What 'Mrs Smith' didn't see in
Iraq By Sami Moubayed
DAMASCUS - United Nations Goodwill
ambassador and Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie
landed in Baghdad on Thursday, where she wanted to
talk about refugees with members of the Nuri
al-Maliki government. Speaking to CNN, the
Oscar-winning actress said, "There are over 2
million displaced people - 58% of them below the
age of 12 - and there never seems to be a real
coherent plan to help them."
nothing new in what Angelina is saying: the Iraqis
have been saying this since 2003. She met with
Maliki, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Refugees
Minister Abdul-Samad Rahman Sultan, US commander
General David Petraeus, and
Staffan di Mistura, the head
of the UN mission to Iraq.
One thing is
clear: she is unimpressed by how both Iraqi
authorities and US troops are dealing with the
refugee crisis in Iraq and she is equally
unimpressed at how they were dealing with the
humanitarian problem as a whole in Iraq.
Twenty-four hours prior to Jolie's visit,
hundreds of Iraqi actors and actresses had
demonstrated in Baghdad, chanting against the
prime minister, demanding better living and work
conditions. Their demonstration - the first of its
kind - was staged in front of the Iraqi National
Theater (a national cultural landmark) in Baghdad.
Hussein Basri, the president of the Artists'
Syndicate, complained that "actors and actresses
suffer from government negligence".
Actresses in particular are treated
harshly by the increasingly religious society that
surrounds them, with clerics condemning actresses
as "immoral". Basri added that "the Iraqi theater
has lost some of its finest performers due to
immigration, or unemployment". The monthly salary
of an actor or actress is comical, ranging from
100,000 dinars (US$67) to a maximum of 300,000
Showing just how miserable their
condition is, one needs to compare their income
with the box-office success of Angelina's films -
her showpiece Mr & Mrs Smith grossed
$478 million worldwide. Or against the fact that
Angelina makes up to $20 million a movie. As one
of the world's top-paid actresses, she has also
generously shared her wealth and adopted children
from Cambodia to Vietnam.
don't have that luxury. If only they could be
Angelina, they say to themselves - in looks,
international appeal and income!
looked elsewhere Maliki did nothing to help
the actors and actresses. He heard out the
Hollywood beauty, however, smiled - and then did
nothing to answer her numerous concerns about
Iraq. He was too busy this week changing the
national holidays in Baghdad.
controversy, between Ba'athists, Shi'ites, Sunni
tribesmen and fanatics, Maliki proposed making
October 3 National Iraqi Day. This marks the date
in which Iraq joined the League of Nations in
1932. For obvious reasons, several public holidays
were canceled. First was April 7, marking the
birth of the Ba'ath Party in 1947. So was February
8, marking the coup of 1963, which co-brought the
Ba'athists to power in Baghdad. And finally, so
was July 17, the date in which Saddam Hussein came
to power, along with president Ahmad Hasan
al-Bakr, in 1968.
Several new holidays
were added - thanks to the newfound status of
Iraqi Shi'ites- including Shaaban 15 (Muslim
calendar) marking the Shi'ite rebellion against
Saddam in 1991, and 10 Muharaam, marking the
religious holiday Ashura, revered by Shi'ites
throughout the Muslim world.
the authorities did not tamper with the national
holiday on July 14, marking the bloody revolution
that toppled the Iraqi throne in 1958 and killed
King Faysal II, his uncle Prince Abdul Illah,
prime minister Nuri al-Said, and the entire royal
family - women and children, and pets included.
The Maliki government, although not overly fond of
the revolution, nevertheless observed it as the
"birthday of the Iraqi republic".
Meanwhile, on the same day the new
holidays were revealed to the public, 31 people
were killed in different parts of the country -
reminding Iraqi authorities of how difficult their
reality was - and how correct Jolie was when
observing the situation in Baghdad. While
criticism was mounting on Maliki for his lack of
action on a variety of issues related to
reconciliation, he announced plans to rebuild the
Golden Dome in Samara, which was destroyed in a
terrorist attack by al-Qaeda in February 2006.
More damage was done to the holy shrine in
June 2007. The United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization once
described it as an "endangered world heritage
site", claiming that reconstruction would cost no
less than $8.4 million.
Though it's an
important step, it comes as too little too late.
It is long overdue, given that the bombing took
place 24 months ago. It does nothing to heal the
wounds of Sunnis, who have also complained that
their mosques were ransacked, in some cases
bombed, and their community leaders have been
massacred by Shi'ite militias.
holy sites should start simultaneously for both
Shi'ites and Sunnis, to heal open wounds and shake
off the impression that many have that Maliki, as
a sectarian prime minister, favors the Shi'ite
The Golden Dome is a must, no
doubt about that, but where does prioritization
come into play in Maliki's Iraq? What about the
Iraqi actors actresses who make less than $100 a
month? What about the 2 million Iraqi refugees in
Syria? Or the 700,000 in Jordan? Last week, on
February 1, two Iraqi women blew themselves up in
two consecutive terrorist attacks in Baghdad,
killing 91 people.
Maliki's team said the
two women were mentally retarded - downplaying the
horrendous attack, claiming they did not know what
they were doing when they entered the marketplace.
Then came US officials who added this was the
doing of Osama bin Laden, claiming he had run out
of able-bodied men to carry out terrorist attacks,
and had to rely on deranged women.
arguments overlooked the important fact that there
is desperation in Iraq. One doesn't need to be
mentally retarded - medically speaking - to carry
out a suicide attack. One needs only to be
properly indoctrinated and brainwashed by the
millions of terrorists roaming in Iraq, either
from Saddam's loyalists, al-Qaeda, or Shi'ite
Recent polls show that 43% of
all Iraqis live in "absolute poverty". That in
itself is enough to cause severe depression and
lead someone into terrorism. This week, Defense
Ministry officials showed videos they had captured
in a raid on al-Qaeda in December 2007. The videos
were of little children, aged 11-15, being trained
in combat and murder by al-Qaeda.
Childhood is being perverted in Iraq and
so is the role of women, who instead of getting a
good education, falling in love, developing
professionally, getting married, end up blowing
themselves and others up in a crowded Baghdad
According to the London-based
Opinion Research Business, 1 million Iraqis have
died as a result of the US invasion since March
2003. The cause of death was either directly or
indirectly related to the war of 2003 and its
aftermath - rather than natural causes.
Finally, Women's Affairs Minister Narmeen
Othman said there are up to 2 million widows in
Iraq, out of a total female population of 8.5
million aged between 15 and 80. Of this strikingly
large number, only 84,000 receive assistance from
the government (50,000-12,000 dinars a month). The
two women who blew themselves up on February 1
might be one of the 2 million desperate Iraqi
women who have been widowed as a result of the
They might have also lost a
brother, father or son. Under Saddam, widows were
cared for by the government, and officers who
married a widow were professionally rewarded by
the Ba'athist regime.
reconciliation Reconciliation in Iraq is
not working. All the success stories from al-Anbar
province - the one success story of George W Bush
- are subject to collapse due to increased
violence and lack of cooperation between the
Ministry of Defense (controlled by Sunnis) and the
Ministry of Interior (controlled by Shi'ites,
allied to the prime minister).
Interior Ministry officials, who control the
police and security services, refuse to give
Defense Ministry officials any duties - or
information - about what they are doing in Anbar.
To cover up for the increasing rift within Anbar
province, which houses the now famous Anbar
Awakening Council that is combating al-Qaeda,
Maliki announced he would incorporate 12,000 Sunni
militiamen into the Iraqi army and security
services. They will be named, honorifically,
Abna al-Iraq (The Sons of Iraq).
All of them, apparently, will be from the
"Awakening Councils" that have mushroomed in Iraq
over the past year, armed and funded by the
Americans. In total they number 70,000 and the
Iraqi government is expected to incorporate 20% of
them, under the urging of the US administration.
To date, only 240 members of the Awakening
Councils have been allowed to join the Ministry of
Originally, Maliki had been very
much opposed to the arming of Sunni tribesmen,
claiming the minute they finished fighting
al-Qaeda they would train their guns on the
Americans and Shi'ites. His initial response to
the arming of Sunni groups was ordering over
18,000 Shi'ite militias into the armed forces, in
If the Sunnis were
legitimizing their arms - he claimed - then so
would he. He has apparently bent, due to US
pressure, and agreed to "legitimize the arms" of
the Sunnis as well, but given orders that they be
incorporated into the Ministry of Interior, which
is dominated by the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council,
a strong Shi'ite party that operates its own
militia, the Badr Brigade.
Once the 12,000
Sunnis join the ministry, they will be further
absorbed - then either expelled or eliminated - by
the large number of Shi'ites who dominate the
ministry. Last January, eight members of an
Awakening Council were assassinated - a move that
was supposedly taken with the tacit approval of
the government. Since then, authorities have done
nothing to investigate the murders. Several Sunni
notables have accused Iran of masterminding the
This is the part that Angelina
Jolie did not see in Baghdad.
Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst. He is
the author of Steel & Silk: Men and Women
Who Shaped Syria 1900-2000 (Cune Press