North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Iraq forms new Government, 9 months after elections

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announces new government to Parliament

Normally, this sort of delay would be an indicator of a failed state, a rigged dictatorial sleight of hand to show "the world" democracy while retaining firm control in reality.

But in the case of Iraq, the presence of a government representing more than 30 fractious parties - ethnic and religious - that have fought each other and remain deeply suspicious of each others intentions, is probably a significant step forward.

The Prime Minister, incumbent Nouri al-Maliki, has filled 29 of 42 open ministerial positions, and the remaining 13 are filled with "interim" individuals still needing approval of Parliament. al-Maliki himself presides over the party that came in 2nd 9 months ago with 89 seats, while Ayad Alawi's party gained 91 seats. Alawi was unable to forge a coalition with enough other parties to hold a majority, so al-Malaki was given a chance and succeeded.

Huge challenges lie ahead - the country has always suffered from its artificial boundaries left over from the Turkish empire days ending after WWI, followed by Britain's establishing the new boundaries binding Kurds in the mountains, bedouins in the desert, and farmer and merchants along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. These natural ethnic components have a history of distrust, extreme violence against one another, and are not helped by foreign influences from Iran, al-Qaeda, and an antipathy against the West and Israel in particular.

Reconstruction continues, albeit fraught with inefficiencies and conflicting priorities

It is an ongoing irony that the US, with its military intervention and principles in such contrast to conservative Islamic tenets, has handed the population a bloody opportunity to move beyond the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, now dead for four years. There are oil revenues to be shared, national political institutions to be rebuilt and strengthened, and corruption to be resisted.

Women's issues and status are still at a crossroads, and in the 325 member parliament now seated, there is only one woman ...

Beyond the politics and institutions, a new perspective on religious identity and tolerance for others is needed. A Christian minority is exiting the country after extremists attacks, and the role of women is still in flux. Historically, Iraqi women had more liberties than elsewhere in the Arab world, but over the past nearly 20 years of conflict (Gulf War I in 1991, sanctions, US invasion in 2003, civil war through 2006), inevitably the freedoms have suffered. Availability and quality of education and income opportunities for women will vary by region, but remain a critical element in rebuilding society.

The roles and freedoms afforded women in Iraq vary tremendously by region and religious background. These women in Baghdad enjoy different dress norms than those in Basra or rural areas.

To soften the challenges ahead and injustices to be borne, it is a nice reminder that Iraq has enough of a national identity to select a national dish! If the opportunity for a new start can be given by invasion (and that by a Western "decadent" power) is ironic, then a positive irony may be that this country can draw upon a rich heritage of cuisine and traditions as uniting factors.

This is Masgoof. It is a delicacy and considered Iraq's national dish. It's a type of fish originally from the Tigris River, but now raised on fish farms. Masgoof actually means the cooking style, not the name of the fish itself. The fish is sliced open butterfly-style, sprinkled with salt, skewered and placed next to an open fire and slowly smoked until flaky-perfect.

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