Tips, questions, and suggestions
Sign up for emails
Daily Column
US Papers Mon: A 'Ticking Time Bomb' Goes Off
Widows' Need Dire and Aid Scant, MP Charged in Parliament Bombing
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/23/2009 02:00 AM ET
The Washington Post’s excellent two-part feature on a Guantanamo Bay detainee who carried out a suicide bombing continues. Also, the Iraqi lawmaker who has been charged with being part of the 2007 bombing in the parliament building, the difficult position in which Iraqi widows find themselves, and the controversial planned opening of the Iraqi National Museum.

Detainee-Turned Bomber
Rajiv Chandrasekaran finishes the captivating two-part report on Abdallah Saleh al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti detainee of Guantanamo Bay Prison who was released after being considered at low-risk for future criminal activity, only to kill 13 Iraqis and wound 42 in a suicide bombing in Mosul. Yesterday’s lengthy first part bore no indication on the Post web site of being only half of a two-parter, and was given very good grades in the US Papers roundup standing alone. Today’s finale, coupled with yesterday’s offering or on its own, deserves the same positive reaction.

We left off with al-Ajmi’s release from Guantanamo, a seemingly much embittered and hostile version of the young man who was picked up in Pakistan nearly four years earlier, according to the legal team representing him. Today, Chandrasekaran files from Kuwait City, and follows his return to the custody of the Kuwaiti legal system.

His case illuminates a key challenge facing the Obama administration as it considers how to close the U.S. military prison and resolve the futures of the approximately 245 incarcerated there. Once detainees are sent home, even to friendly nations, the United States has very little influence over what happens to them... Although the United States may never say so publicly, it is likely to want more explicit promises from the countries where detainees are repatriated, and the administration will seek the establishment of rehabilitation programs, along the lines of one in Saudi Arabia, that provide former jihadists with jobs, homes and money to pay for dowries.

But there is also a view in some quarters of the U.S. government that cases such as Ajmi's are the inevitable result of locking up 779 foreigners in an austere military prison, without access to courts or consular representation, and subjecting them to interrogation techniques that detainees say amount to torture. Some of them are bound to seek revenge, these officials believe. The challenge is figuring out which ones.
Much of what led to al-Ajmi’s release was the fact that the US government was unwilling to share evidence, so it was unclear whether al-Ajmi served as an underling with the Taliban or just went to Pakistan, as he contended “to study the Koran and... was apprehended when he traveled toward the Afghan border to help refugees.” "Everything the prosecutors alleged, it came from the Americans, and the Americans got that material from their interrogations," said Ayedh al-Azmi, one of the lawyers. "How can we trust what came from the interrogations? How do we know they were not tortured to say those things?"

He returned to Kuwaiti society as largely an outcast, except among a group of radical men with whom he surrounded himself. "Before he went to Afghanistan, he was a normal teenager... People liked him," said his brother. "After he came back from Guantanamo, he seemed like a completely different person. He stared all the time. You could not have a normal conversation with him. . . . It seemed as if his brain had been washed."

The saga continues, and ends with tragedy. Absolutely worth a full read. Chandrasekaran also follows up with a separate brief discussion of how many former Guantanamo detainees are thought to have committed terrorist acts after being released. Pentagon officials say the number could be as high as 60.

From Baghdad
Timothy Williams of the New York Times reports on the huge and visible plight of Iraqi widows, and it is really no more upbeat than the previous story. With years of violent war creating a widow out of an estimated 1 in 11 women between 15 and 80, the problem as described by Williams seems insurmountable.
Women who lost their husbands had once been looked after by an extended support system of family, neighbors and mosques. But as the war has ground on, government and social service organizations say the women’s needs have come to exceed available help, posing a threat to the stability of the country’s tenuous social structures.

With the economy limping along, dependent almost entirely on the price of crude oil, and the government preoccupied with rebuilding and quelling sectarian violence, officials acknowledge that little is likely to change soon.
Women often find no choice but to become prostitutes, or to participate in a system of temporary marriage (which is usually about sex and can amount to the same thing). “We can’t help everybody,” said Leila Kadim, a managing director in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. “There are too many.” One way the government has seen fit to help is to enact a campaign to arrest beggars and the homeless, including war widows.

Mazin al-Shihan, director of the Baghdad Displacement Committee, a city agency, has proposed a plan to pay men to marry widows.
When asked why the money should not go directly to the women, Mr. Shihan laughed. “If we give the money to the widows, they will spend it unwisely because they are uneducated and they don’t know about budgeting,” he said. “But if we find her a husband, there will be a person in charge of her and her children for the rest of their lives.”
Someone "in charge" of them for money who will keep them from spending their money foolishly on things like shelter and food - who wouldn't endorse that as a perfect solution?

Also in the New York Times, Marc Santora reports that Iraqi authorities charged a sitting Sunni lawmaker with masterminding a string of murders, kidnappings and bombings, including an attack on Parliament in 2007, a military official announced Sunday. The charges against Sunni MP Mohammad al-Daini have been covered on Iraqslogger in both the Iraq TV and Iraq Papers roundups of late, but Santora comes up with some chilling details from the videotaped confessions which implicate al-Daini by two members of his security detail, including a nephew.

“Those guys were my bodyguards,” he said in a telephone interview on Sunday after watching the news conference on television. “They were arrested two weeks ago and they were pressed to accuse me,” he said. “I know that Iran is behind this operation.”
Riyadh Ibrahim, Mr. Daini’s nephew and former bodyguard, said he drove a suicide bomber who attacked Parliament in 2007 into the Green Zone, and that the bomber used Mr. Daini’s badge to get past security. After entering the Parliament building, Mr. Ibrahim said, the bomber was given an explosive belt by a cafeteria worker. He said the attack, which killed eight people, was masterminded by Mr. Daini.

Some of the crimes alleged by Mr. Ibrahim and another bodyguard, Alla Khairalla, were particularly gruesome. In 2007, after 11 guests that Mr. Daini had over to his home in Baghdad were killed on their way home, Mr. Ibrahim said, Mr. Daini ordered him to get revenge. “He got very angry and demanded that we find 10 people for each one that was killed,” he said. “We found about 110 people and gathered them in the area of Tuwella,” in Diyala Province, he said. “They were all buried alive.”
The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf writes about the run-up to the "opening" of the Iraq Museum. It was the famously infamous site of widespread looting of an estimated 15,000 archeological treasures, directly following the 2003 arrival of US forces in Baghdad. Since then, about 5,000 of the artifacts have been returned, many with the help of the United States, which, as Arraf points out, “is eager to turn the page on this particular footnote of Mesopotamian history.”
Over the past two weeks, the Ministry of Tourism had declared it would reopen soon. The Ministry of Culture had said it wouldn't. During the ministerial feud, experts proclaimed that it was still to dangerous and the museum itself wasn't prepared for the public.

In the end, there was a compromise: The museum will reopen Monday for the first time in six years. But only eight of the museum's 26 galleries will be accessible, and for only a few hours, to highlight stolen pieces that have been recovered – some from as far away as Peru. Notably absent will be the heart of the collection – including gold jewelry and ceremonial objects from the royal graves of Ur and Nimrud, which rival the treasures of King Tut's tomb.
"The opening of a museum is more than putting items in the showcases," says museum director Amira Edan. "It means lighting, it means having security control systems, alarms. But we received the order and we are doing our best.... We still do not know what we are going to do after the opening."

Arraf describes archeologists and other museum employees (some with formidable histories of their own) working round-the-clock to get ready for Monday’s highly-covered visit by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, when the museum is to be “reinaugurated”, or as Edan puts it, "I think we can call it an exhibition."

Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at


Wounded Warrior Project