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Archive for September, 2008

Men at Work — Light Posting Will Continue

I will be spending the next couple of weeks on the road in Kentucky and Illinois on a pre-election assignment.

Posting will be very light.

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Iraqi Parliament Passes Elections Law

Finally. Abu Aardvark and Reidar Visser have more.

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So they’re building a highway from Khost to Gardez.

I don’t have much to say about roads in Afghanistan, but I traveled on that rutted track quite a lot in 1991 when Haqqani was laying siege to Gardez, so I know something about this particular problem. True, it was rough going (particularly with Najib’s tank shells falling all over), but driving from Khost to Gardez has never been impossible, and it sounds kind of ass-backwards to suddenly start building a fancy blacktop in the middle of the worst war the area has seen since the 80s.

Sure, the good people of Khost deserve to get their produce hauled in style to the markets of Kabul. But you need to sort out other stuff first. With Haqqani and his foreign companions still causing trouble down there, all a highway does is provide them with more traffic to ambush. Trust me — I’ve peered down at that route from enough muj-controlled hilltops to know how treacherous it is.

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11 Die in Finland’s Latest Bout of Social Nausea

As of this writing, 11 are dead in a shooting in a college in central Finland.

Why?

Yes, the tools were readily available — there are some 2 million firearms in this country of 5 million. And yes, there was no lack of models, as any expert on school killings will tell you. But I’m afraid the real reason is much more complicated, something that cannot be fixed with laws and metal detectors.

Since Finland emerged from a record-breaking recession in the early 90s, successive governments have all but obliterated what was once a welfare state, and the results are here for all to see. We have watched helplessly as the essential functions of our society have been privatised and outsourced. Finland is now run like a corporation, except that no corporation today would get away with such callous disregard for common decency. No one cares if schools are shuttered or daycare strangled by budget cuts, or if a 22-year-old goes on a killing spree because the system that was supposed to detect his illness no longer exists.

Tomorrow, the detective who spoke with the would-be killer on Monday and let him go will be publicly lynched, and the evening papers will shed crocodile tears while enjoying record sales, and the rest of us will wonder what’s next in store for this wreck of a country.

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In a videolink press conference, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, who seems to have become Odierno’s tough talker, promised the American command would “closely monitor” how the Iraqi government treats the Baghdad area SoIs when it takes control of them next week.

I have just one question: What exactly will the U.S. do if Maliki decides to fire their asses or chuck them behind bars?

This will be a tough story to follow, and I really hope the Baghdad press corps stays on top of it.

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Iraq: Whose Army Is It, Anyway?

One of the prerequisites for a functioning state is that the government, regardless of what party or faction runs it, retains a monopoly on violence. The Iraqi state, such as it is, suffers from so many seemingly incurable maladies that it’s easy to forget how terrifyingly simple these things actually are. Here’s how Abu Muqawama’s Iracologist sees it:

Conventional wisdom (which Iraqologist has no reason to doubt) has it that many of the various Iraqi security forces have loyalties that trump their loyalty to the Iraqi state. For example, we can point to ISCI/Badr’s infiltration of the ISF from their inception, Maliki’s recent efforts to cultivate forces and agencies loyal to him personally, and supposedly entire divisions of the Iraqi Army that Iraqologist has heard are merely re-hatted peshmerga. What happens to these security forces if the ruling parties who own them get voted out in the national elections? Is it really possible to believe that peshmerga will be loyal to a central government in which the Kurdish parties are not part of the ruling coalition, or that, the moment they’re ordered to do something the Kurds don’t like, Arbil won’t veto it? (cf. Khanaqin). Same goes for ISCI/Badr and Maliki as well. People often refer to Maliki’s strongman efforts as “coup-proofing,” but they also potentially amount to ‘peaceful transition-of-power-proofing’ as well.

And the ultimate question, worth posing again and again:

What good are these provincial and national elections that so many have invested such hope in if the people who win them don’t get control of the security forces?

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When the Lights Went Out in Baghdad

This is intriguing.

By studying the night-light signature of Baghdad, provided by weather satellite imagery, a team of UCLA geographers has concluded that the ethno-sectarian bloodshed in the Iraqi capital largely ended in early 2007 because Sunni neighborhoods emptied, not because of the much-vaunted increase in American troops.

Put simply, these guys looked at how the city was lit at night and deduced that “by the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left”, says professor John Agnew, lead author of the study:

Baghdad’s decreases were centered in the southwestern Sunni strongholds of East and West Rashid, where the light signature dropped 57 percent and 80 percent, respectively, during the same period.

By contrast, the night-light signature in the notoriously impoverished, Shiite-dominated Sadr City remained constant, as it did in the American-dominated Green Zone. Light actually increased in Shiite-dominated New Baghdad, the researchers found.

Agnew concludes: “The surge really seems to have been a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.”

The study is here.

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