Iraqi passport system bogs down in shenanigans

The Baghdad passport office was closed for several weeks last month in a bribery crackdown. According to the Jordan Times, several people were arrested and jailed. (Articles remain online for a week) :

Last month, several Jordan Times sources in Baghdad confirmed that many individuals had been arrested and jailed for corruption and accepting bribes, resulting in the closure of the Baghdad passport office for several weeks. The office has since been reopened.

“Corruption is still occurring despite the arrests… with around $700 or a ‘wasta,’ your application is moved along quickly,” one source told The Jordan Times.

The Iraqi ambassador in Amman, however, dismissed these claims as “rumours and nonsense.” [Iraqi Ambassador to Jordan Saad Jasem Al] Hayani explained that although the option to travel to Iraq may be offered to Iraqis in Jordan, it is not necessary.

“Any Iraqi who wishes to change his passport can send his application from Amman and each new issuance requires the right identity documents, fingerprinting, a signature and JD15 [27,500 Iraqi dinars],” he added.

This reminds me of a rumor about the visa section of the U.S. embassy that was floating around Amman. Supposedly there was someone selling visas for ten thousand dollars each and they couldn’t figure out who it was. So they transferred everyone in the visa department to different countries, just to stop the corruption. The story doesn’t ring true–how would they know there was corruption unless they also knew who was doing it?–but it’s a good indicator of the general view Arabs have for Americans as being incorruptible.

The Iraqi government has issued a new “G series” passport to replace the “S series” passport which some Western countries no longer accept. Some Iraqis have been traveling to Baghdad to speed the process which can take two to five weeks. So far, the Amman embassy has processed 4,000 of 12,000 requests, so Jordan has extended the original June 1 deadline and will continue to accept the “S series” passport until December 2007.

Obtaining the latest ‘G’ passport, depending on which of the four types of passport (N, M, H, or S) an Iraqi has, can be a confusing, costly and often dangerous process.

Adding to the confusion, when the applications of holders of M, N or H passports are processed it does not necessarily mean they automatically receive a ‘G’ passport. Documents marked ‘N’ and ‘M’ may be upgraded to ‘S’ series due to massive demand and because of a decision to eliminate previous passports one at a time.

The handwritten ‘S’ series passport was introduced following the US-led invasion in March 2003 but was soon deemed invalid by many countries due to substandard features which make it vulnerable to alteration.

No wonder the system is bogged down. They are doing everything twice–upgrade to “S”, then make the people wait, then upgrade to “G”, and in the meantime they can’t move on….oh, but if there’s a bribe involved at each stage, they can collect twice as many bribes…

Like I said before, no wonder the system is bogged down. offers Fair Trade tee shirt alternatives

Shopkeepers who don’t want to sell t-shirts produced in sweatshops or with child labor are still waiting to find out how the marketing department at is going to supply information about the origins of their products. Fortunately Cafepress offers shopkeepers the option of choosing which products to offer for a given design, so I will continue to offer their products identified as either union made or made by American Apparel, whose fair labor practices are well documented.

In the meantime, I will start offering tee shirts through Skreened uses only shirts made by American Apparel and donates 10% of its sales to a not-for-profit called Asia’s Hope. So when you wear one of their shirts, you know it was not made with inhuman labor practices or child labor.

Here are the same Arabic language tees I have been offering now in summer colors from Skreened:

The green shirt is based on the “T-shirt of mass destruction” that got Raed Jarrer thrown off of Jet Blue airlines. It says “We will not be silent”, in Arabic pronounced “lahn nesmitt”, and has the English translation underneath. The one pictured has dark blue letters, you can also get black letters.

The white shirt says “I heart New York”, also in Arabic. So far, you can also heart Chicago, Jordan, Amman, and Baghdad. If you want to heart something or someone I don’t have listed, post a comment and I’ll see what I can do.

The slogan on the yellow tee is from a sign I saw at an impromptu street demonstration while Christmas caroling at Daley Plaza. It says “Who would Jesus torture”. If you are fond of the Geneva Convention, there are several designs with this slogan.

You can check out the designs here.


Related posts:

Make a difference on World Fair Trade Day–contact CafePress
Is hiding sweatshops?
CafePress responds to Fair Trade concerns with form letter, maintains holding pattern


Why Iraqi death squads wear Iraqi government uniforms

Did you ever wonder how the sectarian death squads in Baghdad can roam the streets all night, torturing people in their Iraqi government issue uniforms, then show up for work the next morning fresh as a daisy?  Wonder no longer.

I finally decided I should read the Baker Hamilton report, commissioned by the U.S. Congress and written by a bi-partisan study group. Here is the answer, on page 13 of the report:

Soldiers are on leave one week a month so that they can visit their families and take them their pay. Soldiers are paid in cash because there is no banking system. Soldiers are given leave liberally and face no penalties for absence without leave. Unit readiness rates are low often at 50 per cent or less.

What a job.  Work three weeks out of four, then take off. If you need more time off,  just take it. You can even get a second job moonlighting with a  sectarian militia, using your official uniform and weapon.

Here is my solution for eliminating death squads. Get time clocks, something mechanical that can’t be bribed. Offer lots of overtime.  Pay the soldiers who work overtime.  Don’t pay the soldiers when they don’t work. Gradually give the hours of the soldiers who aren’t showing up for work to the soldiers who are showing up for work. Let them know that’s what you are doing.  When the soldiers are all working eighty hours a week, they won’t have the time or energy to join death squads.

If you haven’t read the Baker Hamilton report yet, it is online here:

You can also get more information about the report by searching Wikipedia under “Iraq study group”.

Posted in Arabs, Iraq, Middle East, peace. Comments Off on Why Iraqi death squads wear Iraqi government uniforms

Happy Birthday Jordan May 25

Happy birthday to Jordan, celebrating its independence from England in 1946!

Senna helluwa oo jameel!


Ah, to be in Jordan right now, dancing the dubka.


الأردن الاردن

الأردن  الأردن

الأردن  الأردن  الأردن الأردن  الأردن

Panelists from Jordan, Iraq, Iran and the US discuss Iraq’s regional security dimension at World Economic Forum 5-20-07

The following statements [ahead of the May 26 meeting between the US and Iran] by Jordanian, Iraqi, Iranian and U.S panelists appeared in The Jordan Times. The original article remains online for one week. Boldface and italics were added.

Jordan, Iraq call for zero interference in internal Iraqi affairs

By Linda HindiDEAD SEA — Jordan and Iraq called for zero interference in internal Iraqi affairs during a panel discussion on Iraq and the regional security dimension on Sunday, the last day of the World Economic Forum.“We have to end proxy wars, we don’t want any party to use Iraq as a fighting ground for capital gains,” [Jordan] Foreign Affairs Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib said at the session, entitled “Iraq the regional security dimension.”

He added, however, that the Kingdom first wants to see Iraq achieve political reconciliation internally and the revival of Iraqi nationalism.

“When there is a national feeling of weakness it opens the door for other affiliations to emerge… at the expense of our collective security in the region,” he said.

Iraqi Vice President Tariq Al Hashemi stressed that the security of Iraq is becoming the security of the region and it is trying to convince its neighbours that “the situation in Iraq is going to spill over sooner or later.”

He asked for help from Iraq’s neighbours to reconcile internal differences before moving on to resolve external conflicts.

“We are not asking anyone to come and make decisions for us. All that we need is to stop people who are capitalising on our human tragedy; if this is beyond the capacity of the US then let the United Nations and our neighbours take over,” the Iraqi vice president said.

Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, who also took part in the panel, said the roadmap to achieve stability must start “with an Iraqi national pact or power sharing arrangement” for it to succeed, adding that “there must also be a regional pact that includes the US.”

In response to questions asked about Iraq’s view of a May 26 meeting between Iran and the US to discuss peace in Iraq, Salih said: “We have a fundamental concern if this means that Iran and the US will decide the future of Iraq; that will be unacceptable.”

Copanelist, Mohammad Larijani, director of the Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics of Iran, said it is not in Iran’s interest to interfere in Iraq.

“Iran is not interfering in the Iraq affair. We are there to help them, period… also we do not send arms into Iraq, they don’t need them, Iraq is already full of arms,” Larijani said.

US panelists participating in the discussion, senators Orrin Hatch and Gordon Smith disagreed with Larijani, saying there was concrete evidence that Iran is supplying weapons, bomb-making components and military trainers to Iraq.

“We have respect for Iran and desire to work together to stabilise the region; on the other hand we don’t think that Iran is doing one tiddle for peace in the Middle East. Our country needs to do a better job, but it makes it very difficult when we know that Iran is sending weapons into Iraq that are killing Americans and Iraqis,” said Hatch, a Republican from Utah.

Smith, a Republican senator from Oregon, added that he has seen confiscated Iranian weapons as well as captured Iranian advisers, who confessed to their mission to train Iraqis in military tactics.

“There is no question that we have evidence that Syrians and Iranians are working to destabilise Iraq. They should know that the days are coming to an end where Americans are in the streets of Iraq, but we will always be around to make sure a vacuum is not left that terrorists would fill,” Smith said.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Iranian diplomacy: an oxymoron

“We will tell them where they were wrong,” says Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki about the upcoming meeting between the U.S. and Iran in Baghdad on May 28.

Oh joy, Iranian hindsight. I wonder if that will be as much fun as the recent Iranian holocaust denial convention.

Foreign Minister Mottaki, speaking Saturday at the G-11 Economic Forum now being held at the Dead Sea, said that “Iran plans to lecture the United States during an upcoming meeting in Baghdad on what it said were mistakes that Washington made in its war on Iraq,” according to The Jordan Times.

Brilliant diplomatic move.  But do they plan to talk about Iraq’s future?

The Jordan Times, which is indirectly owned by the Jordanian government, published further extensive details of the Iranian foreign minster’s remarks about Iran’s role in the region:

At Saturday’s politically charged discussion, which also hosted Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Mottaki fiercely defended Iran when the panel’s moderator said that successive US policies, including the Iraq war that toppled Saddam Hussein — Iran’s archenemy — have unintentionally helped Tehran increase its influence in the region.

“We don’t need any help,” Mottaki said. But he quickly realised his undiplomatic comment and said jokingly: “Some say that we’re speaking behind doors, which doors, I don’t know.”

Mottaki also invoked a conspiracy theory for the reason Iran refused to meet with the U.S. previously:

Iran’s top diplomat also said that Tehran had publicly warned Washington about its policy “mistakes,” especially regarding the invasion that toppled Saddam. “But they never listened” until recently, when a bipartisan US panel released the Iraq Study Group report which criticised the Bush administration for not engaging Iran and Syria in efforts to quell violence in Iraq, Mottaki said.

Mottaki said Washington requested a meeting with Iranian officials a year ago, but it never materialised because the US only had “propaganda purposes” in mind when it called for the event.

So now Mottaki can read minds, too.

I miss the days of U.S. presidents like Jimmy Carter, but let’s face it, the current hardening of the U.S foreign policy in the Middle East came as a result of Iran’s seizure of U.S. diplomats as hostages during the Carter administration back in 1979. Carter’s legacy was tarnished as a result, and successive presidents have more than learned the lesson of “no more Mr. Nice Guy” when it comes to the Middle East.  It looks like Iran still has not joined the, what– eighteenth century?

Mottaki has not just opened his mouth to change feet. He has stuffed both feet in his mouth and is now just sitting there looking proud of himself.

Posted in Iran, Middle East, peace. Comments Off on Iranian diplomacy: an oxymoron

Big bucks in Iraq for experienced border agents

The governors of Arizona and New Mexico are ticked off at the president.  Why?  According to a report in the Associated Press, Bush has asked international company Dyncorp to find 120 people with border enforcement experience to train Iraqi police how to secure their borders. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (who is also running for president) wrote President Bush this week to say this would hamper security on the Mexican border.

And how does Dyncorp plan to recruit their trainers for the Iraqi border police?

DynCorp is offering recruits $134,100 for a one-year stay, plus a $25,000 signing bonus. The first $90,000 in income is tax free, and housing and food are free, company spokesman Gregory Lagana said.

Border Patrol agents with at least two years’ experience make roughly $55,000.

I wonder if Dyncorp would settle for ESL experience.

Posted in Homeland Security, Immigration, Iraq, Middle East. Comments Off on Big bucks in Iraq for experienced border agents

Shadows in the Dark: East Side Book Exchange is deserted.

Last summer I discovered a book exchange right in the middle of the forest preserve. It is little more than a metal cabinet spray-painted cobalt blue, with “East Side Book Exchange” stenciled at the top. An article in the local paper said the book exchange was maintained by someone who wanted to remain anonymous.

Through the last year the East Side Book Exchange has survived rain, fire and freezing, but last week I walked by the metallic blue painted cabinet and there were no books at all on the shelves. In the twilight I walked over to the shelves and felt the ridges of the words  painted into the top shelf.  “Shadows in the dark”.  Someone had traced the letters with their finger while the paint was still wet.

Today the bookshelf was still empty.  In the full daylight I could see gang signs painted on both sides of the shelf.   Was that why?  Someone routinely paints out gang signs on the surface of the bike trail, but it seemed like there were more of them today.  And my little Polish/Arab/Hispanic  neighborhood has never had gang signs;  this winter they appeared for the first time.

I am reminded of Pandora’s box.  After the box was opened and the demons escaped into the world, the box looked empty but there was still Hope in the bottom of the box. The   shelves of the East Side Book Exchange may seem empty, but they still contain the words, “Shadows in the dark.” Curious, that.  How can there be a shadow without a light source?

Posted in Books, Curiosities. Comments Off on Shadows in the Dark: East Side Book Exchange is deserted.

When do you say hello on the bike path?

Last week the weather turned balmy and I walked about eight miles or so on the bike path that connects the parks.  Towards dusk I even saw three deer and a possum–all within Chicago city limits. It was a perfect night, with just enough of a south wind to feel a warm summer breeze on your skin.

Everyone was out–the dogs, the baby strollers, and probably the gangs too, if you knew who they were. On one deserted stretch, I passed three really tall Hispanic guys, maybe sixteen or seventeen years old.  For some reason, they looked a bit threatening, and I didn’t say hello as I passed by.  Then I started thinking about it.  When do you say hello on a bike path? Maybe they needed to feel part of the evening, part of the neighborhood, and saying hello would be that one thing that would draw them into community and away from the negative influences of the area.  Or maybe for my own personal safety it’s better to ignore strangers.  Or maybe I’m from such a different generation that saying hello wouldn’t mean anything.

Today I was walking again and someone broke my reverie and irritated me just a bit by saying hello as we passed on the sidewalk.  I looked up and it was a young black guy.  There have been more and more blacks in the neighborhood in the last year.  As I returned his hello, I wondered what had prompted him to speak.

Posted in Adventures. Comments Off on When do you say hello on the bike path?

CafePress responds to Fair Trade concerns with form letter, maintains holding pattern

Last week I wrote about CafePress and their plan to discontinue a tee shirt made by American Apparel, a manufacturer known for its fair labor practices–and substitute a T-shirt made by an unknown source.

In a letter I wrote to them, I pointed out that I offer only sweatshop-free T-shirts. If I can’t determine the source of a shirt, I can’t offer it for sale. I also pointed out that the market for free trade coffee has grown by 75% in the last year. There is no reason the fair trade t-shirt market can’t grow as well.

Monday I received a reply from Director of Merchandise Cindy Clarke. Ms. Clarke writes:


I understand your concerns.  CafePress shopkeepers require a broad
spectrum of product choices to build their product assortments.  Since
our objective is to cover as many of those shopkeeper requirements as
possible, some of the items that we source are domestic and some are
sourced internationally.  Likewise, our product assortment covers both
branded and CafePress Exclusive Label items to meet the broad demand.
We leave it up to Shopkeepers to determine which products are
appropriate for their shops.  CafePress services as many Shopkeepers as
possible both legally and ethically.  

We have had several requests like yours for specific and detailed
information about our vendors and we are currently investigating how
when we can provide specific information about individual vendors.
more detailed information is available we will communicate out to the
CafePress community. 

Best wishes,

Cindy Clarke
Director of Merchandise

Well, that’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that CafePress can have something manufactured on the cheap in a sweatshop and hide it behind their “exclusive store label.” The good news is that they are “investigating how and when“, not if, they can provide information about vendors. That would give some real alternatives to those of us who don’t want to sell or wear a t-shirt, however cheap, made possible by inhumane working conditions and child labor.CafePress needs to hear from more people who buy or sell t-shirts. If you have not yet written to CafePress, can you take a couple minutes to drop them an email? If you have a blog, you might consider blogging about it as well.


Related posts:
Make a difference on World Fair Trade Day–contact CafePress
Is hiding sweatshops?