This is an Open Book Examination. You may use any materials you can find, including other newspaper reports, and of course you are encouraged to use the work of genuine scholars on Islam, Iraq, the history of Sunni-Shi”a relations and of Arab Muslim relations with Kurds and other non-Arab peoples.
You may even consult with others. But the thinking, in the end, must be yours, and so must the expression, in writing, of your thoughts and analysis.
You have one week to complete this task. Examination papers are due by 5 p.m. on January 31, 2007.
There are two passages below. One consists of an excerpt from an interview with Vice-President Cheney, conducted and broadcast on CNN on January 24, 2007 and reported in The Bandar Beacon (Washington Post) the next day. The other consists of an excerpt from a report from Iraq in The New Duranty Times [New York Times], written the same day, January 24, 2007, and appearing in that paper on January 25, 2007.
You are asked to comment on both of these passages, and on their usefulness to an American audience in illuminating the reality of Iraq today. Discuss the ratio of fact to mere assertion contained in each. Evaluate their overall usefulness, for the public, in judging what might make sense for American national interests.
Wherever possible, be careful to analyze examples of rhetoric that you feel contribute to, or take away from, the understanding of or expression of reality in each article.
Please be careful to support all your assertions with facts. You are encouraged to apply whatever knowledge you possess of the belief-system of Islam as you understand it, and of the attitudes and atmospherics to which the teachings of Islam may naturally give rise.
You are further encouraged to apply in your answer as detailed a knowledge as you possibly can of the history of Iraq and of its sectarian and ethnic fissures, and of how those fissures arise from the nature and history of Islam. You are asked to speculate on how the further development of such fissures might contribute to, or take away from, the security of the people of the United States and of other countries in what may be called, using the term used in Islam, the Dar al-Harb, or House of War.
The more deeply your answer is based on a knowledge both of Islam’s teachings and its history, and of the history of modern Iraq itself and the relations among the varied peoples who live within the state of Iraq, the better. The more you can bring to bear such knowledge, the more likely it is that you will be able to make an intelligent assessment of the effect, both inside and outside Iraq, of the presence or withdrawal of American troops.
Be sure to write from the viewpoint of one determined to further American national interests, broadly conceived, and also to further the interests of those who, while they may differ on all sorts of matters, share the basic assumptions and hierarchy of values of what may be called the West, or Western civilization, or perhaps, even more broadly and more accurately, the non-Islamic world or Camp of the Infidels.
Here are the two passages for comment:
I. When Blitzer asked whether the administration’s credibility had been hurt by “the blunders and the failures” in Iraq, Cheney interjected: “Wolf, Wolf, I simply don’t accept the premise of your question. I just think it’s hogwash.”
In fact, Cheney said, the operation in Iraq has achieved its original mission. “What we did in Iraq in taking down Saddam Hussein was exactly the right thing to do,” he said. “The world is much safer today because of it. There have been three national elections in Iraq. There’s a democracy established there, a constitution, a new democratically elected government. Saddam has been brought to justice and executed. His sons are dead. His government is gone.”
“If he were still there today,” Cheney added, “we’d have a terrible situation.”
“But there is,” Blitzer said.
“No, there is not,” Cheney retorted. “There is not. There’s problems — ongoing problems — but we have in fact accomplished our objectives of getting rid of the old regime, and there is a new regime in place that’s been here for less than a year, far too soon for you guys to write them off.” He added: “Bottom line is that we’ve had enormous successes and we will continue to have enormous successes.”
Cheney said Blitzer was advocating retreat. “What you’re recommending, or at least what you seem to believe the right course is, is to bail out,” the vice president said.
II. BAGHDAD, Jan. 24 “” In the battle for Baghdad, Haifa Street has changed hands so often that it has taken on the feel of a no man’s land, the deadly space between opposing trenches. On Wednesday, as American and Iraqi troops poured in, the street showed why it is such a sensitive gauge of an urban conflict marked by front lines that melt into confusion, enemies with no clear identity and allies who disappear or do not show up at all.
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Forum: The Transition in Iraq
In a miniature version of the troop increase that the United States hopes will secure the city, American soldiers and armored vehicles raced onto Haifa Street before dawn to dislodge Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias who have been battling for a stretch of ragged slums and mostly abandoned high rises. But as the sun rose, many of the Iraqi Army units who were supposed to do the actual searches of the buildings did not arrive on time, forcing the Americans to start the job on their own.
When the Iraqi units finally did show up, it was with the air of a class outing, cheering and laughing as the Americans blew locks off doors with shotguns. As the morning wore on and the troops came under fire from all directions, another apparent flaw in this strategy became clear as empty apartments became lairs for gunmen who flitted from window to window and killed at least one American soldier, with a shot to the head.
Whether the gunfire was coming from Sunni or Shiite insurgents or militia fighters or some of the Iraqi soldiers who had disappeared into the Gotham-like cityscape, no one could say.
“Who the hell is shooting at us?” shouted Sgt. First Class Marc Biletski, whose platoon was jammed into a small room off an alley that was being swept by a sniper’s bullets. “Who’s shooting at us? Do we know who they are?”
Just before the platoon tossed smoke bombs and sprinted through the alley to a more secure position, Sergeant Biletski had a moment to reflect on this spot, which the United States has now fought to regain from a mysterious enemy at least three times in the past two years.
“This place is a failure,” Sergeant Biletski said. “Every time we come here, we have to come back.”
He paused, then said, “Well, maybe not a total failure,” since American troops have smashed opposition on Haifa Street each time they have come in.
With that, Sergeant Biletski ran through the billowing yellow smoke and took up a new position.
The Haifa Street operation, involving Bradley Fighting Vehicles as well as the highly mobile Stryker vehicles, is likely to cause plenty of reflection by the commanders in charge of the Baghdad buildup of more than 20,000 troops. Just how those extra troops will be used is not yet known, but it is likely to mirror at least broadly the Haifa Street strategy of working with Iraqi forces to take on unruly groups from both sides of the Sunni-Shiite sectarian divide.
The commander of the operation, Lt. Col. Avanulas Smiley of the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Second Infantry Division, said his forces were not interested in whether opposition came from bullets fired by Sunnis or by Shiites. He conceded that the cost of letting the Iraqi forces learn on the job was to add to the risk involved in the operation.
“This was an Iraqi-led effort and with that come challenges and risks,” Colonel Smiley said. “It can be organized chaos.”
The American units in the operation began moving up Haifa Street from the south by 2 a.m. on Wednesday. A platoon of B Company in the Stryker Brigade secured the roof of a high rise, where an Eminem poster was stuck on the wall of what appeared to be an Iraqi teenager’s room on the top floor. But in a pattern that would be repeated again and again in a series of buildings, there was no one in the apartment.
Many of the Iraqi units that showed up late never seemed to take the task seriously, searching haphazardly, breaking dishes and rifling through personal CD collections in the apartments. Eventually the Americans realized that the Iraqis were searching no more than half of the apartments; at one point the Iraqis completely disappeared, leaving the American unit working with them flabbergasted.
“Where did they go?” yelled Sgt. Jeri A. Gillett. Another soldier suggested, “I say we just let them go and we do this ourselves.”
Then the gunfire began. It would come from high rises across the street, from behind trash piles and sandbags in alleys and from so many other directions that the soldiers began to worry that the Iraqi soldiers were firing at them. Mortars started dropping from across the Tigris River, to the east, in the direction of a Shiite slum.
The only thing that was clear was that no one knew who the enemy was. “The thing is, we wear uniforms “” they don’t,” said Specialist Terry Wilson.
At one point the Americans were forced to jog alongside the Strykers on Haifa Street, sheltering themselves as best they could from the gunfire. The Americans finally found the Iraqis and ended up accompanying them into an extremely dangerous and exposed warren of low-slung hovels behind the high rises as gunfire rained down.
American officers tried to persuade the Iraqi soldiers to leave the slum area for better cover, but the Iraqis refused to risk crossing a lane that was being raked by machine-gun fire. “It’s their show,” said Lt. David Stroud, adding that the Americans have orders to defer to the Iraqis in cases like this.
In this surreal setting, about 20 American soldiers were forced at one point to pull themselves one by one up a canted tin roof by a dangling rubber hose and then shimmy along a ledge to another hut. The soldiers were stunned when a small child suddenly walked out of a darkened doorway and an old man started wheezing and crying somewhere inside.
Ultimately the group made it back to the high rises and escaped the sniper in the alley by throwing out the smoke bombs and sprinting to safety. Even though two Iraqis were struck by gunfire, many of the rest could not stop shouting and guffawing with amusement as they ran through the smoke.
One Iraqi soldier in the alley pointed his rifle at an American reporter and pulled the trigger. There was only a click: the weapon had no ammunition. The soldier laughed at his joke.