Larry Kaplow

Stories by Larry Kaplow

  • The Other Side of the Kirkuk Flashpoint

    It takes about half an hour to ascend the well-paved highway from bustling Irbil to the mountaintop villas and elite homes where Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), lives. It may be that from those heights that the intricacies of compromise do not come easily. Barzani has made a series of defiant statements to reporters lately about relations with Baghdad and the tangled and emotional issue of who should rule the oil-rich, mostly Kurdish city of Kirkuk....
  • The Right to Defend Ourselves

    Iraq's Kurds have been enthusiastic U.S. allies since before the 2003 invasion. But as the Kurds have expanded their control over their oil-rich territory—and as they reassert claims to the contested city of Kirkuk ahead of a constitutionally mandated referendum—tensions are mounting with the central government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and with Arabs and other ethnic groups. Last week, Massoud Barzani was reelected president of the Kurdistan Regional Government despite a strong opposition showing. Days later, he sat down with NEWSWEEK's Larry Kaplow in his mountain complex high above the Kurdish city of Irbil. Excerpts: ...
  • Iraq's City of Death

    Gaze over the road circling the Iraqi city of Najaf's compact center and it's clear that this spiritual capital of Shiite Islam is first and foremost a vast cemetery. Shiite forefather Imam Ali is said to have been buried here after his assassination in A.D. 661, and since then Shiites from Mesopotamia to Afghanistan have followed suit so Ali can vouch for their souls in heaven. Najaf's houses, shops and hotels rose on top of the graves—some still have crypts below or behind them—and the ayatollahs built their seminaries from the pilgrims' tithes. Last year about 40,000 people were laid to rest here, down from 50,000 in each of the two violent years before.In its disorienting enormity, the "Valley of Peace" conjures both robust collective permanence and humbling individual transience. Crumbling headstones, too close to walk between, wrap snugly around the city's plateau, forming an endless collection of tilted columns and pitted slabs spanning the desert—a mesmeric panorama of...
  • Soccer As An Extension of Politics By Other Means (Apologies to Clausewitz)

    U.S. soldiers leaned back on metal chairs in the open parking lot where the crowds walked through metal detectors. Inside their cordon they mingled through the stands at Baghdad's national soccer stadium. The games today comprised mixed teams of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi national police, organized by the areas they patrol together, in what's thought to be the largest-scale attempt at soccer counterinsurgency since the U.S.-led invasion six years ago.These are days, yet again, of great uncertainty in Baghdad. There's been a spate of high-profile attacks after a couple weeks of relative calm. Doubt hangs in the air about what will happen when American forces reduce their numbers in Iraqi cities next month and whether Iraqis can handle what will be thrown at them. But on this hot, hazy afternoon troopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, the Iraqi national police and a London group that promotes reconciliation through soccer provided a microcosm of how things could be if...
  • Combat Stress System to Come Under New Focus

    Amid the patrols, searches, training of Iraqi counterparts and the usual tedium of soldiering, many U.S. troops in Iraq are also trying to manage their mental health. Modern warfare today means an Army in which sleeping pills and anti-depressants are dispensed by medical units to help keep troops functioning in a war in which the forces are stretched thin. It’s not uncommon, Army psychologists have said, for soldiers to threaten others or themselves. There are procedures, like confiscating weapons and imposing around-the-clock suicide watches, to prevent danger. Now the shocking shooting spree by a U.S. soldier who killed five of his comrades at a combat stress center is placing new emphasis on the military mental health system, and the challenges of convincing some soldiers to use it. The Pentagon today announced that the soldier, Sgt. John M. Russell is in custody facing a charge of aggravated assault and five counts of murder. After being flagged by commanders for stress problems...
  • Iraq Bombings Threaten to Renew Chaos

    An Iraqi talk show anchor planned to spend his hour today talking about the recent robbery and shooting spree against jewelry store owners. But after the third bombing with massive casualties in two days, he changed the subject. Here’s a sample of the comments from callers.Now, talk shows in Baghdad tend to attract the same kind of opinionated callers as shows in the United States, and this one was on Baghdadiya TV, one of the stations more critical of the government (and home of shoe-throwing reporter Muntather al-Zeidi). Still, these were the sounds of confidence draining from the security bubble of the last several months.More than 150 Iraqis have died and at least as many have been injured in two separate bombings Thursday and this afternoon. The targets have been Shiite Muslims, including pilgrims coming from Iran yesterday and worshipers on their way to a Shiite shrine in Baghdad today. It’s the kind of violence that struck over and over from mid-2003 until Shiites started...
  • In the Green Zone, Light at the End of the Tunnel

    For nearly six years, the Green Zone’s perimeter walls have choked off several key traffic arteries where they intersect in the heart of the capital. One may now be opening. A major east-west highway, which dips into a tunnel in mid-Green Zone and emerges in western Baghdad, is being prepared for traffic again.The work has been visible for weeks. Semi-trailers and cranes have been used to place blast walls along the approach to the tunnel – which is inside the Green Zone near the Iraqi parliament. Road crews have pulled up the weeds that grew between the road’s concrete segments during the years it has been blocked off. U.S. Army personnel have come to oversee the work. Several rows of barricades still have to be removed before traffic can pass and new gates and walls will be needed to separate the road from the secure areas.The opening date is still not public but word has spread among Iraqis who are eager for any relief of the traffic congestion, which has been badly aggravated by...
  • Maybe the Sahwa Is Hiring

    The Western media's financial downfall has been felt sharply in Baghdad, where the number of American reporters has dropped significantly over the past year and bureaus are laying off Iraqi staff. The word has gotten around. I recently met with a leader of one of the Awakening, or "Sahwa," militias, the Sunni tribesmen who fought Al Qaeda and allied with U.S. forces. Abu Azzam lives in the Green Zone's Rasheed hotel now. He was a businessman in the United Arab Emirates before returning to Iraq to lead forces in the Abu Ghraib area and apparently still follows the markets. When I handed him my Newsweek business card he asked in Arabic, "Has this newspaper gone bankrupt yet?"
  • Some Iraqis Support Tough Shoe-Thrower Sentence

    Not all Iraqis want to let the shoe thrower off the hook and some even agree with the harsh three-year jail sentence Muntadhar al-Zeidi received today from an Iraqi court.Granted, it's a minority. Zeidi was lauded in street demonstrations in Baghdad and other capitals when the 30-year-old television reporter zinged his two shoes past a ducking President George W. Bush in a press conference here Dec. 14. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, at a lectern next to Bush, vainly tried to block the flying leather. Iraqi security wrestled and pummeled Zeidi and whisked him off to jail.Zeidi later told the court that he couldn't bear listening to Bush claim success in Iraq while all the reporter could think of was the monumental human loss and suffering of the last six years. He said he viewed Bush as an occupier. Iraqis and other Arabs have hailed him as a national hero. It's probably the majority view, but there's a nuance, too. Many think he broke an important Middle Eastern and especial...
  • The Good News from Iraq's Election Day

    There are a lot of pitfalls in the path to Iraqi democracy. But they're getting the election part down. Today's voting to choose the leadership councils of 14 of the country's 18 provinces was orderly, safe and enthusiastic. As a reporter who's covered three before (not counting the one in 2002 in which Saddam claimed 100 percent support from 100 percent turnout), this election day lived up to its promise to show the best potential of Iraq. In any polling station you found thoughtful voters, like a distinguished architect or the relative of the Jordanian royal family, a retired Army officer, who now petitions for the preservation of the country's historic sites. The vote also showed the threats and echoes of the past, as displaced people struggled to get counted and some who've lost loved ones grappled with whether voting is worth it. And some of the novelty of past elections has been tempered by years of chaotic elected governments.The main points:...
  • This Message is Brought to You By Iraq's Campaign '09

    Ahmed Chalabi just sent me a text message. "Elect slate 274 now. The future is in your hands, Dr. Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress, paid advertisement," stated the little script across my phone screen. It came just a few minutes after another Arabic exhortation: "Elect 302, the slate of Prime Minister Maliki, he who achieved security and returned national sovereignty. Paid Advertisement."With provincial elections on Saturday, the capital's blast walls, cell phones and televisions are flush with propaganda for the 2,455 candidates and hundreds of numbered slates running for the province's 57-seat council--the body that will choose a governor and make local laws.Just driving around town gives a taste of the campaign rhetoric. It's often not too different from the platitudes of American politics except that it's more wordy. "In order to achieve justice, equality and equal opportunity, vote for Rafidein, 504." "For the...
  • Ryan Crocker's Exit Presser in Baghdad

    U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, admittedly worn out from years on the intense diplomatic front lines since September 11, 2001, gave his last press conference to the Baghdad Western press corps today. He reiterated that America needs to stick with the effort in Iraq lest the country slide back into turmoil.Crocker came to Iraq in March, 2007, near the height of the country's violence, and can be credited with playing a key behind-the-scenes role in pushing along the country's turbulent political development as the military helped quell the violence. He noted that since 9/11 he has at one time or another been chief of the U.S. missions in embassies in Kabul, Islamabad and Baghdad.At 59 years old, he is headed for retirement in Washington state when he leaves his post next month. "My plan is to have no plan," he said, explaining that the "pace and pressures" of this job have precluded him from giving sufficient thought to his next move. He's...
  • A Sheik's Take on the Obama Inauguration

    Last summer when Barack Obama made his only visit to Iraq, he met one of Iraq's most influential and colorful sheiks. Sheik Ali Hatim watched the inauguration last night and remembered telling Obama that his schedule for pulling troops from Iraq was too fast and could leave the country again in chaos. "I don't want you to stay forever but fix what you messed up," he says he told the then presumptive Democratic nominee. "We will not abandon you," he remembers Obama telling him. The sheik's answer: "We will see."The sheik was among the Sunni tribal leaders who turned against Al Qaida, one of the pivotal points of the war. He and many of his peers in the now calm Anbar province see the American forces as protection against what they consider an Iranian-backed Shiite government and Islamist Sunnis. Speaking in his marbled, terracotta-tiled office in Baghdad, he gestured to a photo of himself shaking Obama's hand displayed next to an...
  • Who's Fooling Whom at Iraqi Checkpoints?

    A local staff member for Newsweek last week was stopped for a search of his car at a crossing where Iraqi soldiers usually let people pass by unhindered. This time, there were U.S. troops standing by. He was met by a polite request. "Please pardon me if I ask you to open the trunk," the Iraqi soldier pleaded. "These Americans are looking at me and I don't want to appear lenient in front of them, OK?"It could be that they wanted to search carefully and were just blaming the Americans in order to defuse anger among the commuters they were delaying. But more likely, they were truly just raising their standards until they were on their own.The same kind of checkpoint chatter has been occurring around the capital and country for months as the coalition forces put Iraqis in the lead. Even checkpoints into the fortified Green Zone are said to grow lax when Americans are not within view. That's the difficulty in assessing the Iraqi security forces. They are...
  • Iraqis Win Reprieve from Fees for Missing Services

    It's bad enough to have phone lines that have not worked for years. It's worse to get billed for them. In recent weeks, Iraqis have been getting visits from employees of the government phone company handing them large bills for phone service–their first bills in years. In many neighborhoods of Baghdad, landline telephones have not worked since 2003 or earlier (in part explaining the popularity of mobiles). I know two Iraqis who recently got handed bills for more than $1,000 for three years of theoretical service along with threats that liens would be placed on their property if they did not pay.The government water and electrical companies have followed suit, sending bills for those two derelict public utilities though home meters for both services are rare. Some water company collectors have taken to billing homeowners based on how many bedrooms they have. Just as frustration was reaching a peak, in stepped Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He announced this week that the...
  • A Harsh American Footprint

    As a ceremonial and social event, the dedication of the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was an unqualified success. The sun shone on a cool winter day. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani expressed his gratitude for America's sacrifices to drive a despot from his homeland and Ambassador Ryan Crocker pledged his country's continuing support. But the facility itself seemed to dwarf even these grand festivities....

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