Thursday, November 23, 2006

Another piece on Center for Global Peace event

Iraqi Fulbrights share their perspectives

Zina Abdul Latif was having a hard time keeping back the tears. It may have been memories of her brother, killed in Iraq last year at the age of 22. Or it may have been all the memories combined—of her home in Baghdad, of her life under Saddam, and of her relatives who are still there, suffering.

“I feel the American pain when they say they want to pull out. But if you’re losing one soldier, we’re losing 100 in return,” said Latif.

It was the day before the Nov. 7 midterm election, in which voters would deliver the Bush administration a sharp rebuke over its Iraq policy. But Latif and her fellow speaker, Bilal Wahab, were urging Americans not to abandon their home to violence and chaos.

The two Fulbright scholars at the School of International Service (SIS) shared a personal perspective at the SIS talk, “Thinking about Iraq: A Discussion with AU’s Fulbright Scholars.”

Both expressed misgivings about elements of American policy, but urged Americans to keep the U.S. troops in Iraq. “It’s going to be a waste of all these human souls if we say we’re just going to give up,” said Latif, who recalled life under Saddam as “a prison.”

Coming from a secular Baghdad family, she described living with “a sense of slavery,” in which “Saddam used to say, ‘Saddam is Iraq and Iraq is Saddam.’” But while she felt the overthrow of Saddam was worthwhile, she painted a horrifying picture of life in Baghdad today.

Death threats for personal gain have become common, Latif said. In her own family, a relative was threatened with death unless he handed over his house to the blackmailer. “People are greedy. They want free houses and whatever they can get, and they’ll use whatever card they have,” she said.

Fearing for their lives, Iraqis are turning for protection to their own connections, whether it’s militias, tribal groups, or anyone who seems to offer a safety net. And Latif sees no sign of future harmony.

She said that the Iraqi government needs the U.S. troops on the ground while the army and police are trained, although she expressed doubts about the efficacy of training by Americans who lack a deep understanding of the culture.

Wahab also felt it was worth the price to topple Saddam. “Saddam was a dictator, a tyrant, a brutal murderer,” he said. The invasion of Iraq by the United States was due, at least in part, to an “awakening” after Sept. 11 that led the United States to recognize the importance of spreading democracy and freedom in the world, he said.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “there are signs this noble cause is faltering.”

While there has been mismanagement on the American side, he ascribed the current chaos in part to the lingering impact of decades of dictatorship, and in part to a lack of national identity. “I know what hatred can do,” he said.

He believes that U.S. troops need to stay in order to stop the civil war. But now, he said, “Americans say out loud, ‘This is not our war.’ Then what are you doing there?”

There does need to be a change in strategy, he said. “America should understand its mistakes and correct them,” he said, although he warned that this is less likely if the debate does not include Iraqi voices.

Both speakers agreed that a federal approach to the government of Iraq holds the most promise. “Iraq would be easier to manage,” Latif said.

Both are also concerned about the suppression of religious freedom. Latif warned that a puritanical approach to religion is triumphing to such a degree that music isn’t even played at weddings, and shops no longer play music, but religious broadcasts from Saudi Arabia.

“I’m worried,” she said. “I see religion taking over . . . We believe in God and want religion to be a part of us. But I want to walk in a Baghdad street and be able to buy a CD mix of songs, not just the Koran.”

Wahab said he wants to be able to pray at a mosque freely, without having the sermons dictated by the state as they were under Saddam. And he wants women to be allowed to wear veils in photographs if they choose.

But religion is only meaningful, he said, when people are free to exercise personal choice. “In Islam, you can’t drink alcohol. But what’s the value of not drinking alcohol if you can’t find it?” he asked.

Latif works at the Iraqi embassy, and an embassy representative was in the audience. Wahab is from Iraqi Kurdistan and has spoken about Iraq in National Review Online, on National Public Radio, and elsewhere. Both are Fulbright scholars at SIS.

The talk was moderated by Iraq specialist Carole O’Leary, who is on the faculty at SIS and the Center for Global Peace.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

On Iraq: NPR's "All Things Considered"

Roundtable: Iraqi-American Perspectives

This is the third round of a series of roundtable talks on NPR, with three more Iraqi fello citizins. First time was in December 05 before the elections. Then in April to follow up. As you can see the progression, things are deteriorating on constant basis, unfortunately.

Listen to this story...

All Things Considered
November 18, 2006 · For many Americans in the mid-term election, Iraq was the main reason they came out to vote. Four U.S. residents of Iraqi descent discuss their views on whether any progress is being made in Iraq and whether they agree with American politicians and military leaders that Iraqis themselves must solve the problems plaguing their country.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Interview on PBS: Daily Life in Iraq

Deteriorating situation in Iraq

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, life for Iraqis in the words of three people who have witnessed firsthand the war and its aftermath. Two are Iraqi Fulbright scholars. Bilal Wahab hails from Arbil in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. He arrived here in May 2005 and studies at American University in Washington, D.C. He worked for news organizations, the United Nations, and election-monitoring groups in Iraq.

Shahla Waliy of Baghdad arrived late last month and will begin studies at Tufts University later this year. She worked for a humanitarian organization in Iraq.

Joining them is Anthony Shadid, Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for his Iraq war coverage and is author of the book "Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War."

Today's news is just the latest of a drumbeat. In what ways is it affecting the lives of Iraqi people?

BILAL WAHAB, Iraqi Fulbright Scholar: Of course it does, because the police are supposed to be the force that's protecting the people. And you see that the police itself is now kidnapping people.

So when you have an issue, when there's a burglar at the door, when there's a terrorist to report, when there's a militiaman who is doing some crime or a gang at the door, who are you going to call? Are you going to call the police? How are you going to call the police?

So when your protector is your own aggressor, I think that will have a great impact on the people when there's no one to trust.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ms. Waliy, what do you see? How does it affect the average lives of people?

SHAHLA WALIY, Iraqi Fulbright Scholar: Well, of course, the deterioration is rolling down very much. I mean, we are seeing the police nowadays doing all this stuff which is the militia stuff. And we, just as Iraqis are scattered between, who can be, you know, guilty for that? Is it the police or the militia? They're mixing things together, and we are scattered among them, I mean. It just is a very depressing deterioration in every sector of our life.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Anthony Shadid, you returned there after being away for a year. What was the biggest difference that you saw?

ANTHONY SHADID, Washington Post: You know, what struck me almost immediately was leaving the airport and seeing how the very face of the city had changed at this point. You know, I've always been struck as a reporter there about the certain resilience that I think Baghdad and much of the country has.

When I went back in October, that resilience itself seemed to have faded. There wasn't traffic in the streets; shops were shuttered; you don't even see people on the sidewalks the way you used to see them a year or two years before.

I think people have withdrawn, in a way. And it is a question of survival at this point, withdrawn inside their homes, trying to wait this out. In a lot of ways, you feel the city itself has become atomized. I mean, it has almost like lost a sense of being one city.

'Existing; not living'

JEFFREY BROWN: Staying with you, the attacks we saw today, civil servants, intelligentsia, universities now shut down. Is that a typical target or is there such a thing as a typical target?

ANTHONY SHADID: I think it's exactly like you put it there. I mean, what's typical anymore is hard to say. I mean, the violence has become so generalized and so pervasive.

And when I was there in October, there wasn't one person I met -- I mean, not one person, without exception -- who didn't have a friend or a relative who had been killed. And that's a jarring, you know, reality, that death is that general in some ways, that it touches almost every life that you come across in Baghdad.

And Baghdad is not alone. I mean, other parts of the country are -- you know, I was in Basra, as well, in southern Iraq. And the level of killing in Basra is formidable there, you know, as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, Mr. Wahab, so how do people actually function? I mean, for example, do they go to work?

BILAL WAHAB: Iraqis are amazing. We Iraqis have lived in one war or another for the past 30 years. Eight years of war with Iran, and then some 10 years of sanctions, but these other wars have always been predictable. So we used to have sirens. We used to have shelters. You know what time your town is going to get shelled, so you hide.

But this war, unfortunately, this new phenomenon that we're seeing, it's on a daily basis. People have withdrawn to their homes. My friends and the family members that work in the other parts of Iraq, they basically say, "We either don't go to work or we go to work from, say, 11:00 to 3:00," so they basically either don't go. School is the same thing. People skip classes. Professors skip classes.

But a lot of times they just force themselves out, because what are you going to do? I mean, you're talking about people staying indoors, and then now we have domestic violence because the men are at home and then they cannot put up with it. They used to turn on the television for the few hours of electricity that you have. All you see on the screen is horror.

So life is unbearable. It's existing; it's not living.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ms. Waliy, what would you add to that? You were there most recently. What is family life like? What is it like for children? Can they play? Can they visit friends?

SHAHLA WALIY: Well, no, you cannot play, and you cannot visit friends. The only way you can live is that, when you're obliged to go out for your job to feed your family or to the school or college, you're going like with fear, because this is the risk and the threat into your life.

One important thing also to be mentioned, that Iraqi people, when they are locking themselves in homes, they are even not secure in home, because they have been also -- in this situation, they will be exposed to the criminal attacks, again, militia attacks, who are going knock the neighborhood door by door trying to killing people on their I.D. cards.

Just recently, just yesterday, I have an update from my office back in Baghdad, which is considered to be -- you know, we rent an office relatively in a secure area near the Green Zone. However, the Iraqi military pull out their checkpoints.

And now, since yesterday, they have a fake checkpoint, you know, run by the militia, you know, inspecting everybody and killing everyone, depending on his I.D. cards. And that's our office. I mean, the guards, the receptionist, everybody is locked there.

And we have a kind of generator, preparation for food and water. This is always we are working under emergency situation. Imagine that, since three years we are in emergency situation and just the emergency is just getting, you know, upwards. There is no release since three years. And now it's much more blood.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Anthony Shadid, speaking of the I.D. cards, I've read stories about people changing their names.

ANTHONY SHADID: I was about to mention that.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK. Explain why that is and what they do.

ANTHONY SHADID: You know, it is like Bilal said, you know, existing not living. And it is such a question of survival at this point, I think, and survival often means, you know, being able to portray yourself as somebody you're not.

In other words, if you have a traditionally Sunni name, for instance, you might take -- you might get a fake passport that has a more traditional Shiite name that you're one or the other, depending on the checkpoint you're in, the neighborhood you're in.

You know, some people are scared to even claim bodies at the morgue. Their relatives have gone to the morgue; people are reluctant to go there worrying that, if they're identified of a relative of this person killed, they, in fact, might be killed, as well.

Whole neighborhoods, the very geography of Baghdad is changing in a way. You're having population shifts from one neighborhood to another becoming more, you know, almost entirely Sunni or entirely Shiite. And this is almost unprecedented in the history of Baghdad, certainly which was a city that was relatively integrated before. Inter-marriage was somewhat common. This is something that's fading almost as weeks and months pass.

Trying to get away

JEFFREY BROWN: Did you see any support system, whether it be civic organizations or the media, for example, just in helping people understand what's going on or help them navigate their lives?

ANTHONY SHADID: You know, there's been such a -- I think there was such a resistance to the sectarian tension you saw in Baghdad. You know, the Shiite community was incredibly restrained for two years as this went on.

There isn't a lot of restraint right now. And I think, you know, as both the guests have mentioned, the violence has become so overwhelming in some ways that it seems like it's almost kind of sweeping everything in its path.

You know, I'm thinking of our -- you know, I'm thinking of colleagues, Iraqi colleagues who would not have -- who would have always resisted this idea of identifying themselves first and foremost as Sunni and Shiite, for instance. That's changing. That's changing even in the past few months, I think.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Mr. Wahab, another piece of this that we read about is the thousands or even perhaps millions of people who have left their homes, and many leaving the country.

BILAL WAHAB: That's correct. Anyone who can afford Syria or Jordan have left the country. It's fortunate that Kurdistan, which is northern Iraq, it's safe and secure and has become a safe haven for many Arab doctors, and professors, and students. Our universities in Kurdistan are now hosting many of the students who've fled the tension areas.

But unfortunately for the people that cannot afford any of these regions, they're stuck with their neighborhoods in Baghdad and Basra or anywhere else.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ms. Waliy, I guess you're an example of someone who managed to get away. Do you see many of your family or friends trying to do the same?

SHAHLA WALIY: Well, the nearest example is my family. We just obliged last month to leave our neighborhood in Baghdad. I mean, we are Kurdish, and we are proud to be from Kurdistan, but we've been born and brought all our life in Baghdad.

And just since two months ago, we've been obliged to move into Arabiya, to our safe haven, which became like safe haven for every Iraqi. And we are just living there, trying to find a way to resettle again, because we've been locking our doors without taking any of our belongings. We just forced to be out of our neighborhood just alone by ourselves. And thank God we are still alive.

Sweeping hopelessness

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Wahab, you were talking earlier about the Iraqi people and the resilience and all, having been through so much. As you sit here now, do you feel -- is there any sense of hope to overcome this, as well?

BILAL WAHAB: It's tough. It's seriously so tough. I mean, for example, I applied for a Fulbright scholarship, and I said that I'm going to study corruption and good governance because I thought by the time my time is coming to go home, which is a few months from now, I'll go home, and we'll have a country that all it needs is how to be a better government. And then I look back and I said what a bad management.

Unfortunately, things are not -- I mean, there was a ray of hope. When people ask me about the difference between now and the time of Saddam Hussein, I say things were bad and things are bad, but now there's some hope. And I think that hope is fading on a daily basis, unfortunately.

JEFFREY BROWN: Anthony, this is a country you've covered for a long time. Do you hear a lot of that?

ANTHONY SHADID: I do. And it struck me, in the most recent visit there in October, how pronounced the despair was at this point, a certain hopelessness. And I don't think -- you know, even in the roughest times back in, say, 2003, 2004, even in 2005 last year, you know, there might have been anger, there might have been frustration, but you never heard hopelessness just be so sweeping, such a kind of definitive emotion in a way.

And, you know, it's a certain hopelessness, I think, mixed with fear, and fear colors Baghdad almost in every respect these days.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Anthony Shadid, Bilal Wahab, and Shahla Waliy, thank you all three for sharing this with us.

BILAL WAHAB: Thank you.

SHAHLA WALIY: Thank you.

Listen to interview at

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Voice of America-Kurdish report on AU forum

For Kurdish listeners, this is a report by Voice of America on American UNiversity's Center for Global Peace forum on November 6.
The link could be downloaded at
or see the page at
Best to all

AU's Center for Global Peace

Iraqis react to guilty verdict
Kate Winston
Issue date: 11/9/06

The timing of Saddam Hussein's death sentence was a blow to the independence of Iraqi courts, said Bilal Wahab, an Iraqi Fulbright scholar and AU graduate student.

Wahab and fellow Iraqi Fulbright scholar Zina Abdul Latif spoke Monday at a forum sponsored by the School of International Service and Center for Global Peace. AU students attended the forum on Monday to learn how young people in Iraq are reacting to the conflict there.

Hussein's death sentence came two days before the U.S. midterm elections, linking it more closely to events in the United States than events in Iraq, he said. The ruling could have been released two weeks ago, he said.

"I feel bad as an Iraqi Kurd that my country and the blood of my people has become a political debate of winning an election rather than finding a solution," he said.

However, the United States was right to remove Saddam and should not yet withdraw from the country, said Wahab and fellow Iraqi Fulbright scholar and AU student Zina Abdul Latif.

"I think I feel the American pain when they say 'We need to pull out from Iraq,'" Latif said.

Yet for every U.S. soldier who dies, 100 Iraqis die in return, she said.

Latif's voice shook as she said her brother, 22, was killed on his graduation day in June 2005.

The current cycle of sectarian violence was caused by terrorists, but it continues because of militias, ethnic tension, police corruption and mistaken U.S. policy, Wahab said.

"I am embarrassed, as a supporter of the war, that there is some sort of a civil war in Iraq and Americans say out loud, 'It's not our war,'" Wahab said. "Then why are you there?"

Neighboring countries that do not want a U.S. ally in the region continue to fund the violence, Latif said. U.S. troops should stay in the region until the Iraqi police can overcome corruption and quell the violence, she said.

Unfortunately, militias are being tolerated and insurgents are getting the profit, Wahab said.

"If you want to do business, if you want to make money, either join a militia, join an organized group or become a terrorist," he said.

A Kurdish member of an Iraqi federalist state is preferable to an independent Kurdish state surrounded by enemies, Wahab said. Instead, Iraq should try to create a national identity, he said.

"We should heal this Iraq instead of creating a new animal," he said.

Irene Colthurst, a junior in the School of International Service and the School of Public Affairs, said she has a concentration in Middle Eastern studies and she attended the forum to gain the perspective of a fellow scholar.

Andrew Engel, a sophomore in SIS and SPA, agreed.

"I wanted to see the human, personal element to this," he said.

AP on visit in Kansas City, Mo

Wonderful experience in Kansas City, Missouri. Many thanks to Oxford International Review and William Jewell College for a unique American experience.

International students experience Missouri, learn about elections

Associated Press

With all eyes on Missourians to see how they'll vote on everything from a U.S. senator to stem cell research, one set of inquisitive onlookers has traveled far to watch from the sidelines in the Kansas City area.

But these election observers won't be looking for violations. They will study Missouri's election process.

The six students from the Middle East have been paired with about a dozen Midwest scholars. They will live for a week in a former fraternity mansion at William Jewell College in Liberty.

Oxford International Review, a global affairs journal launched by students at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, assembled the students and brought them to the bellwether state. OIR executive editor and chief operating officer Anthony Shop said Missouri is the proper setting for the exercise in politics and culture.

"We want the students to get a real picture of what the United States is about," Shop said, noting that visitors from abroad often don't experience America's heartland, just cities like New York.

A political bellwether for most of the 20th century, Missouri has voted for every presidential winner but one since 1900.

The scholars will be in Missouri through Election Day, visiting polls, taking part in voter-recruitment events and working with both Republican and Democratic campaign volunteers.

"They tell me the results of Missouri elections, since old times, decide who wins the presidential elections," said an enthusiastic Roy Abdo, who will remain in the state after the election to attend William Jewell.

The 22-year-old from Lebanon has been in the U.S. since July after violence erupted in Beirut and kept him from returning home. William Jewell and OIR, which are educational partners, teamed up to help Abdo obtain a scholarship. He will study business administration.

"Everyone says that in Missouri everyone is nice - they welcome people from abroad," Abdo said, adding that so far he's found this to be true.

Missouri has several hot election races and issues, most notably the U.S. Senate race between Republican Sen. Jim Talent and Democrat Claire McCaskill.

"I think right now the Senate election in Missouri is about as close a race as you can get," Shop said. "It's a very competitive race. I think it's indicative of our country. Right now, Americans are asking themselves what America's role is in the world and how that might change based upon which party controls Congress."

Iraqi student Bilal Wahab said he isn't concerned about who wins - the Democrats or Republicans.

"What matters for me is there's a positive, forward-looking policy toward Iraq," said Wahab, 27, a Fulbright Scholar studying national politics at American University in Washington, D.C.

He said he wants to see how Missouri elections work, but is more interested in interacting with the other students and learning where they stand on issues.

"It's a good idea to bring in a small group so we can connect on a more personal level," he said.

The students have spent their first days getting acquainted. They ate a Mexican lunch together on Kansas City's upscale Country Club Plaza and did a group tour at the Liberty Memorial Museum.

Between bites of quesadillas and salads, they joked and snapped photos of each other with camera phones.

This weekend, the scholars will experience each other's religions at Muslim and Christian events.

"Prior to 9/11, many people in the United States never thought about Islam," OIR editor-in-chief Rachel Yould said. "And I think there are many in the Muslim world who don't understand how important Christian faith and Christian values really are in people making election decisions."

Student Rima Abou-Mrad said religion heavily influences politics in her country, Lebanon. She said political parties back home are divided according to their members' faith.

"I would like to have secular parties in Lebanon," said Abou-Mrad, 24, who is pursuing a master's degree in corporate and finance law at Wayne State University in Detroit.

The whole culture of U.S. elections - the Republican-Democrat party system, electronic vote tallying and election observers - fascinates her.

She doesn't think Americans know enough about politics outside of their own. She said Lebanese citizens make a point to follow U.S. politics because "if something happens here in the U.S., we will have consequences in Lebanon."

William Jewell senior Kelsey O'Donnell said she longs to learn more about other countries and what their citizens think about the War in Iraq and other current events.

"I'm hoping to teach them that Americans do care about other countries," said O'Donnell, 22, who is studying institutions and policies.

O'Donnell, who is from the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit, feels Missouri's grassroots movements and competitive political climate makes it the ideal place for an election study.

In addition to the two students from Lebanon and one from Iraq, three of the scholars hail from United Arab Emirates. The country will have its first local elections next month.

Shop, the OIR executive editor, said most international students haven't experienced anything like a U.S. election.

"We have folks out with signs campaigning for who they think should be in control," Shop said of Americans. "We have debates. But typically, our political process is peaceful compared to that in other parts of the world. We can be passionate, we can disagree, but we don't have to do it in a way that's violent or harmful."

Me in Kansas City, Oxford International Review

Program helps build bridges

Middle Eastern scholars visit Kansas City and meet local students.

The Kansas City Star
FRED BLOCHER | The Kansas City Star
Mohammed Saeed Al-Mesmari (left) of the United Arab Emirates was among the group of students who on Thursday visited the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial.

In the courtyard at the base of the Liberty Memorial, young Middle Eastern scholars visiting Kansas City this week mingled with students from William Jewell College.

They chatted about politics, religion, college studies and the fall leaves that fell in the day’s mild breeze.

The students were brought together by Oxford International Review through an exchange effort designed in part to dispel misconceptions Americans have about Middle Eastern cultures and vice versa.

“Despite some cultural differences, we all are members of the human family,” said James Luce, 21 and a junior studying political science at Jewell.

While in Kansas City, the students from the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Lebanon will visit a mosque and a Baptist church and observe the election process by canvassing with candidates and stopping at the polls.

William Jewell is a partner with Oxford International Review in the effort and is housing the six visitors. Oxford International Review, an international affairs journal, is produced annually by the world’s top student scholars. The visitors had lunch Thursday with Mary Eisenhower, granddaughter of the 34th U.S. president, and toured the memorial.

“Welcome to Kansas City,” Eisenhower said. “I want you to understand what it means to be an American in the Midwest. The Midwest is a wonderful blend of all the U.S. cultures. Here there is something for everyone.”

Later at the memorial, Bilal Wahab, a 27 year-old Iraqi student studying international affairs at American University in Washington, walked cautiously across a glass bridge over 9,000 red poppies that represent the dead from World War I. Wahab, a Fulbright scholar, wondered why a world war memorial stands in Kansas City. He learned that the memorial was built by the Kansas City community and that schoolchildren collected money door-to-door for its construction.

It’s the kind of community cohesiveness Wahab said he would like to see in his country.

“America has people with a lot of divisions — conservative and liberal — some are very extreme, but there is no civil war. It translates to power, cohesion, and I like that,” he said.

The scholars expect to bring what they learn on this visit and subsequent trips to other countries to their work on the next Oxford International Review. The book publishes unabridged interviews with world leaders and analyses of those interviews written by teams of scholars from around the world, said Rachel Yould, Oxford International Review editor-in-chief.

This year’s 732-page book deals with America’s role in the world. The 2007 book will address conflicts around the world and solutions.