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January 23, 2006

The Don Of A New Iraq


In the “family,” he’s referred to as the “capo di tutti capi.”

This image, accompanying the NYT Week In Review’s summary of Iraq’s election (Iraq Is in a Race Against Time as Congress Grows Restless – link ) is a telling depiction of the current power arrangement.

Introduced by his “in country” handle, the story gives every indication that American Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad — suddenly known as “Zal” — remains Iraq’s go-to guy.  In one of those wonderfully blatant statements he is known for, the Ambassador proclaims: “The United States did not expend its blood and treasure to go coy at this critical time.”

(If the image pulls for comparison to a mafia don, the swagger and the name do nothing to discourages the association.  As well know mob hit man Joe Pistone (a.k.a. “Donnie Brasco”) said:  “With wiseguys, you don’t know a guy by his name, only by his nickname.”)

Christoph Bangert’s images have a way of capturing the underlying character of Iraqi politics at key moments.  Even more so in the black-and-white print version, the sunglasses, the palm trees and the accompanying “protection” gives this shot the feeling of a cinematic mob moment, evoking Miami or Las Vegas in the ’60’s.

I couldn’t identify who gives Zal the kiss — but then, isn’t that the point?  Given the article’s context, Zal’s orientation to the camera, and his centrality and height differential, the inference is that Iraq’s newly elected leaders have no choice but to show fealty because, ultimately, it’s our boss who sanctions the local marriages.

(image: Christoph Bangert/Polaris. January 22, 2006. Baghdad, Iraq.

  • momly

    Man, are you SURE these recent photos aren’t culled from TV shows? Is reality beginning to reflect entertainment – or vice versa?

  • readytoblowagasket

    I think everyone’s afraid to write about this guy, The BAG.
    The kisser reminds me of Allawi:

  • floopmeister

    Is reality beginning to reflect entertainment – or vice versa?
    Don’t you watch cable news? Reality is Entertainment. As long as it is at arm’s dstance from our living rooms, of course.

  • Mad_nVT

    Good call on Allawi, sure looks right. Compared to the photo in UK link, Allawi could be slightly balder now– running a hairy-scary place like Iraq can do that. But ears in the two photos may not be the same shape.
    It appears like there is a line-up of suits waiting to spend face time with the Afghan capo. Land of opportunity for the ruthless.

  • Rafael

    Zal, the man that makes the offers that Iraqis can’t refuse. Take the Humus, leave the Canoli….

  • Gary

    So they replace Saddam Hussein with… Saddam Hussein. Can you say circle jerk?

  • Shaun

    On this subject I would recommend an essay entitled “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime” by political scientist Charles Tilly–its a classic. In his words: “Consider the definition of a racketeer as someone who creates a threat and then charges for its reduction. Government’s provision of protection, by this standard, often qualifies as racketeering.”

  • ummabdulla

    The BAG: “I couldn’t identify who is giving Zal the kiss”
    It is someone “giving him a kiss” and him simply accepting it, and not the normal greeting, in which each of them would kiss the other. Apparently, he considers himself, and is considered to be, at the top of the pecking order.

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