Olive Branch Optimism
what a wonderful world...
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
General David Petraeus
Just a quote, nothing more:

(talking about what makes a successfull army officer//leader)

"It's the hard work of drinking tea with the locals, delivering air conditioners to the mosques, meeting with the neighborhood clerics, getting to know the imams, and all the rest of that," he says. "You gotta build institutions, not just units." - General David Petraeus.
Monday, January 22, 2007
OB Network BACK
All appears to be fixed. Thanks a bundle to James at SmartyHost- even though all he did was clarify my situation and run me through what I did just the other night; a repair on wp_comments database- it worked. Wether or not this is because he has some divine connection to the SmartyHost internet services is beyond me; im just glad its all back up and running.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Troop Deployment Discussions
This is my reply to an email inviting me to "protest" here in Perth, Western Australia against the 20,000 additional troops to be deployed to Baghdad by the US military. Of course I am an anti-occupation activist and was most definately a prominant member of Perth's anti-war activist community before the war; but protesting this deployment is not something I can see any purpose in. Here is my reply to the email:

I would like to start a constructive conversation with the members of Just Peace as to the reasons they are opposing this troop increase (in reality its not much of an increase- it's merely taking troop levels back to what they were this time last year). Yes I am against the occupation and yes I am against anything which will worsen the situation in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. However over the last two years I have become deeply involved in many Iraqi communities both within and outside of Iraq- most importantly of all in the Iraqi blogosphere. This has given me the privelege of an insiders view of everything from Iraqi culture & language- through to an anti-occupation US soldiers perspective (who was and is no longer posted in Baghdad; he has since left the army).

In all honesty this is NOT the time to protest. This is the time to join the discussion and use words and wisdom to determine where to go next with Iraq once this operation is over (either it fails or succeeds- either which way this is the very last move the US government can make as an occupier of Iraq. All future increase in deployment will be blocked by congress (this one can't since the money is left-overs from 2006 budgeting).

More over any future increase will be blocked by the Iraqi Government itself and the Iraqi militias and resistance if the US were to fail in this operation aimed at targetting these two opposing sectarian forces. The Shi'ite militia's and the Sunni extremist's being targetted by these operations are the ones which have caused most of the violence in Iraqi's main cities since the Iraqi government was established.

There is a very interesting debate about this troop deployment occuring across the Iraqi blogosphere- and though many Iraqi's were at first pessimistic about it's chances of success in confronting the militia's- and some still are; others believe this is the only chance left to prevent an Islamofascist government coming to power against the will of the majority of Iraqis.

I will not be attending this protest as I believe as good as its intentions may be it's stance is ignorant. "TROOPS OUT NOW" was a great slogan before the fall of Saddam Hussein and even after, while the sectarian warfare was NOT killing hundreds per day and when the Iraqi civilian death toll had NOT been estimated at over 650,000- the vast majority of which are victims of the very same armed sectarian groups which are to be targetted by this final US action in Iraq.

If one can look past all prior judgements on what the USA was planning for Iraq and see the real situation they are in; where their prestige has been entirely lost, their power in the middle-east has fallen and their chances of "success" in Iraq entirely lost------ then we can easily see that this must be their final action. The Democrats WILL be voted in next election; they already control congress so there would be no point in another Republican attempt at defrauding the voting system.

The will of the American people has been totally realised- the timetable for Iraq has already been set. The democrats will not allow this occupation to continue unabated like the Republicans so wished- they want out as soon as possible- but their leaders definately realise the necessity of leaving Iraq in a semi-stable condition with a government that can actually exist without the support of deadly shia militia's such as the Mehdi Army.

What needs to be done now is to wait it out and see wether this is PLAN (some would argue that this is their first actual PLAN for Baghdad since the "Shock and Awe" campaign) is successfull, and in the mean time find our own ways to actually HELP the people of Baghdad. If there is anyone truely interested in this I can bring many suggestions- I am the founder // editor in chief of "The Olivebranch Network"- the biggest active group-blog in the Iraqi Blogosphere with over 30 Iraqi contributors and two Iraqi sub-editors, as a result of the efforts put in to develop this network I have made some very good friends who are actively finding ways to help better the lives of their fellow Iraqi's.

The Olivebranch Network can be found at http://olivebranchoptimism.net but unfortunately has been having hosting problems for the last two days as the server is upgrading its software and in the process has damaged one of the database files required for the Olivebranch Network's comments section to function correctly.

I will be posting this email on my blog at http://olivebranchoptimism.net and anyone who wishes to debate or discuss anything mentioned in this email is welcome to leave me a comment there- I will be checking for replies frequently over the next few weeks.

--- Thanks Ray and could you possibly forward this on to the members of Just Peace? I have finally signed up as one just now (I thought I had already but obviously not!).

Luke(y) Skinner
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
As I begin writing this post it is January 16, 2007. If I track back one year the Olivebranch Network was yet to exist even as an idea- but would within a matter of days. I had recently won web hosting through a competition run by Sydney-based journalist/author/blogger Antony Loewenstein- who has since released a best-selling book entitled "My Israel Story", and is now working on a new book. In the year since winning this prize I have, albeit with a lot of encouragement and support from many others, built a network in excess of 30 members- the vast majority of whome are Iraqi, most of whome were already bloggers, but some of whome were not. The first post on the Olivebranch Network was on January 25, 2006.

The Olivebranch Network has been cited on telivision in the United States of America as the "Most Insightful look in to the Iraq war anywhere" by NBC News Tech Reporter "Mike Wendland". I personally have been interviewed here in Western Australia by a local broadcaster "Access 31" on their morning show "Wake Up Perth". The interview was a 7 minute breakdown on what the Olivebranch Network is, how it came to existance, what it contains and where it is headed in the future. Just last month the Olivebranch Network was featured in the Pakistani monthly magazine "Spider".

On top of this we have recruited many of the Iraqi Blogosphere's prominant and not-so prominant bloggers and I have personally befriended most of them; which for me was a major source of gratification and inspiration which helps me continue this project through to this very day and hopefully far into the future.

Importantly a sense of community has developed at the Olivebranch Network with chit-chat and comment exchange occuring regularly in the comments sections; especially amongst the girls. The first year has seen many events of significance and nearly 10,000 hits- which means our aim of educating people about Iraq is truely beginning to work.

Who ever said one man can't make a difference?
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
20,000 more troops to Baghdad & Anbar ???

So I heard on the news today that US President Bush is finally going to announce his plan to send an additional 20,000 US troops to Iraq. The news report said the troops were going to Baghdad with the mission of confronting the Shiite militia's and Sunni insurgency to quell the violent sectarian war which has been plaguing Baghdad of late.

A later report on the news said the new Iraqi Government had also decided to increase troop levels in Baghdad to match the US surge- this article suggested a door-to-door search would be conducted by joint US-Iraqi forces. The aim is to root out the militias and insurgency in hope of stabilizing Baghdad before a gradual US withdrawal. There have been rumours that democrats in the new congress would not provide funds for these troops- yet the most senior democrats insist they will not cut off funding for US troops in Iraq.

Assuming this all goes ahead and the Iraqi army can equal the US troop deployment (unlikely, they will probably match atleast half however). One can assume that atleast 25% of these forces will not be present in Baghdad, maybe they'll go to Anbar as suggested- I don't know. I'm concerned with the forces that WILL be in Baghdad however, so lets assume say, 14,000 more US troops are deployed to Baghdad and the Iraqi government supplements the dedployment with an extra 7,000 Iraqi forces- for a total of 21,000 new troops in Baghdad. The likelyhood is that most of these will be former Kurdish Peshmerga since they are the countries best supplied, most efficient troops- and probably the only ones that aren't already bogged down dealing with sectarian warfare in their own towns.

Some Iraqi's would suggest that Kurdish Peshmerga would not travel from Kurdistan to help out in Baghdad- why would they, they have their autonomous zone and their freedom, wouldn't they want to keep their troops at home to protect it? Well there is good reasoning behind why sending forces to Baghdad is in the best interest of Iraqi Kurds. For one thing any increase in Islamic extremism in Baghdad and across the rest of Iraq is a threat to the Kurds. A US failure in Iraq- having to pull out of Baghdad & subsequently out of Iraq without at least squelching the violent sectarian warfare in Baghdad- would leave the Kurdish Autonomous zone open to pressure and raids by its hostile neighbours- Iran, Turkey, Syria and Saudi Arabia (though the latter two are much less active in preventing Kurdish independance). IF the US pull out, the hopes for Iraq's Kurdish population ever had of true independence from Iraq will take a great step backwards.

An independant Kurdistan cannot survive in this hostile environment- it would face a similar situation to that of Israel- hostility surrounding them in a complete 360 degree circle. Kurdistan needs to remain under the wing of the USA and as such they need to prove to the USA they are willing to do what it takes to remain so- if sending some Peshmerga to Baghdad is what it takes, they will.

Anyway, going back to Baghdad. I can't give an accurate guess the number of insurgents and militiamen- god knows there's plenty of them, but I don't really think their numbers matter much in this equation. The results are the same anyway- there are only two realistic outcomes to this deployment, and which prevails will be determined by the sheer level of will and dedication to the operation by the Iraqi forces//government and which ever Iraqis are brave enough, or dumb enough, to stand with them. There is of course the option of success.

I am not a military strategist so I do not know what is the best way to go about it but all I know is that the Mehdi army and it's followers need to be confronted, uprooted and defeated if Baghdad ever wants peace again. But I say this in context- there is no doubt that very same must apply to the Sunni "insurgents" in Haifa street (and others like them) who are the opposing source of sectarian violence. Both of these groups are known for their cowardly tactics and their connections within the new Iraqi security forces; both groups are known for targetting innocent civilians in tit-for-tat assasinations and bombings. Someone amongst these groups is no doubt responsible for the bullet ridden, tortured and decapitated bodies appearing in the garbage cans of average civilians across Baghdad; and probably for the bodies regularly found floating around the river.

This is not your average side-vs-side conflict, these two opposing forces are targetting any member of the opposing sect wether they are secular, highly religious, less religious, succesfull or poor- as long as their religious background holds an inclination of being "enemy" they are a target. In fact in this war you don't need to have any special pre-conditions to be murdered; you could be just walking in the wrong place at the wrong time become a victim to these extremists. This is why they must be confronted, this is also why a surge in US forces will not necessarily mean a surge in violence. Yes these new troops will be a target. Yes this will mean higher casualties for the US and their Iraqi military counterparts. If the campaigns gets off the ground and manages to threaten the militia's strongholds, the average Iraqi citizen will no longer be the main target. This will bring the power-struggle between the militia's, the insurgents and the Coalition forces to a heed.

I do believe however, that if one side falls then so too will the other- unless that side is the coalition. The excuse of "resisting occupation" has long warn thin for the Sunni insurgency and it's IED's, car bombings and such, so their reason for existing now is more as a counter-measure to Shia militia's than as anything else. The Shia militia however are another story. Jeish al-Mehdi and it's followers, commonly known as being al-Sadr's forces- do not necessarily have the full support of the Iraqi Government and it's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, though their influence is strong and they have so-far been able to pull at Maliki's strings- their influence on him is no stronger than that of the US. Should Maliki truely decide it is time to squelch the Mehdi Army, he may be able to find a new, more powerful replacement to ensure his government's survival- the Badr Corps. Badr Corps is the armed wing of the most popular Iraqi Shia political party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. They have yet to flex their muscles in Iraq- though they did once give al-Sadr's Mehdi Army a strong warning when the two groups came into conflict before the formation of the United Iraqi Alliance through which the two groups obtained joint control of the new Iraqi parliament.

Clever mediation and planning between the US and Iraqi army, combined with covert useage of Badr Corps as an intelligence and intimidation network could work to subdue the Mehdi army quite well, the problem is how to do this without causing alarm amongst the Sunni insurgency. I guess this is where the idea that if one falls they both fall falters; what if the side that falls is replaced by a more efficient, more structured group from the same sect? Would this mean the other side would fall? For some reason I can't see any Sunni extremists looking at a government which employs the likes of Badr Corps to deal with troubles in anyway but with deep-seated contempt. This is where politics comes into things.

Some kind of reshuffle of the government would be in order- some kind of extremely generous concession would need to be made to the Sunni politicians many of whose powerbase comes from the insurgency; which many Iraqi's, Shia & Sunni, would not like too much. It would mean more blood-stained hands in power. Still none of this would be possible unless violence was subdued to a level where Iraqi's could actually begin to think about a peacefull future for the first time since the looting and destruction began in 2003; and I for one think if this happens then Iraqi's will be willing to accept some blood-stained hands in power, at least until the next election is called- which will definately come soon after any major shift in the balance of power; no matter which way the pendulum swings, so to speak.

The other option for the US is failure; and yes this IS an option for the US. The reason this is an option is because they now have a way out; the voting population has time to punish George Bush and vote in a new democratic government. Should the democrats allow this deployment and the deployment to fail at its task of confronting the militia and quelling violence in the first few months of it's assignation; the new Democratic Congress would surely not vote to continue funding George W Bush's unsuccessfull venture in iraq. The Democrats would then argue that Bush had failed and they were only acting as the US public had empowered them to do so; as a watch-dog to the Bush administration, one which did not hesitate to pull the troops out should the circumstance require it. On this principle they would win the administrative election and take complete control of the House, Senate and Administration for the first time since I became interested in politics.

Where would this leave Iraq no one knows. In a stalemate which would leave two major Shia militia' fighting for dominance over the one population (shia); of which one has strong support, funding and training from Iraq and the other has large numbers and brutal tactics. The two groups would simultaneously be attempting to prevent any resurgence in power amongst the Sunni insurgency and as such probably continue and expand the campaign of sectarian assasinations and violence which already plagues Baghdad today. The Sunni in turn would not accept domination by Shia extremists; they are hardened, trained, priveleged and deep-seated Iraqi's of great power and their tactics are brutally effective- squelching them will be near on impossible short of a total genocide of Iraq's Sunni population; and should that occur is when the international community and Iraq's neighbours would be forced to finally step in and attempt to fix what America fucked up. (As if we shouldn't have done it already).

How long this could take no-one knows, but what we do know is that there are also the Kurds to take into consideration and they have the Sunni as close neighbours; which makes the two either deadly enemies or valuable allies- and I think the Kurds might need all the allies they can gather, should the US pull-out of Iraq all together. Who knows, maybe they will pull back to Kurdistan. Maybe the Kurdish population will thrive regardless and obtain the support of Iraq's Sunni in return for protection from sectarian genocide, but I do not know.

One thing I can tell you for sure is this: the Kurdish North can only maintain its autonomy so long as its borders are not broken. If Turkish or Irani forces threatened the border, Kurdistan as a potentially thriving economy would falter; a border war with the Turkish or Persian military is not something the Kurdish Peshmerga can really sustain without it impacting upon the peace within their own borders; and they definately can't sustain it if they're fighting a Sunni-insurgency from Mosul & Kirkuk. All that said and done, maybe if the US fail in Baghdad they will only pull back to Kurdistan, where they can truely operate in peace and safety- in a place formerly oppressed and destroyed by Saddam, where they can help to provide basic facilities such as electricity, water, school, hosptial and university services.

Regardless of what the Kurds do, Baghdad is where the fate of Iraqi's lay right now. The outcome of a confrontation designed to squash the militia's holds the fate of all sects in it's hands. Lets all pray together that this confrontation actually comes forth and is not just an unwilling attempt to appease the Americans like many other great "strategies" this new government has hailed for Baghdad. If it is not so now, then I guess Iraq truely must wait until the day my connections and influence reach far enough to truely be able to bring real help and real solutions to Iraq. Either way it's coming, one day Iraq is going to be a better place, for as long as I remain alive I will hold the strongest of convictions to make it so.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Saddam's Execution
There are many reasons that Saddam Hussein's execution will be remembered as one of the important political events of 2006, probably a close behind the Democratic takeover of Congress in the US. There are so many points to discuss in considering whether this execution was a fitting end to Saddam's tale, or whether there were better options. I for one believe the latter, and will be arguing so through-out this post. It may become a little long winded but I will try to stay on topic.

I for one believe an execution is definately a fitting end to the rule of any tyrant- yet I also believe that a humans worth should be totally exhumed before the wasting of their life- and this is especially applicable to calculated, paranoid dictators like Saddam. Saddam Hussein probably had enough knowledge of dodgy-politics to sink the current Iraqi' government, to identify all the criminals who are involved in todays political process, and have their prior histories named for the new legal system to deal with. He could even have taken up the history of US-Iraqi relations to reveal the real truth behind the souring of Saddam//US relations.

Saddam and Saddam alone would definately have intelligence which could reveal the truth about Iran's nuclear program, I'm sure he's been watching it develop for decades. He probably knows who is leading the Sunni insurgency. He probably also has a list of Shia likely to be involved in armed revolt against the current government, particularly of those who support an extremist version of Shia Islam. For all we know he probably even knows where these groups are likely to operate from, and in which schools and houses their torture chambers could be located.

More over this was an opportunity for the international community to restore some kind of credibility to itself and stop acting like a bunch of power-hungry four year old, jerking this way and that towards a senseless series of wars in which non-friendly dictators and various other leaders get executed by their own peoples as a sign of "development". However that would mean the world intervening in America's little power-play, and apparently thats out of the question. What we could really use in Iraq right now is the UN to step in and say "OK US, PULL OUT YOUR TROOPS 100%. WE ARE MOVING IN WITHOUT YOU TO BRING THIS COUNTRY BACK TO ITS FEET".

But what are the UN relegated to? Standing by and watching as a government elected under US occupation, in an election deemed corrupt and not up to international standards, fulfills its sectarian desire for revenge against the former dictator without fully considering the implications of such a sudden death.

I will leave you with a question now.

Is it better to find revenge or justic?

Saddam was executed for death of 148 people and the arrest of 399 others. Thats great for those..... 547 victims and their families, but what about the other millions who suffered under saddams long, brutal rulership? What justice will be served for them by this execution, if their cases must remain unsolved forever.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
How many really died in Iraq since 2003?
Though I am neither on the ground in Iraq nor Iraqi myself I am beginning to develop what I believe is a good opinion about how many Iraqi citizens have died or dissapeared since the US-lead coalition invaded in March of 2003. Ridiculous hours of reading, research, discussion and chit-chat online have lead me to the conclusion that all Iraqi's who have access to the internet, or who have been interviewed by the media, or forced to leave Iraq- can agree on one thing: that every Iraqi household has been gravely effected by the loss of a senior member within their family (mostly uncle's and fathers) .

Now I may be nieve about some factors in Iraqi culture so, those of you who are Iraqi friends of mine can correct me here- but lets assume that a family would have around 5 children each. So the children of a married couple would on average have about 10 uncles or aunts in their family- around 5 from each side. On that theory a family household would have around four to six persons living in it. Though many houses have become crowded with more than this number during the occupation- so too other houses have been left with less.

There are roughly 26.8 million persons living in Iraq. To try avoid getting any more complex than we have so far I'll re-write my equation again for you to understand:

Iraqi's say every household has had a close relative- an uncle, aunt, a cousin, a mother, a father or grandparent dissapear or die. To be generous we'll assume that only half of the households actually have had this happen.
So straight away lets take away 1/2 of Iraq's population and discount it from the equation.

So we start with 13.4 million persons in our equations.

Divide this into households- 6 persons per house, 2 parents 4 children.
Which leaves us with 2.3 million house holds.

If every one of these households has had someone in the immediate family (aunt's, uncle's and grandparents) die then using these assumptions and some basic mathemeatics we can figure out an approximate figure of how many households have actually had a death//dissapearance within the household.

Working on the theory that each family consists of two grandparents with five children and that the grandparents live with one of these children, we can deduce that each family will have 5 households within it. Considering however from the perspective of a married couple their immediate family would consist of only 4 households each side, excluding their own that is.

So each family has 9 households in which some family member has had a disaster happen.

2.3 million households, of which atleast one in every 9 has had a death or dissapearance in the family. After doing the math we are left with around 250,000 deaths//dissapearances.

Now lets divide that down into years, weeks and days and compare the result with what is being reported as "accurate" statistics.

250,000 over 3 1/2 years.

Which equates to a little more than 71,400 dead Iraqi's per year.

Divide this by 52weeks in a year.

Which equates to 1373 Iraqi's dead each week.

Or maybe its better said as 195 Iraqi's dead per day.

It makes you wonder to look at this in comparison to the what is often cited in the media as accurate statistics. In the above calculations I've been generous. I've totally discounted 1/2 of all Iraqi's as having been totally unneffected by the war as in regard to deaths or dissapearances in the family.

If you ask any Iraqi they would likely argue that there is not a single household in Iraq which could claim to be free of death in the family. Imagine if I were to take their point into serious consideration and alter my statistics accordingly-

Two things come to mind when thinking about it:

the number of deaths per year would climb steeply, if I assumed 60% rather than 50% of Iraqi households had a death in the family the number of dead so far would be 298,000- 1910 dead per week, 272 dead per day. Such figures are easily double what is most-oft cited in the main-stream media and this should lend some credibility to the Lancet Report's figures- even when generously excluding half of the Iraqi population in a very straight forward equation- the death toll is still easily double that which is accepted and most oft repeated.

Just some food for thought.... More of that coming often from now on.

Luke(y) Skinner 2/1/07