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Thoughts on 9/11 from the Aegean

October 2nd, 2013 No comments
A ghastly toxic plume of smoke and ash rises above Ground Zero after the total collapse of the North and South Towers of New York's World Trade Center on 9/11.

A ghastly toxic plume of smoke and ash rises above what would instantly become known as Ground Zero after the total collapse of the North and South Towers (yet before the fall of Tower 7) of New York’s World Trade Center on 9/11. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

Thira- Two years ago when I was here on this island, the principal of the Santorini archipelago in Greece’s Cyclades group, I was quietly reading the Eleventh Day The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan. That book was a2012  finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in the History category. When nearing the last chapter and scanning the footnotes I was delighted that one of my articles was cited in them.

Here I am two years later catching up on some much needed personal writing. Seeing as we recently passed yet another 9/11 anniversary, it is clearly not one of those topics that will ever be “over” like the endless accounts–each one claiming to be more definitive than the last–put out by publishing houses each year on the Second World War (a.k.a. The Great Patriotic War).

I will never forget taking my photojournalism portfolio by an agency in Manhattan in early 2002 after coming home from six weeks in Afghanistan and Central Asia and a photo editor telling me: “sorry but Afghanistan is kind of like, over…” I heard similar things regarding 9/11 less than a year after it took place. But it is obvious these events will never be “over.” They steered the course of world history in our lifetime. It is simply arrogant to think otherwise. Short sighted people working in fast-paced New York media may have been eager to move on to the next story but I was not. I covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, sure, but even at the time I saw it all as a unified story where each successive event was linked to previous ones to form a continuum of globalized conflict that didn’t respect the Westphalian state system.

I recall talking to a close friend here on the island two years ago and telling him about the book I was then reading and the writing I was doing. His first reaction was “but what about building 7 (WTC 7)?” WTC 7 is the lynchpin of 9/11 conspiracy theorists often known as “truthers.” The perfect pancaked collapse of WTC 7 lead skeptics and the paranoid to insist WTC 7′s collapse was what is called a controlled demolition–meaning it was premeditated which would then imply that perhaps all of 9/11 was some sort of “inside job.”

One of the things people can never accept about 9/11–especially those who were not physically in lower Manhattan that particular day–is that even though it was a televised and well-documented tragedy is that there are some things that all of us will simply never know and we must accept this fact. There were so very many moving parts in the 9/11 attack and ensuing tragedy that it will never be possible to know everything. In a city of 8.5 million in an event with thousands of simultaneous deaths, many people cannot accept that everything about this event cannot be known or understood in its entirety in our time.

For those who actually witnessed the horror that day, not much more need be said in many cases. For those who were far away or too young at the time, they have the luxury of viewing 9/11 as some sort of theoretical abstraction to be neatly dissected by its various anomalies in the realms of physics, chemistry or engineering.  I witnessed WTC 7 engulfed in flames when I arrived via bicycle well after the collapse or the South Tower.

Families arrive en masse to the site of the former World Trade Center to grieve once more for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The attacks claimed victims from across New York's incredibly diverse ethnic and religious communities. Many of the families had t shirts created in honour of their loved ones.

Families arrive en masse to the site of the former World Trade Center to grieve once more for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The attacks claimed victims from across New York’s incredibly diverse ethnic and religious communities. Many of the families had t shirts created in honour of their loved ones. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Of course the U.S government, particularly the Executive Branch has done virtually nothing to quell those of a conspiratorial bent. So many documents remain classified or partially redacted. Any why, we must ask? To protect princes and princesses in the Saudi regime in order to not disrupt the flow of oil to U.S .shores? Or is it merely the bureaucratic culture of secrecy continually perpetuating itself? In the era of wikileaks and Edward Snowden, one may wish some dusty 9/11 documents be released rather than, say, embassy cables from Mauritius. There was a grandiose conspiracy behind 9/11 and it was cultivated in a suburb of Hamburg, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, San Diego and Tarnak Farms outside Kandahar and a litany of other locales rather than at Langley or at Larry Silverstein’s office in Manhattan.

Relatives of victims sign a Ground Zero tribute wall outside the annual memorial ceremony on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in lower Manhattan. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Relatives of victims sign a Ground Zero tribute wall outside the annual memorial ceremony on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in lower Manhattan. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Why certain people prefer to entertain conspiracy theories is often a broader question involving human psychology. The conspiracy theorists are correct on something though. The American government is hiding things about 9/11 from its citizenry. But it is to protect its own tragic incompetence and ego-driven buffoonery than its dark hand in the 9/11 plot. The U.S. government is not made up of an underground lair of dastardly super villains hatching fanciful plots.

A fellow firefighter grieves for a fallen comrade a decade after the attacks that shook New York to its core. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

A fellow firefighter grieves for a fallen comrade, Lieutenant John Napolitano, a decade after the attacks that shook New York to its core. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Anyone who has spent anytime in the corridors of Washington knows that it is made up of individuals, some of them intelligent, some of them quite ordinary, who have had often disproportionate power bestowed upon them by a ballooned security clearance system.  Some of these individuals have their own spirited agendas such as the preservation of Israeli military superiority in the Middle East, the promotion of hardline Protestantism, retrograde Catholoicism or more mundane concerns such as procuring defense contracts to keep or bring jobs and thereby votes back home in their respective districts. OK, so calling something the “Office of Special Plans” certainly doesn’t help the matter in the eyes of the avidly skeptical. But Douglas Feith was and is an idiot, not Lex Luther.

I very belatedly stumbled onto this 2008 documentary regarding the mystery surrounding WTC 7 by the BBC entitled 9/11 – The Third Tower.

Along the Morphing Green Line in Iraq

September 9th, 2013 No comments
A portrait of Wahab Mohammed Sharir, a Kurdish martyr portrait in my fixer's living room in Kirkuk. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A portrait of Wahab Mohammed Sharir, a Kurdish peshmerga fighter in my fixer’s living room in Kirkuk. Shahrir had been fighting the Ba’athist government in the 1960s and 1970s  before the Algiers Accords were ultimately signed in 1975 between Iran and Iraq where the regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi agreed to cease Tehran’s support for armed insurgents in northern Iraq. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- Proud to announce that I have to lead story in this month’s issue of Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst (Subscribers only). I travelled along a section of the so-called “Green Line” that divides Iraqi Kurdistan from Arab-majority Iraq.  Iraq’s Green Line was established after the 1990-1991 Gulf War when the northern no-fly zone was implemented.  Run out of Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base,  the no-fly zone enforced above the 36th parallel was known as Operation Provide Comfort and Operation Provide Comfort II (which then became Operation Northern Watch). It allowed for the setting up of a de facto Kurdish administration divided between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 3.53.19 PMWestern air power in the Clinton years let that harden into what would eventually become the Kurdistan Regional Government run by both of the major Iraqi Kurdish dynastic parties. When the United States military burst through the hulking sand berms separating Iraq from Kuwait on March 19-20 2003, U.S. Special Forces teamed up with Peshmerga fighters to not only tackle Ansar al-Islam’s base along the Iranian border but also to gain a foothold in cities like Mosul and Kirkuk when Turkey’s parliament refused the Pentagon the right to transit Turkish territory to topple the government in Baghdad.

What I found on my exploration along the former Green Line is that the KRG is creating ground realities while the federal government helmed by  Nuri al-Maliki can’t quite get its act together regarding the status of disputed territories along this fluid internal border. Part of why the demarcation of the Green Line matters so much is that when there are oil or gas blocks in these lands and hence potentially great wealth to be attained by whomever controls them, a relict of 1990s political geography is now of utmost importance.

A group of Peshmerga fighters proudly boasted to me that their makeshift little bunker was south of the old Green Line. And with a weak federal security force combined with Kurdish nationalism, this seemed to really mean something. Neither side appears ready to forge a genuine settlement on the disputed territories meanwhile energy multinationals are eager to get their hands on as yet undeveloped resources.

Thus far both Erbil and Baghdad have been fairly intransigent on their respective oil development policies. Both have made stark statements that oil companies shouldn’t work in both Kurdistan and southern Iraq. They should be forced to pick sides. However the exploration by ExxonMobil may alter this tense arrangement.

Along this northwest to southeast line, the Kurds and the Iraqi Army did not seem to be allies but eyeing each other as well as looking for infiltrators from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

A Peshmerga commander gazes into the distance at an old Ba'athist military bunker that was destroyed in an American air strike on March 2003. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A Peshmerga commander beyond the old Green Line  gazes into the distance at an old Ba’athist military bunker that was destroyed in an American air strike on March 2003. Whether PM Maliki likes it or not, Kurdish military leaders are creating facts on the ground. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

As the United States and France contemplate launching bombing raids to help topple to Ba’athist regime in Damascus, it would behoove leaders in Washington and Paris to look at the legacy of their involvement in Iraq (pre-2003 France was involved in Operation Provide Comfort). Toppling a dictatorship is the relatively easy part of the equation.

Categories: Iran, Iraq, Middle East Tags: , ,

Iraq Then and Now

August 19th, 2013 No comments
A young Shia girl returns to school after the American invasion of her country. Behind her is a mural of Muhammed Al-Dura, a young  boy killed during the second intifada in Palestine. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

An Iraqi girl returns to school in Karbala after the American invasion of her country. Behind her is a mural of Muhammed al-Dura, a young boy killed during the second intifada in Palestine. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- I have a new article out in today’s edition of Asia Times Online about the discordant security arrangement in Iraq’s contested Kirkuk Governorate. On October 21, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama declared: “After nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” What the president should have said that American large-scale participation on the ground would end but the war in Iraq would continue to painfully grind on.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 11.58.40 AMThough the White House had the audacity of boast in citing the major troop withdrawal as one of many campaign “promises kept,” as it has become loudly clear in 2013, the Iraq war in nowhere near ending–only American leverage over its outcome has mostly ceased. Many Iraqis I spoke to over the course of a week (as well as a number of Syrian refugees) consider Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a nearly hysterical Iranian client leader who is concerned primarily with the preservation of his own personal power regime. In fact I encountered more people who favored the former American presence than were fans of their own PM.

The frustration over the dire lack of daily security among ordinary Iraqis was both obvious and immense.In between the ongoing horrors in Syria and now Egypt, Iraq has been creeping up into the headlines–and not just because of its proximity to the Syrian war. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is undeniably resurgent. Shia militias like Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH)–a splinter group from Muqtada al-Sadr’s Jaish-i-Mahdi headed by Qais al-Khazali–are undoubtedly feeding off Sunni militancy to define themselves as communal defense movements. Meanwhile Maliki’s government situated in the closed off “Green Zone” cannot seem to come to an accord with Massoud Barzani’s Erbil over either oil law or the territories disputed in several northern governorates between Baghdad and Erbil.

The Iraq I first encountered in 2003 had the momentary illusory feel of a place filled with possibilities. And I’m not referring to the delusional overnight resuscitation of the oil sector as dreamed up by the neoconservative hawks at the time. Like the Malwiya in Samarra pictured below, my ulterior motive for visiting Iraq was its incredible historic sites that had been largely cut off from the outside world since Saddam Hussein’s ascent to the Iraqi presidency in 1979. The shrines of Imam Ali and Imam Hussein, and the ziggurat of Ur outside Nasiriyyah were fantasies to visit in person. But alas there was no cultural revival to be. Iraq has been steadily in some form of war for all of the last decade. Iraq quickly became much more Syriana than Indiana Jones.

The Malwiya tower from the Great Mosque of Samarra, May 2003. From atop the Malwiya  It was built in the mid-800's by the Abbassid caliph Al-Mutawakkil ʻAlā Allāh Jaʻfar ibn al-Muʻtasim. I could see the golden dome of the ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

The Malwiya tower from the Great Mosque of Samarra, May 2003. It was built in the mid-800′s by the Abbassid caliph Al-Mutawakkil ʻAlā Allāh Jaʻfar ibn al-Muʻtasim. From atop the Malwiya I could see the golden dome of the al-Askari shrine housing the tombs of the 10th and 11th Shia Imams. The al-Askari shrine was later blown up in February 2006 and again in June 2007. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

At lot of varying interests were at play in 2003 who stood to gain or lose in Iraq in 2003. The most politically palatable meme was that the entire world public–led by the European left–stood in solidarity against the invasion. From absurd Ba’ath apologists to genuine anti-war activists, the more complex pill to swallow was that many Iraqis actually welcomed the Anglo-American invasion which also included  Australia–later to be joined by soldiers from Ukraine to Tonga. I say this not regurgitating some misguided New York Times op-ed column from the time but from my own experience on the ground.

In trying to avoid the expensive media circus in Baghdad, I spent more time in southern Iraq. The majority of Shia I interacted with in Najaf and Karbala back then initially welcomed the invaders-cum-occupiers. Though it wouldn’t last long, there was a brief honeymoon period that seemed full of potential. Of course most of that was more the result of a confluence of mutual ignorance than of a brilliantly architected armed humanitarian intervention.

Police officer Shakawam's Namiti's car after it was it by an IED at 1:30 a.m. in midsummer. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Police officer Shakawam’s Namiti’s car after it was it by an IED at 1:30 a.m. in midsummer, Dibis, Kirkuk Governorate. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Oh and Iraq has some fantastic local dishes. But you are more likely to hear about Iraqis dying during their dinner as sectarian warfare escalates. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Oh and Iraq has some fantastic local dishes. But you are more likely to hear about Iraqis dying during their dinner as sectarian killing escalates. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Iraq, Middle East Tags: ,

The Mess They Left Behind

August 5th, 2013 No comments

Kirkuk- Here is a quick teaser of images from my recent reporting trip to Iraq’s perennial fault line known as Kirkuk Governorate.

A decade ago the United States poured over the Kuwaiti border to destroy the Ba’ath Party led by President Saddam Hussein. This effort  to remake the country was guided by a wholly unrealistic  vision thought up by men and some women who had no intrinsic understanding (though they would heartily argue otherwise) of either the deep political dynamics or long view history  of the human fabric stretching from the Levant to Iranian Plateau. These so-called “experts” worked to destroy an unsavory despot without regard for human life still living in Iraq as they concocted their “Special Plans.”

Iraq was talked about callously as a “major oil producer” whose massive reserves were underexploited by Western multinationals as if it were virtually a people-less sandscape that just  required some quick political remodeling in order to get its petroleum gushing again.

So here is Kirkuk, a decade on, with virtually every major politcal-territorial question about its future in a federal Iraq unanswered. The United States and its military and business partners smashed Iraq and drove back across the Kuwaiti border leaving behind a vast haven for suicide bombers and unending sectarian violence.

On the way back to Turkey, I shared a minivan with a group of Turkish laborers who were heading home on break. One from Istanbul told me he had been laying sod at football fields being constructed in Samarra and Tikrit. With the knowledge that a good number of Turks had been killed working in Iraq in the early stages of the war, I asked the Istanbuli why he would risk working in the “Sunni triangle” to earn a few dinars. He looked up at the dusk sky, replying: “al-Qaeda does not decide whether I live or die. That is left only for God to decide.” This seemed to me a fairly stark rationale to justify working in a war zone. But then again, what was I doing there?

This Iraqi Army checkpoint in rural Kirkuk Governorate felt isolated and highly vulnerable. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

This Iraqi Army checkpoint in rural Kirkuk Governorate felt isolated and highly vulnerable. Milling around with the soldiers, I felt like a suicide car bomb (a VBIED into the military jargon that has infected the local dialect) could go off at any given moment. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

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In contrast to the nervous vibe at the Iraqi Army outposts, the Kurdish Peshmerga seemed confident and media savvy. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

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Watching Baghdad from Kirkuk. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

An Iraqi Army officer would allow me to shoot a few photos but was hesitant to give a formal interview without approval through the proper chain of command. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

An Iraqi Army officer would allow me to shoot a few photos but was hesitant to give a formal interview without approval through the proper chain of command. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Iraq, Middle East Tags: ,

Scenes From an Enclave

July 31st, 2013 No comments
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Scenes from a Mall. Took a taxi to the Family Mall here in Erbil on the search for a rare Trade Bank of Iraq ATM. Erbil’s malls are somewhat reminiscent of those found in the GCC states replete with imported Bangladeshi janitors in bright colored coveralls. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Erbil- Here are a handful of snapshots from my iPod from my day running around the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan while trying to get situated.

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A portrait of Mullah Mustafa Barzani, father of Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and President of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Mullah Mustafa is the godfather of modern Kurdish independence/separatist movements and was part of the short lived Kurdish Republic of Mahabad that was established in what is now Iran following World War II. The Kurdish state lasted for less than a year between 1946-1947 before the Americans came to an agreement with the Soviets to retreat from Soviet-occupied Iran whereby Barzani went into Soviet exile until 1958. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

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It seems that with each passing year the notion of a sovereign Kurdistani state is becoming closer to a ground reality. As the tug of war between Erbil and Baghdad grinds on over federalism, security and oil export law while mainstream Iraq descends into another fit of sectarian warfare of which the Kurds want no part. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

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Late night Ramadan street food. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Strolling by the Jalil al-Khayat mosque late night while searching for a falafel vendor. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Strolling by the Jalil al-Khayat mosque late night while searching for a falafel vendor. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Ten Years On, Militant Salafism and Millenarian Shi’ism Conflating Iraq and Syria Wars

July 23rd, 2013 No comments
Humvee-web

On the road outside Nasiriyah following an American Humvee, May 2003. The gulf in understanding between Iraqis and their newly arrived American interlopers was visibly evident in the differences in driving styles and bizarre hand gestures made toward locals by the U.S. soldiers. From the very beginning, the Office of Special Plans ambitious Iraq project appeared doomed, at least in my personal observations. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I have a new article out on how the ongoing war in Syria is helping stoke sectarian tensions in Iraq that are manifesting themselves in the form of daily suicide bombings, shootings, and dual massive AQ jailbreaks. My article examines how the unrelenting carnage in Syria has not only taken the place of Iraq in the global media spotlight, but is also directly fueling renewed conflict in Iraq itself. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), sometimes referred to as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has now added “ash-Sham” (“the Levant”-i.e. Syria and perhaps they’re including Lebanon as well). So the ISI is now the ISIS. Sunni Salafism has only expanded in Syria as the fractious umbrella of the Free Syrian Army is simply a much less efficient fighting force than their jihadi counterparts.

Screen shot 2013-07-23 at 2.36.27 PM At the same time, Hezbollah from Lebanon and Shia groups from Iraq are officially sending in fighters to both the front line in places like al-Qusayr and to protect Shia holy places like the shrine of Sayyida Zaynab on the outskirts of Damascus and When the Sayyida Zainab site is perceived as threatened, it makes for a an easily rallying call for Shia on either side of Syria to mobilize to protect and defend not only the religious pilgrimage site, but also the Assad regime that controls the territory such a site rests on.

Both Salafi-jihadis and more Qom-oriented activist Shia have been working to unite Syria and Iraq as a single battleground. Though there are important schisms within the Shia perspective such as Najaf vs. Qom and creating a Sunni Islamic state within borders of a finite post-colonial nation-state vs. an idealized borderless caliphate, it cannot be denied or played down that the wars in Syria and Iraq are now inextricably linked. And Lebanon has been drawn in in full view in terms of sub-state or non-state groups protecting what the believe are their interests in Syria.

Najaf Iraq 2003 from Derek Flood on Vimeo.

This is not at all to suggest there aren’t very local contexts underlying the individual decisions of specific militant movements on when to act and how to pursue their goals. Within the two respective wars there has been for some time been speculation about whether the more dominant phenomena is competition between groups or cooperation between them based on clearly drawn ideological lines. But when one goes to the trouble (or risk) of taking an on the ground look, the old adage tends to ring true that the situations are neither black nor white.

A pre-World War II atlas map of Iraq from my personnel collection. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A pre-World War II atlas map of Iraq from my personnal collection. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Many Western analysts believe in taking stands based on what stands for empirical data in what are quite confusing battle fronts in reality and then sticking by said positions, perhaps engaging in a passive-agressive tête-à-tête via social media rather than admit they made need to adjust their stance in the face of a new ground reality. Iraq and Syria are deeply complex places plagued by schism upon schism whether in the realms of theology or politics. These dynamics are fluid and will remain so with even the most nimble global shuttle diplomat having neither the knowledge nor the resources to quell them. The United States may have pulled nearly all of its troops out of Iraq in December 2011 but the war is far from over.

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Outside the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, a young Shia hoists a poster of Imam Hussein cradling his infant son on a white horse during the battle of Karbala in 680 A.D. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

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Groups from all over Iraq (and Iran) came to celebrate Mawlid un-Nabi (the Prophet’s birthday). Each one seemed to have a megaphone rocking chant leader urging his followers to pious elation. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

iraqi boys play atop a destroyed Soviet BTR armored personnel carrier on the road between Nasiriyah and Najaf. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

iraqi boys play atop a destroyed Soviet BTR armored personnel carrier on the road between Nasiriyah and Najaf. I sometimes reflect back and wonder what became of the people I photographed a decade ago. I fear to think what may have happened to some of them. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Mali, North Korea and the Confluence of Histories

February 2nd, 2013 No comments
A protestor marching on Benghazi’s corniche on March 9, 2011 defaces as 1 dinar note featuring Muammar Qaddafi to shown his disdain for the Libyan dictator at the height of the Arab Spring movement. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A protestor marching on Benghazi’s corniche on March 9, 2011 defaces as 1 dinar note featuring Muammar Qaddafi to shown his disdain for the Libyan dictator at the height of the Arab Spring movement. This image to me epitomizes the concept of my article featured below. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I had a couple of long term projects published at the end of this past week. The first was an examination of the little known history conjoining Mali in West Africa with North Korea in Northeast Asia over at Asia Times Online. I discovered this newly built part of Bamako while riding around on my fixer’s motorcycle last year when we were trying to organize a semi-doomed trip toward the front line with MUAJO et co up in Mopti Region.

Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 8.14.31 PMThis spot I found (linked, left) in the Malian capital is called Carré des Armées (Army Square) and it was built by a North Korean state enterprise (not as if Pyongyang encourages private enterprise). As I begun to play with the idea of doing a full length article on the topic, it dawned on me that Mali and North Korea had a shared history dating all the way back to Mali’s independence from France in 1960.

Not exactly a topic for broad mass consumption, I know, but for those who it may interest, I think it’s a fascinating topic. It also speaks to a lesser understood phenomena of how ties forged in the heat of the Cold War still can very much exist in a post-Cold War world.

The ties between North Korea and Mali certainly may have lessened over the decades and have changed in their orientation (started out as political and military in the 1960s, now more transparently financial-the same goes for Mali’s relationship with China). One of the key differences between the relationships between North Korea and China with an inherently unstable state like Mali is that seemingly no circumstances would or will derail ‘business as usual.’

Just for argument’s sake, I honestly think that if Ansar Eddine and its Salafi allies had somehow managed to capture Bamako and miraculously gain some kind of political legitimacy that over time Beijing and Pyongyang would still send delegations back to Mali to get their business interests on track. After all in 1960, the government of Modibo Keita was deemed a righteous, radical enough anti-imperialist government by Kim Il-sung and co to forge ties on the other side of the world. Maybe the anti-imperial tenets preached in the context of  Salafiyya-jihadiyya would be revolutionary enough for the Beijing’s politburo and the DPRK’s Workers’ Party of Korea to be able to keep infrastructure projects going uninterrupted. Who’s to say….

The second was a passion project nearly 14 years in the making about the history and symbology of all the war zone/quixotic regime currencies have managed to collect in my travels over the years featured in The Christian Science Monitor. It spans from an out-of-circulation Iranian rial I obtained in Tehran in 1999 to a Libyan 1 dinar note I saved from Benghazi in 2011.

The depiction of Philip the Arab on Syria’s 100 pound note is an indicator of the deep historical ties between ancient Iran and Syria. In a rock carving at the Naqsh-e Rustam necropolis in southern Iran’s Fars Province, Philip the Arab is shown along with the Roman Emperor Valerian the Elder as they bow before the Persian king Shapur I the Great. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

The depiction of Philip the Arab on Syria’s 100-pound note is an indicator of the deep historical ties between ancient Iran and Syria. In a rock carving at the Naqsh-e Rustam necropolis in southern Iran’s Fars Province, Philip the Arab (kneeling, far left) is shown along with the Roman Emperor Valerian the Elder (center) as they bow before the Persian king Shapur I the Great (mounted). Damascus’s employing Philip the Arab is likely no accident. Unlike the Saddam-era old 25-dinar note in Iraq depicting the Battle of al-Qadissyah showing an ancient Arab (Iraqi) enmity toward Persia (Iran)–Hafez’s al-Assad’s mortal enemy in the inter-Ba’ath rivalry–Syria’s 100-pound bill emphasized Syria and Iran’s ancient, shared history…in which Roman Arabia (present day Syria) is the supplicant. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

Not a project that even the most ambitious young turk with a fancy master’s degree fresh out of Georgetown or Columbia could have done. It’s a bit of a blood, sweat and tears project in that sense and I was thrilled to have it come to fruition. I’ve dealt with countless fast talking money changers, sky rocketing wartime inflation, crossed borders only opened when regimes were in the process of being toppled and made all sorts of other absurd, laborious entreaties to obtain this collection.

Many of these specimens were lost for years or so I thought, until I uncovered them last fall in a musty storage locker and began to examine them one by one. I then realized they merited an article treatment on their own.

Most of these notes (except the Qadaffi-era dinar which is still in circulation pending the release of new notes by Libya’s central bank) are long out of circulation. And more importantly, each banknote tells a story both in its iconography laden artistry and in the circumstances in which I obtained it. The 20th anniversary of the Shia Islamic revolution in Iran, the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan, the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, and so forth.Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 8.18.11 PM                                                                                                                                                                       

How Syria Has Changed

January 9th, 2013 No comments

New York- I have an article out this week in Asia Times Online based on my very different experiences in Syria from 2002-2012. Throughout the decade after 9/11, Syria–though absolutely central to the history and culture of the Arab realm–was viewed as a quiet backwater for both the West and it jihadi opponents. Syria’s mukhabarat intelligence services either facilitated or turned a blind eye to the transit of salafi fighters from North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula into a besieged Iraq.

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In the other direction, it acted as a very willing conduit for Iranian arms and treasure into tiny Lebanon on whom it holds in a geographical bear hug. But one of my key points is that Syrian intelligence officers made Syria itself one of the safest places in the world–unless one was a terrorism suspect extraordinarily rendered there or a member of the Brotherhood languishing in one of the country’s awful prisons. But what was remarkable at the time was that as hot wars raged on either side of it, Syria remained completely quiet internally until its revolution commenced in March 2011.

After Hama in 1982, Syrians were well aware of the regime’s potential for wrath. If jihadis had made attacks inside Syria, its borders would have been shut down overnight thus sealing off the vital jihadi pipeline to western Iraq.

Even though jihadis viewed the Assad regime as perhaps a caricature of apostasy on earth, they never directed their ire toward the near enemy. Instead they sought to attack the occupying forces of the far enemy stationed inside Iraq in the aorta of the ummah along with non-Sunni and non-Arab Iraqis (and Sunni Arabs who cooperated with the occupation forces).

While even Jordan suffered the horror of massive, coordinated suicide bombings in Amman in November 2005, Syria suffered no similar consequences during the core of the Iraq conflict.  It seemed that the Assad regime–steeped in its own post-colonial Arab nationalism and an historic enmity toward rival Iraqi Ba’athists–had found common cause with or at the very least sought to accommodate those traveling in the salafi-jihadi caravan.

Whatever we want to read in, Syria, which had done far more to crush Sunni Islamism in the past than Jordan’s famed GID, was not made a kinetic target of jihadis throughout the decade after 9/11. It certainly may have been an ideological target by Sunni exiles in London and elsewhere but the country did not suffer a suicide bombing until it was consumed by the current civil war.

Damascus simply didn’t withstand blowback as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, England and others had. Now Syria itself is the magnet for those who want to carve out a Sunni state in the heart of the Levant or any other piece of territory they believe they can hold and build.