Middle East

Ninth circle

Navigating Amman is usually done by referencing its traffic circles, most of which have been assigned numbers: you get into the cab and ask to go to the 7th Circle, 3rd Circle, whichever. I'm not the first to riff off Dante with regards to Amman, but it was hard for Rick and I to ignore that the last circle (which is on the way to the airport) is the 8th Circle, suggesting that, as you travel further east, the 9th Circle is... do I need to say it?

Anyway, day two in Baghdad was a wash. We spent most of it in the hotel as the translator we hired was confined to his neighborhood by a US military raid against the Jeish al-Mehdi, which might explain why so many mortars hit the Green Zone today. (The BBC reported 12, al-Jazeera international reported 30.)

Am finding as I speak with people about what is possible that it is far more difficult to move around here than it was the last time I was here, in May 2006. The increasing tensions between the Sadrists and the government, as well as continued fighting between the Jeish al-Mehdi on the military, have everyone on edge and expecting worse.

And Dante was wrong about the ice in the 9th Circle. It's toasty here.


We arrived in Baghdad from Amman yesterday. Today has been spent so far on logistics such as getting cell phone SIM cards and setting up interviews, so I'll reflect quickly on Jordan and begin blogging about Iraq in my next post.

David Enders interviewed on Foreign Exchange

Fareed Zakaria interviewed David Enders on Foreign Exchange. Just back from Iraq, David describes a stagnating, often deteriorating security situation, a central government unable to provide basic services to Iraqi citizens, and the rise of militias as the real authority in many areas. The interview is a sobering counterpoint to recent official reports from the region and is, in our view, essential viewing as the Bush administration presents its much-touted "progress report" on Iraq.

Most of Reformers' Work is Left Undone

An overflow audience some 300 strong showed up last week at Iran's main teacher training college to discuss a locally produced film from which government censors had made 17 cuts and whose release had been delayed for nearly two years.

Change in the Wind

After quick victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. armed forces are suddenly on both sides of Iran's Islamic republic, the country that gave Americans their first taste of Islamic extremism a generation ago.

Ex-Spokeswoman for Hostage-Takers Says U.S. Misreads Iran

When American diplomats were taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, at the height of the Iranian revolution, one of the most galling aspects for Americans following the drama was that the fresh-faced spokesperson for the student hostage-takers was a young woman known as Sister Mary who spoke like an American.