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When U.S. General Petraeus Ruled in Mosul

How Iraqi Professor
Overcame Doubts
To Trust a General

Mr. Jomard, Strong
Opponent of Hussein
And U.S. Policy,
Saw a ‘Fellow Human’


Staff Reporter

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL Page A1, 3 November 2003

MOSUL, Iraq — “Don’t expect me to go on television to express gratitude,” declared Iraqi historian Jazeel Abd al-Jabbar al-Jomard.

U.S.-led forces ousted Saddam Hussein, a man Mr. Jomard despised, and helped rebuild the scholar’s looted Mosul University, Iraq’s second-largest. None of that has changed the short, thickset, 51-year-old professor’s vehement opposition to Washington’s policy and actions in the Middle East.

But over the course of six months, a patient American general and his forces in the 101st Airborne who oversee this section of Iraq’s north have slowly managed to win Mr. Jomard’s trust. “I learned to see these people as my friends … once I realized that, as individuals, they had nothing to do with U.S. policy,” he said.

How Mr. Jomard made his decision to work with the occupying forces offers a window on one of the most urgent challenges America faces in Iraq: getting Iraqis to actively cooperate in the face of an increasingly effective resistance movement. The U.S. suffered its deadliest day in Iraq since March 23 Sunday. The toll included 16 soldiers killed when their Chinook helicopter crashed west of Baghdad, apparently shot down. (See related article1.) Last week anti-U.S. forces added car bombs to their attacks on the reformed Iraqi police, the most prominent collaborators with the U.S. occupation and a key to any future U.S. exit strategy from Iraq.

Any form of collaboration carries the danger of being targeted by resistance fighters. Last Thursday, thousands of leaflets were distributed in Baghdad threatening to kill all who “have sold their souls to work with the Americans and the Jews.” They also said, “We know for certain who you are,” and were signed by the Fedayeen, an organization loyal to Mr. Hussein.

Such pressure causes many Iraqis who want to cooperate to waver and crumple in places where the U.S. occupation isn’t as adroit as it has been in Mosul. Iraqi assistants to U.S. Army personnel often wear dark glasses to avoid being recognized. A translator working for U.S. journalists justifies his job to friends by saying he is brainwashing the Americans.

Legacy of Opposition

Opposition to foreign intervention comes naturally to Mr. Jomard, scion of a prominent Mosul family that was a longtime nationalist opponent of Iraq’s old British-backed monarchy. When the king was toppled in a bloody 1958 coup, Mr. Jomard’s father became foreign minister for the first six months of the new republican regime that followed.

An expert in Christian Europe’s medieval crusades against the Islamic east, Mr. Jomard spent several years of doctoral study in Scotland and is familiar with the West. Though unhappy with Mr. Hussein’s regime, he expected no good to come from the U.S. invasion.

He remains offended by what he views as a U.S. failure to prevent Israel from occupying Palestinian territories. He knows that Washington supported Mr. Hussein during his murderous 1980s prime. He deeply resents the way the U.S. left Mr. Hussein in power after devastating Iraq’s infrastructure in the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, and then led the effort to impose crippling sanctions on the country.

“I swear that even Iraqi ants were affected by those sanctions,” says Mr. Jomard, who drives a battered 1980 Datsun with a dashboard held together by tape. “Before, they used to stay in the garden of my house. Now they’ve even reached my bedroom, looking for things to eat.”

The university that Mr. Jomard loved, a sprawling campus of stark concrete buildings and dusty hills, was overcome in the chaos that descended on Mosul after the U.S. forced Mr. Hussein’s ouster on April 9. Traffic jams formed at the campus gates as armed looters loaded up everything their cars could carry. They even stole one of the gates.

Mr. Jomard’s initial contacts with the U.S. military didn’t foster trust or cooperation. He had joined up with other leading Mosul figures that day and gone to ask the newly arrived U.S. Marines for protection. He found the officer sent out to talk to the group to be young, arrogant and interested only in the safety of his own troops.

A Sunni Muslim from the majority of Mosul’s 1.7 million people, Mr. Jomard felt the Western reporters attached to the U.S. military were interested only in the local Christian priests in the group.
“I felt like I was being confronted with a relic of the British occupation a century ago,” Mr. Jomard says.

New Attitude

The next day he joined a group of local judges to again visit the base the Marines had established at the airport and appeal for American troops to get a grip on the city. “It wasn’t useful. The Americans seemed irritated by us,” Mr. Jomard says. “I went home and never went back.”

Mosul endured two rough weeks, including a gunfight involving U.S. troops in which a dozen local people were killed. Then the 101st Airborne arrived to relieve the small Marine force.

With the 101st came Gen. David H. Petraeus, the division’s commander and, Mr. Jomard says, a new attitude. Gen. Petraeus, a veteran officer who directed peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and has a doctorate from Princeton University in international relations, is a fervent advocate of nation-building. He rammed through a one-month program to pull Mosul together. His men forced the pace on local elections, some of the first in occupied Iraq. Pinned to the map in his war room was the motto: “We are in a race to win over the people.”

“We try to be an army of liberation, not occupation. It’s very hard to pull off,” the general says. “The only way you can win respect is individually.”

Gen. Petraeus was one of the most intensive users of money seized from the former regime, a program in which his officers paid more than $26 million directly to Iraqis for myriad projects to get the region going. Beneficiaries included not just the university, but hospitals, irrigation systems and even an asphalt factory. “Money is ammunition,” the general says.

Under U.S. supervision, neighborhoods chose a local electoral college of 270 people, which in turn choose a 24-man provincial council in early May. This body soon elected Mr. Jomard to the post of university vice chancellor, even though he hadn’t put himself forward as a candidate and was boycotting the U.S.-backed group.

His colleagues pressed him to accept the post. He remained reluctant. “I told them, it’s very difficult” to work with a foreign occupier, says Mr. Jomard. “But they played with my emotions, my sense of duty. For us, the looting and chaos in Mosul was a tragedy, spiritually and physically.”

Although he took the appointment, he kept his job teaching history, so he could leave the administrative post at any time. He also tried to maintain a psychological distance. “I told myself it would not be dealing with the invader. I would never be a collaborator.”

Reaching an Understanding

But he began to discover a new face to the U.S. occupation. When the officer in charge of his area passed by, Mr. Jomard told him about three gates hanging off their hinges that the university couldn’t fix. Two days later, U.S. Army engineers arrived to repair them.

Mr. Jomard, who had grown up with rhetoric about Arab solidarity, had hoped for aid from the Arab world. But little materialized. Two Persian Gulf states sent gifts, but one included a TV crew who asked him to sing the praises of its generous prince. “When they asked me to sit in front of a banner to do the interview, I had to refuse,” Mr. Jomard says bitterly.

Wealthy local families gave about $50,000 to the university, hoping to get it back on track before exam time so that students wouldn’t have wasted a year’s study. The U.S. officers channeled in nearly $1.4 million, according to Col. Will Harrison, in charge of the 101st’s relationship with the university. Much of this early cash came from Iraqi state funds or assets seized from Mr. Hussein’s regime. In the longer term, U.S. aid coming through American university-run programs is also on its way.

Mr. Jomard was impressed by the military’s efficient generosity. It helped that Col. Harrison accepted the professor’s sometimes prickly behavior, and made no demands for public expressions of gratitude. Both men were comfortable with the sort of back-channeling and lobbying that was sometimes necessary.

The colonel, for instance, furthered the university’s cause behind the scenes by bringing Mosul administrators and Baghdad officials together with the help of the 134 helicopters in his unit, the 159th Aviation Brigade. Such communication was critical to smoothing over post-Hussein staffing and other organizational issues, since laws still on the books keep Iraq a highly centralized state.

The ebullient 44-year-old pilot, who hails from New York, is responsible for all matters concerning higher education in Mosul as well as the brigade’s 2,000 men. He typically spends two hours of his long days on university matters and has assigned captains and lieutenants to pay similar attention to each of the institution’s 19 faculties. They, too, have come to terms with Mr. Jomard’s determination to build an image of independence for his academy.

Mr. Jomard “only lets us on campus because we’re nice,” jokes Maj. Mike Shenk, a U.S. officer from the 101st Airborne and one of Col. Harrison’s deputies in the 159th. He was passing by the university after dropping off yet more cash for items such as office furniture, telephone exchanges, computers, air conditioners, refrigerators and ceiling fans. Returning Maj. Shenk’s warm smile, Mr. Jomard acknowledged a fondness for the American.

That didn’t stop him from pulling Maj. Shenk aside that day to ask the 101st to remove two U.S. Army lookouts posted on the engineering faculty roof. Mr. Jomard says he understood their need to watch a road in front of the university, where attackers had twice hit U.S. patrols. But the dean of engineering was furious and the soldiers’ presence on campus could trigger student protests. Two days later, they were gone.

Mr. Jomard remains suspicious of the Americans. He admits he even got caught up in popular outrage that swept through Mosul after a baseless rumor suggested that Israel was taking advantage of the U.S. presence to buy local land. “What causes fear is the size of America. … We might just be a little part of a much bigger policy,” he says. “I have no desire to find myself at my age like the Palestinians, suitcases in my hand and my family on the road.”

Trust Builds Dividends

Rising local anger forced a United Nations agency and some foreign nongovernmental organizations to leave town. The antiforeigner attitudes put constant pressure on Mr. Jomard.

“One or two professors said that Jazeel, who we thought was working for the interests of the people, is now shaking hands with the enemy,” Mr. Jomard says. “I feel that I am shaking hands as a fellow human.”

Worse was to come. Mr. Jomard was indirectly told by the anti-U.S. forces to stop cooperating with the Americans. He dismissed the threat, hoping he would be protected by his reputation as an observant Muslim known for popular public lectures on Saladin — the Kurdish prince from Iraq who drove the crusaders out of Jerusalem.

“I, too, believe the American occupation should end, but if they leave now, everyone will be killed on the streets, there’ll be civil war,” Mr. Jomard says.

His own behind-the-scenes lobbying with occupation forces has paid dividends. When the Baghdad Coalition Provisional Authority, the central U.S. occupation power, ordered the sacking of all senior members of the former Baath Party, it would have crippled some of the university’s departments. Mr. Jomard and the chancellor pressed for the best of the 130 to be kept on. The 101st Airborne fought his case in Baghdad and won a reprieve that kept the teachers in class.

One day during the summer, Col. Harrison stumbled into a confrontation with some angry graduates demanding jobs that had been promised by the former regime. He found Mr. Jomard at his side, “picking them out by name, and telling them, ‘I didn’t educate you to talk like this,’ ” Col. Harrison remembers. Mr. Jomard, in turn, recalls with amazement Col. Harrison’s calm handling of provocative, anti-American questions.

Trust grew to the point that when a much-delayed graduation day came around in October, the university faculty did the once unthinkable: They invited a uniformed Col. Harrison and a U.S. civilian administrator into the semicircle of dignitaries that bestowed the top degrees. “It was wonderful,” Col. Harrison says.

The moral juggling act thrust upon Mr. Jomard by the occupation has led him to rethink his former view of history as black and white, cause and effect. “Sometimes a man can be caught up in events that are more powerful than himself,” he says.


Fighting for Mecca’s architectural soul

Iconic Clash:
Saudi Fights to End
Demolition Driven
By Islamic Dictate

Architect Sees a
Terror Link In
Razing of Monuments;
Princes Don’t Muzzle Him

A Mall Goes Up in Mecca
By Hugh Pope

The Wall Street Journal 8 August 2004

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — In a private lecture he gives to small groups in his
home here, Sami Angawi sometimes ends with projections of three images in
succession. The first shows the 2002 dynamiting of a minaret by a shrine in the
holy city of Medina. The second depicts a colossal ancient Buddha in Bamyan,
Afghanistan, being blown to bits in 2001 by the former Taliban regime. The third
is the World Trade Center engulfed in flames.

Mr. Angawi, a 51-year-old architect, is waging an unusual campaign against a
feature of Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist Islam that rarely comes up for public
discussion inside the country: the alteration or destruction of holy sites. The
desert kingdom’s dominant clerics believe any reverence for buildings or saints
distracts from their doctrine of worship of God alone and constitutes
polytheism, regarded by them as the gravest sin in Islam.

In a provocative critique, Mr. Angawi directly links the religious zeal that
destroys shrines to the intolerance that breeds Islamic terrorism. “Should we
have destroyed all our heritage of diversity?” he asks. “Shouldn’t we be
learning to think before blowing everything up? It’s due to a monopoly of
religious opinion, and that has to end.”

As Mr. Angawi’s unusual polemic gains a wider audience within Saudi Arabia, he
offers a hint of a significant shift by the country’s embattled leaders. Since
the attacks of Sept. 11, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, the royal
family has faced mounting criticism based on links between its favored form of
Islam, the fundamentalist strain called Wahhabism, and global terror. In its
modest way, Mr. Angawi’s architecture lecture suggests Saudi Arabia is
increasingly tolerant of public criticism.

In one sign that some government leaders want his views heard, he recently
participated in a series of national discussions about reforming Saudi society.
The unprecedented exchanges, sponsored by Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz,
effectively the country’s leader, were a tentative step toward encouraging
economic and political change.

Mr. Angawi started giving slide shows about preserving architecture in the
1970s, but since Sept. 11, 2001, he has been more outspoken. He estimates
several thousand people have heard his lecture about the damage to Saudi
Arabia’s architectural history. People gather at his or other private homes,
drawn mostly by word of mouth. Audiences have included Saudi academics and
oil-company executives.

That Mr. Angawi can do this without harassment suggests he has the tacit
support of at least some members of the large royal clan. He hasn’t stopped any
bulldozers, but he is one of a small band of activists beginning to challenge
from within the Islamic fundamentalism that is Saudi Arabia’s official ideology.
“The government has unlocked the door to change. Some are pushing to get in.
Others are pushing to keep the door closed,” Mr. Angawi says.

Saudi journalists are growing braver in challenging the religious
establishment, although the editor of a Meccan newspaper lost his job after
putting an encounter between liberal and religious dissidents on his front page
in May. A group from Medina is forming an association to protect the remaining
shrines and monuments there. In June, the Cabinet decreed that women could own
businesses in their own name. Ground-breaking municipal elections are set for
November, beginning to challenge princes’ and clerics’ monopoly on power.

Over the years, the Saudi government has let fundamentalist clergy and
developers destroy the famed old mosque of Abu Bakr and tombs of close relatives
of Muhammad in Medina. It has turned the sites of Muhammad’s great battles of
Uhud and Badr into a parking lot and an area of empty tarmac. In 1990, a site
where some believe Muhammad lived with his first wife, Khadija, was paved over
when developers extended prayer areas around Mecca’s Great Mosque.

The government has also pulled down a stone house with a colonnaded courtyard
in Medina known as the Egyptian Monastery, once favored by pilgrims from that
country. Saudi lawyers say Wahhabi religious authorities have issued many edicts
over the centuries endorsing the destruction of historical places to discourage
polytheism. “It is not permitted to glorify buildings,” said one such ruling in

Mr. Angawi does glorify buildings — openly. “Mecca used to be the link that
brings Muslims together, the heart of the Islamic world,” he says. “Something
has gone wrong with the heart, and we need to restore the balance.”

Spokesmen for the Saudi kingdom say old sites that get paved over are simply
the unfortunate victims of modernization, which is in some cases aimed at making
it easier for pilgrims to get around Mecca and Medina.

As for Mr. Angawi’s analysis linking fundamentalism, the destruction of holy
sites and terrorism, the government dismisses this as far-fetched. Nail
al-Jubeir, a spokesman, says Mr. Angawi’s suggestion of such a connection is “by
far the most extreme extrapolation I have ever heard.” The Saudi government has
condemned terrorism, including the Sept. 11 attacks. It also stresses that it is
currently battling a wave of domestic fundamentalist terrorism.

Today’s Saudi ideology has its roots in the 1700s, when a desert preacher,
Mohammed bin Abd al-Wahhab, began to condemn the Islam then practiced in central
Arabia as decadent and dominated by superstitious veneration of shrines, dubious
holy men and even trees. He inspired a movement dedicated to reviving his
understanding of the original Islam, founded in the seventh century by Muhammad.

The puritanical preacher’s followers, allied with the powerful Saud family,
then destroyed many shrines in Mecca and Medina, including some over the
supposed graves of companions of Muhammad. Outrage over these acts in the wider
Muslim world contributed to a military defeat of the initial alliance between
the Saudis and the sheik in 1818 by Egyptian and Turkish forces. Pious and
wealthy families rebuilt many shrines.

But in the 1920s, when a renewed Saudi-Wahhabi coalition surged back into
power in what became the current Saudi Arabia, the shrines started coming back

Saudi Wahhabis sought strict implementation of Islamic Sharia law. That
continues today. At least 50 Saudi men and one woman were publicly beheaded last
year for crimes ranging from murder to homosexuality. Less commonly,
executioners cut the hands and even legs off thieves. Saudi critics say the
clergy is sometimes mixing up Islamic law with old tribal codes, especially when
it comes to restricting women’s freedom. No other Muslim country, for instance,
holds that Islamic law bars women from driving.

The Wahhabis — part of the Sunni branch of Islam — also wanted to clamp down
on Shiites, who ascribe greater importance to the family of Muhammad, and on
Sufis, who follow a more mystical path and often attach themselves to sheiks who
they believe have supernatural powers. Both Shiites and Sufis pray at the tombs
of those they revere.

Some 26 years ago, Saudi Arabia ratified a United Nations convention
committing itself to safeguarding properties of outstanding cultural value. But
so far, the Saudis haven’t nominated anything in the kingdom to join the 611
cultural-heritage sites in the world that are registered with the U.N.

There is no indication of broad popular support for Mr. Angawi’s cause. In
2002, Saudi authorities removed the 18th-century Ottoman fortress of al-Ajyad in
Mecca to make way for a five-tower project rising 31 stories. The development
includes a hotel, shopping mall and apartments. They overlook the Kaaba, the
cube-shaped stone building swathed in black silk that is the focal point of all
Muslims’ daily prayers and the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (One of the lead
contractors for the $1.6 billion project is the Saudi Binladen Group, owned by
Osama bin Laden’s relatives.)

Many Saudis see nothing wrong with the way the great mosques of Mecca and
Medina are now surrounded by high-rise developments touted as investment
opportunities. “If I can afford it, why shouldn’t I have a hotel suite
overlooking the holy shrine,” says Khaled al-Kordi, a Riyadh financial
consultant and member of the country’s Supreme Economic Council.

Mr. Angawi cuts an unorthodox figure in Saudi Arabia. He says foes denounce
him as a “crazy Sufi” because he follows that dissident mystical approach to
Islam. He dresses in a light-spun woolen cloak and a turban and carries an
elegant walking stick — all of which violate the Saudi dress code of white robe
and head-cloth. He lives in a palatial residence of his own design in Jidda. Mr.
Angawi studied architecture at the University of Texas and received a doctorate
from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, doing his thesis on the
historical diversity of Meccan architecture.

Hussein Shobokshi, scion of a Jidda merchant family and one who has seen Mr.
Angawi’s presentation, says the architect is “seen as eccentric, but he’s got
respect” among the nation’s small group of moderate and liberal intellectuals.

Mr. Angawi’s family traces its roots to Muhammad, but it is a more commercial
distinction that allows him to devote his energy to research. His family is one
of 3,200 that have inherited the lucrative position of “mutawwaf,” or those
licensed to organize the groups of pilgrims who come by the millions each year.

In 1975, Mr. Angawi set up the Pilgrimage Research Center to study ways to
modernize Mecca with as little harm as possible to its historic and holy sites.
One of his techniques was to use time-lapse photography to analyze pilgrims’
movement, plan mass-transport systems and keep private vehicles away from the
city core. He says his center received state funding, and some members of the
royal family expressed interest in his ideas. The royal family numbers about
5,000 princes, whose opinions vary but who are generally more educated and
modern than the religious conservatism that dominates Saudi society. In 1988,
Mr. Angawi was invited to give a presentation to senior princes at court.

But he also made enemies among religious authorities and some contractors who
do modernization work. He lost control of the Pilgrimage Research Center and
resigned his position in 1988.

His commitment didn’t wane. “Every time a building goes, it’s like watching a
relative being slaughtered in front of me,” Mr. Angawi says.

In 1990, sympathizers tipped him off that the site thought to contain the
foundations of the Meccan house of Muhammad and Khadija was to be paved over. He
rushed to the site, even threatening to put his young son in the bulldozer’s
path. He used his contacts to win permission for a last-minute archaeological
dig. It lasted 40 days, and he says his team of volunteers uncovered stone
foundations that appeared to be those of the Prophet’s abode. But in the end,
the site was buried in concrete and covered in unmarked marble. A public toilet
now stands nearby, according to Meccans.

“We’ve done more damage to Mecca and Medina in the past 50 years than in the
past 1,500. Of 300 holy sites, perhaps only 10 remain,” Mr. Angawi said recently
in his book-lined study, the air heavy with incense.

He isn’t alone in his concern. In July, the Islamic Supreme Council of
America, a Sufi group, called on the U.N. “to stop the wanton destruction of
venerated Muslim relics in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” The council, led by
Sheik Hisham Kabbani, who is based in Michigan, said, “The Wahhabist rulers of
that nation are undertaking a new ideological jihad to destroy major relics and

Saudi government spokesmen dismiss Mr. Angawi’s objections as nostalgia for
the old Mecca. “He doesn’t like change because it changes the city that he
knew,” says Mr. Jubeir, the government spokesman. “We want to expand the
pilgrimage, and we want to make it safe, comfortable and spiritually rewarding.
If we have to remove homes, unfortunately something has to give.”

Mr. Angawi says the assault on America in 2001 shocked him into action. He
wanted to galvanize Saudi Arabia’s small, diffuse band of liberal intellectuals.
“We’ve had many wake-up calls,” he says, “but we’ve been like children covering
our eyes.”

He uses a slick computer presentation for his lectures, which he says he
sometimes delivers to top government officials who quietly invite him to their
homes. He also organizes a weekly discussion group for young Saudis on subjects
such as the mercy of God, individual freedom and national heritage.

Crown Prince Abdullah invited Mr. Angawi to be one of 60 delegates to a
December session in Mecca of the National Dialogue. It included historic
discussions about the role of women in Saudi Arabia, with women participating,
and the role of minority groups such as Shiite Muslims.

While Mr. Angawi didn’t show his slide presentation in the public forum — the
message is still too controversial for that — he did invite participants to see
it in private. Twenty came, he says.

Participants in the dialogue recommended that the kingdom tolerate minority
sects, strengthen the role of women and separate the government’s executive,
judicial and administrative branches. No method for implementing any of this
emerged, though. And there was no mention of the architecture of Mecca or


Copyright (c) 2004 Dow Jones and Company, Inc.
8/18/2004 8:22 AM