After a four hour gun battle, a TOW missile fired by an attack helicopter strikes the side of the house where Uday and Qusay were hiding.
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After a four hour gun battle, a TOW missile fired by an attack helicopter strikes the side of the house where Uday and Qusay were hiding.
WASHINGTON — Harold Rhode still recalls the euphoria he felt a decade ago after finding thousands of dripping, moldy artifacts of Iraq’s once-vibrant Jewish community in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service headquarters in Baghdad.
“How do you describe it? An enormous elation, a deep connection, but also shock: Why would this be here?” says the 64-year-old former Pentagon official, an Orthodox Jew who discovered the purloined archive in the bombed-out building days after he arrived in the Iraqi capital with the U.S. invasion force in the spring of 2003.
People who saw him at the time recall that Rhode, a disheveled, rotund scholar of Islamic history, was nearly overcome with emotion as he rescued the waterlogged books, personal papers and sacred texts, including a 400-year-old Hebrew Bible, all of which seemed to be a link to the ancient — and mostly dispersed — Jewish population of Mesopotamia.
But like the arc of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Rhode’s involvement with the Iraqi Jewish archives has progressed from exhilaration to disillusionment and recrimination.
Since he arranged 10 years ago for the collection to be brought to the United States in metal shipping containers, on which he had scrawled “RHODE” and “TORAHS” in big letters, the books and documents have been carefully cleaned of mold and grime, preserved and digitally photographed by experts at the U.S. National Archives.
When summer comes, however, they are to be returned to the Iraqi government, an ending that Rhode likens to giving the personal effects of Jews killed in the Holocaust back to Germany.
Rhode has launched a campaign to halt the transfer, joined by a growing number of American Jewish groups and members of Congress, who argue that the materials belong to the Iraqi Jews they were taken from and their descendants, not to Iraq’s government.
For years, intelligence operatives working for Hussein and his predecessors apparently seized papers from synagogues and Jewish families, in periodic crackdowns or before the families would be allowed to emigrate.
Why the materials, most of which document relatively mundane activities of Iraq’s Jewish communities, were kept for decades in the security service headquarters is a mystery. Rhode attributes it partly to Hussein’s mania for getting back at Israel.
“By Saddam taking this material, it was like he was personally humiliating the Jews of the world and Israel,” Rhode says. “So now are we going to return it to them?”
Iraqi officials say the current government has no connection to abuses Jews suffered under Hussein. They say they want the materials returned, as U.S. officials promised to do when they were taken out of the country for preservation, in order to document the country’s rich Jewish history. Several Iraqis are being trained by the National Archives in proper handling of the materials, and U.S. officials say Iraq has promised to carefully protect the archive and make it publicly available.
But opposition in the U.S. to that effort has grown, due in no small part to Rhode’s efforts.
Although unfamiliar to most of the public, Rhode was an architect of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq from his desk at the Pentagon, where he spent 27 years as an in-house expert on the Middle East. He became a sounding board for top George W. Bush administration officials and neoconservatives who argued that toppling Hussein would transform the region in a manner that meshed with American interests.
Assigned to work for the U.S. occupation authority, Rhode made his way to Baghdad in the days after Hussein’s fall, in April 2003. According to a lengthy written account he has posted online, Rhode learned about the Jewish archive in the intelligence agency from Ahmad Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi exile whom some in the Bush administration wanted to install as Iraq’s new leader. He, in turn, had heard about it from an Iraqi defector.
After enlisting a team of U.S. soldiers who were supposed to be looking for weapons of mass destruction, Rhode went to the intelligence headquarters to search.
“We went around to the building’s main entrance and descended only halfway down a basement staircase, blocked by water which had risen about halfway up,” he writes. “The WMD team then proceeded down the hall, found the Jewish section, and carried out religious books and a tiq,” a box made of wood or metal that Jews in the Middle East and North Africa use to hold Torah scrolls.
With looters everywhere, Rhode said, he persuaded Chalabi to provide small pumps to drain the water from the basement and hurriedly got money from a Wall Street executive to pay Iraqis to carefully remove the papers and lay them in the sunlight to dry.
Rhode’s efforts to get the Pentagon and the State Department to help salvage the documents were ignored until he or intermediaries reached out for help to top Bush administration officials, he says. At his urging, Richard Perle, one of his former Pentagon bosses, called Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Rhode says. Rhode also asked Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and Israeli government minister, to ask Vice President Dick Cheney to help the project.
A document released by Rumsfeld as part of his memoirs supports Rhode’s account.
“I am told somebody found a cache of documents in the headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Secret Police in Baghdad … and that some portion of them relate to the history of the Jewish community in Iraq,” Rumsfeld wrote in a May 31, 2003, memo that went to all the top U.S. military and civilian officials in Iraq.
“Could you please have someone look into that … and what we’re doing about it, if anything.”
The next day, Rhode says, he had all the help he needed, including several massive pumps and a refrigeration truck in which to keep the soaked documents frozen, a way of preserving them for eventual restoration.
A small portion of the collection, which includes 2,700 books and 10,000 documents, recently went on display at the National Archives building in Washington and will move on to New York.
Rhode’s role in saving the papers is not mentioned in the Archives exhibit, but the display includes several items supporting his account, starting with a dozen metal trunks used to move the collection out of Baghdad, each prominently emblazoned with his name. A picture of the recovery effort shows him carefully carrying soaked documents out of the basement while wearing a gigantic rubber suit, but bears no caption identifying him.
Among the documents are a 200-year-old Talmud from Vienna; a 19th century Passover Haggadah, published in Baghdad and edited by its chief rabbi; a copy of “Ethics of the Fathers,” published in Livorno, Italy, in 1928 with handwritten notes in Hebrew; and a collection of rabbinical sermons made in Germany in 1692.
Most of the papers are routine correspondence from the 20th century, lists of male Jewish residents in Iraq, school records, financial records, applications for university admissions. They sometimes hint at the decline of Iraq’s Jewish community, which numbered 50,000 in Baghdad alone in 1910 but eventually shrank to just a few.
State Department officials say the plan is for the collection to be returned to Iraq late next summer. But the campaign to prevent that seems to be picking up steam.
In a statement released last month, more than 40 American Jewish groups said they were “deeply troubled” by the prospect of the documents being returned to Iraq, citing “uncertain conditions” there. They called for the books and papers to be provided “to synagogues of Iraqi Jews in the U.S. and elsewhere to be used and their sanctity protected.”
At a hearing last month before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lawmakers grilled Brett H. McGurk, deputy assistant secretary of State.
He affirmed that the U.S. was committed to the “safe and rightful return of these artifacts” but also acknowledged that “we have heard loudly and clearly the concerns” of the Jewish community. “We’ll see what we can do.”
Insurgents assaulted a mayor’s office in a Sunni town just north of Baghdad Tuesday, one of several attacks across Iraq that killed 24 people, officials said.
The attack in Tarmiyah, a former insurgent stronghold about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Baghdad, began with mortar fire and a suicide bomber who set off his explosives belt at the gate, police said. Gunmen then fired on the building,
A hospital official said 10 people were killed including six policemen, and another 18 were wounded. Security forces have started a search operation for the gunmen who fled to nearby orchards, police said.
In other violence, a car bomb exploded near a car dealership in Baghdad’s western neighborhood of Baiyaa, killing five people and wounding 14 others. The blast set several cars on fire, said police.
Two suicide bombers set off explosive belts at a police administrative building in the city of Tikrit, killing two policemen and three civilians and wounding 25 other people, police and hospital officials said.
Tikrit is 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad.
Also, a bomb exploded near an outdoor market in the capital’s western suburb of Abu Ghraib, killing two and wounding six others, police said.
A car bomb went off near a police station in the city of Samarra, killing two policemen and wounding eight others. Samarra is 95 kilometers (60 miles north of Baghdad.
Medics in nearby hospitals confirmed the casualty figures for all attacks. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Violence has spiked in Iraq following a security deadly crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in April. According to U.N. estimates, more than 8,000 people have been killed since the start of the year.
(Reuters) – Iraq and northern Kurdistan appear to have found a formula that will allow the autonomous region to export oil to Turkey in a new pipeline, a step towards resolving a long-running dispute over land and oil rights.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Tuesday an agreement over oil exports and revenue sharing could be reached this month. Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi shared his optimism.
“There are no issues,” Luaibi said at a briefing ahead of an OPEC meeting in Vienna. He said technical, trilateral talks would take place in days to finalize details over revenue sharing and metering.
“There are some meetings that will be held to set the measures.”
Luaibi said the central government would retain control over the oil revenue, which would be shared with the Kurds.
Yildiz traveled to Baghdad on Sunday and met Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister for energy Hussain al-Shahristani, part of efforts to appease the central government following a multi-billion dollar deal Turkey clinched last week with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
“We have held talks with both Baghdad and Arbil to set up a three-way mechanism. We have had very positive talks,” said Yildiz.
Turkey’s energy deals with the Kurdish north of Iraq effectively bypass the central government in Baghdad, which claims sole authority to manage Iraqi oil and says independent Kurdish oil exports would be illegal.
Turkey is keen to move the process forward through a three-way mechanism which also includes Baghdad. But the central government might prove hard to persuade, having for years resisted Arbil’s moves towards direct exports.
“Baghdad is trying to find a solution to this, but doesn’t want to lose face either,” said Cuneyt Kazokoglu, Consultant at FGE. “They don’t want it to look like this deal happened despite them.”
A new pipeline from Kurdistan’s Taq Taq oil field is complete and ready to receive flows, the enclave’s natural resources minister Ashti Hawrami said on Monday. It is expected to carry around 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil, which Hawrami says will be ramped up towards 1 million bpd by 2015.
Baghdad and Ankara have agreed that oil exports from anywhere in Iraq need the central government’s approval, Iraq’s deputy prime minister for energy said, after a bi-lateral meeting aimed at solving a row over Kurdish energy resources.
“We agree that any exports must be with the approval of the Iraqi government and we will discuss the mechanism,” Hussain
al-Shahristani said after a meeting with Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz in Baghdad.
Yildiz was in Iraq to discuss Ankara’s energy deals with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region that the central government says are illegal.
Taner Yildiz met on Sunday with Hussain al-Shahristani, Iraq’s deputy prime minister for energy, to discuss the latest developments with a pipeline between Basra and Ceyhan.
Turkey’s courtship of the Kurdish region has infuriated the central government in Baghdad, which says it has the sole authority to manage Iraqi energy resources.
Shahristani had said on Thursday that any energy deal with Arbil would be “an encroachment on the sovereignty of Iraq”.
Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan signed a multi-billion-dollar energy package last week, sources close to the deal said on Friday that will help transform the Iraqi region into an oil and gas powerhouse.
Turkey’s foreign ministry said on Saturday that Ankara and Arbil had “agreed on some trade deals” but had yet to finalise them and said Turkey would seek Baghdad’s cooperation on the issue.
Fears of a break-up
Baghdad says Kurdish efforts towards oil independence could lead to the break up of the country and the dispute has also caused concern in Washington.
It remained unclear whether Yildiz will then travel to Arbil to attend an energy conference to be held this week, the official said, and added that the decision would be made in line with developments.
It will be Yildiz’s first visit to Iraq since his plane was denied permission to land by Baghdad late last year when he tried to attend an energy conference in Arbil.
Turkey, hungry for energy and dependent on imports for almost all of its needs, says Iraqi Kurdistan’s resources will help diversify its energy supplies and reduce its ballooning $60bn annual energy bill.
The future of Iraq as a united and independent country is endangered by sectarian Shia-Sunni hostility says Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia religious leader whose Mehdi Army militia fought the US and British armies and who remains a powerful figure in Iraqi politics. He warns of the danger that “the Iraqi people will disintegrate, its government will disintegrate, and it will be easy for external powers to control the country”.
In an interview with The Independent in the holy city of Najaf, 100 miles south-west of Baghdad – the first interview Mr Sadr has given face-to-face with a Western journalist for almost 10 years – he expressed pessimism about the immediate prospects for Iraq, saying: “The near future is dark.”
Mr Sadr said he is most worried about sectarianism affecting Iraqis at street level, believing that “if it spreads among the people it will be difficult to fight”. He says he believes that standing against sectarianism has made him lose support among his followers.
Mr Sadr’s moderate stance is key at a moment when sectarian strife has been increasing in Iraq – some 200 Shia were killed in the past week alone. For 40 years, Mr Sadr and religious leaders from his family have set the political trend within the Shia community in Iraq. Their long-term resistance to Saddam Hussein and, later, their opposition to the US-led occupation had a crucial impact.
Mr Sadr has remained a leading influence in Iraq after an extraordinary career in which he has often come close to being killed. Several times, it appeared that the political movement he leads, the Sadrist Movement, would be crushed.
He was 25 in 1999 when his father, Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, a revered Shia leader, and Mr Sadr’s two brothers were assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s gunmen in Najaf. He just survived sharing a similar fate, remaining under house arrest in Najaf until 2003 when Saddam was overthrown by the US invasion. He and his followers became the most powerful force in many Shia parts of Iraq as enemies of the old regime, but also opposing the occupation. In 2004, his Mehdi Army fought two savage battles against American troops in Najaf, and in Basra it engaged in a prolonged guerrilla war against the British Army which saw the Mehdi Army take control of the city.
The Mehdi Army was seen by the Sunni community as playing a central role in the sectarian murder campaign that reached its height in 2006-7. Mr Sadr says that “people infiltrated the Mehdi Army and carried out these killings”, adding that if his militiamen were involved in the murder of Sunnis he would be the first person to denounce them.
For much of this period, Mr Sadr did not appear to have had full control of forces acting in his name; ultimately he stood them down. At the same time, the Mehdi Army was being driven from its old strongholds in Basra and Sadr City by the US Army and resurgent Iraqi government armed forces. Asked about the status of the Mehdi Army today, Mr Sadr says: “It is still there but it is frozen because the occupation is apparently over. If it comes back, they [the Mehdi Army militiamen] will come back.”
In the past five years, Mr Sadr has rebuilt his movement as one of the main players in Iraqi politics with a programme that is a mixture of Shia religion, populism and Iraqi nationalism. After a strong showing in the general election in 2010, it became part of the present government, with six seats in the cabinet. But Mr Sadr is highly critical of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s performance during his two terms in office, accusing his administration of being sectarian, corrupt and incompetent.
Speaking of Mr Maliki, with whom his relations are increasingly sour, Mr Sadr said that “maybe he is not the only person responsible for what is happening in Iraq, but he is the person in charge”. Asked if he expected Mr Maliki to continue as Prime Minister, he said: “I expect he is going to run for a third term, but I don’t want him to.”
Mr Sadr said he and other Iraqi leaders had tried to replace him in the past, but Mr Maliki had survived in office because of his support from foreign powers, notably the US and Iran. “What is really surprising is that America and Iran should decide on one person,” he said. “Maliki is strong because he is supported by the United States, Britain and Iran.”
Mr Sadr is particularly critical of the government’s handling of the Sunni minority, which lost power in 2003, implying they had been marginalised and their demands ignored. He thinks that the Iraqi government lost its chance to conciliate Sunni protesters in Iraq who started demonstrating last December, asking for greater civil rights and an end to persecution.
“My personal opinion is that it is too late now to address these [Sunni] demands when the government, which is seen as a Shia government by the demonstrators, failed to meet their demands,” he said. Asked how ordinary Shia, who make up the great majority of the thousand people a month being killed by al-Qa’ida bombs, should react, Mr Sadr said: “They should understand that they are not being attacked by Sunnis. They are being attacked by extremists, they are being attacked by external powers.”
As Mr Sadr sees it, the problem in Iraq is that Iraqis as a whole are traumatised by almost half a century in which there has been a “constant cycle of violence: Saddam, occupation, war after war, first Gulf war, then second Gulf war, then the occupation war, then the resistance – this would lead to a change in the psychology of Iraqis”. He explained that Iraqis make the mistake of trying to solve one problem by creating a worse one, such as getting the Americans to topple Saddam Hussein but then having the problem of the US occupation. He compared Iraqis to “somebody who found a mouse in his house, then he kept a cat, then he wanted to get the cat out of the house so he kept a dog, then to get the dog out of his house he bought an elephant, so he bought a mouse again”.
Asked about the best way for Iraqis to deal with the mouse, Mr Sadr said: “By using neither the cat nor the dog, but instead national unity, rejection of sectarianism, open-mindedness, having open ideas, rejection of extremism.”
A main theme of Mr Sadr’s approach is to bolster Iraq as an independent nation state, able to make decisions in its own interests. Hence his abiding hostility to the American and British occupation, holding this responsible for many of Iraq’s present ills. To this day, neither he nor anybody from his movement will meet American or British officials. But he is equally hostile to intervention by Iran in Iraqi affairs saying: “We refuse all kinds of interventions from external forces, whether such an intervention was in the interests of Iraqis or against their interests. The destiny of Iraqis should be decided by Iraqis themselves.”
This is a change of stance for a man who was once demonised by the US and Britain as a pawn of Iran. The strength of the Sadrist movement under Mr Sadr and his father – and its ability to withstand powerful enemies and shattering defeats – owes much to the fact it that it blends Shia revivalism with social activism and Iraqi nationalism.
Why are Iraqi government members so ineffective and corrupt? Mr Sadr believes that “they compete to take a share of the cake, rather than competing to serve their people”
Asked why the Kurdistan Regional Government had been more successful in terms of security and economic development than the rest of Iraq, Mr Sadr thought there was less stealing and corruption among the Kurds and maybe because “they love their ethnicity and their region”. If the government tried to marginalise them, they might ask for independence: “Mr Massoud Barzani [the KRG President] told me that ‘if Maliki pushes on me harder, we are going to ask for independence’.”
At the end of the interview Mr Sadr asked me if I was not frightened of interviewing him and would not this make the British Government consider me a terrorist? Secondly, he wondered if the British Government still considered that it had liberated the Iraqi people, and wondered if he should sue the Government on behalf of the casualties caused by the British occupation.