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I hope [this]( article is the result of “Iraqi officials” messing with the New York Times:

>After discussions with the Bush administration, several of Iraq’s major political parties are in talks to form a coalition whose aim is to break the powerful influence of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr within the government, senior Iraqi officials say.

The US wanting to form a new coalition – I can live with that. The idealist in me says that Iraqi politics should happen without international meddling, but I realise that isn’t going to happen. Openly making it a specifically anti-Sadr coalition, though? That’s just going to needlessly piss off Sadr and his followers. Worse, openly making it an _American-backed_ anti-Sadr coalition. No way that’ll energise the Shiite militias, is there?

You furnish the ads, I’ll furnish the coup

You’ve just staged a military coup on a Pacific island, but your cronies don’t seem up to the job of running the country. What do you do? You take out newspaper ads to recruit your cabinet, of course.

Don’t mention the intifada

The Baker report’s brief mention of Israel didn’t get so much attention in the West, but it got much more in the Arab world.

Talking about linking Israel into a solution in Iraq might have sounded like a good, open-minded approach from an American perspective. But it is never going to look good in Arab eyes, because any American position on Israel and Palestine will always be an thousand miles away from anything popular with Arabs. So Al-quds al-arabi complains ([English](

The report focused on the need to find a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It criticized the American administration, which has neglected this issue in the last few years. However, it did not provide acceptable solutions taking Arab and Palestinian interests into account. It did not touch on Israeli terrorist practices and the silence of the American administration.

What the report said was about as innocuous as a US government statement on Israel could get:

>The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability. There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This commitment must include direct talks with, by, and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel’s right to exist), and Syria.

The problem is that the Iraq Study Group has its tactics all wrong: Iraqis and Americans will never agree over Israel, and talking about it only causes trouble. The best solution is to take the same approach as with Iran’s nuclear program: keep the issues separate, try to negotiate on each problem separately. If the US follows the ISG recommendations and talks about Israel and Iraq in the same breath, they’re hobbling themselves, making it politically much more difficult for any Iraqi groups to negotiate.

Also, note that [Dar al hayat]( ([English]( has a much more neutral comment that the report “calls for action on the Arab-Israeli conflict andt he establishment of the Palestinian state”.

Some less negative Arab press reactions to the report [here]( and [here]( And bear in mind that Israel is slightly less all-consuming within Iraq than it is for the pan-Arab media – although it is still an immensely emotive topic.

moderate hat-eating

Hmm…I may have been a little hasty with that last post – the Israel reference in the ISG report has actually gone down quite well in many places.

Here’s Jordanian daily [al Ghad](

>The report showed a deep understanding of the Middle East when it drew the link between regional conflicts. It was clear in its reference to the impact of the failure to solve the Palestinian issue on the situation in Iraq

[NB: I don’t read Arabic: these iraq posts are beng put together with Google translate, [Mark Lynch’s bookmarks](, [this Iraqi blog](, and whatever other snippets I can find]

Putin the sex symbol

One of Vladimir Putin’s creepier achievements is his success in setting himself up as a sex symbol. The funniest example of this was in 2002, when the Kremlin created a girl-band to sing “I want a man like Putin” (


, [BBC report](

My boyfriend is in trouble once again:
Got in a fight, got drunk on something nasty
I've had enough and I chased him away
And now I want a man like Putin

Now his ever-adventurous PR department have come up with these [charming T-shirts]( – slogan “I want Putin….for a third term”:

How did all this strangeness come about? Maybe Putin really does seem incredibly sexy, but maybe it’s just that – unlike plenty of other Russian politicians – he lacks obvious personal vices. I’ve heard it explained along the lines that “he’s not an alcoholic or a wife-beater; isn’t that enough?”

Health in Iraq

I realise I shouldn’t obsess over numbers, but whenever I stop reading Iraq news for a few weeks, it’s the numbers that bring home the scale of things, and how much worse they’re getting.

The annual budget for Iraq’s health ministry is $1.1 billion, according to this article, compared to just $22 million in 2002 – not to mention the sanctions back then. Yet infant mortality has risen over that time (130 deaths per thousand now, compared to 125 then). Meanwhile 7,000 doctors have left the country, at least 455 medical staff (including hospital guards) have been killed, and entire lorries of medical equipment are vanishing.

I’m not sure where all those figures are coming from (is that $22 million figure plausible?), but before the war I’d hoped this was an area that would improve just through Americans throwing money at it. Obviously I was wrong.

Also, up to 1.6 million internally displaced Iraqis (425,000 of them fleeing home since February), and about as many again living outside Iraq – so say UNHCR.

[cross-posted from IAG]

Blind governors

One of the breathtaking nuggets in the Iraq Study Group report is the following:

“All of our efforts in Iraq, military and civilian, are handicapped by Americans’ lack of language and cultural understanding. Our embassy of 1,000 has 33 Arabic speakers, just six of whom are at the level of fluency.”

How did that happen? One explanation is bureaucratic closed-mindedness:

The pathetic language skills at the embassy are as I understand it largely a side-effect of the security clearance process. Anyone who has spent time in an Arabic speaking country outside the framework of military or diplomatic service is generically excluded, leaving only those trained stateside at DLI and similar institutions, whose pedagogical techniques are basically back in the 60s.

This isn’t unique to the Baghdad embassy; the FBI, coincidentally, also has only 33 Arabists of its own – and again, one reason cited is that “it is easier to get a security clearance if you don’t have any interaction with foreigners”.

I can only hope that competent linguists are hired to work on a contract basis – because the idea of America’s Iraq policy being run almost entirely by people who can’t communicate with Iraqis is frightening.

[another IAG crosspost]