Larry Kaplow

Stories by Larry Kaplow

  • Iraq National Museum Gets New American Aid

    Perhaps the most famous of Hammurabi's legal codes was the tooth thing. Written in Mesopotamia about 2,700 years ago, it read, roughly, "If a man has knocked out the tooth of a man of the same rank, they shall knock out his tooth." There was the eye-for-an-eye clause, of course, and then many more intricate instructions. He covered domestic problems: "If the wife of a man has been caught while lying with another man, they shall bind them and throw them into the water. If the husband wishes to spare his wife then the king in turn may spare his subject." And lengthy treatments were made on how to take care of another man's property. If you rent his ox and kill it, you have to give him a new ox (same with slaves). And there were some tough rules for contractors. If you built a house so poorly that it collapsed and killed the owner's son, then your son had to be put to death....
  • Sistani Backs SOFA

    Grand Ayatollah Sayed Ali Husseini Sistani has had some ups and downs lately but ...
  • There's More than Oil Under Iraqi Soil

    Several times a month, the U.S. military sends out press releases announcing the discovery of hidden weapons caches. Those can be newly smuggled mortars held by insurgents for use against American bases or, usually, old rifles and ammo left behind by Saddam Hussein's armies. They often are a combination of both–weapons looted from old army bases and secreted away by people hoping to use or sell them.The finds are sometimes touted by commanders to show the progress they are making against the insurgency. When large numbers of caches are reported by Iraqi citizens or troops, it can be an indication of increased cooperation but even that is thin evidence. Candid officers note that the figures include everything from stockpiles of rocket-propelled grenades to just a couple old rifles. Early this year, military statistics showed that there had been 14,193 such finds from the start of 2004 through 2007.In a briefing today, Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, who commands Multi-National Division...
  • Inside Iraq's Unusual Surveillance Game

     Every Ramadan, in neighborhoods around Baghdad, groups of men face off in the streets. But they are engaged in a battle of wits, not arms, as they play a game called "mahaibis" or "little ring." One team cloaks itself behind a large cloth and hides a ring in the fist of one of its players. Then they all sit, their clenched fists on their laps, as a member of the opposing team tries to guess which player holds the ring and which hand it's in. He (the teams are almost always all-male) has a few minutes to scan each face, looking for telltale signs of nervousness or artificial nonchalance. The searcher moves with swagger and showmanship, slapping the hands of those he eliminates from consideration among the dozens there to confound him. If he's wrong, and dismisses someone who actually holds the ring, the hiding team gets a point. If he's right, he continues the search to the cheers of his partisans, employing bravado and confusing banter to shake his adversaries' nerves. When...
  • A Nervous Meeting on the Future of America's Tribal Allies

    A meeting today in the Rasheed Hotel's faded ballroom was meant to reassure America's tribal allies. But the so-called Sons of Iraq tribal fighters, so crucial in stabilizing Iraq, remained worried they are being shoved aside and left vulnerable to their old Al Qaeda adversaries. Some said the mayhem of 2006 could start again if they are disbanded.Starting next month, the command and bankrolling of the more than 50,000 militia men in Baghdad will be handed to the Iraqi military (thousands more around the country will follow). As the hand-off approaches, the anxiety is building. Many of the Sunni fighters suspect that, since they have quelled Al Qaeda, they have outlived their usefulness to a Shiite-led government that might now turn on them. Moreover, there's personal prestige and local patronage at stake. The U.S. ran the groups through local contractors, usually sheiks or former Iraqi army officers, who will now see their men and their money controlled by rival...
  • In the Dairy Aisle

    It's easy to come up with reasons why Baghdad's relative peace might not last. There are still assassinations almost daily. Militias continue their saber-rattling exchanges. Only a tiny fraction of the displaced Iraqis have chanced a return to their homes. But in the instant snapshot of today, western reporters are moving around much more freely in the last six months. ...
  • Spy v. Spy in the Green Zone

    A soon-to-be released book by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward reportedly confirms the most open secret in Baghdad's Green Zone – that you never know who's listening on your phone. The book, "The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008," quotes one source saying the Americans hear "everything" Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki says. The scoop was heard in Baghdad and might complicate the oft-contentious relations between the two ostensibly allied governments. In his bright salon living room where he spent his Friday weekend time, government spokesman Ali Dabbagh fielded calls about the report, eying an Arabic translation of an Agence France-Presse version. "Definitely the Prime Minister will be upset. All the government will be upset" if it turns out to be true, Dabbagh said. He vowed that Iraqis would raise the allegation with their American counterparts. At the White House, spokeswoman Dana Perino declined to comment on the...
  • McCain vs. Obama: Who’s Right on the Surge?

    The U.S. military says there were zero attacks in Baghdad on Wednesday. A year ago, there were an average of 43 a day. The question of how this happened has led to the latest tussle in America's race for the White House. Republican candidate and Iraq War supporter John McCain attributes the improvement to George W. Bush’s troop surge. Democratic candidate and war opponent Barack Obama disagrees. Who’s right? The answer is somewhere in between, with an edge to McCain but with Obama raising important points. If you think military force solves problems best, then you can attribute the success to the troop increase and, probably, it largely is. But if you tend to think politics and winning hearts and minds works best, you can point credibly to other factors that also reduced the bloodshed....
  • The Booze Is Back in Baghdad

    Slowly, in certain urban pockets, a more liberal, secular culture is returning to Iraq's streets.
  • Spin Watch: When is a Lull Not a Lull?

    A senior U.S. Administration  official briefed reporters today about the situation in Iraq and applied a spin heavier than any I've heard in Baghdad for a long time. True, security is much better in Iraq today than it was several months ago but this official went beyond what even military leaders would claim. In the meeting, held on the usual (but irritating) diplomatic ground rules that he/she not be identified by name, a reporter asked about the Iraqi government's ability to take advantage of the recent "lull in violence." The official jumped on the phrasing....
  • Iraq's National Soccer Team Gets Back on the Pitch

    Iraqis breathed a collective sigh of relief Thursday as they learned their beloved national soccer team would be allowed to keep playing. FIFA, world soccer's governing body, rescinded a decision to suspend the Iraqi squad from qualifying matches for next year's World Cup tournament. The national team is set to play Australia in Brisbane on Sunday, when you can expect all televisions to be tuned in any place in Baghdad that's getting its share of the seven hours of daily city electricity.Iraqi soccer is often called the only big national success story since the U.S. invasion and fall of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. Despite the country's chaotic mayhem, dysfunctional government and decrepit utilities, Iraq came in fourth at the 2004 Olympics and won the Asian championship last year. The wins repeatedly sent Iraqis into the streets with dances and celebratory gunfire that sometimes alarmed U.S. troops. The team–a mix mainly of Arab Shiites and ethnic...
  • For May at Least, A Drop in Violence

    With the end of the intense fighting between Shiite militias and U.S. and Iraqi troops, violence has dropped significantly,  according to military statistics. Here's another look at the trends in one of the charts released by the military that we've been posting on Checkpoint Baghdad. The chart runs through the start of May. U.S. officials said over the weekend that there were only about 325 attacks for the week ending May 23 (not on the chart), which would make the lowest weekly figure since March, 2004, when there were about 330 attacks.The figures coincide with anecdotal evidence around Baghdad. Iraq is still volatile and violent but Iraqis in many neighborhoods say the last couple weeks have been quiet, even to the point in which there is anecdotal evidence of more displaced people attempting to return to neighborhoods from which they fled or were forced. A look at the chart shows that bloodshed can skyrocket or drop from quickly from week to week, but the month of May...
  • Marla Ruzicka: Lessons and a Legacy

    Three years ago today, April 16, 2005, a suicide car bomber killed 28-year-old Marla Ruzicka and her colleague, Faiz Ali Salim, on the capital's airport road. It's worth noting this anniversary along with the others that recently marked the American invasion and fall of the Iraqi government five years ago....
  • Which Iraqis Are Coming Home?

    While the rate of Iraqis fleeing their homes has been lower in the last several months than before, it still looks like only the biggest risk-takers or those with the shortest journeys are ready to bet on a return. They face tough conditions in their old homes--including poor services and low employment, but many say they feel safe.A new report from the Switzerland-based International Organization for Migration (www.iom-iraq.net/idp.html), perhaps the best record-keepers of these things, says they have counted about 80,000 Iraqis (13,030 families multiplied by their standard six per family for 78,180 individuals) who have returned to their original neighborhoods from around Iraq or abroad. The report notes that these figures are likely the "majority" of those who have returned, but there's no comprehensive registry of these movements. So the real figure could be more than 150,000 – a sizable amount but just a fraction of the more than 3 million who have fled their...
  • Decoding Al-Sadr’s Protest Politics

    Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP-Getty ImagesIraqi men work to extinguish a blaze said to have been caused by a U.S. rocket attack in Sadr City on April 8, 2008...
  • Light-Up Saddam Available for Cheap

    credit: Larry Kaplow Iraqis still nostalgic for Saddam Hussein--and you find them fairly often--have a secret way to sneak a peak at the old dictator. Cheap cigarette lighters on sale in his hometown Tikrit, apparently just in the last few months, have small flashlight projectors in the end that illuminate the leader in his classic poses. Point it toward a wall or the ground and you can see the strongman in his heyday, firing a pistol.Stall owners selling the items say they come from "China," which could mean from anywhere in Asia. More innocuous models offer pictures of Iraqi soccer heroes.