Category Archives: Iraq

Where’s the Pope on Syria?

I really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but this probably ends that hope forever.
WSJ 12/27/2016

If you are like this columnist, you may have missed the recent prayer vigil in front of St. Peter’s, which featured Pope Francis leading tens of thousands of the faithful in protest of the sickening Russian military strikes in Aleppo that have targeted hospitals, aid convoys and innocent civilians.

Surely there must have been such a vigil, right? And at least as prominent as the one in September 2013? Back then Pope Francis led a muchpublicized vigil aimed at dissuading President Obama from launching airstrikes on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military assets after the strongman had gassed more than a thousand people in the suburbs of Damascus, including hundreds of children.

Remember those heady days? The tweets from the Holy Father himself: “War never again! Never again war!” Or his letter to Vladimir Putin during the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg, in which Pope Francis implored leaders there (read: Uncle Sam) “to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution.”

Not to mention Mr. Putin’s own use of Pope Francis in an op-ed that appeared shortly after in the pages of the New York Times. There Mr. Putin put it this way: “The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders.”

So surely if the Holy Father was outraged in 2013 by what Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized would be an “unbelievably small strike,” he must be even more indignant over the cynical way Mr. Putin has used the entree the pope helped give him in Syria to use Russian air power to launch his own deadly strikes.

But somehow there are no Pope Francis vigils over the war crimes committed by Mr. Putin’s war planes.

Then again, we didn’t see the vigil candles come out at St. Peter’s when Mr. Putin invaded Crimea. Nor when Russian-backed separatists shot down a Malaysia Airlines jetliner over Ukraine.

To the contrary, as Russian forces declare victory in Aleppo, the pope has been reduced to telling the world not to forget Aleppo and entreating Mr. Assad to play nice.

Now, at the time President Obama was proposing his military strike, even some hawks opposed it on the grounds it was only a gesture meant for show. This was a solid and reasonable objection.

But this was not the objection of Pope Francis. True, both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had urged against American military action, the former with regard to Iraq and the latter with Libya.

But this pope’s objections have been coupled with a softness toward Moscow hard to imagine coming from either of his two predecessors. And the argument that Mr. Putin’s use of force is welcome because it is protecting the Christians of Aleppo—who feel safer under Assad than under ISIS—does not work for Pope Francis: He’s insisted all along there are no military solutions, even as Mr. Putin has now imposed one.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church” holds that the “use of arms must not produce evils and disorders greater than the evil to be eliminated.”

A sound principle. But what about the evils produced when those who have the arms won’t use them to protect those who have no defense? In short, there’s a reason that when Thomas Aquinas discusses just war, he does so in his chapter on charity. To put it all in biblical terms, what would have been the obligation on the Good Samaritan if he had come across his victim as the man was being beaten rather than afterward?

Aleppo is not Pope Francis’ fault. It is the fault of those who have willfully chosen atrocity to advance their larger goals, whether this be the ISIS forces who hope to impose their brand of extremism on Syria, or Mr. Assad, who has reduced Aleppo to rubble to eliminate any opposition to his brutal regime. Not to mention outsiders such as Mr. Putin and the Sunni supporters of ISIS who have enabled these evils.

At the time Pope Francis took his stand against U.S. intervention in Syria, an article in the National Catholic Register framed it this way: “The Pope has positioned himself as the foremost champion of finding peaceful solutions to the conflict, and Putin has demonstrated in recent days that he has the capability to deliver diplomatic alternatives to the punishing military strikes favored by Obama over Syria’s chemical weapons.”

Let’s hope what has followed in Aleppo might occasion some papal modesty, and perhaps a more ecumenical outlook when it comes to regarding the use of force by global powers. For the essence of civilization is this: The strong protect the weak. When the use of force is taken off the table, the strong prey on the weak.

In September, the pope thundered that those bombing civilians in Aleppo will one day have to “account to God.” Until then, the moral undermining of American intervention has guaranteed they will account to no one.


Helping our Friends?

I would be surprised….
y Mario Loyola May 29, 2015 6:24 p.m.

As the fight to retake Ramadi from Islamic State, also known as ISIS, heats up, I can’t help thinking of my visit to the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province nearly eight years ago, and of America’s broken promises since then.

In September 2007, I was in Ramadi for a gathering of Iraqi and American military commanders, politicians and local tribal leaders who had joined forces with the U.S. to defeat al Qaeda in Iraq. Then-Sen. Joseph Biden was there. “These are difficult days,” he told our Iraqi allies. “But as you are proving, you can forge a future for Iraq that is much brighter than its past. If you continue, we will continue to send you our sons and our daughters, to shed their blood with you and for you.”

It was a noble promise, and Iraqis believed it. The surge in U.S. forces and the “Anbar Awakening” had succeeded beyond all hopes. U.S. troops patrolled casually where just a few months before Marines couldn’t fight their way in. There as a journalist, I walked through one village east of Ramadi where an old vegetable vendor waved to me and said, a grandson smiling on his knee, “Thank you coalition.”

In Ramadi I met an Iraqi police lieutenant who was earnestly pro-American, and who kept talking about the need for “honest leadership” in the local police stations. The police lieutenant (I’ll call him Ismail, for his protection) was hopeful, if also wary. He mistrusted some of his fellow police and was afraid that al Qaeda might return if U.S. forces left too soon.

He explained to me that the Anbar Awakening started in September 2006, when al Qaeda murdered two of Ramadi’s most important sheiks. Local tribes rebelled against al Qaeda and were soon joined by others. They took up arms alongside surging U.S. forces in early 2007 and together they eradicated al Qaeda from Anbar province.

By the end of 2008, the U.S. and its allies had done the hard work of building a political coalition of Iraqi parties committed to reconciliation and to a long-term alliance with the U.S. I lost touch with Ismail after that, and had every reason to believe he was well.

Then came President Obama, and the end of the fragile reconciliation process in Iraq. At the end of 2011, he withdrew all U.S. forces, ignoring the advice of commanders on the ground and the private pleas of senior Iraqi leaders.

Things fell apart quickly after that. Suicide bombings, a trademark of Sunni terrorism, returned, as did the reprisals of Iranian-backed militias. Not surprisingly, Shiite-dominated Iran filled the vacuum created by the U.S. departure and ISIS fighters poured in from Syria.

When ISIS began its siege on Ramadi in April, slaughtering innocents and creating tens of thousands of refugees, I thought of Ismail and worried for his safety. Soon after that, he reached out to me. The good news: He was alive. The bad news: everything else.

Now a police captain, Ismail had moved back to his hometown of Rawa, north of Ramadi. When Rawa fell to ISIS last summer he was put under house arrest. Yet with his cellphone he took the risk of providing intelligence on ISIS locations to a friend in the Iraqi air force. In early March, he decided to flee to Baghdad. But because ISIS controls so many roads and highways, he was forced to travel through the heavily Shiite city of Karbala, where he was promptly arrested on suspicion of ties to ISIS, simply because he’s Sunni.

The local police in Karbala do the bidding of the Shiite militias, one of whom—an Iranian—interrogated and beat him. He was held for two months in a filthy jail so crowded that inmates were forced to lie on their sides. Luckily, a former colleague in Ramadi, before it fell to ISIS, verified his identity. After two months, he was released.

“I fought for my country,” Ismail says, “and this is how they repay me.” He is now in Baghdad, in ill health, sleeping at an uncle’s house, afraid of being arrested again. “I am almost homeless,” he says. “I want to become a refugee in any country.”

Sadly, Ismail isn’t alone. President Obama’s 2011 abandonment of Iraq was a betrayal of America’s promises to millions of Iraqi men, women and children. The ISIS victories, and the horrors that follow them, are a direct result of that betrayal. As Ismail said to me: “They shouldn’t leave us like that.”

Mr. Loyola, a former counsel for foreign and defense policy to the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee, was an embedded journalist with U.S. forces in Iraq in the summer of 2007.


‘Headscarves and Hymens’

Where is the Left on behalf of women?

By Bari Weiss April 27, 2015 7:22 p.m. ET

If you are cursed to be born a girl in Egypt, there is a 90% chance you will have your genitals cut in the name of purity. In Yemen, there is a 55% chance you will never learn to read and a 79% chance you will never work. And in the United Arab Emirates, your father or husband can beat you and remain fully compliant with the law so long as he leaves no mark.

Yet Muslim women who decry this appalling reality are often branded traitors to their culture and handmaidens to the imperialist forces of Dick Cheney. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Irshad Manji and Asra Nomani have all been dismissed as attention-seeking contrarians or unsophisticated bigots who perpetuate stereotypes about Muslims and the Arab world.

The Egyptian writer Mona Eltahawy became the object of such criticism in 2012, when she decried Arab societies that treat “half of humanity like animals” in an article for Foreign Policy magazine. “When it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse.”

She has now expanded that article into a book, “Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution,” which blends her own story—an ideological journey toward feminism while growing up in Egypt, England and Saudi Arabia—with a sweeping portrait of what life is like for women in the Middle East. The same righteous anger that propelled her essay fuels her book. It’s easy to see why she’s so incensed.

Born in Port Said, Egypt, Ms. Eltahawy lived in London for almost a decade while her mother and father earned Ph.D.s in medicine. In 1982, both parents got jobs teaching clinical microbiology in Jeddah. It was there, she writes, that she was “traumatized into feminism—there’s no other way to describe it—because to be a female in Saudi Arabia is to be the walking embodiment of sin.”

Women, Ms. Eltahawy learned quickly, are in perpetual danger in the kingdom. During a family pilgrimage to Mecca her first year in the country, the teenage author was assaulted twice. While she was circling the Ka’ba, a man repeatedly grabbed her from behind: “I burst into tears, because that is all I could do. I did not have it in me to tell my parents the truth, so I told them the crowds were getting to me.” Later, a policeman groped her breast at Islam’s holiest site. “I came to learn during my years in Saudi Arabia and then in Egypt that this was how most men did it. That’s how they got at your body—so surreptitiously that you ended up questioning your own sense of having been violated.”

Like teenage girls in the West who “take refuge in baggy clothing,” Ms. Eltahawy began to cover her hair all the time. “I needed something to defend me,” she writes of the wandering hands and eyes of Saudi men, “and I thought the hijab would.” It didn’t.

Turn to any page of “Headscarves and Hymens” and you’ll find a statistic or anecdote to make your blood boil. I won’t soon forget the story of Rawan, an 8-year-old Yemeni girl who died of internal bleeding on her “wedding” night, or of Manal Assi, a 33-year-old Lebanese schoolteacher beaten to death with a pressure cooker by her husband. Mercifully, we also hear about heroic women like Genet Girma, who, during her 2002 wedding in Kembata, Ethiopia, wore a placard reading: “I am not circumcised, learn from me.” Her husband wore his own: “I am very happy to be marrying an uncircumcised woman.”

Ms. Eltahawy makes an irrefutable case that there is a cancer in the Middle East, but she has little to suggest in terms of cures. She rightly criticizes Westerners who let their “respect” for other cultures trump their defense of basic human rights. “Cultural relativism is as much my enemy as the oppression I fight within my culture and faith.” But on the very next page she writes: “When I travel and give lectures abroad and I’m asked how best to help women in my part of the world, I say, help your own community’s women fight misogyny. By doing so, you help the global struggle against the hatred of women.” How will complaining about the pay gap in Manhattan help women subjected to humiliating virginity tests in Cairo or rape victims forced to marry their attackers in Jordan? Such false moral equivalences may allow Ms. Eltahawy to distance herself from advocates like Ayaan Hirsi Ali who don’t hesitate to say that the real war on women is being waged by Islamists—not Republicans.

Ms. Eltahawy also tries to have it both ways when it comes to Islam’s teachings about women. “We are in denial,” she writes trenchantly, “if we do not honestly reckon with the role of religion in maintaining the patriarch’s rule at home, including how the men of religion help him to uphold his rule. The ‘proper Islam’ defense serves only the rule of the patriarch.” Yet she appeals to her own idiosyncratic version of “proper Islam” in her book, writing that the Quran “does not mention any form of genital cutting for women. In fact, passages from the Qur’an and Hadith advocate for women’s sexual satisfaction.” Does it matter what Muhammad said in the sixth century, or that his first wife, Khadijah, was 15 years his senior (another fact Ms. Eltahawy cites as evidence that Islam is more liberal than we think)? Religion isn’t what its ancient texts say; it’s what its adherents do.

The sloppy thinking in “Headscarves and Hymens” reflects an unfortunate tendency in Ms. Eltahawy’s political advocacy. In 2012, after publicizing her plans on the Web, she was charged with vandalism for defacing with pink spray paint a controversial subway ad reading: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” She compromises her credibility especially on the subject of Israel and anti-Semitism: In 2011, for example, she claimed that “not one anti-Israeli or anti-American sentiment was expressed” during the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. As a writer so passionate about women’s rights, Ms. Eltahawy may want to look more closely at the one country in the Middle East where women have been elected prime minister and wear bikinis on the beach.

Ms. Weiss is an associate books editor at the Journal.

Book Review: ‘Headscarves and Hymens’ by Mona Eltahawy – WSJ.


Noonan: A New Kind of Terrorist Threat

Did you notice there were NO “declarations of dismay” when Obama authorized air strikes against ISIS? Have we got “The Left’s Attention, finally???” Let’s be done with all this talk of “let’s just co-exist in a happy world”. How many “religion haters” “Jewish haters”, “Christian haters” are lining up to join ISIS and their view of “co-exist”??
The question “What should we do about ISIS?” is not the same as the question “Do we want to go back to Iraq?” One is about facing up to an extreme and immediate challenge, which we have to do. The other is about returning to an old experience, which almost no one wants to do.

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham is not just a grandiose army of freelancers and fanatics. They’re something different in kind from the al Qaeda of old—more vicious, more organized and professional. George Packer in the New Yorker estimates ISIS controls 35,000 square miles of land. “The self-proclaimed Caliphate stretches from the newly conquered towns along the Syrian-Turkish border,” through northern Syria, across the Iraqi border, “down to the farming towns south of Baghdad.” ISIS funds its operations not like primitives but sophisticates: They sell oil and electricity and empty banks in the areas they seize. (A CNN report put their haul from the oil fields alone at $2 million a day.) They also make money from kidnappings and what they call taxation. Mr. Packer quotes a former Pentagon official: “ISIS now controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations.”

They are something new and different in the Mideast drama. They ably take left-behind American and Russian armored vehicles and weapons. They are savage: Al Qaeda once threw them out for brutality and bloodlust. “Extreme Violence Lies in Isis DNA,” is how the Financial Times pithily put it. They have a talent for war and draw fighters from throughout the world, particularly young men from the culturally fractured and materialist West. Those young men, desperate to belong to something, to be among men on a mission, to believe in something bigger and higher than their sad selves, are ripe for jihadist recruitment. Many hundreds of ISIS fighters are said to hold U.S., British or German passports, which will make it easier for ISIS to come here, as they have promised to do. ISIS has a social-media presence that would be the envy of Josef Goebbels : They taunt the West, promise mayhem, post pictures of their murdered victims and videos of beheadings. One of their Twitter TWTR +1.93% hashtags: #CalamityWillBefallUS. They are driven not solely by hatred for America and the West but by a desire to create their own trans-Arab state. The caliphate will be fundamentalist and totalitarian, Shariah with all its brute simplicities.

America this week learned of their beheading an American journalist, James Foley. Before that there were beheadings of Christians and other infidels. ISIS is in fact helping to depopulate the Mideast of Christians, a fact so shocking people still can’t bring themselves to believe it.

The U.S. cannot be certain of ISIS’ immediate strategic plans. Perhaps they will concentrate on holding the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It is possible they will widen their war. In an audio statement in January the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, referred to America while speaking to ISIS fighters. “Soon we’ll be in direct confrontation,” he said. “So watch out for us, for we are with you, watching.” Those associated with ISIS have promised to raise their black flag over the White House.

Writers and politicians have for years made points by quoting lines from “The Godfather.” ISIS keeps making me think of a line from “Goodfellas.” A gambler is beaten to a pulp and realizes the mob is going to kill him if he doesn’t come up with the money. He calls a relative and says through broken teeth: “These guys mean business.” ISIS means business.

America is said to be war-weary. I think it’s more like war-leery, or war-wary, which a great nation should be, especially after two wars, both bungled in their execution and their ending.

But now, after months of graphic violence and crude propaganda, and after Foley’s beheading, the nature, threat and intentions of ISIS have become clear. This week the president sent bombers. There were no demonstrations in protest. Even the pope didn’t protest. To stop violent aggressors, Francis noted when asked about the U.S. bombings, is “licit.” He did not explicitly support bombing, but noted the stopping of groups such as ISIS was justifiable.

The good thing, the comfort, is that as each day passes the civilized world, as we used to say, gets a closer, clearer look at who these people are.

One of my fears in the early years of the Iraq war was that if it proved to be the wrong war—if no weapons of mass destruction were found, if sustained unrest showed Saddam Hussein was the garbage-pail lid who kept the garbage of his nation from spilling out—it would mean that at some time in the future when America really needed to fight and had to fight, she would not. I feared the war’s supporters would be seen to have cried wolf, and someday there would be a wolf and no one would listen. Now there is a wolf.

We tell ourselves that we do not want to go back to Iraq, and we don’t—all the polls show this. But facing up to what ISIS is and what it plans to do is not returning to Iraq in that we are not talking about nation-building, quixotic exercises in democracy-bringing, or underwriting governments ruled by incompetents. We are talking about other things.

The president was rhetorically serious this week, after too long dismissing ISIS as the “junior varsity.” This time he called them a “cancer” that must be cut out. He said they have “rampaged across cities and villages, killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. . . . They have murdered Muslims—both Sunni and Shia—by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can for no other reason than they practice a different religion.” All this is true.

Then, alas, looking like an unserious man, like one who doesn’t know the import even of his own words, he went golfing. It is obvious he doesn’t care what people think anymore, but soon he will return to Washington where there is much he can do.

Such as:

Continue bombing ISIS where potentially efficacious, as heavily and for as long as needed. This week’s bombing forced them to give up the dam they’d seized at Mosul, an act that left ISIS looking, for the first time in its history, reduced and stoppable. Go to Congress for authorization of force, showing the world we have gained at least some semblance of unity. Give the Kurds, our actual friends, every kind of help they need, from military to material. Use the threat of ISIS to forge new bonds with allies and possible allies, such as the leaders of nearby countries that are immediately threatened. Go to the U.N., pound the table, ask for the world’s help. Let them humiliate themselves by doing nothing if that’s what they choose. At least it will be clarifying.

And be prepared, to the degree possible, for a hit or hits on American soil or that of our long-standing allies. ISIS says it’s coming. So far they’ve done pretty much everything they said they’d do.

A New Kind of Terrorist Threat – WSJ.