Saturday, 30 January 2010

Not our dead, but our allies’ dead

There was an unusual article in The New York Times earlier this week. It reported on a ceremony to honour the Afghan policemen who fought Taliban attackers in Kabul on January 18th.

What I found unusual was seeing the names of Afghan National Police casualties in print, in a Western newspaper. UK papers rightly give proper coverage to individual British dead, and the US papers report US dead, but Afghan police and military who die alongside them normally remain anonymous to us.

There is a problem here, not just of giving proper respect to fallen allies, but of understanding the scale of commitment and sacrifice by Afghans in this fight. An anonymous death does not register in the same way as seeing a named individual, pictured, accompanied by an account of a bereaved family. And so it becomes too easy to feel that it’s just Western forces in the fight, that the only Afghans fighting are the Taliban enemy, that we are alone in a hopeless struggle, in a hostile land.

I recently engaged in a dialogue with illustrator Steve Brodner on his blog. In response to my pointing to this year’s BBC poll of public opinion in Afghanistan showing, amongst other things, increased support for US troops, he wrote: “All of the history in this suggests this is a fool’s errand. We need to get the Afghan forces to show up for work and then be willing to lay down their lives for their country. This poll may suggest that there are areas of support for anti-Taliban forces. But we don't see this on the ground.”

ANA and ANP casualties are not widely published, but here’s what I found for Steve, to counter this image of them as work-shy and unpatriotic:
Afghan National Army killed in action
in 2007: 278
In 2008: 259
In the first 6 months of 2009: 114

source: (PDF)

US killed in action
in 2007: 111
in 2008: 153
in the first 6 months of 2009: 84

Source: Wikipedia
On Afghan National Police casualties, from the UN Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and on the achievements of technical assistance in the field of human rights, 21 February 2008:

“The Ministry of Interior registered around 900 insurgency-related deaths of police officers in the last nine months of 2007, which is significantly higher than the number of Afghan army casualties in the same period.”

Source: (PDF)
And now to add to that, the NYT article that initiated this post gives a figure of 646 ANP officers killed last year.

Building up Afghanistan’s army and police is at the core of the ISAF strategy for Afghanistan. A post by British infantry commander Lieutenant Colonel Nick Ilic for The Helmand Blog gives some idea of the scale of effort. But numbers are not enough to give a strong impression. We need to learn about individuals. Here then, from The New York Times, two policemen killed fighting the Taliban:
One young policeman from Nangarhar, Hafizullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name, was killed. He was 21 years old, married and had three children. The family breadwinner because his father had died, he left behind an extended family of 13.

Mr. Nangahari, as well as Hafizullah’s uncle and his 18-year old brother, Asadullah, came to the ceremony from the family’s home near the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad. His brother described the slain policeman as a tall, natural volleyball player who loved to read, a rarity in a force where the vast majority of officers are illiterate.

“My mother is very sad,” he said. “But she is full of courage now and she will let her other sons join the police.”

The families of the two policemen who died received a death payment totaling $3,600 and food. In addition, a Kabul trader and businessmen anonymously donated an additional $1,000 to each of the families of the policemen who were killed.

The other officer honored for his death during the fighting was Shir Agha, 27, a first lieutenant from a family of policemen in Parwan, a province northeast of Kabul. He had gone to officer school and was serving in Kabul. His father, Mohammed Rajed, a tall, thin man and a former member of the mujahedeen who fought the Russians during the Soviet occupation, stood very straight when his son’s name was read; nearby stood three of his nephews, also police officers, their faces somber.

“We are mainly interested in serving our country and the only organ that is honestly serving the people is the police,” said Mr. Rajed.

Iraq policy, past, present, and future

No, I haven’t watched Tony Blair’s testimony to the UK’s Iraq Inquiry yesterday, though I did hear snippets on the radio. I’ve been working my way through all the oral evidence videos from the start, as time allows, and am just coming to the end of December, so I expect I’ll get round to hearing Blair’s account in early March.

Others have remarked on the obsessively narrow focus of most UK news organisations in covering the inquiry, concerned almost exclusively with political and legal issues leading up to the invasion, and particularly on the desire to find evidence of some kind of illegality, or even criminality, in the actions of Tony Blair. In the process an enormous amount of very interesting and important testimony on wider issues through a longer timeframe of several years’ UK military and political engagement in Iraq is distorted and even ignored.

This is important, because these wider issues being covered by the Chilcot Inquiry are relevant right now with regard to Afghanistan, and are also immediately relevant in ensuring preparedness for future events.

They are also relevant for the UK’s future relationship with Iraq.

Looking then to much more recent events in Iraq, and on to Iraq’s future, may I recommend some additional viewing, Withdrawal and Beyond in Iraq: A Discussion with General Caslen, an event at the United States Institute of Peace from December 9th. About the talk:
Major General Robert Caslen recently returned from Iraq, where he served as commanding general of Multinational Division – North. This area of operations includes Ninewa, Kirkuk and other volatile areas along the Arab-Kurd fault line.

He discussed the security implications of the impending U.S. withdrawal, prospects for peaceful resolution of the Arab-Kurd conflict, and what the strategic relationship between the U.S. and Iraq looks like post-2011.
Notable in what he said was how, despite his strong reservations on the risks of withdrawing troops from cities last year, particularly in Mosul, he became convinced of the huge strategic benefit of implementing the SOFA on time. Also prominent in his comments is his view on the necessity for the US to build up civilian State Department involvement in Iraqi regional development now, prior to the completion of the military pullout, in order to ensure a strong future relationship between Iraq and the US.

In all of the above viewing, something is missing of course. On BBC Radio 4’s World at One yesterday, a reporter commented on how little notice the Chilcot Inquiry had received in Iraq. Might he not have realised that this was not so remarkable, given how little notice the Inquiry has taken to date of Iraqi views? It’s primarily an inquiry into British political and military effectiveness, rather than an inquiry into Iraq and its people. Missing are the voices of the Iraqis at the centre of these events.

Friday, 29 January 2010

“His sister was brought to the interrogation room”

Nasrin Sotoudeh, attorney of Arash Rahmani Pour, one of two Iranian political prisoners executed yesterday, speaks to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran:
“As Arash Rahmani Pour’s attorney, I was shocked to hear of his sudden execution. According to the law, no verdict can be carried out prior to its being served to the defendant. This verdict was issued in secrecy and and it was sent forward in secrecy from those who should have been informed about it, and it was only announced by the judiciary’s web site after it had been carried out. Arash’s sentence had no reason other than to create fear and intimidation. Despite what has been announced on the Revolutionary Court’s web site, Arash was not arrested in the post-elections events. He had been arrested in April, two months before the [June 15] elections at his home and at the time of his arrest, he was only 19. Many of the charges made against him pertained to the time when he was not yet 18. To be sure, Arash’s case is a juvenile crime execution, only this time a political prisoner was executed because of what he did before he was 18. During his entire arrest, imprisonment, and trial, there was a lot of pressure and many promises. First Arash’s sister was arrested. She was in prison for two months. She was then acquitted and released, but pressures she had endured during her detention caused her miscarriage. In the only meeting I was allowed to have with Arash for 15 minutes, he told me that during two of his interrogation sessions, his sister was brought to the interrogation room and seated opposite him. He was then told that if he wanted to be released he had to confess to the things that he was told. I was Arash’s attorney, but I was never allowed to participate in his trial. I insisted to be allowed to attend a trial session in August. Security Officers threatened to arrest me and took away my attorney license, which they returned to me later.”

Read the rest. Via Naj.

See also Potkin Azarmehr: What I didn’t know yesterday.

There will be a protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London this evening, 18:00-20:00, 16 Prince's Gate, London SW7.

Earlier post here.

Bigotry and pomposity

Holy Blimpishness! In the continuing unravelling around the Seismic Shock affair, in which a priest and a theologian called in the police when a blog commented on their politics, Francis Sedgemore runs into another theologian with repressive views on what constitutes legitimate comment.

Earlier post here.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Hanged: Mohammad Reza Ali-Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour

From the BBC: Iran ‘executes two over post-election unrest’
“Following the riots and anti-revolutionary measures in recent months, particularly on the day of Ashura, a Tehran Islamic Revolutionary Court branch considered the cases of a number of accused and handed down death sentences against 11 of those,” Isna said, quoting a statement from the Tehran prosecutor's office.

“The sentences against two of these people... were carried out today at dawn and the accused were hanged,” the semi-official agency said, adding that the sentences had been confirmed by an appeal court.

It named them as Mohammad Reza Ali-Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour.

Some recent Iran posts from Potkin Azarmehr: What Karroubi Really Said, and Mossadegh was a Kaffir.

Naj on dysfunction and corruption in the Iranian economy: Oil for Orange!

Pedestrian on massive unemployment, inflation and more: This Didn’t Turn Out so Bad for Everybody.

Via Forever Under Construction, a documentary on Iran’s Taekwondo women: Kick in Iran.

From before the Islamic Revolution at Belog: the last film of Albert Lamorisse. (Related: Piet Schreuders revisits locations of The Red Balloon.)

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Automated poultry cutaway

The ins and outs are explained in this illustration by E. Benyaminson for Hello, I’m Robot! by Stanislav Zigunenko (Russia, 1989), found on A Journey Round My Skull.

More on industrialised poultry farming here.

Monday, 25 January 2010

As if murder wasn’t bad enough

In her first interview since she told UTV's ‘Insight’ programme of being raped by her father as a child, Áine Tyrell talks to The Sunday Tribune on the response by her father’s brother, the leader of Sinn Féin:
‘Looking back, Gerry Adams was buttering me up. In the end I realised it was all about PR and protecting his own image.’

The priest, the policeman, and the blogger

Starring the Reverend Stephen Sizer, West Yorkshire Police, and blogger Seismic Shock, with appearances by various Holocaust deniers and racists: Anglican Vicar Uses Police To Intimidate Blogger.

Also here. ModernityBlog has much more.

Update: Introducing myself, by Joseph Weissman, AKA Seismic Shock.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


Pictured above is the SS Bluejacket, stuck fast on the Longships Lighthouse rocks, December 1898. The photograph comes from the book Shipwreck, a collection of photographs by the Gibsons of Scily, with text by John Fowles. The animator Michael Sporn has more from the book on his Splog.

Monday, 18 January 2010

A night of foxes and ghosts

We haven’t been in touch,
do they still call you . . . ?
Do you miss her more than . . . ?
I don’t understand why -
I remember.
More than the living?
And I wake shivering.

Image: Uprooted. Photograph by Dor Walsh, 1985.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Mr Hitchens and Mr Machiavelli

Earlier this week Michael J Totten posted part two of an interview with Christopher Hitchens, where they talked about Iran and possible military action. A snippet:
Hitchens: I would say, as I did with Saddam Hussein—albeit belatedly, I tried to avoid this conclusion—that any fight you’re going to have eventually, have now. Don’t wait until they’re more equally matched. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
Hitchens goes on to make clear his view that any military action should aim to change the regime, not just impede the nuclear enrichment program. But in the hop, skip and jump of this discussion, while some important points are made, others are missed altogether. The idea that the nature of the regime is the core problem rather than just nuclear enrichment in itself, I agree with, but that is not enough of a basis to argue for military action. You have to be able to argue that military action is likely to be the most effective and least bad option. However the proposal sketched out by Hitchens, to selectively target Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and remove it, then hand Iran back to the Iranians, seems rather fantastic, with no clarity as to the means of carrying it out, and no weighing of the potential downside:
We can simply say, “We’re not going to stay. We’re handing the country over to you. We’re not occupying. We don’t want to stay. We can’t wait to get out. And you’ve been de-Revolutionary-Guardized. Cry all you want.”

We will have done them a favor, and ourselves. We have rights, too. The international community has rights. The U.N. has rights. The U.S. has rights. The IAEA has rights. The Iranians made deals with all of them, and they broke them.
I have found it hard to organise my thoughts on this, because I generally admire Christopher Hitchens, but this left me incredulous. Some reasons why: I don’t believe that the US would have the ability to surgically remove the Revolutionary Guard even if the political will were there. The message “we don’t want to stay” can not be simply said, as recent history shows. And there is no substantial discussion in the interview of how this proposal interfaces with what both Christopher Hitchens and Michael J Totten regard as a revolution in Iran.

Iran’s Green Movement is larger than any ground force the US could muster. Iran’s Green Movement understands the regime infinitely better than the US. Iran’s Green Movement is engaged right now and costs the US nothing. And I would argue that Iran’s Green Movement is far more effective inside Iran right now than anything the US has to offer.

Hitchens’s argument that “any fight you’re going to have eventually, have now,” is found in Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince (chapter 3), and has some merit. However there’s more to learn from Machiavelli. Let’s imagine that it might somehow be possible for the US to eliminate the Republican Guard, and then quickly depart again leaving Iran in the hands of a new government. How might such a lucky new government fare compared to a new government brought to power through the struggle of Iran’s Green Movement? What says Mr Machiavelli?

Chapter 6 of The Prince is “about new kingdoms acquired with one’s own armies and one’s own skill,” of which Machiavelli writes, “those who become rulers through strength of purpose ... acquire their kingdoms with difficulty, but they hold on to them with ease.” In contrast, in chapter 7, which is “about new principalities that are acquired with the forces of others and with good luck,” he writes “those who, having started as private individuals, become rulers merely out of good luck, acquire power with little trouble but have a hard time holding on to it. They have no problems on the road to power, because they leap over all the obstacles; but dangers crowd around them once they are in power.”

Machiavelli, then, would expect a government installed by foreign forces to be less stable than one coming to power through its own struggle. This would particularly be the case were the foreign forces to depart without the newly installed government having established its authority. Consider the time it took for the new government of Iraq to establish its authority. The circumstances in Hitchens’s Iran fantasy would be different, but the problem of authority for a leader installed by soon absent American friends would be similar if not worse.

It’s notable how the Iraq government felt it necessary to strongly assert its nationalist identity in emerging from occupation, to such a degree that at times it almost appeared ungrateful to the foreign forces that had removed Saddam Hussein. Similarly the Green Movement in Iran bases its arguments and slogans not on fondness for the West but on being more concerned with national self-interest and independence than the current regime. They most certainly do not want to gain power through the intervention of foreign forces, as they realise this would severely weaken their authority.

The Green Movement must be given every chance to succeed. A strong, independent, democratic, stable Iran is in everyone’s best interest. Christopher Hitchens’s fantasy intervention is not the way to get there. Iran is not Iraq.

A little extra: Looking back at the last couple of years in Iraq, chapter 13 of The Prince seems relevant, “about auxiliary (foreign) troops, native troops, and composite armies,” where Machiavelli writes that:
“A wise ruler ... will always avoid using mercenary and auxiliary troops, and will rely on his own forces. He would rather lose with his own troops than win with someone else’s, for he will not regard it a true victory if it is won with troops that do not belong to him. I never hesitate to cite Cesare Borgia as a model to be imitated. This duke entered the Romagna with an auxiliary army, for his troops were all Frenchmen, and he used it to take Imola and Forli. But since he did not feel such troops were reliable, he then switched over to mercenaries, believing that using them involved fewer risks, and so he hired the Orsini and the Vitelli. But in practice he fount them unreliable, treacherous, and dangerous, and so he got rid of them and formed his own army. And it is easy to see the difference among these three types of army, for you only have to consider how the duke’s reputation changed, depending on whether he was relying on the French alone, on the Orsini and the Vitelli, or on his own troops and his own resources. With each change of policy it increased, but he was taken seriously only when everyone could see he was in complete command of his own forces.”

All quotations come from David Wootton’s translation, copyright © 1995 Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

The funeral of Professor Masoud Ali Mohammad

Pedestrian has a report:
Everyone was gathered in the auditorium, crying and weeping. They [security forces] had sprayed into the face of Professor Fatemeh Shojaii, for trying to save one of the students who was being beaten. Professors Moshafegh, Nouri, Ghorbanzadeh, and … had all been beaten badly. Professor Vaez Alaie was weeping so hard in the auditorium. Professors and students were going up and talking for a bit, one by one. Professor Tavakoli went up first. In between his talk, one of the students shouted: “professor! don’t speak”. We were all surprised. Then the student continued: “we can’t bear to lose you too…”

The entire auditorium was swept with tears.

Professor Ejtehadi came to speak with a very tearful face. He told the story of how when he was accepted into Sharif University’s phd program, Ali Mohammad was defending his thesis. He said that Ali Mohammad was a role model for them all, since he’d been the first one to graduate. He said that they saw him as their future. And then he stopped … and continued: “who knows? he may still be our future.” [we too may be killed]
Read more.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Pass me the crosshead gudgeon pin, please.

cutaway of a great western 4-6-0 locomotive
I’m afraid the locomotive pictured in the previous post may be broken. There’s neither smoke nor steam to be seen, and no sign of movement. Not to worry, with my Wonder Book of Railways, I’m sure I can fix it!

For an extra large version of the above cutaway, click here.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

More snow

Here’s a recent set design for a Debenhams ad, promoting their winter sale. The ad was directed by Charlie Paul of Itch Film.

For real snow, see Flesh is Grass and Mick Hartley. Or just look out the window.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Busy below decks

furie engine room
I don’t have much to offer today, but Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence has thoughtfully put together a long list of interesting sites to visit. More here.

In view of such helpfulness, it’s good to see so many Iranians offering the government useful lists of their own. Mir Hossein Mousavi has 5 items on his list of practical suggestions to help them out of their crisis. Tehran Bureau brings news of an even more generous list of 10 items provided by 5 Iranian religious intellectuals. And via Norm, news of 88 professors at Tehran University who also give their government some advice well worth taking.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

A Golden New Year

I received a little treasure in the post yesterday, from Rubinstein, publishers of Dutch Little Golden Books. It’s a calendar for the new year, with illustrations by Richard Scarry. The paintings were first published in My Little Golden Calendar for 1961. My favourite is the one above, a picnic in August. If George Grosz or Max Beckmann had worked in children’s books, might the result have been something like this?

Illustration copyright © Random House, Inc.