December 20, 2003


In Revival Of Najaf, Lessons for A New Iraq: Shiite Clergy Build A Spiritual Capital (Anthony Shadid, December 10, 2003, Washington Post)

"What was forbidden is beloved," [Heidar Moammar, a gaunt, 25-year-old cleric in a white turban] said, smiling as he glanced at the signs of the city's reawakening.

Across a thousand-year history as a seat of Shiite Islam, Najaf has weathered pillaging by puritanical tribes from the desert, the tyranny of Sunni Muslim rulers in Baghdad and the ascent of rival seminaries in Iraq and Iran. But in the wake of the fall of former president Saddam Hussein, a rebirth is underway in a city that, by virtue of its religious stature, looks to Baghdad as its equal. Long-dormant Shiite seminaries are proliferating, hotels are being built to cope with tens of thousands of pilgrims, and the bazaars of Najaf are boasting of profits that have doubled, even tripled, despite growing frustration with a lack of basic services.

More than just a city's renaissance, Najaf's revival is a story of shifting fortunes and unintended consequences in the tumult of postwar Iraq. The U.S. invasion dismantled one system, the construction of another is lagging, and a vacuum of leadership has ensued. With renewed confidence, the clergy have begun fashioning their headquarters into the spiritual capital of the country, and their leaders as the guardians of Iraq's Shiite majority. Few endorse Iran's Islamic government and perhaps even fewer support the U.S. goal of a secular state. But in between are vigorous debates -- over law and religion, Islam and state -- that could resonate throughout the Shiite world, where Iran and its revolution have long held sway as the unchallenged model.

Moammar -- a religious student by age 13, a prisoner in Hussein's jails by 16 -- sees himself as a soldier in that struggle.

As the call to Friday's prayers floated along the Prophet's Street, he walked toward the shrine of Imam Ali, the gold-domed resting place that gives Najaf its sanctity. The melancholy call clashed with the city's vibrant sounds. Iranian pilgrims chattered in Persian. Television blared footage of a Shiite ceremony from Iran and the training of a Shiite militia. Vendors hawked cassettes of ritual chants of grief, near piles of yellow brick for construction. Along one wall, scrawled in red, was a slogan that declared, "Saddam is a criminal."

"This is the freedom that is available to the Shiites," Moammar said. "In the time of the tyrant Saddam, no one could let even a prayer fall from his tongue."

That the Shi'ites aren't going to do with their newly won freedom what we would have them do with it does not make it not worth winning.

-The Iraqi Shiites: On the history of America’s would-be allies (Juan Cole, Fall 2003, Boston Review)
Rebuilding Iraq Is ... Nothing a Few Middle-Class Guys Couldn't Solve (JOHN TIERNEY, December 21, 2003, NY Times Magazine)

Before getting into the many reasons freedom is doomed in Iraq, consider a cheery counterexample. If you believe the political-science dictum that the bourgeoisie is the essential first ingredient for democracy, then there is at least one bit of good news in Baghdad today. Nader Hindo has come back to do business.

Never mind the car bombs, the missile attacks, the kidnappings, the blackouts, the ransacked buildings and bombed-out phone system. To Hindo these are minor obstacles compared with what he saw growing up in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein. His mother, Nidhal, the owner of a document-translation service, was regularly harassed and shaken down by the ''economic security'' police. His father, Wathiq, who tried importing liquor and cigarettes, was muscled out of business by Uday Hussein and nearly executed for being ''an economic saboteur.'' When Hindo finished high school in 1992, he left his family in Baghdad for the University of Illinois with no intention of returning. After studying computer science, he became a partner in a dot-com selling mortgage software to banks. When American troops entered Baghdad, he was 29 years old and living in a Miami condo with a swimming pool and a view of the ocean -- bourgeois bliss in South Beach.

Now Hindo is back in Baghdad, which starts to look like capitalism's promised land when he takes you around in his S.U.V. to show his projects. He is running an Internet service, supplying computers and satellite telephone service to three dozen hotels and businesses, plus he's negotiating to rebuild part of the national phone system. These are just his sideline businesses. He has got several bigger ventures going with his father. Together they're selling power generators to the United States Army, building materials to contractors and drilling equipment to the oil industry. They're overseeing 250 workers busy on the reconstruction of a dozen mansions, ministries and other buildings. On weekends, they scout the mountains and lakes of Kurdistan, where they're planning to build resort hotels.

Yes, resort hotels in Iraq.

A soldier's side: How diplomacy will turn Iraq around (MARA SHALHOUP, Creative Loafing)
U.S. Army Capt. Hunter Hill, a West Point graduate and Atlanta native, is taking a rare two-week break from Iraq, where he's been stationed for the past nine months with the 101st Airborne Division. At the moment, two days before the capture of Saddam Hussein, he's sipping coffee at a Buckhead Starbucks. More typically, Hill, 26, is found alongside his boss, the assistant division commander for operations in northern Iraq. [...]

Creative Loafing: It seems like there are these both lofty and concrete principles, of building democracy and rebuilding infrastructure. But beyond that, it seems like the most important thing is to rebuild the character and self-respect of the people who've been so pummeled. Your division's motto kind of speaks to that. But how do you reach the hearts and minds of these people?

Hunter Hill: It's definitely different. I had no idea that I'd be getting unbelievable lessons in diplomacy and political wranglings.

We had millions of dollars of Iraqi-seized assets, and we've spent over $15 million on building up offices and fixing the aqueduct so that the farmers can get water. [The Iraqi people] see the results. That's the bottom line. They see that their kids are back in school. They see banks working. What they don't see, and what's making some of them angry, is that the security situation is still not good. They're just concerned about the security issue, and I don't blame them.

This [city-building] isn't exactly what you were trained to do at Fort Campbell.

You're exactly right. But the thing is, we'll give an Iraqi engineer money [to] do the work we're not trained for. We are indeed the very people who need to be there doing this. We are making things happen. We don't know how to do everything, like you said, because we don't have the expertise. But we go and find the person that does.

How long do you think your work in this particular area will take until it's done to your satisfaction?

It's going to take 10 to 12, 20 years, maybe. If somebody comes in here and tries to be all hard-ass and forgets the people and just focuses on the security thing, it's going to ruin everything that's been done.

It's a very difficult balance, and I'm not smart enough to understand it. Because when [one of us] gets hurt or killed, the natural intent of the soldier, myself included, is to go out and kill. But [Maj. Gen. Petraeus] takes a very sober judgment to it. We try to create operations to find these people and kill them. But at the same time, we do not pull away from the locals. We try to get them to help us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 20, 2003 6:40 AM

Why not?

Although they need to get started now, because when the jefe dies, Havana is going to see a waterfront construction boom like Beijing and Shanghai combined.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 20, 2003 10:35 AM

You know things are settling down when Creative Loafing asks about helping rebuild the 'character' of Iraq.

Posted by: ratbert at December 20, 2003 5:53 PM