile role, Samarai has quit in a rage, saying she had been given a Potemkin Cabinet post created to fill a quota for Sunni Arab lawmakers such as herself, and make it appear that the Shiite Muslim-dominated government cares about women’s issues.

I tried. I tried hard, but every time I asked for authority they’d tell me it’s not a real ministry, it’s just an office,” the former parliament member said Monday, four days after submitting her resignation as minister of state for women’s affairs.

Samarai and lawmakers who supported her efforts to wield more power say the post to which she was appointed last summer was nothing more than an 11th-floor room in the run-down Council of Ministers building in the fortified International Zone, also known as the Green Zone. Because she was a “minister of state,” Samarai lacked the power of Cabinet members with full portfolios. There are 11 such ministers of state, holding posts that critics say were created to satisfy demands for Cabinet positions from various sectarian and ethnic groups.

One thing the US has going for it is that we don’t isolate people into groups and then grant political power according to a formula. I mean, we don’t do it inside the US. We do export the idea, though, and impose it on other people.

“It’s not a real ministry,” said Nada Ibrahim, a Sunni Arab member of parliament. “It’s one room with a woman, no budget, no staff. It’s a trick.”

Unlike other Cabinet members, the ministers of state do not get advisors or budgets to open provincial offices.

Samarai’s resignation underscores the sectarian tensions that remain within the government, where Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party stands to cement its power in the wake of last month’s provincial elections. Candidates from Maliki’s bloc won the most provincial council seats in nine of 14 provinces, according to results announced Thursday.

It also highlights what many women say is the lip service paid them by the Shiite conservatives loyal to Dawa and other Shiite parties dominant in parliament. In August, Inaam Jawwadi, a female member of parliament from the Shiite bloc, called for Samarai’s ministry to be turned into a Cabinet portfolio, but the proposal went nowhere.

Political analyst Ibrahim Sumaidaiee said state ministries were created to satisfy the “thirst for power” among political blocs angling for impressive titles and positions in government. But he had little sympathy for Samarai, who he said must have known what she was getting into.

“This is a fake ministry,” he said.

Instead of complaining about her lack of clout, he said, Samarai should have worked with full ministries such as labor and social welfare to create programs for women.

Samarai, a doctor from the northern city of Mosul, blamed the situation partly on sectarianism and partly on sexism.

When she would complain to Maliki about her inability to do anything with a monthly budget of $7,500 — slashed to $1,500 in January — she said he would look away or smile.

In the meantime, Samarai was facing criticism for the government’s failure to address the needs of hundreds of thousands of women widowed since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. U.S. and Iraqi officials have said the militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq seized on women’s desperate plight to recruit some as suicide bombers. The number of female suicide bombers grew to more than 30 last year from eight in 2007.

Samarai in September appealed for funds for programs to prevent destitute women from being recruited by insurgents. She also asked for money to open offices in provinces. Working without assistance from inside the International Zone, or IZ, kept her out of reach of most women, Samarai said Monday in an interview.

Her eyes glistened with tears as she described the frustration of confronting widows and not being able to offer them anything beyond promises that she would try to help. She found herself sitting in her small office appealing to nongovernmental organizations for money to launch the programs she had envisioned when she took the position in July.

Tears of anger, that is.

“It’s shameful for me in Iraq, a rich country, to have to ask NGOs for money,” Samarai said.

The government has stayed silent on the issue. Its spokesman did not return phone calls for comment Monday or Tuesday.

Officials have denied allegations that women’s rights have eroded since the rise of the Shiite power structure. They point out that 25% of seats for the newly elected provincial councils are reserved for women, and that 33% of seats in the parliament were set aside for women after the last national election in 2005.

But women’s advocates say female lawmakers have little real power and are not taken seriously on the floor of parliament.

Parliament member Ibrahim said government officials had asked her to take Samarai’s job since the resignation, but that she refused. Without a staff of advisors, a budget and the clout to press for legislation, she said, it would be a waste of time.

Because minister of state positions come with generous salaries and perks, those in the posts generally do not complain about the lack of power. But Samarai said she preferred to go back to Mosul and return to her medical practice.

“Take it. Take the salary, take the cars,” she said. “It’s better than sitting here in the IZ on the 11th floor, waiting for money from NGOs.”

I’m not crazy about quotas, but isn’t it interesting that in Iraq 25% of seats for the newly elected provincial councils are reserved for women, and 33% of seats in the parliament were set aside for women, but in the United States the congress and senate are less than 17% women?

Women are represented more in the military than in our houses of congress. About twenty percent of the military today is female, and that’s with a large portion of military jobs out of their reach. It would be nice to see a lot of those female veterans get elected to office in the coming years.

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Iraq Ruins Falling to Ruin

This is a shame.

By the time Iraq settles down enough for me to vacation there, there may not be much left to the most exciting historic sites.

Nimrud, Iraq – The carved stone reliefs lined the entrance to a great palace, a testament to one of the most powerful kings the world has known. The ancient works of art have stood for 3,000 years but for the past 20 they’ve been threatened by the lack of a corrugated steel roof.

One of the prizes of archaeology, the excavated palace of Ashurnasirpal at Nimrud, is in peril. The World Monuments Fund lists Nimrud as one of its most endangered sites.

Here on the banks of the Tigris River, King Ashurnasirpal II built a six-acre palace of cedar and exotic woods. The walls were lined with glazed and painted seven-foot-high stone bas reliefs of his epic battles. Inside, furniture was inlaid with the most delicate ivory carvings. When the palace was completed around 869 BC, 70,000 guests attended a feast that lasted 10 days.

Outside, the soft stone of a huge, intricately carved winged bull guarding the entrance to the palace has been pockmarked by rain coming in from gaps in the makeshift metal roof and by blowing sand. Mold creeps from cracks in some of the carvings.

From 883 to 859 BC, King Ashurnasirpal ruled an empire that included Iraq, lower Egypt, the Levant, and parts of Turkey and Iran.

“It’s a place that’s just been neglected,” says the Iraqi site manager. Despite improving security in the area, he says he’s afraid to give his name. “Before, there was more attention paid to it. From the occupation to date, there has been no renovation at all – there’s no money.”

For nearly 20 years, there’s been little money for upkeep. Under United Nations sanctions following Iraq’s 1991 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq was barred from importing even rudimentary conservation materials. That’s when the site began to fall into disrepair. After the US invasion in 2003, thieves sawed off two large pieces of the reliefs.

Nimrud and other Assyrian capitals have been on the World Monuments Fund list of most endangered sites since 2002. The fund says looting, lack of conservation, and an economic crisis have placed them in jeopardy of eradication.

Known in the Bible as Calah, Nimrud is believed to have first been settled in 5000 BC.

At its height, 60,000 people lived in the royal city, which was surrounded by five miles of walls and contained parks and gardens. Most of the spectacular panels found in the excavated throne room in the mid-1800s were taken away to the British Museum. Smaller pieces were sold to collectors – a common custom at the time.

But the most dazzling find – unearthed in the late 1980s – is one of archaeological legend. An excavation led by Iraqi archaeologist Muzahim Mahmood came across a royal tomb the British archaeologists had missed. Crawling deep into a hidden vaulted room, he discovered one of the spectacular treasure troves of the last century – hundreds of pieces of gold jewelry and ceremonial objects for an Assyrian queen.

“The whole of Nimrud is a treasure in and of itself,” says Dr. Mahmood, who dreams of excavating more of the 95 percent of the royal capital still underground.

It kind of surprises me that there isn’t more of an outcry about stories such as these. Archaeology is popular with the masses, if Indiana Jones, The Da Vinci Code, National Treasure, The Librarian, The Last Templar, etc. are anything to go on.

Admittedly, it’s less important than human suffering and warfare and ethnic cleansing. But still. Darn it.

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Filed under arab, arabian, arabist, Tigris, War in Iraq

Great News, Everyone

The stupid, wrongheaded, moronic decision that Iraqi interpreters would not be allowed to wear face masks has been rescinded!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7768041.stm

It is sad that I feel such triumph over what should have been a no-brainer. Hooray for common sense winning one battle!

Some 300 interpreters have been killed during the war in Iraq, and they are seen as a crucial link between the US forces and Iraqi communities trying to recover from the years of violence.

“It would have been tough to get where we are today without our interpreters,” said the regiment commander, Colonel Monty Willoughby.

“We know that they get spooked and scared, and we try to protect their identity as much as possible.”

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Iraqi Interpreters Face Life-or-Death Choice

Either stop helping the US military, or stop wearing the face mask that hides your identity so that militias don’t kill you and your family.

US military tells the Iraqi interpreters who have risked their lives for years to help us: “Don’t want to risk your life? Waaah. Who needs you, anyway?” Or as they say in Arabic, الباب يوسع جمل.

But on the bright side, the military will probably revisit the decision if too many terps get killed. It’s anybody’s guess what they’ll consider “too many.”

Here are two really good blog posts about this story:

At Vet Voice, a project of Vote Vets, and LT Nixon Rants.

The original Washington Post article is here.

And the comments are here.

I haven’t read them all yet, but so far nobody thinks the US military’s new policy is a good one.

Read the two blog posts. The second one is even funny.
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Update: VetVoice has a new post up, Backlash Builds Over New Iraqi Interpreter/Mask Policy.

Some quotes from this article and some that were included in the article:

Despite the fact that Donald Rumsfeld called service members “fungible” in 2004, they’re not. And while Lt. Col. Stover obviously doesn’t realize it, the same goes for translators. And I’m not the only one who sees it this way. The reaction across print media and in the military blogosphere has been swift and one-sided.

I’m sorry, LTC Stover, but this is stupidity and callousness posing as rectitude. For years, Iraqis working with American units were allowed to hide their faces so that they could keep their heads on their necks. The new order has already led to firings and a significant number of resignations, as well as desperate measures–one interpreter smearing his face with mascara, another hoping that a new beard will keep his identity secret. This is the kind of order that headquarters dreams up and combat troops detest.
Exactly what code of conduct is being maintained here? Iraqis aren’t in the American chain of command. They don’t take an oath; they don’t fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If they did, they would be given regulation uniforms. They wouldn’t be allowed to use aliases. They would be housed on bases rather than obliged to make the dangerous trip home every night. They would receive pensions, health insurance, and death benefits. When one of them gets killed, the military would hold a ceremony. The widow would receive a flag. A grateful nation would remember.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Or. and others, including Oregon’s own Checkpoint One Foundation, a nonprofit, are protesting the Army’s unconscionable new policy. Here’s hoping that the outcry is loud enough to cause somebody with an ounce of compassion to slap his forehead and reverse the ban on letting Iraqis use a few inches of fabric to protect their identities.

In a war that offers few clear choices, this seems like a nonsensical policy that appears to only endanger those Iraqis that have actually chosen to help us. There is no reason to add to the “nearly 300 interpreters” slain since 2003 in Iraq. The truth is that despite the improving security situation the country remains a very violent place to live and work, and it will remain so for years to come even after the current withdrawal deadline of 2011.

I haven’t been there in a long time, but when I was, our interpreters weren’t there to simply translate words from Arabic to English: They were the best intelligence gatherers in the battalion; they were deal makers between us and the local community; they cultivated relationships; and sometimes they even provided input during mission planning. And when you’re in middle of an insurgency, having a local like this on your side can, indeed, make the difference between mission success and mission failure.

I also made this clear: If my Company or BN CO had told me to issue this order to my terps in 2004, I would have come out of it a Private E-Zero. I will not issue any order that puts them in danger, therefore putting my American colleagues in danger. This is the stupidest, dumbest, most idiotic thing I’ve seen in years.

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