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That stunning about-face simultaneously propelled Egypt into the camp of American client-states and isolated it from much of the rest of the Arab world. Even more ominously for Sadat, what was seen in the West as an act of courage was regarded by most Egyptians as an act of betrayal and national shame. This was certainly the view of Laila and Ahmed. Those plans never got off the ground, though. Their lives took on an air of increasingly apolitical domesticity, and by , Laila, then 28, was juggling the demands of child-rearing with her new position as a professor of mathematics at Cairo University.

Among those ensnared in the dragnet were Ahmed and his colleagues in the underground cell. Severely tortured until he signed a full confession, Ahmed was then released to await his verdict. When that verdict was returned, in late , the news was grim: Ahmed was found guilty of illegal weapons possession and sentenced to five years in prison.

It presented the couple with a tempting choice. For several months, the couple lived as fugitives with their 3-year-old son. Ultimately, though, both realized it was a futile exercise. He decided it was easier to do the five years, so he gave himself up. It was in prison that Ahmed experienced something of an epiphany.

By continuing the entente with the United States and Israel that Sadat had begun, Mubarak naturally also inherited the taint of capitulation in the eyes of many of his countrymen. Unable to forge national cohesion by turning to the old external enemy card — after all, Egypt was now in bed with those supposed enemies — Mubarak had devised a more carefully calibrated system to play his secular leftist and militant Islamist oppositions against each other. Ahmed, thrown into prison with both factions, saw firsthand how this strategy played out when it came to even the most basic of human rights.

Determined to fight for judicial reform, Ahmed devoted himself to studying law in his prison cell.

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Within a month of his release in , he was admitted to the Egyptian bar. This placed the ex-political prisoner and his wife at a crossroads. With Laila a tenured professor at Cairo University and Ahmed now a lawyer, the couple had the opportunity to carve out a comfortable existence for themselves among the Cairene elite.

A once-prosperous port city roughly miles east of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, Misurata was a main terminus of the old trans-Saharan trade route, the stopping point of camel caravans taking gold and slaves from sub-Saharan Africa for export across the Mediterranean. Prominent among those inhabitants is the Mangoush clan, so much so that one of the oldest neighborhoods of the city bears the family name.

And it was in that neighborhood on July 4, , that Omar and Fatheya el-Mangoush, civil servants for the Misurata municipal government, welcomed the birth of the youngest of their six children, a boy they named Majdi. A key to that popularity was his emulation of Gamal Abdel Nasser in neighboring Egypt. By spreading the wealth around, he also enabled families like the Mangoushes to live a comfortable middle-class life. The parallels were quite striking. It was impossible to exist outside of it.

For all their revolutionary rhetoric, the dictators of Libya, Iraq and Syria remained ever mindful that their nations were essentially artificial constructs. To keep them loyal required both the carrot and the stick. In all three nations, the leaders entered into elaborate and labyrinthine alliances with various tribes and clans. The strongmen also carefully forged ties across ethnic and religious divides. In Iraq, even though most all senior Baathist officials were, like Saddam Hussein, of the Sunni minority, he endeavored to sprinkle just enough Shiites and Kurds through his administration to lend it an ecumenical sheen.

This coalition-building had a unique geographic dimension in Libya. Aside from the historical rivalry that existed between the principal regions, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, human settlement in Libya had always been clustered along the Mediterranean coast, and what developed there over the millenniums was essentially a series of semiautonomous city-states that resisted central rule.

Libya, Iraq and Syria erected some of the most brutal and ubiquitous state security apparatuses to be found in the world. The state also had a very long memory, as Majdi el-Mangoush discovered growing up in Misurata. And in all three countries, there dwelled one group that was deemed wholly untrustworthy, one that almost always received the stick: Islamic fundamentalists.

In Syria and Iraq, even identifying oneself as a Sunni or Shia could draw state suspicion, and in all three nations the mukhabarat had a special brief to surveil conservative clerics and religious agitators. Subtlety was not a hallmark of these campaigns. When, in February , a group of Sunni fundamentalists in Syria under the Muslim Brotherhood banner seized control of portions of the city Hama, Hafez al-Assad had the place encircled with ground troops and tanks and artillery. But a perverse dynamic often takes hold in strongman dictators — and here, too, there were great similarities among Qaddafi, Hussein and Assad.

Part of it stems from what might be called the naked-emperor syndrome, whereby, in the constant company of sycophants, the leader gradually becomes unmoored from reality. Another is rooted in the very nature of a police state. The greater the repression of security forces, the further that any true dissent burrows underground, making it that much harder for a dictator to know where his actual enemies are; this fuels a deepening state of paranoia, which can be assuaged only through even greater repression.

By the s, this cycle had produced a bizarre contradiction in Iraq, Syria and Libya: The more the leaders promoted a cult of hero worship and wallpapered their nations with their likenesses, the more reclusive those leaders became. There was another notable aspect to the posters and murals and mosaics of the dictators that could be seen everywhere in Libya, Iraq and Syria.

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Heso Mirkhan was serving as a chief lieutenant to Mustafa Barzani, the legendary warlord of the Iraqi Kurds, in a brutal guerrilla war against the Baathist government in Baghdad. For more than a year, the vastly outnumbered Kurdish fighters, known as the pesh merga, had fought the Iraqi Army to a standstill. But when the shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein abruptly concluded a peace treaty in early March, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger ordered an immediate cutoff of aid to the Kurds.

In the face of an all-out Iraqi offensive, Barzani was airlifted out to end his days in a C. Somewhere along the way, his wife gave birth to another son. My mother gave birth to me on the road, on the border between Iran and Iraq. Indeed, it is hard to find any people quite as unlucky as the Kurds. Spread across the mountainous reaches of four nations — Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey — they have always regarded themselves as culturally apart from their neighbors and have constantly battled for independence from those nations they inhabit.

The governments of these nations have tended to view their reluctant Kurdish subjects with both fear and distrust, and have taken turns quashing their bids for independence. Those governments have also periodically employed the Kurds — either their own or those of their neighbors — as proxy fighters to attack or unsettle their regional enemies-of-the-day. By the time of his death in , the year-old Barzani had not only waged war against Turkey, Iran twice and the central government of Iraq four times , but had somehow found the energy to also take it to the Ottomans and the British and a host of Kurdish rivals.

Following their father, Dr. Azar Mirkhan and four of his nine brothers have undergone pesh merga training; today, one brother, Araz, is a senior pesh merga commander on the front lines. But the family has paid a high price for membership in the warrior caste. In fact, few nations have brought the Kurds of northern Iraq more sorrow than the United States.

Searching for a new partner in the region, Washington found one in Saddam Hussein. A squalid new low was reached in March of that year, when Iraqi forces poison-gassed the Kurdish town Halabja, killing an estimated 5, people. Despite overwhelming evidence that Hussein was responsible for the atrocity — Halabja would figure prominently in his trial for crimes against humanity — Reagan-administration officials scurried to suggest it was actually the handiwork of Iran.

Bush marshaled an international military coalition — Operation Desert Storm — that swiftly annihilated the Iraqi Army in Kuwait, then rolled into Iraq itself. To forestall a wholesale massacre of the rebels they had encouraged, the United States joined its allies in establishing a protected buffer zone in Kurdistan, as well as no-fly zones in both northern and southern Iraq. While the Bush administration concluded there was little it could do to aid the geographically isolated Shiites in the south — they soon suffered their own Anfal-style pogrom — to protect the Kurds, they forced Hussein to militarily withdraw from all of Kurdistan.

The Bush administration most likely regarded this Kurdish separation as a stopgap measure, to be undone once the tyrant in Baghdad had gone and the danger had passed. The long-suffering Kurds of Iraq saw it very differently. For the first time since , they were free from the yoke of Baghdad, and they had their own nation in all but name.

While very few in the West appreciated the significance at the time, the creation of the Kurdistan Regional Government, or K. In the years just ahead, tens of thousands of members of the Iraqi Kurdish diaspora would abandon their places of exile to return to their old homeland. In , that included a year-old college student, Azar Mirkhan, who had spent almost his entire life as a refugee in Iran. It was never a spot where tourists tarried very long. Although Homs dated back to before Greek and Roman times, little of the ancient had been preserved, and whatever visitors happened through the town tended to make quickly for Krak des Chevaliers, the famous Crusader castle 30 miles to the west.

There was an interesting covered souk in the Old City and a graceful if unremarkable old mosque, but otherwise Homs looked much like any other modern Syrian city. A collection of drab and peeling government buildings dominated downtown, surrounded by neighborhoods of five- and six-story apartment buildings; in its outlying districts could be seen the unadorned cinder-block homes and jutting rebar that give so many Middle Eastern suburbs the look of an ongoing construction site, or a recently abandoned one.

Yet, until its demise, Homs had the distinction of being the most religiously diverse city in one of the most religiously mixed countries in the Arab world. Nationally, Syria is composed of about 70 percent Arab Sunni Muslims, 12 percent Alawites — an offshoot of Shia Islam — and a roughly equal percentage of Sunni Kurds; Christians and a number of smaller religious sects make up the rest. At the geographic crossroads of Syria, Homs reflected this ecumenical confluence, with a skyline punctuated not just by the minarets of mosques but also by the steeples of Catholic churches and the domes of Orthodox Christian ones.

This gave Homs a cosmopolitan flavor not readily found elsewhere — so much so that in , the Ibrahims, a Sunni couple, thought nothing of putting their first child, 5-year-old Majd, in a private Catholic school. As a result, Majd grew up with mostly Christian friends and a better knowledge of Jesus and the Bible than of Muhammad and the Quran.

Although raised as Muslims, both were of the nominal variety, with his mother rarely even bothering to wear a head scarf in public and his father dragging himself to the mosque only for funerals.

Such secular liberalism was very much in keeping with the new Syria that Hafez al-Assad sought to shape during his otherwise typically iron-fisted year dictatorship, a secularism undoubtedly encouraged by his own religious minority status as an Alawite. After his death in , the policy was carried on by his son, Bashar. A bland and socially awkward London-trained ophthalmologist, Bashar came to power largely by default — the Assad patriarch had been grooming his eldest son, Bassel, to take over until a fatal car accident in But Bashar, while projecting a softer, more modern face of Baathism to the outside world, also proved adroit at navigating the tricky currents of Middle Eastern politics.

Like other middle-class boys in Homs, he wore Western clothes, listened to Western music, watched Western videos, but Majd was also afforded a unique window onto the outside world.

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His father, an electrical engineer, worked at one of the best hotels in Homs, the Safir, and Majd — fascinated by the hotel, with its constant bustle of travelers — made any excuse to visit him as he went about his day. For Majd, the Safir was also a place of reassurance, a reminder that no matter what small deviations Syrian politics took along the way, he would always be able to inhabit the modern and secular world into which he was born.

As the second-youngest of six children — three boys and three girls — born to a hospital radiologist and his stay-at-home wife, Khulood al-Zaidi had a relatively comfortable middle-class childhood. But like most of the other girls in Kut, a low-slung provincial city of some , located miles down the Tigris River from Baghdad, she lived a life that was both cloistered and highly regimented: off to school each day and then straight home to help with household chores, followed by more study.

Save for school, Khulood seldom ventured from home for anything beyond the occasional family outing or to help her mother and older sisters with the grocery shopping. In 23 years, she had left her hometown only once, a day trip to Baghdad chaperoned by her father. Yet, in the peculiar way that ambition can take root in the most inhospitable of settings, Khulood had always been determined to escape the confines of Kut, and she focused her energies on the one path that might allow for it: higher education.

In this, she had an ally of sorts in her father. Khulood had different plans, though: With her English proficiency, she would go to Baghdad and look for work as an interpreter for one of the few foreign companies then operating in Iraq. That scheme was sidetracked when, just three months short of her graduation, the Americans invaded Iraq.

In the early morning of April 3, , the fighting reached Kut. Advance units of the United States First Marine Expeditionary Force encircled the city, and for the next several hours methodically destroyed one Iraqi redoubt after another, their tanks and artillery on the ground complemented by close air support.

Of this battle for her hometown, Khulood, then 23, heard a great deal but saw nothing. There was a simple explanation for this. As the Marines consolidated their hold on the city, they were happily swarmed by young men and children proffering trays of sweets and hot tea. Finally permitted to leave her home, Khulood, like most other women in Kut, observed the spectacle from a discreet distance. Everything seemed out of scale, like we had been invaded by aliens.

Those soldiers also quickly returned the city to something close to normalcy. One of those who came was a year-old lawyer from Oklahoma named Fern Holland. A human rights adviser for the C. In September , that mission took her to Kut and her first encounter with Khulood. She was surprisingly young — this is easy to forget, because her personality was so strong — with bright blond hair and a very open, friendly manner. I had never met a woman like her. What Holland told the women in the Kut meeting hall was no less exotic to them than her appearance.

With the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, she said, a new Iraq was being established, one in which democracy and respect for human rights would reign supreme. For Khulood, that talk struck with the force of epiphany. This was the moment she had been waiting for her entire life. Holland was perhaps less confident. From past experience working in conservative and male-dominated societies in Africa, she suspected that it would only be a matter of time — and probably a very short time — before the forces of tradition rose up in opposition to her work, so she had to set change in motion quickly. She also knew that, as an outsider, her role needed to be a limited one; what was required was dynamic local women to spearhead the effort, women like Khulood al-Zaidi.

When word of this spread at the conference, it provoked a backlash. But Fern insisted. On that November trip to Washington, the year-old fresh out of college met with a parade of dignitaries, including President George W. Upon her return, she was formally hired by the C. It was a very long way for a young woman who, less than a year earlier, had imagined no greater future than finding interpreter work with a foreign company. Wakaz Hassan is saved from ordinariness by his eyes. In most every other way, the tall and gangly year-old would appear unremarkable, just one more face in the crowd — but so intensely dark and arresting are his eyes that you might initially think he was wearing mascara.

In his stare is a kind of mournful impenetrability that hints at the hard world he has seen. Only 8 years old in , Wakaz seemed destined for an exceedingly normal life, even a prosaic one. That changed with the American invasion. By mid-April , coalition troops occupied the string of gaudy palace buildings erected by Hussein along the Tikrit riverfront and began conducting raids through the surrounding river towns in search of fugitive Baathist officials. The young Wakaz had only the vaguest grasp of all this. According to him, his family — Sunni, like most all residents of the Tikrit area — was not particularly religious, nor was it political in any way.

For us, we were really not affected at all. As she entered the new world opened up to her by Fern Holland, Khulood remained unaware that the seeds of disaster for the American intervention had already been sown. In their Iraqi war plans, the Pentagon had set down comprehensive blueprints detailing which strategic installations and government ministries were to be seized and guarded. But the American military seemed to have given little thought to the arsenals and munitions depots that Hussein had scattered about the country.

In one town and city after another, these storehouses were systematically looted, sometimes under the gaze of coalition soldiers who did not intervene. The occupying authorities soon compounded this misstep. In a move now largely regarded as calamitous, one of the first actions taken by the C.

Just like that, hundreds of thousands of men — men with both military training and access to weapons — were being put out of their jobs by the summer of It may have been the edict immediately preceding that decree, however, that had the most deleterious effect. Under the terms of C. Order No. In addition, employees in the upper echelon of all government institutions were to be investigated for Baathist affiliations. The effects of Order 1 stretched far beyond the dismissed Baathists.

What the firing of as many as 85, Baathists actually meant, then, was the cashiering of countless more people and the instant impoverishment of entire clans and tribes. An omen of what was to come occurred in August , when the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was destroyed by a truck bomb, killing 22, including the U. That was followed by a steady escalation in attacks against coalition forces. By the beginning of , C. Wish us luck. Wish the Iraqis luck. On March 8, , the new provisional Constitution of Iraq was signed.

The clause that set a goal of having 25 percent of future parliamentary seats held by women was largely credited to the behind-the-scenes lobbying of Fern Holland. The following afternoon, a Daewoo containing three C. With a blast of automatic gunfire, the car was sent careering across the highway before stalling on the shoulder; the men in the police truck then clambered out to finish off their victims with assault rifles. All three of the Daewoo's occupants were killed in the fusillade, marking them as the first C. That included the driver and presumed target of the attack, Fern Holland.

The answer came very soon. In tandem with the growing Sunni insurgency in central Iraq, through the first months of , a radical Shiite cleric in Baghdad, Moktada al-Sadr, had been demanding a withdrawal of all coalition forces from the nation. In early April, Sadr unleashed his militia, the Mahdi Army, in an effort to bring that withdrawal about through a series of well-coordinated attacks against military and C. Khulood spent hours trapped in the C. Finally a C. With two other local workers, Khulood managed to thread her way out of the compound and, dodging down side alleys, to escape.

With the C. The Mahdi uprising radically altered the flow of events in Iraq. Both Sunni and Shia militias sharply increased their attacks against coalition forces, marking the true beginning of the Iraq war. Despite this, the C. In May, the last of the foreign civilians based in Kut began withdrawing, and within two months, the whole of the local C. That autumn, she helped found a small nongovernmental organization called Al-Batul, or Virgin.

Its goals were modest. But in the deepening sectarianism spreading across Iraq, Sunni and Shia militants alike increasingly viewed the Christian community as the infidels within; in turn, terrified Christians were beginning to abandon the nation in droves, an exodus that would eventually reduce their numbers in Iraq by more than two-thirds. Further, the only possible source of funding for an endeavor like Al-Batul was from the foreign occupiers, enabling militants to denounce it as a front in the service of the enemy.

The memory of that time caused Khulood, now 36, to become somber, reflective. But my feeling was that I was only working on things that might give women a better life, so how was I a threat? In October , the Al-Batul office in Kut was shot up. Undeterred, Khulood rented a second office, only to have it looted. That January, while attending a human rights training seminar in Amman, the capital of neighboring Jordan, she received a warning: If she resumed her work in Kut, she would be killed. She remained in Jordan for three months, but in April — a year after the death of Fern Holland and with the fighting in Iraq now spiraling into sectarian war — Khulood finally slipped back to her hometown.

She recognizes now that this decision bordered on the foolhardy.

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Shortly after returning to Kut, Khulood went to the local police station to file a report about her looted office, only to be treated dismissively. A more ominous note was struck when she met with one of her old Al-Batul colleagues. When I first met him that autumn, Ahmed was involved in perhaps the most controversial case of his career, defending a group of men accused of complicity in a hotel bombing in the Sinai Peninsula that left 31 dead.

And being a woman helped, too. In the past, Egyptian governments were able to gin up bipartisan support when needed by playing the anti-West, anti-Israel card, but Anwar Sadat traded that card away by making peace with Israel and going on the American payroll. The new strategy consisted of allowing an expanded level of political dissent among the small, urban educated class, while swiftly moving to crush any sign of growing influence by the far more numerous — and therefore, far more dangerous — Islamists.

And what was the government going to do about it? In short order, street protests became a constant feature of Egyptian life. In the eyes of many Egyptians, after 23 years of taking lucre from the Americans, the dictator was simply too much their puppet to make a show of independence now. That cynical view only hardened as the war in Iraq dragged on and the daily body count mounted. From through early , some of the largest antiwar demonstrations in the Arab world were taking place in the streets of Cairo, and Laila Soueif was on the front lines in nearly every one of them.

At the same time, the dictator did himself few favors with a series of domestic initiatives that further inflamed the opposition. Grooming his son Gamal as his successor, in February Mubarak engineered a rewriting of the Constitution that, while ostensibly allowing for direct presidential elections, actually rigged the system so as to make domination by his political party all but perpetual.

In presidential elections that September, Mubarak won a fifth six-year term with nearly 89 percent of the vote, after having arrested the only notable candidate to stand against him, Ayman Nour. Under mounting pressure at home and abroad, he reduced his interference in the November parliamentary elections, only to see the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party still officially banned, take an unprecedented 20 percent of the seats. By late , when I spent six weeks traveling through Egypt, growing contempt for the government was evident everywhere. It was during this time of ferment that the three children of Laila Soueif and Ahmed Seif, who previously had shown little interest in activism, began to have a change of heart about politics.

The first to make the evolution was their son, Alaa, a pioneering Egyptian blogger, and it happened when he accompanied Laila to a protest march in May But the protest on May 25 was a very different affair. Waiting in ambush were government-hired thugs, or baltageya, who immediately charged at the demonstrators to beat them with fists and wooden staffs.

Perhaps recognizing the well-known protester in their midst, the goons soon fell on Laila. After we left, the baltageya began pulling the clothes off women and beating them in their underwear. This was something they did a lot later on, to humiliate, but that was when it began and when Alaa joined the protests. That kind of thing is useless. It was around this time that Majdi el-Mangoush joined onlookers on a sidewalk in his hometown, Misurata, to witness an incredible sight.

It was part of an attempt by the Libyan dictator to put a kinder, gentler face on his government. While ostensibly directed at the Libyan people, the campaign was really meant for Western consumption. In the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq, there had been talk in President George W. Once the Iraq invasion began in March , the Libyan dictator hurried to make amends with the Americans. Even more quietly, Libyan intelligence agents shared dossiers with their American counterparts on suspected Al Qaeda operatives and other Islamic fundamentalists in the region.

Qaddafi soon thought better of the whole egalitarian makeover. Which also meant that Qaddafi could quietly abandon his reform drive. Majdi was still observing the spectacle when an elderly man emerged from a nearby alley. For a long moment, the old man stared slack-jawed in amazement at the sight before him.

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Khulood did not flee Iraq alone. She crossed back into Jordan with her next-eldest sister, Sahar, and they were joined in Amman a few months later by their father and oldest sister, Teamim. By summer , Khulood was especially worried about Wisam, her youngest brother. I called Wisam all the time. I told him there was no future for him in Iraq, that he had to come out, but he was very softhearted and said that he needed to stay to take care of our mother.

One evening that September, as Wisam and a friend walked along a Kut street, someone with an assault rifle killed them both in a burst of gunfire. He was the wrong person to cross. Shortly after, she was ordered to leave Jordan. Facing almost-certain death if forced to return to Iraq, Khulood turned to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for emergency resettlement in a third country. Among the more unlikely possibilities for resettlement was the United States. In , American troops were still embroiled in an Iraqi civil war, and the Bush administration had strict caps in place albeit recently loosened on the number of Iraqis to be given refuge; to let in all those who had fled the country — and there were an estimated half-million displaced Iraqis in Jordan alone — would belie its talking point that the corner had finally been turned in the war.

In July , Khulood boarded a plane bound for San Francisco. For a woman to travel alone in Iraq — maybe it happened in Baghdad, but never in Kut, and so some days I would just take a bus or the metro for hours. It was something I had never really imagined before. Her career prospects were also much improved. In Iraq, Khulood studied English because it seemed to offer the greatest chance at future freedom for a young woman, but in the United States the opportunities were endless.

I became very ambitious. The one continuing source of worry was for her divided family back in Iraq and Jordan. Three months later, Khulood received both good and bad news. Her two sisters were approved for resettlement. The sisters remained in Jordan while the family appealed the decision, but Ali al-Zaidi was rejected again.


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It was then she made a fateful decision: She would return to Jordan and work on his case there. In Iraq, family is the most important thing, you can never turn away from it, so how could I and my sisters enjoy this nice life in America but leave our father behind? We could never live with the shame of that. So I went back. Nothing worked. Worse, Khulood had walked herself into legal limbo. As she was warned before leaving San Francisco, under the stipulations of American immigration law, refugees awaiting the permanent status of a green card cannot leave the country for longer than six months.

By returning — and staying — in Jordan, Khulood had lost her refugee classification. Now, along with the part of her family that she had brought out of Iraq, Khulood was stranded. She could not go home or to a third country, hostage to the whim of a state — Jordan — that was anxious to shed her. The American invasion of Iraq was initially worrisome for Bashar al-Assad. But just as with Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, by the late s, Assad could be quite confident that he had nothing to fear from a flailing United States.

Not that this confidence translated into greater political freedom for the Syrian people. When it came to the state, the most anyone would criticize was maybe the corrupt traffic policeman at the corner. Because of his liberal upbringing, Majd experienced a shock when he left his Catholic school at the end of the ninth grade and transferred into a state high school.

His modern and secular ways often estranged him from his more Islamist-minded classmates, and the instruction was abysmal. This was undoubtedly a better fit for Majd regardless. The handsome, outgoing young man had a natural charm that enabled him to develop a quick rapport with most anyone, joined to an intense curiosity about the larger world beyond Homs. But there was another feature of his hometown that Majd had probably scarcely given thought to in his short life: In almost every way, Homs truly was the crossroads of Syria. If all this served to make Homs a prosperous town, it also meant that, in the event of a war, it was a place all sides would fight furiously to control.

Laila had been involved with Egyptian politics for far too long to believe all the talk about the plans to protest in Tahrir Square on Jan. Throughout the Arab world, rebellion was in the air. But this was Egypt. Laila expected news conferences and solidarity committee meetings, perhaps some paper reforms, certainly not insurrection.

She even joked about it. The following day, as Laila approached Tahrir Square, she realized this indeed was something altogether different from the toothless Egyptian protests of the past. Until now, the Cairene activist community had considered a protest successful if it drew several hundred demonstrators. In Tahrir Square on Jan. The protests continued over the next two days, until, on Jan. That morning, she and some friends traveled to the Imbaba neighborhood in northwest Cairo to join a group intending to march on Tahrir, only to be met by a wall of soldiers in riot gear.

It became a fixed battle between the troops and the residents, and there was absolutely no moving those people. They were going to break down these soldiers and torch the police stations, or die trying. The battle for Imbaba continued late into the afternoon. Laila, having become separated from her friends, decided to walk to downtown alone. It was an eerie journey. The streets were deserted, and fires raged in the growing dusk: cars, barricades, police stations burning. Echoing off the surrounding buildings came the sound of gunfire, some single shots, others the sustained bursts of assault rifles.

With darkness falling, Laila finally emerged onto Ramses Street, a major thoroughfare in central Cairo. They had just broken through the police cordons, and they were running to get to Tahrir. On Feb. For two days, Ahmed was interrogated by a variety of officers, but he would have reason to recall one encounter in particular. It came on the morning of Feb. When he was rejected in public, he lost it. Upon his release that day, Ahmed stopped by his home for a change of clothes and then immediately returned to Tahrir Square. It soon became clear that the regime was losing control. Across Egypt came reports of army units refusing orders to fire on demonstrators, and in Tahrir Square television cameras captured images of soldiers embracing the protesters and sharing cigarettes with them.

After submitting his resignation, the president and his immediate family boarded a plane and fled to their palatial retreat in the Red Sea resort town Sharm el Sheikh. But among a small handful of Egyptians, joy was already tinged with a note of disquiet, especially when it was announced that a group of senior military officers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, would serve as an interim government until elections were held.

One of those who worried was Laila Soueif. Just seize power now before the military steps in. People needed to feel they had won. Not us, the politicos, but all these millions of people who had come down to the street. They needed a time to feel victorious. But I think that was our critical moment, and we lost. By January , Majdi was completing his third and final year in the national air force academy, a sprawling compound in southwest Misurata, hoping to earn a degree in communications engineering.

He was an unlikely soldier — softhearted, slightly pudgy — but the academy was an easy choice for Majdi, allowing him to spend regular leaves at his family home, just a few miles away, and hang out with his civilian friends. He and his fellow cadets followed the news of the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt in astonishment, but none connected that tumult to their situation in Libya, much less imagined it might spread there. Then, on the evening of Feb.

At first, they thought it might be firecrackers, but the sounds intensified and drew nearer, until the students realized it was gunfire. Soon they were ordered to assemble at the drill ground, where they were informed that all leave had been canceled. By then, the watchtowers that ringed the compound — usually empty or occupied by a single bored sentry — were manned by squads of soldiers with mounted machine guns. But still, no one would tell us what was going on. Majdi hoped he would get an explanation when classes resumed the next morning, but the civilian instructors failed to show up.

In contrast to the shy Majdi, Jalal, wiry and quick on his feet, was always ready with an irreverent joke or an elaborate prank. What the two shared was a fascination with science and gadgetry — Jalal was studying aviation weaponry — and over the course of the previous two and a half years, they had become inseparable.

Jalal frequently spent his weekend leaves at the Mangoush family home in Misurata, a hospitality that was reciprocated when Majdi spent part of the summer of with the Drisis in Benghazi. In the bizarre news-free environment that existed at the academy, the young men tried to puzzle out what was happening.

Over the next two days, the gunfire beyond the walls continued sporadically. The sound would draw near at times, only to recede; intense exchanges would be followed by long periods of quiet. A measure of clarity finally came on Feb. As the days passed and the unseen gun battles raged, the students lounged around their barracks wondering what was to become of them. Did it mean anything?

We had to stop. We had to talk about football or girls, anything to distract us. Their peculiar limbo ended on the night of Feb. Someone in the vaunted 32nd had made a logistical error, however. To transport the cadets, just two buses had been ordered.

Bused to a vacant military high school compound on the southern outskirts of the city, the cadets were billeted in barrack halls and empty classrooms but barred from leaving or having any contact with their families. That edict was enforced by armed soldiers posted at the gates. But the confines of the Tripoli high school were a good deal more porous than those of the air force academy, and from their minders the cadets gradually learned something of the conflict that had befallen their nation. Provided with this narrative, Majdi was not altogether surprised when, in mid-March, Western alliance warplanes began appearing over Tripoli to bomb government installations.

It seemed merely to confirm that the nation was being attacked from beyond. Neither Majdi nor Jalal were selected for this mission, however, and their stay at the high school dragged on. Then one day in early May, Majdi ran into an old acquaintance at the barracks. The acquaintance, Mohammed, was now a military intelligence officer. He wanted to talk to Majdi about Misurata. Majdi thought nothing of the conversation, but one afternoon a few days later, he was called to headquarters. Instead, he followed the Tripoli ring road to the coastal highway and then turned east.

By early evening, they had reached Ad Dafiniyah, the last town before Misurata and the farthest limits of government control. There, Majdi was led into a small farmhouse, where he was told someone wanted to speak to him on the phone. It was Mohammed, the military intelligence officer. Once he had done this, he would pass the information to a liaison officer secreted within Misurata, a man named Ayoub. To make contact with Ayoub, Majdi was given a Thuraya satellite phone and a number to call.

Upon hearing all this, Majdi had two thoughts. One was about his friends at home: Ever since hearing about the scale of fighting in Misurata, he assumed that some of his friends must have joined the other side. If he carried out this mission, it might very well result in their deaths. The other thought was of a recent conversation he had with Jalal. But any hesitation swiftly passed. Perhaps most of all, he just wanted the limbo to end. For nearly three months, he had been cut off from both his family and the outside world, and he simply wanted something — anything — to happen.

So he agreed. Misurata lay some 10 miles to the east. In the right front pocket of his pants he carried his military identification card. If stopped by the rebels, this card in itself was unlikely to cause him problems; countless government soldiers had deserted, and the fact that Majdi was from Misurata would certainly lend credence to his explanation that he was trying only to go home. The satellite phone in his left pocket was a very different matter, though.

Under those circumstances, summary execution was probably the most merciful outcome he could hope for. As he walked, the sound of gunfire grew in intensity, and there was the occasional rumble of distant artillery explosions. This was the sound the air made as it rejoined behind a bullet, and you heard it only when a bullet passed close to your head. Only one moment sticks out in his mind.

The Syrian dictatorship made no attempt to conceal the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt from its people, and indeed spoke of them openly, with a certain smugness. Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. Heeding the admonitions of his parents, Majd stayed well away from that rally, but he heard through friends that hundreds of demonstrators had shown up, watched over by a nearly equal number of police officers and state security personnel. It was a shocking story to the year-old college student; Homs had simply never experienced anything like it.

And that demonstration was tiny in comparison with the next, held a week later. This time, the protesters numbered in the thousands. On March 30, Assad delivered a speech to the Syrian Parliament, carried live by state television and radio outlets. While protests had spread to a number of Syrian cities, they were still largely peaceful, with dissenters calling for changes in the regime rather than for its overthrow. As a result — and with the assumption that the regime had learned something from the recent collapse of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments and the widening chaos in Libya — many expected Assad to take a conciliatory approach.

In the 11 years he had ruled the nation since the death of his father, the unassuming ophthalmologist had adopted many trappings of reform. There were still scattered protests about town, watched over by phalanxes of heavily armed security forces, but it was as if no one was quite sure what to do next — each side fearful, perhaps, of leading the nation into the kind of open warfare then roiling Libya.

The interlude ended abruptly on April 17, That evening, as reported by Al Jazeera, a small group of demonstrators, maybe 40 in all, were protesting outside a mosque in Homs when several cars stopped alongside them. A number of men clambered out of the cars — presumably either local plainclothes police officers or members of the largely Alawite shabiha — and proceeded to shoot at least 25 protesters at point-blank range.

It was as if gasoline had been thrown on a smoldering fire. That night, tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered at Clock Tower Square downtown, and this time, the police and shabiha took to the roofs and upper floors of the surrounding buildings to shoot down at them. As protesters started to be killed almost every day, their funerals the next day became rallying points for more protesters to take to the streets; the evermore brutal response of the security forces at these gatherings then created a new round of shaheeds , or martyrs, ensuring greater crowds — and more killing — at the next funerals.

By early May, the cycle of violence had escalated so swiftly that the Syrian Army came into Homs en masse, effectively shutting down the city. Even I did, because we believed they had come to protect the people and stop the killing. And it worked. The city swiftly fell back into bloodletting. Around Homs, vigilante forces set up roadblocks and conducted raids into neighborhoods now controlled by the rebels.

Then matters took an even more sinister turn. In this most religiously mixed of Syrian cities, suddenly people began turning up dead for no other discernible reason than their religious affiliation. In early November , according to an unconfirmed account from Reuters, gunmen stopped a bus and murdered nine Alawite passengers.

The next day, at a nearby roadblock, Syrian security forces, seemingly in retaliation, led 11 Sunni laborers off to be executed. The fighting also had a surreal inconstancy. His neighborhood, Waer, remained one of the least affected by the violence, and by carefully monitoring the news for reports of specific conflagrations, he was able on most days to navigate the two-mile journey to his campus.

By February , however, the combat had become so indiscriminate that the university announced it was temporarily closing. At the same time, rumors began circulating through Homs that the Syrian Army would be returning in force, this time to put down the rebellion once and for all. The next day, the Syrian Army moved in. Majdi repeated his cover story: that he had deserted from the regime and was trying to reach his family. He was helped in this subterfuge by his surname, for everyone in Misurata knew of the Mangoush clan.

Since late February , Misurata had been increasingly under siege by government forces, its residents becoming almost wholly dependent on whatever food and medical supplies could be brought in by sea. All the while, the army had rained down artillery shells, while its soldiers fought the rebels alley by alley, person by person, just as Qaddafi had promised.

The siege abated somewhat with the advent of Western alliance airstrikes in late March, but the damage done to the city was staggering. I thought I would never see them again. Majdi spent the rest of that day in reunion with his family. He learned that after his father became seriously ill, his parents had gone out aboard a medical evacuation ship to Tunisia.

Everyone, it seemed, had joined the revolution and was now committed, after all Misurata had suffered, to see it through to the finish. At some point during this family gathering, Majdi briefly excused himself to go to his old bedroom. There, he took the Thuraya from his pocket and hid it on a shelf behind a bundle of bedding. Over the next week, the returned son of Misurata wandered about his ruined city, meeting up with friends and learning of those who had been wounded or killed in battle. In the process, he came to see that everything he had been told and had believed about the war was a lie.

There were no criminals, there were no foreign mercenaries — at least not among the rebels. There were only people like his own family, desperate to throw off dictatorship. But this realization placed Majdi in a very delicate spot. Ayoub, his intelligence contact, surely knew of his arrival in Misurata and was expecting him to report in.

Majdi briefly entertained the idea of simply discarding the Thuraya and going on as if nothing had happened, but then he thought of the repercussions that would befall his family if the regime won out in the end. Faced with these possibilities, the air force cadet came up with a far more clever — and dangerous — plan.

In mid-May, he presented himself to the local rebel military council and revealed all. The next morning, Majdi finally contacted Ayoub, his regime handler, and agreed to meet two days later in a vacant apartment building downtown. At that meeting, a group of rebel commandos burst in with guns drawn and quickly wrestled both men to the ground. Majdi and Ayoub were then placed in different cars for transport to prison. He took advantage of the moment to slip off to Tunisia to visit his parents.

For Majdi, then 24, the contrast of Tunisia — modern, peaceful — was yet another journey into bewilderment. I had been with the army, but they had lied and manipulated me. I told my parents I had no choice. I had to go home. There, surrounded and with their backs to the sea, they waged a desperate last stand. As elsewhere in the Libyan war — as in most wars, frankly — combat in Surt was an oddly desultory affair, moments of intense action followed by long stretches of tedium, and to Majdi it seemed this rhythm might continue indefinitely. Instead, it ended very suddenly on Oct.

That morning, a fierce firefight erupted in the western part of Surt, punctuated by a series of airstrikes from Western coalition warplanes; from his perch on the bypass road, Majdi saw enormous plumes of fire and dust rising up from the bombs exploding around the city. Around 2 p. After all that killing — and after 42 years of Qaddafi — a new day had finally come to Libya.

He greatly enjoyed this work, which he felt showed tangible evidence of recovery after so much death and devastation, and it fortified his optimism about the future. Then one December day at the Misurata airport, Majdi received a visitor. The Libyan revolution had been over for two months, but the last time anyone in the Drisi family had heard from Jalal was in May. That communication was a short phone call from the Tripoli high school where the air force cadets had been sequestered, and it came just days after Majdi left for his spying mission to Misurata. Changing course once again, Majdi set out in search of his lost friend with a tenacity that bordered on obsession.

Returning to Tripoli, he spent weeks tracking down some of their former academy classmates and, from them, was able to piece together at least part of the mystery. As one cadet after another fell on this suicide mission, Jalal and two of his comrades managed to reach an outlying farm, where they begged an old farmer to take them south, away from the battlefield; instead, the farmer betrayed the students and delivered them to internal security forces, who in turn delivered them right back to the army.

After a round of beatings, the three were sent back to their suicide squad. But that was as far as the tale went. This set Majdi off on a new search. He finally found another former classmate who completed the story. When the missile struck, Jalal was sitting beneath a tree some 50 yards away, but it was there that an errant piece of shrapnel found him, tearing off the top of his head.

For most people, this might have meant an end to the search, but not Majdi. Returning to the cemetery office, he asked for the photographs taken of the unidentified corpses before burial: The faces of all four were so horribly damaged as to be unrecognizable. Still, Majdi was now convinced that one of the four was Jalal.

He broke the news to the Drisi family and several months later flew to Benghazi to pay his respects to them in person. Jalal is in one of those four graves, that is for sure. Legendary Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward goes deep into the White House once again, this time to reveal how the Bush administration avoided telling the truth about Iraq to the public, to Congress and even to themselves. Drawing on three years of behind-the scenes reporting on the secret meetings, hidden disagreements and internal dissent over the war, Woodward reveals an increasingly isolated U.

A ghost from fallen administrations past also makes a recurring appearance, as Woodward reveals the emergence of Henry Kissinger as a secret, potent influence on George W. Written by two veteran investigative journalists, Hubris is billed as "a news-making account of conspiracy, backstabbing, journalistic malfeasance bureaucratic ineptitude, and especially, arrogance.

Why has Iraq long been an enigma to much of the rest of the world? Ajami delves deep into the lives of Iraqis to create this profound portrayal of a confused country that has emerged as the crucial battleground between American power and Arab extremism. The Washington Post's former Baghdad bureau chief reveals the Oz-like life within Iraq's own emerald city, a seven square-mile, walled-off enclave in central Baghdad known as the Green Zone.

Inside this bubble, the formidable task of reconstructing Iraq competed with the recreated "pleasures" of the U. This was Versailles on the Tigris, says Chandrasekaran, where a critical aspect of America's folly in Iraq played out. One of only a handful of women journalists to venture to Iraq -- and return repeatedly since -- Paris-based Daniel has travelled extensively through Iraq's heart of darkness, a witness to violence, barbarity and suffering. She was the only reporter invited into the inner sanctum of the insurgents' headquarters; she was the only correspondent to venture into deadly Fallujah when four American civilians were murdered and mutilated in March, Blood Money: Wasted Billions.

War in Iraq wasn't supposed to cost American taxpayers a dime because Iraqi oil revenues would pay for it all. Billions and billions of dollars and thousands of lives later, the entire world knows the folly of that particular premise. This complex investigation of the financial and human toll of the "Iraqi reconstruction" by a Los Angeles Times reporter is a sickening indictment of waste, corruption and greed in war-torn Iraq. Did America invade Iraq in to ensure that George W. Bush would not be a one-term president like his daddy? Through extensive interviews with insiders from the administrations of Bush senior and junior, Alfonsi examines the chain of events that led from the first Gulf War to the second.

British academic Eric Herring claims that it is the political power structure itself that is responsible for many of the failures in Iraq. The United States, he says, is too overwhelmingly influential in the new government, resulting in considerable and often violent competition for political influence among other groups and uncertainty over the future of foreign involvement. Eloquent anti-war essays by luminaries of literature, science and music. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way.

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