Ahmed Chalabi

In the late summer of 2007, Baghdad was buzzing with talk of a coup. Iraq was gripped by horrific civil war, and the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki seemed at best unable to do anything about it. (At worst he appeared guilty of contributing to sectarian violence himself.) In November, U.S. national security advisor Steve Hadley had returned from a visit with Maliki and reported grave doubts about the prime minister’s competence.

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Sunday is election day in Iraq—the second national parliamentary vote since the American-led invasion in 2003. U.S. officials maintained this week that Obama’s plan to withdraw all American combat troops by September 1st is still on track, but that’s almost certainly untrue if the elections don’t go smoothly.

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With everyone riveted on health care and Scott Brown and "The Girl With the Curious Hand," little attention is being paid to looming disaster in Iraq, where the Shiite-dominated government is pulling a sectarian power play in advance of the country's national election in March.

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Neo-McCain

I have liked John McCain ever since I met him almost a decade ago. At the time, I was writing a profile of then-Senator Fred Thompson, who was rumored to be considering a run for the presidency. I had been playing phone tag with the press secretaries of senators friendly with Thompson and was getting nowhere. I decided that, instead of calling McCain's office, I would drop by. I spoke to one of his aides, who asked me whether I had time to see the senator then.

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The Last Casualty

The moment one lands at Baghdad Airport, all the political arguments, all the philosophical certainties, all the things that Iraq has come to represent in the American imagination simply melt away. What's left is a place--a not very nice place. From the backseat of a beat-up sedan steered by a gun-toting Iraqi driver, the streets of Baghdad look no different than they did during my last trip here six months ago—except for the large number of Iraqi police, who seem to be everywhere. The smell of burning trash is ubiquitous, as is the sound of gunfire.

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Exit Poll

LAST WEEK, U.N. Special Envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi stood before TV cameras, journalists, and diplomats in Baghdad's convention center and outlined his plan for the country's interim government, which will be vital to ensuring progress toward democracy. "There is no substitute for the legitimacy that comes from free and fair elections," Brahimi said. "Iraq will have a genuinely representative government." But there are different kinds of "representative government," some that merely represent the majority and others that protect the rights of minorities as well.

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The Radical

In early 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke to President George W. Bush from the heart. The war in Afghanistan had been an astonishing display of U.S. strength. Instead of the bloody quagmire many predicted, CIA paramilitary agents, Special Forces, and U.S. air power had teamed with Northern Alliance guerrillas to run the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of their strongholds.

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Split Decision

Last week, an Iraqi exile named Mohammed Mohsen Zubaidi strode into Baghdad and declared himself mayor, meeting with local sheiks and promising them potable drinking water and electricity. “With your help, we can manage our country by ourselves,” The Washington Post quoted him as saying. Barbara Bodine, the former U.S.

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During the Oslo peace process, Natan Sharansky, the Soviet dissident turned politician, was a lone, even eccentric, voice on the Israeli right. Where others on the right condemned Oslo for betraying historic claims or vital security needs, Sharansky attacked it for betraying democracy. By imposing dictatorship on the Palestinians, he argued, Israel was repeating the mistake made by Western democracies that sought stability by accommodating rather than challenging communist regimes.

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Slumlords

A few days after American troops entered Baghdad, I went to Saddam City, a sprawling slum inhabited almost exclusively by Shia Muslims. But, by the time I got there, Saddam City was gone. Yes, the people were still there, as was the poverty—the kids playing barefoot soccer on dirt lots and the young men carrying AK-47 assault rifles. But it was Saddam City no longer. THIS IS SADR CITY, announced a spray-painted sign as I drove into the slum, renamed for Sheik Mohammed Sadek Al Sadr, who was killed along with two of his sons in 1999 for speaking out against Saddam Hussein.

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