Washington, DC

Naomi Klein deserves credit for being among the first to report how the United States has been privatizing the Iraqi economy without any legal authority to do so. But her analysis of the Iraqi resistance is wrong. In her October 18 “Lookout” column, Klein at least qualifies her September 13 defense of Muqtada al-Sadr, the young leader of Shiite insurgents, by calling out his “dangerous fundamentalism.” But she still sticks to her claim that his militia’s resistance “represents the overwhelmingly mainstream sentiment in Iraq.”

Instead of underscoring that the more respected, elder Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, enjoys far more support among Iraq’s Shiite majority population, Klein now paints Sadr as being allegedly more resolute than Sistani in standing up to the US occupation. Klein also misleadingly suggests that it is Sadr rather than Sistani who has most consistently demanded that the United States allow for direct elections in Iraq. She also fails to tell her readers that it was Sistani who brokered the recent cease-fire between Sadr’s militia and US forces over Najaf.

Klein also exaggerates Sadr’s strength, writing that “he is the single greatest threat to US military and economic control of Iraq.” Really? Sadr has announced his plans to disarm his militia and participate in the US-backed elections scheduled for January. If so, then the resistance would be all but over, according to Klein’s logic.

Yet Klein deserves credit for one point, as she finally acknowledges in her latest piece that there are moderate Iraqis who wish to participate in US-backed elections. She correctly writes that “the current choice in Iraq” is “between open elections–which risk handing power to fundamentalists but would also allow secular and moderate religious forces to organize–and rigged elections designed to leave the country in the hands of Iyad Allawi and the rest of his CIA/Mukhabarat-trained thugs, fully dependent on Washington for both money and might.”




Frank Smyth quotes only a portion of my statement about Sadr: “Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers are not just another group of generic terrorists out to kill Americans; their opposition to the occupation represents the overwhelmingly mainstream sentiment in Iraq.” The meaning of this sentence is absolutely clear: It is their opposition to the occupation that is overwhelmingly mainstream, not Sadr or the Mahdi Army themselves. In addition, I have discussed Sadr’s dangerous fundamentalism elsewhere.

I also clearly stated that Sistani has more political support in Iraq than Sadr and have written extensively on Sistani’s brave and principled calls for elections. But after huge pro-democracy rallies in January, Sistani decided to call off the street protests, hoping the UN would intervene and insure that elections take place. The UN, sadly, sided with US occupation authorities. Similarly, after strongly opposing the interim Constitution, which locked in neoliberal reforms, Sistani eventually allowed the document to be signed. He did so because he understandably feared an outbreak of civil war after the Ashoura bombings in March. These are not my judgments, they are facts, just as it is a fact that the longer democracy is denied in Iraq, the more support for Sadr grows.



Kabul, Afghanistan

Ann Jones correctly observes that Afghan women have not been “liberated” and that they still suffer tragic violations of their rights. But her facts stop there. Her “Letter From Afghanistan” [Oct. 4] is more fiction than fact.

Those of us who have been working in Afghanistan for decades to improve women’s status face the obstacles of a patriarchal culture, restrictive laws, bad security and a poor economy, all of which limit women’s choices of where they live and what they can do. We do fight to change the culture and the law to respect women’s rights. But this is not an easy job or one that can be done overnight. In the meantime, we try to provide immediate assistance to make women’s lives a little better.

When no one else would help the “Herati girls,” the Shuhada Organization set up a shelter for them in Kabul. Afghan culture does not allow women to be on their own, and these young women were severely traumatized and without resources or social support.

It is absolutely wrong to say that “in Kabul things got worse fast” for the girls. They were in a shelter, not a jail. They were provided with psychological counseling, healthcare, literacy courses and anything else that they needed. The shelter, like every NGO, had guards because of the poor security here. This was for the safety of the girls, who otherwise would be at risk for kidnapping and violence.

Operating within the limits of Afghanistan, we let the girls decide about their futures. We offered them the opportunity to study nursing at our hospital in central Afghanistan. We did not send the young women to train as nurses in a “desperate” attempt “to get rid” of them. Nursing is one of the few jobs open to women, and healthcare workers are desperately needed. Some of the women decided to train as nurses.

Others wanted to get married. They made this request to Medica Mondiale’s Afghan doctors and staff. This is not necessarily the decision that we would have made, but we made marriage arrangements as the young women requested. Jones criticizes us for not asking a bride price. Is she suggesting that we should have sold them to their husbands?

Also, the Shuhada Organization is not “fronted by Dr. Sima Samar,” as Jones writes. I founded the organization in 1989 and have built and directed it ever since. We are the largest Afghan-woman-led organization in the country and run fifty-five schools, three hospitals, twelve clinics and many other programs to help women and girls. The situation here for women is horrendous. But this is Afghanistan, not Germany, and our strategies must reflect this reality.

Director, Shuhada Organization;
Chair, Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission



I regret that Sima Samar seems to have read my account as a personal indictment. As I acknowledged, she has long been a distinguished leader in the cause of women’s rights in Afghanistan, and I have the greatest respect for her personal courage, dedication and hard work in support of Afghan women. There is no question that Dr. Samar and members of Shuhada, like everyone involved in this case, acted from the best motives and in the girls’ best interests.

Nevertheless, I must stand by the facts as I presented them–facts gained from documents in the case and extensive interviews with officials of all the organizations involved, including Dr. Samar, and with several of the Herati shelter girls themselves. Curiously enough, although Dr. Samar says I have my facts wrong, her own account matches mine in most important respects: that the girls were abused, traumatized and in need of help; that they were held under guard in Kabul; that they were visited by doctors and counselors; that some of them were sent to nurses’ training and others were given in marriage. She departs from my account only to say that the idea of arranging marriages came not from her or her organization but from the girls themselves, in requests to staff members of the German NGO Medica Mondiale. The Medica Mondiale staff members and the girls I interviewed, however, attribute the suggestion differently, as I reported.

The real source of dispute here is not the facts but how we view them from the perspectives of our dramatically different cultures. Dr. Samar seems to think I’m criticizing her for not exacting a bride price. Afghans might well think she undervalued them, but from the Western point of view, selling girls is scarcely an improvement on giving them away. This misunderstanding underscores my point: that the gulf between the Western concept of women’s rights and the “horrendous” reality of Afghan patriarchal culture is far wider than the Bush Administration–boasting of “liberation” and “democracy”–pretends. And that when international aid agencies try to operate “within the limits of Afghanistan,” as Dr. Samar believes her Afghan organization must, things can and do go badly wrong. Afghanistan is not Germany, as she rightly says, but neither can Germany, or America, settle for being Afghanistan. How to bridge this gap, in the interests of Afghan women, is the question.



Durham, NC

Micah L. Sifry and Nancy Watzman’s excellent article on chemical plant insecurity, “Security for Sale” [Oct. 4], refers to “tough federal security requirements” at nuclear power plants. Sadly, nuclear plants are lightly defended from potential attacks. Industry’s claims regarding the toughness of reactor buildings are a long-discredited distraction from attention to the largest and most vulnerable targets: Cooling pools packed with highly irradiated reactor fuel are inside buildings much weaker than reactor containments and are vulnerable to attacks from the air and by intruders on foot.

Federal and independent researchers conclude that a strike against waste pools–or accidental loss of water–could lead to a fire causing thousands of fatalities and contaminating thousands of square miles with gamma radiation. This is no secret to foreign or homegrown terrorists.

The pro-industry Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s negligence in correcting this severe gap in national security has exasperated scientists and a growing coalition of citizen groups. In late 2002, twenty-seven state attorneys general warned that “the potential threat to nuclear plants is very real,” and they urged Congress to enhance protections for spent-fuel pools. This fall, the National Academy of Sciences echoed that warning. Nuclear plants will store “spent” fuel for decades–at least. Cooling pools now overcrowded with this deadly waste must be thinned out, with all older waste moved into hardened, dispersed dry storage–as used in Germany. Though not a permanent solution, this would create a powerful deterrent against attack and protect against accidents.

North Carolina Waste Awareness & Reduction Network