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A tough smoking ban

Posted by Richard on June 27, 2007

If you want to know how things are going in the battle for Baquba and Diyala province, you need to read Michael Yon's dispatches from the front lines. Yon is no Pollyanna. He's frank about American blunders in this war, he spoke of civil war as early as 2005, and he thinks we face a difficult task in trying to turn things around. But he thinks now we're doing some things right, and al Qaeda is doing many things wrong. The massive operation to clean al Qaeda out of Diyala is a case in point.

Start with Be Not Afraid, written before Operation Arrowhead Ripper began. It provides important background information, including Yon's encounters with and assessment of Gen. Petraeus, and an excellent description of the political situation in Iraq. Then read the three dispatches (so far) about the operation: 

Operation Arrowhead Ripper: Day One

Arrowhead Ripper: Surrender or Die

Drilling for Justice  

That last one, filed on the 25th, includes some harsh criticism of the local government and police in Baquba and Diyala. But it also includes some fascinating information about why more and more Iraqis are turning against al Qaeda and cooperating with the Americans and with rival Iraqi sects and factions (emphasis added):

Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had tarnished its name here by publicly attacking and murdering children, videotaping beheadings, all while imposing harsh punishments on Iraqi civilians found guilty of violating morality laws prohibiting activities like smoking. The AQI installed Sharia court had sanctioned the amputation of the two "smoking fingers" for those who violated anti-smoking laws. …

On the evening of the 24th I spoke with a local Iraqi official, Colonel Faik, who said the Muftis would order the severance of the two fingers used to hold a cigarette for any Iraqis caught smoking. Other reports, from here in Diyala and also in Anbar, allege that smokers are murdered by AQI. Most Iraqis smoke and this particular prohibition appeared to have earned the ire of many locals. After an American unit cleared an apartment complex on the 23rd, LTC Smiley, the battalion commander, reported that residents didn't ask for food and water, but cigarettes. In other parts of Baqubah, people have been celebrating the routing of AQI by lighting up and smoking cigarettes.

Other AQI edicts included beatings for men who refused to grow beards, and corporal punishments for obscene sexual suggestiveness, defined by such "loose" behavior as carrying tomatoes and cucumbers in the same bag. These fatwas were not eagerly embraced by most Iraqi

And I thought the anti-smoking nazis here were getting out of hand!

Michael Yon has been called the Ernie Pyle of this war. His dispatches are always gritty, riveting, thoughtful, and informative, and they're frequently illustrated with wonderful photographs. Michael Yon : Online Magazine is an example of independent journalism at its finest — his work is supported entirely by contributions and sales of books and photos. Drop by there from time to time, and if you think what he's doing is worthwhile, drop him an "attaboy" or kick in a few bucks to support his efforts — it'll be greatly appreciated.


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