Rod Nordland

Stories by Rod Nordland

  • Hope and Fear as Congo Votes

    Congolese voters walked and waded to the polls as U.N. peacekeepers worked to prevent the nation's landmark election from descending into post-vote violence.
  • Berming Baghdad

    At first blush it sounded like a resort to medieval siege warfare. An Iraqi Interior Ministry official announced that the government was going to build trenches around Baghdad, a circumference of 60 miles embracing a metropolis of 5 million people. Other officials here quickly denied there was such a plan, but then at a press conference in Washington, President Bush announced that U.S. and Iraqi officials had a plan to put a barricade around the city. "The enemy is changing tactics," the president said, "and we're adapting. So they're building a berm around the city to make it harder for people to come in with explosive devices, for example." Now that the cat's out of the bag, the Iraqi government is expected to announce it officially tomorrow, national-security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie confirmed here in an interview today.Officials were somewhat defensive about how to describe the measure. When the new Interior Ministry spokesman, Gen. Abdul Karim al-Kinani, called it a trench,...
  • Exclusive: Tough Talk From Somalia's Islamic Hard-Liner

    Finally the warlords of Mogadishu and southern Somalia have been subdued, bringing peace to the ravaged area for the first time in 15 years. The Islamic Courts Union, a popular uprising built around traditional Islamic Sharia courts and financed by fed-up businessmen, collected the warlords' guns and rounded up their battlewagons. "In 15 years, no one was able to do what they did in 15 days," says U.N. official Saverio Bertolino.But Somalia's troubles are far from over. Instead of warlords now, Somalis have what many are calling an African version of the Taliban, bent not only on imposing a harsh, Wahhabi-style Islam on the country but allegedly also providing a safe haven, Afghan style, for international terrorists. Movies and music have been banned; open-air video parlors showing World Cup matches were shut down. Recently the group appointed a Majlis al-Shura (consultative council) as its supreme spiritual and policy-setting body, appointing as its leader Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys,...
  • Africa's Taliban

    It might seem that somalis were put on this earth to suffer. For the past 15 years, they've had civil war. For most of the past decade, there's been drought. The few times the drought has eased, there've been floods. The state has collapsed so totally there are no public services whatever. Potholed roads have been replaced by tracks in the bush. Water is sold by private entrepreneurs. Hospitals tell patients to bring their own mattresses, even their own beds, and enough money to fuel the generator if, for instance, they need the use of an X-ray machine. Early this year the drought was even worse than usual, and the meager crops failed. Aid agencies poured in relief--now going to 2.1 million out of 10 million Somalis--but only half the budgeted amount made it. Much was lost to thieving warlords; pirates even seized two World Food Program vessels and shot up a third. A humanitarian disaster was averted this spring, thanks to indifferent rains and determined relief work, but only just-...
  • Heroes, Terrorists and Osama

    Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, branded a terrorist by the U.S. government, recently became the leader of the Majlis al-Shura Council, a policy-making body that oversees the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia. The Courts have subdued the warlords in Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia, bringing peace to those areas for the first time in 15 years. But the internationally backed Transitional Federal Government, which controls little more than the small rural city of Baidoa, accuses them of being terrorists who want to impose a Taliban style of government in Somalia.  In an interview with NEWSWEEK this week, Sheik Aweys was calm and even good-natured in response to the criticism, chuckling frequently at the questions put to him.NEWSWEEK: U.S. government sources describe you as a supporter of Al Qaeda, and a terrorist suspect yourself. What do you say?Hassan Dahir Aweys: The Americans are targeting us and there is no power that can protect us from them except Allah. Whatever we say, even if...
  • A Dog and Terrorist Show

    Another day in Baghdad, another dog and pony show, as journalists call staged events. And everything about this one on Thursday will tell you everything you need to know about the state of the war, if only by indirection.BBC correspondent Jim Muir said he was only going to get away from his bureau’s smoke-belching generator, which they're in the process of replacing at a cost of $60,000—an option not available to most Baghdad residents, who only get half an hour of electricity each day. Other reporters were going only because there was nowhere else safe enough to go. U.S. Embassy public-affairs officer Roberta Rossi pitched it to everyone as a chance not only to see the newly rebuilt Baghdad Police Academy and its latest graduating class, but also to score some face time with the elusive new Iraqi minister of Interior, Jawad Bolani, two weeks in office in the middle of an increasingly violent sectarian conflict, and hardly a public word from him. And best of all, a pair of Black...
  • ‘Olive Branch’

    Under intense pressure from leaders of the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki offered a greatly softened national reconciliation plan when his National Assembly met Sunday.  The UIA, which includes Maliki's own Dawa Party, met in an emergency session late Saturday night to hammer out the changes, removing any explicit mention of amnesty for insurgents, or of a timetable for withdrawal of coalition forces.Four key clauses were taken out, including one that insisted on distinguishing between "national resistance" forces and "terrorists", and another one that would reverse the dismissals of many former Baathist party officials under the country's deBaathfication program. Explicit language about controlling party militias and "death squads" was missing as well from the final draft.  That left a much vaguer statement of principles, but one that everyone could agree to put on the table. Maliki's aides insisted that they would press to restore the deleted...
  • Maliki's Master Plan

    A timetable for withdrawal of occupation troops from Iraq. Amnesty for all insurgents who attacked U.S. and Iraqi military targets. Release of all security detainees from U.S. and Iraqi prisons. Compensation for victims of coalition military operations.Those sound like the demands of some of the insurgents themselves, and in fact they are. But they're also key clauses of a national reconciliation plan drafted by new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who will unveil it Sunday. [Editor's Note: Click here to read more about the softened version of the plan that was released on Sunday, June 25.] The provisions will spark sharp debate in Iraq—but the fiercest opposition is likely to come from Washington, which has opposed any talk of timetables, or of amnesty for insurgents who have attacked American soldiers.But in Iraq, even a senior military official in the U.S.-led coalition said Friday that the coalition might consider a timetable under certain circumstances. And the official...
  • Iraq Films: The View From Here

    Everybody had a camera, and if they didn't have it, by the time you left they did," says Sgt. Steve Hicks in "Combat Diary: the Marines of Lima Company," the best in a newly crowded field of documentaries on Iraq. Lima Company's tour in Al Anbar province last year was notoriously bloody; the 184-man unit took 59 casualties, 23 of them fatal. Director Michael Epstein lets the soldiers speak for themselves, skillfully weaving their low-resolution digital-camera clips with after-action interviews. The soldiers' wisdom and honesty shine through. Lance Cpl. Travis Williams evokes the thrill of combat: "Before anyone got hurt it was almost exciting and fun, like a videogame." His buddy adds, "There's no drug in the world that can jack you up like that. In the beginning it's just awesome ... and then the bad stuff happens and you'll have some of the worst days of your life."Lima Company's experience was exceptional; the New Hampshire National Guard's deployment probably comes closer to the...
  • Sadr Strikes

    At one time--it seems like a bloody eternity ago--there was a murder warrant out for the arrest of Moqtada al-Sadr, on the charge of killing an ayatollah in 2003. U.S. Army Gen. Ricardo Sanchez later publicly vowed that coalition troops in Iraq would "kill or capture" Sadr, and not rest until they had destroyed his militia. American diplomats routinely dismissed him as a no-account thug, a minor cleric with a ragtag band of undisciplined followers. He could get a few thousand angry young Shiites into the streets, demanding immediate U.S. withdrawal. But ultimately, that didn't matter. All the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani had to do was lift a little finger, and hundreds of thousands of Shiites would turn out.Those were the days. The moderate Shia political leadership of the country, with Sistani's support, was all for a long-term U.S. presence. Sadr, pudgy and histrionic but a poor public speaker, was only 32 years old--a cleric of minor standing in a society that reveres its seniors,...
  • Is This a Strategy For Success?

    At last, President Bush had news he could use from Iraq. He devoted an entire speech in Cleveland last week to the story of how the town of Tall Afar was wrested from Qaeda control and has become a model for defeating the enemy. Praise came not just from the administration; CBS's "60 Minutes" ran a glowing segment on what had been accomplished under Col. H. R. McMaster and his Third Armored Cavalry. McMaster, author of a celebrated book, "Dereliction of Duty," a critical look at how the U.S. military and its leaders got it wrong in Vietnam, made the rounds of the airwaves about how they're now getting it right in Iraq. Tall Afar, said the president, "is today a free city that gives reason for hope for a free Iraq."He showed off a letter to prove it. It was from the city's mayor to Gen. George Casey, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, calling American troops "our lion-hearted saviors." In Tall Afar last week, however, things weren't that clear-cut. U.S. troops were able to take a...
  • Justice: Talking Trash

    Saddam Hussein had a point when he described his trial as a "farce." In five months of proceedings, the Iraqi High Tribunal has managed only 17 actual court days amid tight security, hunger strikes and boycotts by lawyers. Assassins have killed a judge, a court employee and two defense attorneys. At one point Saddam's codefendant, Barzan al-Tikriti, the once feared head of the Mukhabarat intelligence service, came to court in his underwear. The ex-dictator himself complained of having guards watch him take his pants down to use the toilet during recesses. Saddam's appearance last week brought a new low, with the prosecutor and defense lawyers screaming at one another, and the chief judge repeatedly hitting a red button that cut off the mike as Saddam declared himself not only president, but "commander in chief of the mujahed [holy warrior] armed forces." Finally the judge closed the hearing, threw out the press and shut down TV transmissions--all as Saddam ranted on.Saddam's...
  • The Death of a Monster

    When Slobodan Milosevic began his rise, Yugoslavia was the freest, most prosperous country in Eastern Europe. Before he was through, his homeland was a smoking ruin, sacrificed in the name of feeding his insatiable craving for power. As the Berlin wall came down, he morphed from a communist into a hard-line Serbian nationalist. In the next decade he launched four disastrous Balkan wars, killing 250,000 people, leaving 2.5 million homeless. He reduced his native republic, Serbia, to one of the poorest nations in Europe. Then he called elections and lost so badly that the new government soon sent him to The Hague, where he became the world's first head of state to stand trial for war crimes, on 66 counts including genocide and crimes against humanity.Milosevic was a spoiler to the end, dying in custody last week at 64 with no formal verdict. He couldn't have scripted his exit better if he had killed himself, the way his own parents did when he was a child. Officials at The Hague say...
  • Blunt Weapons

    It wasn’t the first time Coalition troops in Iraq spotted what they thought were Iranian Revolutionary Guards trying to cross the border to the Iraqi side. But in one period this month, incursions into Iraq’s southern area swelled to the point where British and Iraqi border patrolmen worried that an unknown number of the commandos were getting through, a U.S. official in Baghdad told NEWSWEEK. That surge, which the official said caused “a lot of alarm” in coalition headquarters, might have been what prompted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week to complain publicly about Iran, describing its meddling as “an error in judgment.” And it was followed by an unusually harsh round of rhetoric.U.S. officials accuse Iran of helping Iraqi militants build a more lethal brand of roadside bombs that are killing and maiming coalition soldiers. “They have interfered in Iraq’s internal affairs…by supplying weapons, training and explosives,” to Shiite militias, Under Secretary of State...
  • The Missing

    Just how many foreigners are being held hostage in Iraq? The numbers are higher than most people realize—partly because victims’ relatives and employees don’t publicize disappearances for fear of jeopardizing negotiations for their release. NEWSWEEK’s calculations, however, show that at least 43 kidnapped foreigners , including 14 Americans, are still missing inside the country.These are at best minimum figures, compiled by NEWSWEEK from both published accounts and data from U.S. officials in Baghdad, where the State Department has a high-level Hostage Working Group actively investigating the cases of the Americans, and assisting in the inquiries about other missing foreigners. While those kidnapped as far back as October 2003 may well have been killed by now, there's no evidence of that one way or another in most cases. And in many cases, there has been little or no public acknowledgement by either families or kidnappers that the hostages have gone missing.The ones we do hear about...
  • ‘Of Course I’m Afraid’

    Mohammed al-Asaadi is an improbable martyr to a free press.  As the editor in chief of the generally pro-government Yemen Observer, a weekly English-language newspaper published by Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh's media adviser, al-Asaadi has not been party to the sort of controversies that have seen many Yemeni journalists jailed in recent years.  But when his newspaper ran an article about the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, Asaadi decided to reprint the cartoons—albeit with a large X censoring most of them, and an article denouncing them.  On Feb. 11, he was arrested and charged with insulting the Prophet. He is now in jail in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, awaiting trial.  NEWSWEEK arranged for a visitor to take a cell phone to him today, and NEWSWEEK's  Rod Nordland interviewed him by phone.NEWSWEEK: Is this your first time in jail?Mohammed al-Asaadi: It's the first time ever I've been a prisoner, or even in front of a judge.How are the...
  • Hunting Bird Flu

    The appearance of bird flu in Europe, and particularly the outbreak in Turkey, has created several scientific mysteries. Why, for instance, did the disease infect birds almost simultaneously in 13 provinces scattered around the country? Why were more people infected (21 so far) than in any other outbreak since the disease first began infecting humans in 2003? And why have so few of the Turkish victims died--four, perhaps five--compared with previous outbreaks, in which half the human cases proved fatal? As the Turkish outbreak enters its fourth week, most of the people who contracted the disease are now on the mend. One person appears to have caught the virus without getting sick at all.Doctors and health officials, worried about the threat of a human pandemic, aren't even sure if these developments constitute good news or bad. Europe, though, is turning out to be a better place to study H5N1, the virus that causes bird flu, than Asia ever was. In nine years in Asia, the virus has...
  • The Pharaoh and the Rebel

    Egypt's presidential elections last September were supposed to be the highlight of the Bush administration's campaign to promote democracy in the Middle East. Instead, they've become an embarrassing acknowledgement of its failure. The electoral process started out on a hopeful note. President Hosni Mubarak had never allowed his quarter-century rule to be challenged at the polls; in previous votes, he had been the only candidate in a yes/no referendum. In 2005, Mubarak decided opposition groups would be permitted to run in parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, opposition newspapers were allowed to publish, allowing some alternative to Egypt's state-controlled print and electronic media. No one ever thought Mubarak or his National Democratic Party (NDP) would let the reforms go so far that he'd lose his grip on power. But even the Bush administration has been chagrined at the lengths to which the regime has gone to destroy its opponents while pretending to let democracy take its course....
  • Viktor Yushchenko

    With new elections only four months away, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's political problems are beginning to mount. The Ukrainian economy is tanking, the Orange coalition has fallen apart and a bitter dispute with Russia over natural-gas supplies has Europe worried. While touring a Ukrainian armored tank brigade's base in Bila Tserkva last week, just before a visit from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Yushchenko spoke with NEWSWEEK's Rod Nordland. Excerpts: ...
  • Now What? Dayton 10 Years Later.

    Anniversaries torment Cedomir Jovanovic. For a young man in a big hurry, there was little solace in celebrations last week marking 10 years since the Dayton peace accords ended the Bosnian war. Jovanovic was on the streets in Belgrade during the big 1996 student demonstrations and he was on the streets again in October 2000 as Serbs, angry at rigged elections, forced strongman Slobodan Milosevic from power. And when the new leaders arrested Milosevic, Jovanovic was a key aide to Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, making sure the arrest happened despite widespread opposition in police and intelligence circles. Not surprisingly, when Djindjic was assassinated in 2003, allegedly by secret police, they had plotted to finish off Jovanovic too.They may yet. Older politicians forced him out of Djindjic's Democratic Party, and from his job as deputy prime minister. Now he may well be the most heavily guarded private citizen in Belgrade, with two carloads of bodyguards following him at...
  • On Scene: The Pope, Watching The Pope

    Pope Benedict XVI and 3,000 guests got a private screening of "John Paul II" (dubbed into Italian) at the Vatican last week. (CBS will air it in English next month as a two-part mini-series.) The papal throne was placed smack in the middle of the room, surrounded by the actors (Jon Voight played JPII), and a mix of Hollywood and Holy See hangers-on. Voight-as-Wojtila spends much of the film dying--something that Vatican insiders already witnessed during the pope's painfully long illnesses. The film did offer unprecedented access, even scenes inside JPII's private apartment--touchingly simple and austere, though dominated by a massive Polish crucifix. But it doesn't reveal much about this extraordinary man. Despite (or because of) the input from Vatican insiders, the script reads as if it were written by the Vatican press office. And perhaps it was: official spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls gets an acknowledgment, and his character plays a flattering supporting role. When the film...
  • Terror For Export

    In Washington, D.C., last week, intelligence officials at a brainstorming session debated whether Al Qaeda's top commander had gotten his hands on nuclear materials. In Dublin, U.S. investigators met with counterparts to look into a financier allegedly funneling money to the Qaeda boss. In Amman, Jordan, as three American-owned hotels mopped blood off their floors and hospitals tallied 57 dead from the country's worst terrorist outrage, no one doubted who was to blame: the same Qaeda bigwig. It wasn't Osama bin Laden who had everyone's attention. It was the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi.Afghanistan used to be the place to go for terrorist training, funding and real-world experience in battle. Not anymore. Iraq has become, in President George W. Bush's words, "the central front" in the war on terror. And compared with distant Afghanistan, Iraq has more fighting, more people, more money and a far better strategic position in the heart of the Middle East. If...
  • Journalist, Jazzman, Gentleman

    When our colleague Tom Masland stepped off the curb onto West End Avenue one rainy night last week, he had his funky little black bag over his left shoulder and his saxophone in a case in his right hand. His life was about to end. He had just finished a gig at a Manhattan jazz club called Cleopatra's Needle, and was on his way to another performance downtown. In his day job, he had been a foreign correspondent and an editor for NEWSWEEK, occupations he performed with such devotion and skill that many of us wouldn't know until he died how much else there was to him. He had covered Africa for the past six years, but was so modest that if it hadn't been on the wires, we wouldn't have known that he took three chunks of shrapnel while reporting on civil unrest in the streets of Monrovia. He yanked the biggest piece out of his arm, dressed it from his own first-aid kit, and later said with his easy laugh, "It was the world's cheapest Purple Heart."Tom was a child of the South, in ways...
  • PENSIONS FOR WAR CRIMINALS

    In the Balkans, war crime pays. This year, a record 20 accused war criminals have been turned over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague, compared with only three in 2004. But NATO troops didn't nab these fugitives in daring dawn raids. Negotiators did much of the work, offering generous financial incentives. "Everybody here in Serbia believes the government gives big money to indictees," says Natasa Kandic, head of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade. "If you want to go to The Hague, you'll be rewarded and your family will have a very good life."Some of the incentives are legally mandated. Serbia passed legislation last year to provide pensions to its indicted war criminals. The law gives indictees a full salary, plus unspecified "compensation" for family and legal expenses. In the Republic of Srpska, the Serb-controlled part of Bosnia, benefits are even more generous: a full salary to the indictee himself, a double salary paid to his...
  • Truth is the First Civilian Casualty

    The nearest I ever came to becoming a civilian victim of the war in Iraq, so far as I know, was at the business end of the guns of a squad of American soldiers. They were about 200 yards away from us at a car stop, too far to be sure I was a foreigner. I was too close to escape the menacing finality of the .50 caliber machinegun mounted atop their Humvee. We were in a red BMW and had the misfortune to be leaving a neighborhood that had just been subjected to a cordon and search, all entrances sealed by troops, who happened to have been alerted that insurgents might flee the area in, yes, a red car. The troops dismounted, except for the machine gunner, and split into two teams on opposite sides of the wide road, one team a bit closer to us. They were screaming at us to stop; our driver's first instinct was to reverse out of there but we persuaded him that would be quickly fatal. "Get out of the car!" yelled the infantry captain in charge, with the team on the left. And when we did, ...
  • Monumental War

    War makes the winners right and the losers wrong. That's especially true in a civil war, where the winners will get to write the history books, and the losers will have to send their kids to schools that teach from them. But what happens when such a war ends without a victory, as happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina 10 years ago? There each of the three sides, Muslim, Croat and Serb, have created their own versions of history and their own monuments to competing heroes. That makes for a pretty ugly bronze landscape under the postwar pigeon-droppings. In Bosnia today, one side's indicted war criminal is likely to be another side's war hero.About the only thing Bosnians agreed on when it came to public monuments was destroying those of the past. The former Yugoslavia had erected thousands of statues to partisan heroes from World War II, and since Yugoslav's Army launched the Balkan wars in 1991, those statues rapidly were savaged. That happened even in Serb areas of Bosnia, where many...
  • The Village of the Widows

    Suceska is a picture-book pretty village in the hills of what used to be the U.N.-protected Srebrenica safe area. It was supposed to be one of the post-war success stories, the first place where Bosnian Muslims returned after their forced expulsion. With support and protection from NATO and the international community, they returned to rebuild their homes, nearly all of which had been destroyed when Serbs overran the enclave. Schools were reopened, a clinic built, the mosque restored. At its peak, 1,140 people had returned, and there was hope thousands more would follow. But now it's just another hopeless Balkan place.Despite all the aid and concern, Suceska can't escape its fate. When the Serbs killed all the men and boys they could find in Srebrenica it was genocide, but it was also demogracide. It doomed these communities demographically, economically and socially. Nowhere is that more plainly on view than in Suceska, a village of widows and declining hopes. The village once had...
  • BALKANS TRAGEDY

    Nura Alispahic is a Srebrenica commuter. Twice a month she and her grown daughter Magbula take a bus from their home in Tuzla, three hours away, to the mining town in the Bosnian mountains, scene of Europe's worst massacre since the Nazi death camps. On July 11, 1995, Serb troops led by Gen. Ratko Mladic took prisoner and slaughtered at least 7,800 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. There are so many women like them--widows, fatherless daughters, brotherless sisters--that the town of only 3,500 residents is served by four daily buses from Tuzla and Sarajevo, two hours away. Nura and her daughter stop at the cemetery in the village of Potocari, where the 1,400 victims recovered so far--including Nura's son Azmir--are buried. Then they visit their empty and half-ruined house, and by evening they're on the bus back. "I couldn't spend a night there," says Magbula. "When I enter the town, I feel the creeps, like watching someone entering a town in a horror movie."Back in Tuzla, where...
  • GOOD INTENTIONS GONE BAD

    Two years ago I went to Iraq as an unabashed believer in toppling Saddam Hussein. I knew his regime well from previous visits; WMDs or no, ridding the world of Saddam would surely be for the best, and America's good intentions would carry the day. What went wrong? A lot, but the biggest turning point was the Abu Ghraib scandal. Since April 2004 the liberation of Iraq has become a desperate exercise in damage control. The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib alienated a broad swath of the Iraqi public. On top of that, it didn't work. There is no evidence that all the mistreatment and humiliation saved a single American life or led to the capture of any major terrorist, despite claims by the military that the prison produced "actionable intelligence."The most shocking thing about Abu Ghraib was not the behavior of U.S. troops, but the incompetence of their leaders. Against the conduct of the Lynndie Englands and the Charles Graners, I'll gladly set the honesty and courage of Specialist...
  • Ibrahim Jaafari

    Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari and his fellow Shiite politicians scrambled last week to form a government, a process that has been stalled since elections on Jan. 30. Iraqis are increasingly impatient, with violence once again on the rise. When Jaafari spoke with NEWSWEEK's Fareed Zakaria and Rod Nordland at his American-guarded villa in Baghdad's Green Zone last Thursday, it looked as if the deal at last was done. It was based on giving several key ministries to Sunni Arabs--even though they had boycotted the elections and have few seats in the Assembly. But by that evening the effort had collapsed, with Sunnis unsatisfied with the offer, and Kurds and Shiites bickering over how much to give them. Excerpts from the interview: ...