About this blog...

I am a former leader of a Human Terrain Team in Iraq. My intent with this blog was to identify relevant, open-source materials on Iraqi culture, society, politics, religion and economics - just about anything on or about the Iraqi population in general.

I am continuing the blog now only sporadically, as a means of information distribution in support of efforts to improve a vital program hamstrung by failures in execution.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Art will die in Iraq"

I'm largely hesitant to post (or use) much of what's published in daily newspapers or websites like CNN or BBC -- it's generally too "current" to provide much in the way of long-sighted analysis. Besides, much of the West's reporting from abroad (not just Iraq) conforms to a model of a reporter deciding what story they want to tell, and then looking for the evidence to illustrate that story, ignoring the question of whether everything on the ground actually conforms to the predetermined story.

Every now and then, though, I'll pass something on that seems unique, interesting or useful to me. This article is a pretty good profile of the state of high culture in Iraq -- painters, specifically.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

4 years in

This summary is just a brief overview, but it's a pretty fair rundown of everything if you're just looking for something introductory to give someone the highlights of the first four years. Most of his assessments seem pretty on to me.

Women and Islam

We've spent a lot of time in the last few years trying to force Western values onto a culture that doesn't necessarily share them: progress (rather than history); individual rights (rather than collective wellbeing); and women's rights. This new report from the Carnegie Endowment is an attempt to take a more balanced look at where women stand in Islam, where they're going, and where they see themselves.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Militia Services

It always seemed strange to me that none of the major militias in Iraq seemed particularly active in providing community services (other than security). This was a big component of the popular rise of both Hamas and Hezbollah, and it seemed strangely absent in Iraq. No more: JAM has begun providing services throughout Iraq while al Sadr distances himself from the government.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

CRS Assessment

Every so often, the Congressional Research Service updates their rundown on OIF. They published their most recent update this week.

Iraq Index

The Brookings Institution publishes an of indicators on Iraq. They describe it as:
a statistical compilation of economic, public opinion, and security data. This resource will provide updated information on various criteria, including crime, telephone and water service, troop fatalities, unemployment, Iraqi security forces, oil production, and coalition troop strength.
They update the index monthly, and you can always find the most recent version here.

Security Forces in Iraq

Two Americans argue in Financial Times that we need to stop training and arming security forces (since they'll only turn on each other, us or the Saudis) while an author in the Daily Star (Lebanon) claims that the only path to stability in Iraq is military dictatorship a la Turkey, Pakistan and Nigeria in various points of their history.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Institutions in the Middle East

This one is actually an example from Cairo that the author applies to the whole Middle East. Actually, I think it's probably applicable in any culture. But it's a useful observation given the work we're trying to do over there: it's a discussion of the way that informal institutions can often trump any formal, legal or rule-based structures and institutions.

Iraq's Human Terrain

The Army is creating a new unit called the Human Terrain System. Basically it's an effort to apply the lesson that the only way to defeat an insurgency is to understand, and to win over, the general population. One component of the System will be 5-man Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) that support units in the field, advising them on how to tailor their operations to the population. I am on one of those HTTs. Here's some info on the HTS:
  • Just about the only thing the Army has published on HTS
  • A George Packer article from The New Yorker
  • And, a post from the Danger Room, the defense blog over at Wired
I've always been a ridiculous news hound. Since I've started this job, I've begun turning that tendency towards Iraq stuff. So, I'll be using this blog to point to the most interesting new stuff that comes out on Iraq. There will be nothing classified or sensitive on here, so don't look for it. There probably won't even be much analysis on here, because however I might try to avoid it I don't want to risk accidentally giving analysis that draws on classified sources, even if they're unmentioned.

I see two primary audiences for this blog: other members of HTS, and personnel in the unit I'm supporting. This way I can pass on stuff I find interesting without cluttering up anyone's inbox. Anyone interested in the stuff I'm passing on can subscribe (Blogger is RSS capable -- you can click here to learn more about RSS Subscriptions) or just check in every now and then. Anyone not interested is spared the emails I would otherwise have been bothering them with.

And with that, I'll be passing on the first article momentarily...