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IRAQ: an e-mail exchange with the Guardian

Gabriele Zamparini, The Cat's Dream

February 24, 2006

Dear Michael Howard,

In your article "Sectarian violence explodes after attack on mosque" (The Guardian, Friday, February 24, 2006), you write:

Shias, including members of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army, took to the streets yesterday vowing revenge for the attack on the shrine. (...) No group has yet claimed responsibility for Wednesday's dawn attack on the mosque, which houses the graves of two ninth-century imams, but suspicion has fallen on Sunni militants such as al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. (...)
QUESTION 1: Could I ask you what you mean when you write "suspicion has fallen"? It’s your opinion? If not, could you provide the source of the "suspicion"?

In your same newspaper, the same day, Sami Ramadani writes:
It has not been Sunni religious symbols that hundreds of thousands of angry marchers protesting at the bombing of the shrine have targeted, but US flags. The slogan that united them on Wednesday was: "Kalla, kalla Amrica, kalla kalla lill-irhab" - no to America, no to terrorism. The Shia clerics most listened to by young militants swiftly blamed the occupation for the bombing. They included Moqtada al-Sadr; Nasrallah, leader of Hizbullah in Lebanon; Ayatollah Khalisi, leader of the Iraqi National Foundation Congress; and Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's spiritual leader. Along with Grand Ayatollah Sistani, they also declared it a grave "sin" to attack Sunnis - as did all the Sunni clerics about attacks on Shias. Sadr was reported by the BBC as calling for revenge on Sunnis - in fact, he said "no Sunni would do this" and called for revenge on the occupation. None of the mostly spontaneous protest marches were directed at Sunni mosques. Near the bombed shrine itself, local Sunnis joined the city's minority Shias to denounce the occupation and accuse it of sharing responsibility for the outrage. In Kut, a march led by Sadr's Mahdi army burned US and Israeli flags. In Baghdad's Sadr City, the anti-occupation march was massive. ("Exit without a strategy", by Sami Ramadani, The Guardian, Friday, February 24, 2006)
QUESTION 2: Why doesn’t your article even mention what Sami Ramadani writes in the paragraphs above? It seems to me quite an interesting aspect of the story. Don’t you think it would have deserved a couple of lines?

In your article, you also write:
International condemnation continued, with George Bush calling the bombing "an evil act" intended to create strife. "I am pleased with the voices of reason that have spoken out," he said. "And we will continue to work with those voices of reason to enable Iraq to continue on the path of a democracy."
Under international law, the security of an occupied country is responsibility of the occupation forces. You may want to read the "Statement on events in Samarra and across Iraq" issued by the BRussells Tribunal:
The United States and other parties of Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) remain belligerent occupants under international law. Given that UN Security Council Resolution 1546 only "welcomed" the interim government in Iraq formed June 2004, that it did not recognize it formally, and could not, because it has no legal basis in international law and is not recognized as legitimate by the resistance to foreign occupation, MNF-I is legally responsible for the whole of Iraq. This legal responsibility extends 31 December 2006, as set forth in UN Security Council Resolution 1637. As an occupying power, the United States and other parties to the occupation are legally, individually and severally, responsible for the protection of religious shrines, and imputable under international law, individually and severally, for the criminal destruction of shrines. (For Applicable international law, please read the whole statement)
QUESTION 3: When you reported Mr Bush’s words, why didn’t you think to inform your readers about the obligations of occupation forces under international law?

QUESTION 4: Reading your article, I could only get one side of the story. Why?

Kind regards,
Gabriele Zamparini


Dear Gabriele, thanks for the message.

A brief reply to your questions.

1. The "Suspicion" comes from at least six elected politicians that I spoke to on that day, including a member of Muqtada al Sadr's trend. Also from talking to Interior Ministry spokesmen. I also wrote that the Mujahedeen Council, fo which Zarqawi's group is a member, blamed someone else.

2. Based on eyewitness reports and telephone calls to demonstrators, the anti-Sunni feeling in Baghdad on that day was for a brief while overwhelming. It is true that some Shia leaders tried to shift blame to the US etc, but I am percent certain that Mahdi militia members among others have attacked and desecrated Sunni mosques and murdered felow Iraqis just for being Sunni. I visited one myself near Kirkuk. I also reported that a leading Iraqi Shia Ayatollah, Bashir al Najaffi blamed the US and the Iraqi government for failing to protect the shrine. Also that the Iranian president blamed the attack on Zionists and the CIA.

3. It is true that the international legal aspects of the situation passed my mind at the time of writing.

4. With due respect to Mr Ramadani and yourself, his is an opinion based on a certain agenda which I suspect you share. I am a reporter with more than three and a half years experience on the ground in Iraq. I tried to produce as balanced a picture as I could amid the fast moving and complex events. Sorry if you feel otherwise. But I will stick by my version of events.

best wishes



Dear Michael,

Thank you for taking the time to answer my email.

Since you write in your email:
With due respect to Mr Ramadani and yourself, his is an opinion based on a certain agenda which I suspect you share.
Please, allow me to make just a few, quick points.

In your email you write that:
The "Suspicion" comes from at least six elected politicians that I spoke to on that day, including a member of Muqtada al Sadr's trend. Also from talking to Interior Ministry spokesmen.
But you didn’t write this in your piece, did you? You wrote:
"but suspicion has fallen on Sunni militants such as al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi".
Can’t you see the difference? You passed the point of view of "elected politicians" without giving the source and as if that was Vox Dei.

Besides, according to the BBC:
On Thursday radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr added his voice to those calling for restraint. "The occupation is sowing sedition among us," he said. "Do not allow this to weaken your determination, unity and solidarity." (Iraq curfew aims to curb violence, BBC News website)
In your email you add:
"Also from talking to Interior Ministry spokesmen."
I guess you mean the same Interior Ministry of which you write in your same article:
Sunnis accuse Shia parties of running death squads from the interior ministry, and demand that security be transferred into more neutral hands. This week both Jack Straw and the US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, backed those calls.
In your email you write:
It is true that the international legal aspects of the situation passed my mind at the time of writing.
That’s a big admission, isn’t it? Shouldn’t the "international legal aspects" be the framework to understand the whole picture?

You accused me to have an "agenda" (whatever that means!) just for asking questions and for reminding you those "aspects of the situation [that] passed [your] mind at the time of writing".

I just ask questions. For example, Do you think that the occupation forces have an "agenda" ? Don’t you find a formidable coincidence that the "suspicion" you write about in your article is the same expressed by PM Tony Blair who – according to the BBC – said:
"Maybe al-Qaeda is the most obvious suspect because they threatened to blow it up before."
But the BBC adds:
But [Tony Blair] urged people to wait for the outcome of an investigation and not to listen to "conspiracy theories". (BBC News website)

Could I ask you and your newspaper to listen to - not Sami Ramadani or myself - but at least PM Tony Blair and and not to listen to "conspiracy theories" ?

Thank you for your time.

Kind regards,
Gabriele Zamparini


Gabriele, I sometimes think Iraq is like a hall of mirrors; instead of seeing Iraq for what it is, one sees one's own distorted reflection... that goes for the US forces in Iraq, the hapless Bush administration, as well as some of those in the west who oppose them... The fact that the Guardian carries Mr Ramadan's opinions is to be celebrated. I just happen to strongly disagree with them. But the context for what is happening in Iraq stetches far beyond the international legality or otherwise of current events. For example, Iraq is and always has been a deeply divided country. Kurds for example never wanted to be part of the country but were forced to by Winston Churchill. That decision by a declining empire has been at the heart of much that has gone wrong with Iraq. The Shia also have rarely accepted minority Sunni rule. Saddam securitized and terrorized both communities. Now he is gone, the centralized violence of the state has diffused. Some Shia are taking revenge; some Sunnis--rather like white south africans-- are in a state of denial that they have lost power they dominated for 80 years. In my opinion, the incompetence and sometimes unwarranted violence of the US occupation has merely exacerbated these tensions, rather than caused them. Should I also include these contexts every time I write a story?
best wishes


Dear Michael,

I do agree with you that "The fact that the Guardian carries Mr Ramadan's opinions is to be celebrated."

About your opinions on Iraq’s history, one can certainly agree or disagree.

But in 2003 the US launched an invasion which was judged by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as "an illegal act that contravened the UN charter."

["The United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has told the BBC the US-led invasion of Iraq was an illegal act that contravened the UN charter." ("Iraq war illegal, says Annan", BBC News website, Thursday, 16 September, 2004)]

There is no doubt that Iraq is in today’s state because of that "illegal act that contravened the UN charter."

Because of that "illegal act that contravened the UN charter" there might be as many as 300,000 civilian deaths (Do Iraqi Civilian Casualties Matter?, By Les Roberts, AlterNet, February 8, 2006)

Since you write about and from occupied Iraq, I believe that these facts and numbers should always be present in your analysis.

Finally, since you write about history in your email, I too would like to ask you to consider the following words:
"To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." - Judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Trial of German Major War Criminals - Nuremberg, Germany 1946
Kind regards,
Gabriele Zamparini

:: Article nr. 20963 sent on 24-feb-2006 23:53 ECT


Link: www.thecatsdream.com/blog/2006/02/iraq-e-mail-exchange-with-guardian.htm

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