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Tipsheet: The transfer of power in Iraq

EDITORS: We are providing information about professors at Indiana University Bloomington who can offer insights on the transfer of power in Iraq, as well as homeland security, ethics, media coverage and other impacts of the war on Americans.

Given the religious, political and cultural tensions that already existed in Iraq between Shi'ites and Sunnis, and between various Sunni groups such as Arabs and Kurds, before the arrival of coalition forces, it is hardly surprising that lines of fracture would be extended by some Iraqis to coalition soldiers and international workers, said IU Professor Jamsheed K. Choksy. Choksy, professor in the departments of Central Eurasian Studies and History, and adjunct professor in the Department of Religious Studies, is a specialist on Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has traveled extensively in these regions working with members of the many religious and ethno-linguistic groups. Divergent views of what constitutes democracy, of legitimate authority and of religious politics generate additional quagmires, he learned through his fieldwork. "Fundamentally complicating matters is the history of tensions between the Shi'ite Iranian government and the United States government, wariness now projected onto the political aspirations of Iraqi Shi'ites," Choksy said. "The urgency of transitioning sovereignty back to local leaders leaves little time to build many lasting bridges of understanding and coexistence. The result has become a bubbling pot of suspicions counterproductive for all involved." Yet, Choksy observed, the groups in Iraq have worked out terms of coexistence before and will do so again, and in the process of so doing may value Western political advice and economic aid more than direct military involvement. Choksy can be contacted at 812-855-8643 or

When considering the prospects for a successful transfer of sovereignty in Iraq, one should reflect on the current U.S. administration's poor track record for creating a democracy in neighboring Afghanistan, said Nazif Shahrani, chair of the IU Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures and director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Program, who is a native of Afghanistan. "Anyone who thinks that Afghanistan is a sovereign country today or has been is truly mistaken," said Shahrani, also a professor of anthropology and of Central Eurasian studies. "If the situation in Iraq is going to be anything comparable to what it has been for Afghanistan in the last two years, then I think the talk of return of sovereignty is going to be just talk and not reality." He equates the current government in Afghanistan to that of a government installed and maintained by a colonial power, as long as there is a U.S. and international military presence there. "The constitution adopted last December is not reflective of what most of the people inside of Afghanistan wanted. Certainly, the way the government is managing affairs so far by means of recentralization of power in the capital, Kabul, is far from what people desired," he added. "The promises of peace and security in the country have not been delivered, and in fact it is getting worse by the day." Putting together a government in Iraq that is friendly to the United States will not reflect the needs of Iraqis and will not work, he said. Iraqi leaders may have rejected the Americans' preferred candidate for the post of president, but the fact remains that all of the members of the Iraqi Governing Council were chosen by the United States, and members of the new government also were approved by the United States. Shahrani will be available until June 16 at 812-855-5993 or

Recent mixed signals coming out of the federal government about pending terrorist threats are symptomatic of a lack of coordination among agencies, which will continue, according to Charles Wise, professor of public and environmental affairs. When the Department of Homeland Security was created, other pertinent agencies of government -- including the FBI and the CIA -- were not placed inside it. Wise does not think this issue can be easily addressed. "Coordination is a very complex matter," Wise said. "On some levels there's probably pretty good coordination, and on others there probably isn't. My feeling is that it is a patchwork at this point." Wise, who has been involved with the National Academy of Public Administration's panel on homeland security, said Americans can feel safer, but "the difficulty is estimating how much safer. I don't think that there is any question that some things have been brought together, and that they have intercepted different plots, but as Secretary Ridge and the director of the CIA have said, you can be right 999 times, but if you're wrong once, the effects are catastrophic." When the 9-11 panel presents its report later this year, it clearly will make a statement about coordinating the intelligence activities, but Wise does not believe that it will become a campaign issue unless there is another major terrorist event. "I don't think the public focuses a lot on reports. I think they look more at events," he said. "What would make a bigger impact on the public is if we have another incident, and then the criticisms of what was not done and what was missed, which is implicated in these coordination issues, will penetrate the public." Wise has written and researched on the policy aspects of homeland security and served in the U.S. Department of Justice under President Ronald Reagan, including as director of intergovernmental affairs. He is the author of a recent article, "Organizing the Federal System for Homeland Security: Problems, Issues and Dilemmas," published in Public Administration Review. Wise can be reached at 812-855-9744 or He will be unavailable June 12-19.

Empire-building -- and the imposition of democracy on another nation -- is affected by many things, not the least of which is crafting a compelling and persuasive vision of the "new" nation, according to John Lucaites, associate professor of rhetoric and public culture in the IU Department of Communication and Culture. "Empires gain their strength, at least in part, by being 'seen' in particular ways," Lucaites said. "The 9-11 attacks were motivated no doubt, in part, by the terrorists' recognition that their actions would be shown to the rest of the world ad nauseam, and what those actions would visualize is a superpower's vulnerabilities. The U.S. response was also driven by efforts to show our response, whether that was contained in the sacrifice and resolve of three firefighters raising Old Glory on the ruins of the World Trade Center, televisual displays of 'shock and awe,' photographic representations of the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein or President Bush landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare victory in Iraq." Lucaites added that the recent public controversies over the showing of images of flag-draped coffins or the abuse and humiliation of prisoners in Abu Ghraib accent how visual representations can motivate and affect national and world opinion and public policy. "The imposition of a transitional government in Iraq will be no less subject to such visual representation," Lucaites said, "particularly in a world where photojournalism continues to reign supreme in providing access to the rest of the world and where a government continually paranoid about the effects of the visual on popular responses to the war in Vietnam devotes special attention to what can be seen and what cannot be seen. The transition of one form of government to another is a bit more abstract than a war, to be sure, but no doubt our sense and understanding of that transition will be animated by who and what we are shown and, by implication, what we are not shown. And hard news aside, it is the visual images that will play a pivotal role in framing both our understanding and our collective memory of the 'new' Iraq, as well as the role of the United States as nation-builders in this historical episode." Lucaites can be reached at 812-855-5411 or

In the debate on Iraq, some have asked whether Americans can fight a war against an enemy with different moral values without having their own values influenced in the process. Richard Miller, director of the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions at IU Bloomington, said it is nothing new for war to involve cultural differences between opponents. "Whether ancient or modern, war invariably involves cultural differences between opponents," said Miller, also a professor of religious studies. "A moral approach to war, difficult as that might be to imagine, requires a resolute commitment to respecting the rights and liberties of others, however much they might not respect or honor ours. Such duties are not only traditional American values, they govern the moral and legal rules of war." Miller, who is the author of Interpretations of Conflict: Ethics, Pacifism and the Just-War Tradition (University of Chicago Press, 1991), said it was striking that President Bush appealed to the character of American people instead of universal human rights when commenting on the horrific actions of U.S. military and intelligence personnel at Abu Ghraib prison. "This appeal reflects his ongoing American exceptionalism -- the idea that the United States has a special place on the global stage, and that it operates according to norms and expectations that don't apply to others," Miller said. "Such a picture of the world continues to divide it into 'us' and 'them.' Intellectuals and international political leaders hoping for a more multilateral approach to resolving this crisis doubtless noted the president's failure to appeal to values that should guide the conduct of war irrespective of the national or cultural background of the participants." Miller can be reached at 812-855-0261 or

Doctors and scientists have learned from war veterans that gruesome wartime experiences cause a physiological reaction that can create a "body memory," in addition to more typical memories, said Kathleen Gilbert, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Health Science. Gilbert specializes in family loss and bereavement. She has studied the effects of trauma in both civilian and military families. She said soldiers who experience trauma are changed, whether they know it or not. Trauma can result from one "exposure" -- one incident involving a horrifying or shocking death, recovery of a dead body or some other gruesome wartime experience -- and affect a soldier or civilian long after he or she returns home from Iraq. Gilbert said doctors, therapists and researchers are investigating how to treat body memories, which can remain hidden for years, even decades. Family members also can experience trauma symptoms, such as nightmares and a heightened sense of alertness, because of their empathy and communications with their loved one who is in the wartime situation. Gilbert also can speak to how parents can talk to their children about the war and trauma. Parents, for example, should consider turning off the television even if they feel drawn to the news. Children process information differently than adults, she said. Some children, for example, might have seen repeated images of the 9-11 terrorist attacks and believed that numerous buildings were attacked, instead of the same two towers. What might seem to parents a straightforward news report about an incident in Iraq might come across much differently in the bits and pieces that children pick up. "What they take away might be, 'There are bad men who are going to kill my daddy,'" she said. Gilbert can be reached at 812-322-4811 or

While the news media have generally done a good job of covering the war, they continue to be challenged in how they tell the story of average Iraqis and how they are affected, said David Boeyink, associate professor of journalism. "The difficult thing for journalists is trying to bring another complex culture home to us, with all kinds of religious variations, all kinds of economic and social problems, all kinds of societal structures that are different than ours, to capture our attention and somehow create a picture of what Iraqi society is like and what they are going through now other than by relaying body counts," Boeyink said. "Journalists need to talk across differences. We need to communicate across differences -- both to our sources and from our sources to our audience. If we can't do that effectively as journalists, we're not doing our job." Boeyink's research focuses on ethical decision-making in journalism. After the 9-11 attacks, he said, there was an awakening among many journalists that they don't know enough about Islam or Islamic cultures to accurately present them to their audiences. This remains true today. "I am pessimistic when the demand is for exploring cultures outside of our borders, because the attention span of our audience is short. The best hope is for us to begin to see our own audiences and our own culture as embodying many of these different, diverse belief systems and cultural traditions," he said. One example of how this can happen is reflected in the improved coverage of Latinos and Hispanics and the issues facing these groups. Boeyink can be reached at 812-855-9821, 812-988-0871 or