A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

Tycoon Diamond

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 14, 2009

Another morning, another sad email from a Hong Kong banker. These Arab investors seem to be – pardon me – dying like flies, and their bankers all seem to think that I should be the one to profit from their families’ loss. But this is the first email to delve into my psyche and my – heretofore unknown to me – financial acumen.

FROM: Liu Yan Bank of China Ltd. 13/F. Bank of China Tower 1 Garden Road Hong Kong,

I sincerely ask for forgiveness for I know this may seem like a complete intrusion to your privacy but right about now this is my best option of communication. This mail might come to you as a surprise and the temptation to ignore it as frivolous could come into your mind; but please consider it a divine wish and accept it with a deep sense of humility.

[A divine wish? Are you sure that God gets personally involved in these types of things?]

This letter must surprise you because we have never meet before neither in person nor by correspondence,but I believe that it takes just one day to meet or know someone either physically or through correspondence.

[Ah: the love-at-first-sight-or-email approach to financial illegality. Super.]

I got your contact through my personal search, you were revealed as being quite astute in private entrepreneurship,and one has no doubt in your ability to handle a financial business transaction.

[Well – I don’t like to brag, but I do indeed know my way around a credit card purchase. And I’ve been very successful in selling off excess furniture and personal effects whenever I move.]

I am Liu Yan a transfer supervisor operations in investment section in Bank of China Ltd. Secretariat of the BOCHK Charitable Foundation 13/F. Bank of China Tower, 1 Garden Road, Hong Kong. I have an obscured business suggestion for you. Before the U.S and Iraqi war our client General Mohammed Jassim Ali who work with the Iraqi forces and also business man made a numbered fixed deposit for 18 calendar months, with a value of (I will disclose amount upon your reply) in my branch.

[There are two things I particularly like about this paragraph: First, the idea that this is an “obscured” business proposal – meaning what, exactly? – and second, that Mr. Liu is keeping the precise amount of General Ali’s deposit to himself until I demonstrate interest.]

Upon maturity several notices was sent to him, even early in the war,again after the war another notification was sent and still no response came from him,We later find out that General Mohammed Jassim Ali and his family had been killed during the war in a bomb blast that hit their home.

After further investigation it was also discovered that General Mohammed Jassim Ali did not declare any next of kin in his official papers including the paper work of his bank deposit. And he also confided in me the last time he was at my office that no one except me knew of his deposit in my bank. So, (I will disclose amount upon your reply) is still lying in my bank and no one will ever come forward to claim it. What bothers me most is that, according to the laws of my country at the expiration 3 years the funds will revert to the ownership of the Hong Kong Government if nobody applies to claim the funds.

[Um, I can think of a number of things in this story that bother me most. Just FYI.]

Against this backdrop, my suggestion to you is that I will like you as a foreigner to stand as the next of kin to General Mohammed Jassim Ali so that you will be able to receive his funds. I want you to know that I have had everything planned out so that we shall come out successful.

[Oh yes – as with the last Hong Kong email, I think this sounds like a great idea. Baathist Iraqi general killed by U.S. forces somehow declared a non-Arab American women his next-of-kin. Who on earth would doubt this?]

I have contacted an attorney who will prepare the legal documents that will back you up as the next of kin to General Mohammed Jassim Ali, all what is required from you at this stage is for you to provide me with your Full Names, private phone number and Address so that the attorney can commence his job. After you have been made the next of kin, the attorney will also fill in for claims on your behalf and secure the necessary approval and letter of probate in your favor for the transfer of the funds to an account that will be provided by you with my guidance.There is no risk involved at all in the matter as we are going adopt a legalized method and the attorney will prepare all the necessary documents.

[A “legalized method” for an illegal activity? Suddenly I have a new image of Hong Kong … ]

Please endeavor to observe utmost discretion in all matters concerning this issue. Once the funds have been transferred to your nominated bank account we shall discuss the percentage issue on your reply.

[Hunh. This whole proposal seems a little low in the numbers department. No disclosure of the deposit, and no disclosure of the percentages? I think I’ll go with the dead Saudi.]

If you are interested please send me your full names and current residential address, and I will prefer you to reach me on my private and secure email address below and finally after that I shall provide you with more details of this operation.

Best Regards Liu Yan

[And my regards to you, Mr. Liu. You’ve made my day. I’m not taking you up on your offer, but I definitely plan to put my “ability to handle a financial business transaction” to use by doing a little online shopping!]

Posted in advertising, Arab world, economics, Iraq, vanity | Leave a Comment »

the evolution of scam: from Nigerian princes to US soldiers

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 27, 2009

Ho-hum. Another morning, another bout of gender-incorrect, Iraq-focused spam:

Dear Sir,

[Um, no. Guess again!]

Good day to you,

My name is Sgt. Josh Hubbell. I am an American soldier, I am serving in the military of the 1st Armored Division in Iraq, we have just been posted to leave Iraq and go back to Germany. I am now in Kuwait at the mean time. I and my superior moved funds belonging to Saddam Hussein, the total is $25,000,000.00 (Twenty Five million US dollars) this money is being kept safe in a security company. When I hear from you, I will give you a link to read about everything that took place here.

[Lovely. In one short, grammatically questionable paragraph, you have managed to impugn the honor of our enlisted soldiers, our officer class, and – less surprisingly! – our contractors.]

Basically since we are working for the government we cannot keep these funds, but we want to transfer and move the funds to you, so that you can keep it for us in your safe account or an offshore account.

[Let me rephrase. “Basically, since we are working for the U.S. government and this is Iraqi money that Saddam Hussein stole from the Iraqi people, keeping this money would be not only totally illegal but also wholly unethical. Naturally, we thought you might be interested in partnering with us.” Gee, thanks.]

We will divide the total funds in three ways, since we are 3 that is involved. This means that you will take 30%, I will take 30%, and my superior will take 30%. 10% will be kept aside for expenses. This business is confidential, and it should not be discussed with anyone.

[$2.5 million in “expenses”? Do you mean “bribes”?]

There is no risk involved whatsoever. If you are interested I will send you the full details, my job is to find a good partner that we can trust and that will assist us.

[I hate it when people use “that” instead of “who” when referring to human beings. For humans, the correct relative pronoun is “who”. Animals can go either way: you can choose to refer to your pet as a “who” and a snake as a “that”, but humans are always “who”.]

Can I trust you? When you receive this letter, kindly send me an e-mail signifying your interest including your most confidential telephone/fax numbers for quick communication also your contact details. This business is risk free.

[Given that you have cavalierly stolen a massive sum of money that rightly belongs to the people you are meant to be HELPING, I believe the more accurate question should be mine, and it should be: “Can I bring you to justice?”]

Please reply me via this email: sgt.joshhubbell@web2mail.com

Respectfully submitted

Sgt. Josh Hubbell.

Ugh.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Iraq | Leave a Comment »

ancien regime spam

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 16, 2009

This morning I received a fetching email from another new friend: Ali Ibrahim, who describes himself as working in Iraq with an “international organization” otherwise known as the “20th Armored Brigade in Basra”. Ali’s sense of ethics is strong but flexible: he is asking my help to “evacuate” the $18.523 million he received as his share of a group find at one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, which he describes as “no stolen money” although he also notes that “this was quite an illegal thing to do. No word on what he and his compadres did with the “piles of weapons and ammunitions”, although I bet that you and I could come up wtih a few likely scenarios :).

When it comes to friendships, I believe strongly in the concept of: “the more, the merrier”. So if you are looking for a new friend, allow me to share my friend Ali Ibrahim with you:

Dear Friend,

With a very desperate need for assistance, I have summed up courage to contact you. I am from(will disclose this later), presently working in Iraq with an international organization that I will also disclose later, I found your contact particulars in an address journal. I am seeking your assistance to evacuate the sum of (US$18.523 Million Dollars) Eighteen Million, five Hundred And Twenty Three Thousand US Dollars to your country or any other safe country of your choice, as far as I can be assured that my share will be safe in your care until I complete my service here, this is no stolen money,and there are no dangers involved.

Some money in various currencies was discovered concealed in barrels with piles of weapons and ammunitions at a location near one of Saddam’s old palaces during a rescue operation, and it was agreed by all party present that the money be shared amongst us, this was quite an illegal thing to do, but I tell you what? no compensation can make up for the risks we have taken with our lives in this hell hole. The above figure was given to me as my share, and to conceal this kind of money became a problem for me, so with the help of a German contact working here, and his office enjoys some immunity, I was able to get the package out to a safe cation entirely out of trouble spot. He does not know the real contents of the package,and believes that it belongs to an Asian/American who died in an air raid, and before giving up, trusted me to hand over the package to his business associate. I have now found a secured way of getting the package out to a safer country for you to pick up, and will discuss this with you.

Your full name:
Your country:
Contact phone number:
Age:
Occupation:

I await your urgent reply
Regards,

Ali Ibrahim

20 Armoured Brigade in Basra

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, Arabic, friends, Iraq | 5 Comments »

Ads and ends from the local paper

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 11, 2009

The news is awful again this morning – more than 60 strikes on Gaza overnight. Assuming an 8-hour night, that’s 7.5 per hour, or one every eight minutes. Do you think people there got any sleep? I don’t. I remember the bombings in south Beirut in 2006. My apartment was roughly one mile away, and the impact of each bomb still shook me – literally, lifted me up off my bed – when they hit their target.

So I’ll focus on lighter things, like a few of the advertisements that I have seen recently in the Daily Star.

Ace Hardware, which had been running ads on billboards near the Beirut port all spring, is now open:

09_01_2009_001_006

I think of Ace as a real down-home, old-school hardware store – a chain with the feel of a local, small-town shop. I wonder how this attitude is translating in Beirut – I can’t see many people walking in with the idea of taking on anything DIY, for example. Is the store focusing on contractors?

On the other hand, in one way I can see Ace fitting right in. When I went to college, there was an Ace in the next town – for about five minutes. It was closed by the parent company during my first month there – moved somewhere a bit more bustling, I think.

But the store lived on in local memory, because it was used heavily in direction-giving. As in, “Oh yes – shop X? Its right after the place where the hardware store was.” Typical New England direction-giving – and also typical Lebanese-style direction-giving. I can’t tell you the number of times the turn into my neighborhood was described as “where [Fast Food Restaurant X] used to be.”

I moved there long after the fast food restaurant had closed, but I got the message: that in Lebanon, as in New England, there are locals, who know the longue duree of the land; and there are others. With that in mind, Ace should fit right in :).

There’s another ad that has been running regularly in the paper – one from travel agent Nakhal, advertising regular flights to Baghdad and Erbil:

03_01_2009_003_004

I know Nakhal primarily as an agency focused on leisure travel: vacations, honeymoons, etc. But it seems to have found a lucrative new sideline. The flights, which run on Flying Carpet and Wings of Lebanon, are not inexpensive – $600RT in economy class, and booking a ticket requires an “invitation letter” from an Iraqi company or other organization.

I’m sure that some of you are thinking: What’s the big deal? Why wouldn’t Lebanon have direct flights to Iraq?

I’m not sure what the big deal is, to be honest. And yes, there have been direct flights from Lebanon for some time. What I find interesting is that they are now being advertised by a travel agent, with all the supporting infrastructure this implies (transfer arrangements, hotel bookings, etc.). I see it as an indication that there is now a steady interest in traveling to Iraq for business ventures, and am hopeful that this means better things – like stability – for Iraqis.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, Beirut, construction, Iraq, Lebanon, travel | 3 Comments »

signs of the times: frequent flying to Iraq

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 1, 2008

My return to New York yesterday was  hit with the usual winter travel snafus: weather delays, mechanical problems, and travelers with too much luggage. But I had work to do and a flexible schedule, so the extended airport time didn’t bother me too much.

And sitting in the airport certainly bothered me less than flying on a broken plane would have – so I was quite grateful when my original airline wrote my ticket over to an American flight.

American is an airline that I don’t often fly, so I put our “penalty box” delay to good use by reading its in-flight magazine. I was intrigued to learn that Royal Jordanian Airlines, which I used to fly quite frequently, is now an American partner:

img_1044

I spent a few petulant moments imagining all the frequent flier miles I might have accumulated had this partnership been operative back in the early 2000s, when I noticed that the Royal Jordanian line had footnotes next to its X’es (its the bottom line in the photo above – sorry its so blurry).

Aha, I thought, feeling suddenly vindicated, I bet those miles don’t really translate into American Airlines frequent flier miles.

But that wasn’t want the footnote was for – or at least, it didn’t apply to all Royal Jordanian flights:

img_1045

I imagine that miles flown on Royal Jordanian’s flights to and from Iraq are not eligible to be counted as frequent flier miles because technically no American is supposed to be traveling to Iraq, but I’m curious whether anyone knows the full answer.

And if you’ve ever flown one of these flights and tried to get mileage credit for it, I would love to hear your story. Given my own experiences trying to get credit for my usual US airline with flights taken on its Middle East partners, I suspect that asking for flight credit for an Iraq-bound flight would cause utter melt-down on the customer service side.

Posted in Americans, Amman, Arab world, Iraq, Jordan, travel | 1 Comment »

“The book ends differently than the movie”: Body of Lies

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 28, 2008

Those of you living in the United States have probably heard about the new Ridley Scott movie, Body of Lies. It came out earlier this month: another CIA-in-the-Middle-East adventure flick, starring Matt Damon and Russell Crowe.

You might not have wanted to see it in any case, given what the New York Times called its “grinding tedium”. And you may have been turned off by what even reviewers noted was an improbable romance between Damon’s character and a Jordan-based Iranian refugee nurse (They scoffed at the religious and cultural differences, but readers with experience in the region will be scratching their heads at the thought of Iranians in Jordan. The Iranian refugees I know all live in Damascus.)

Well, guess what? As my AP English literature teacher used to say in high school: the book ends differently than the movie. And in this case, the book begins and middles differently than the movie, too.

You will love this book. The characters are beautifully drawn – they come alive immediately. The region is aptly portrayed, with the minor exception of the one hospital scene, which takes place not in Amman but in Tripoli. (Who goes to Tripoli for non-emergency medical care, when Beirut is only two hours away?)

I’m not going to tell you the plot, but I am going to tell you that it is not only very different, but much better than the movie.

And I will give you a few hints.

First, the main character’s name is Roger Ferris.

Second, his dearly departed grandfather spoke very little and only vaguely about his origins in the “Balkan region” of the Ottoman Empire.

Third, the Jordanian mukhabarat plays a starring role – in a good way. (When asked about torture, the director says: we find torture incredibly ineffective. But we know our reputation, and we make use of it. The sounds of screaming in the prisons? All a recording.)

Fourth, there is romance and a strong woman character (woo hoo!), but she is not Iranian.

This is not an anti-American book, and it is not an anti-CIA book. It is a gripping read, and it offers something that we need to see much more of in contemporary American literature: Muslim heroes.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, books, citizenship, Damascus, espionage, family, home, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, politics, romance, Syria, words | 4 Comments »

Warden weenies: the US Embassy in Damascus on last night’s strike in Syria

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 27, 2008

Earlier this morning I noticed a warden message from the US Embassy in Syria sitting in my inbox. I give the embassy kudos for quick response time – unlike the US Embassy in Lebanon, which takes days to respond to US-related Lebanese events. But I can’t stand its “know-nothing” attitude: it treats the strike as an “alleged action” and takes no responsibility for US action. Nor does it cite any of the mainstream media coverage (the New York Times, the BBC, the Washington Post, Reuters, etc.) – only SANA, which makes the “Syrian allegations” sound like just that.

I was taught as a child to take responsibility for my actions. The US Embassy in Syria represents the United States, and it should take responsibility for our actions.

Or at least acknowledge that the US charge d’affaires in Damascus (who stands in for our missing ambassador there) was summoned to appear before the Syrian Foreign Ministry yesterday evening to explain the raid.

Warden Message:  Media Reports Concerning a Military Action at the Syrian/Iraqi Border

The Embassy of the United States of America in Damascus wishes to inform the American community of media reports about a military action at the Syrian/Iraqi border near the town of al-Boukamal.  According to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the alleged action occurred on October 26, 2008 at 4:45 p.m. and there were several persons killed or injured in this action.  SANA has reported Syrian allegations this action was carried out by the U.S. armed forces.

Also according to SANA, the Syrian government has condemned the action as an aggressive act and holds the United States responsible for this military action and its repercussions.

In light of these reports, the U.S. Embassy wishes to remind the American community to review their personal security practices, such as avoiding areas in which demonstrations take place and to not draw undue attention to themselves.  The U.S. Embassy in Damascus remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and their interests overseas.

The American community in Syria should be aware that unforeseen events or circumstances may occur that could cause the U.S. Embassy in Damascus to close to the public for an unspecified period of time.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Iraq, politics, rumors, Syria, words | Leave a Comment »

Tower of … Babylon?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 18, 2008

Hizbullah is having a busy week in Lebanon, it seems. In between calling for Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails to be repatriated and signing a MoU with “the Salafists” (which I never realized was a discrete organization. I thought it was a tendency, or an orientation – not a club.), it has been pushing to expand the upcoming national dialogue to include issues beyond national defense.

That’s all fine with me – I mean, I personally don’t support two of those activities, but I’m all in favor of hard work and a busy schedule. What intrigues me is a small aspect of the English-language media coverage of March 14 reactions’ to Hizbullah’s desire to broaden the dialogue.

According to Now Lebanon, Prime Minister Siniora said that he was against broadening the dialogue because it would create a “Tower of Babel”-like situation:

“If the participants would like to expand the dialogue, we could add some terms, but then we would be cancelling the constitutional institutions and the parliament’s role, which would lead to a situation similar to Tower of Babel,” he commented.

Now Lebanon’s command of English is nothing to write home about, at least when it comes to its news updates and “Today in Lebanon” section, but I would agree that “Tower of Babel” is the correct translation for “burj Babil”.

Naharnet, on the other hand, seems to have gone utterly off the linguistic deep end. Here’s the title of its article on the same subject:

Hizbullah Weapons into the Babylon Tower Dialogue

Oh yes – clear as mud, as they say. The article opens with back-to-back present participles and more passion than reportage:

Hizbullah appeared heading to flooding the proposed national dialogue with an expanded agenda and an expanded list of participants as Premier Fouad Saniora warned that such a trend would only end up in a “Babylon tower” disarray.

“Babylon Tower”? Does anyone know anything about this? My memory of the Tower of Babel chapter in Genesis is that both it and the city of Babylon were in the same kingdom, but were not at all the same. But “Babil” in Arabic is translated both as “Babel” and “Babylon”, so maybe the translation was an honest mistake.

Or it may be that Babylon grew over time and absorbed the old Tower site – just like Beirut grew and absorbed the formerly rural areas of Achrafiye, Zarif, and Ras Beirut.

I’m eager to know more, if anyone has information (or an opinion!) to share :).

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, church, Iraq, Lebanon, politics, research, time, words | 5 Comments »

gassing up in Syria

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 13, 2008

Earlier this week, Iraq Directory published a translation of an al-Thawra article announcing that Syria is now charging market prices for gasoline for trucks crossing the border to Iraq. The price of gas in Syria is heavily subsidized: the article states that gas in Syria costs $.14/liter (yes, its the European system!) while market price is closer to $.80/liter.

Filling in the article’s gaps, I assume this means that these trucks typically fuel up at the Syrian side of the Syrian/Iraqi border, so they enjoy the subsidized prices and do not have to waste time (or put themselves at risk) stopping to fuel up in Iraq.

But why increase the price? I’m guessing that the answer has to do partly with finances, and partly with politics. Syria is running a major budget deficit this year, and I understand that proposals to cut the many subsidies that Syrians enjoy have been floated – and then rejected as politically untenable. Cutting the gas subsidy on trucks leaving the county won’t be anywhere as contentious as cutting the bread subsidy – or raising gas prices for ordinary Syrians.

I do not know for certain that Syria’s Iraqi borders see more truck crossings than any others – Lebanon’s export and trans-shipment economy depends heavily on Lebanese-Syrian land routes, for example. But any change in procedures on the Syrian side of the Lebanese border usually meets with a big outcry in Lebanon – as it did earlier this week. A slow-down that Syrian officials attributed to new security procedures set off anxious news reports on Future Television and passionate speechifying by the country’s political class.

As for the Syria’s Turkish and Jordanian borders, they seem occupied by other issues: Kurds and smuggling, respectively. So I imagine that targeting trucks at the Iraqi border was appealing as well because it promised the least political costs.

In any case, its interesting to see both the change in price and the fact that it was picked up as a news item of interest beyond the country’s borders. I love stories like this – under-reported administrative changes that slip through. I puzzle over them, like I puzzled over the story that the national Syrian football team had just hired, and then let go, new coach Antonio Cabrini.

Apparently Cabrini’s salary was to be paid directly by a Syrian company, but the national football federation decided that it should instead be paid indirectly through corporate sponsorships. And rather than this disagreement becoming the starting point for dialogue, it seems to have ended it – leaving the Syrians coach-less. Puzzling indeed. I’m sure there is a larger back story here, and I sure wish I knew it :)!

Posted in Arab world, economics, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, neighbors, politics, shipping, Syria, travel | Leave a Comment »

From Iowa to Iraq: let’s model ourselves on Syria in Lebanon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 14, 2007

Earlier this week, my father mentioned that our local paper – the Des Moines Register – had run an unusual op-ed about Iraq, written by a former State Department officer on the Lebanon desk.

Political commentaries in the Register are nothing new – and especially popular during the presidential election, when Iowa’s historic position as first caucus state (along with New Hampshire, the first primary state) puts it in the national spotlight.

Political commentaries that suggest that the US army adopt Syria’s occupation of Lebanon as the most efficient means to manage the mess we’ve made of Iraq are somewhat rarer – especially after four years in which the Bush administration has (with the eager help of Lebanon’s newly “anti-Syrian” politicians) worked continuously to make “Syria” a bad word.

I’ve read this op-ed several times now and each time I end by shaking my head and laughing. As an Iowan abroad, who loves Damascus and lives in Beirut, all I can think is: who would ever have thought that those three places would appear together in my hometown paper? 🙂

Syria/Lebanon example offers alternative for Iraq
By RICHARD SINDELAR
SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER

The presidential candidates face a dilemma. They want to articulate an Iraq policy that distinguishes them from their competitors and offers hope that would capture voters’ imaginations. Yet, their timid and vague stump pronouncements so far suggest none has any good idea for how to proceed.

Most candidates criticize President Bush’s small suggested drawdown, which would return U.S forces only to pre-surge levels. But few offer details about a pullout: When, how fast, how to protect force security during a drawdown or deal with the mess left behind?

The mediocre results of the surge still have Iraqis themselves expecting a U.S pullout. The Iraqi social-political maelstrom will be what it will be, and no amount of clever military tactics at present troop strength is likely to appreciably diminish the violence, or do more than postpone that inevitable pullout. So, where to turn for the next-best idea, since a buildup or just staying the course is political anathema?

The answer might be a Syrian one, a proven formula that both would leave us in a position to influence events, yet diminish our force footprint. No, not enlisting the present-day Syrians, a marginal shadow of their former selves, playing virtual lapdog to Iran, Hezbollah and other terrorists in a shameful effort to remain a player in Middle East politics.

But perhaps a realistic, hard-nosed president-elect in 2009 could study and borrow for Iraq the tactics used in Lebanon’s 1970-80s civil war by a tough former Middle Eastern player, Syria’s deceased President Hafez al-Assad.

The reality is that Iraq has devolved into a Lebanonized confessional mess, with tribes within factions within religious extremities, down to the same neighborhood-by-neighborhood factionalism that was a trademark of Beirut in the 1970s.

When Syria’s 1976 Lebanon intervention failed to end the fighting and brought increased Syrian casualties, Damascus under Assad’s leadership adopted instead a middle approach that saved Syrian lives, held his military together, and eventually helped Lebanon limp to a modicum of quiet.

In brief, the Syrians pulled back into the mountains, poised Godfather-like just outside but near urban centers and areas of fighting and intervened decisively only when one or another party overstepped unwritten but understood boundaries and trigger wires.

U.S. forces could poise themselves similarly in Iraq. Withdraw from urban areas, minimizing exposure of U.S. troops, but stay close enough to mount quick and tough forays into areas where the inevitable civil war among Iraqi factions gets beyond the usual bombings and exchanges of fire.

Position many of these troops in a blocking mode between urban Iraqi centers and Iran, a maneuver also affording an opportunity to diminish the flow of arms and military support from Iran.

In this way, U.S. forces would draw down from broad, country-wide deployments to a smaller yet potent force structure focused on containing if not eliminating the Islamic adventurism of both Iran and Iraqi Shia factions and any Sunni attempts to foment a Baath resurrection. Syrian intelligence operatives and military presence kept Lebanon’s factions boxed in so that none could assert too much military or political whim. A factor in Hezbollah’s exponential growth today in Lebanon is the complete 2005 withdrawal of Syrian forces under international pressure.

Significantly reducing the urban profile of U.S troops in Iraq would take the accelerant of the U.S. presence out of the Iraqi religion-based sectarian equation, as well as reduce military targets and opportunities for anti-U.S factions to generate world attention. When Syrian forces pulled back in Lebanon, fighting diminished because the anti-Syrian catalyst for some factions was withdrawn, or at least became harder at which to strike.

Then, like firefighters with limited resources overmatched by a raging fire, let the civil war burn itself out.

The short-term aftermath would be messy: violent factional fighting, bombings and refugee dislocations. But the U.S presence is not appreciably staunching the ongoing civil-war violence, and the next couple of years in Iraq will be bloody either way. At least American blood would not be so much in the mix.

As with Lebanon, politicians are survivalists in Iraq. If forced to be more on their own, Iraq’s fractured national leadership might choose to start cooperating more toward some semblance of national government. Their alternative is civil chaos and assassination, Lebanon’s preferred manner of regime change for many years, and now a growing specter in Iraq.

RICHARD SINDELAR, who was born in Ames, is a foreign-policy professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, He served as the State Department’s Lebanon analyst during the early years of civil war and later as deputy director of the Office of Near East & South Asia Analysis.

On another note, I see that this morning’s Google Alert – Lebanon has brought me another unintentionally funny headline:

Lebanon IL: Sunday dinner suggestions

I was born in Evanston, Illinois – I am very well aware that “IL” is the standard US mail abbreviation for “Illinois”. But every time I fill out a landing card or a visa application in the Middle East, I hesitate when writing my birthplace – because outside the US, “IL” is the standard country abbreviation for “Israel”.

Sunday dinner with the SLA in southern Lebanon – known to its new country, I suppose, as upper Galilee. At least it would give everyone the chance to settle their disagreements once and for all: is it hummus or khumus? “Israeli couscous” or moughrabiya? And who “owns” falafel anyway …?

Posted in Americans, Beirut, Damascus, Iowa, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, politics, Syria, vanity, words | 2 Comments »