Inside the Middle East
January 30, 2009
Posted: 1527 GMT

Well, that didn't last long.

According to CNN producer Mohammed Tawfeeq, an official with Salahedeen city Council told CNN the shoe sculpture was removed from the courtyard of the Tikrit orphanage.

The official said the removal of the giant shoe followed a request from the central government.

Iraqi police have reportedly visited the site to make sure the shoe, a bronze replica of the footwear hurled at forrmer President george W. Bush last month by an angry journalist, was indeed gone.

Where is the shoe now?

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Filed under: Iraq

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January 29, 2009
Posted: 1932 GMT


Whoever thought a shoe would get its own special sculpture?

In Iraq, a giant-sized golden replica of the shoes an irate Iraqi hurled at former American President George W. Bush was unveiled at a Tikrit orphanage today.

Assisted by kids at the home, sculptor Laith al-Amiri built the $5,000 structure in 15 days, according to the orphanage director.

Made of fiberglass and coated with copper, the monument consists of the shoe sitting on a concrete base. The entire monument is 3.5 meters high. The shoe is 2.5 meters long and 1.5 meters wide.

Is that a tree growing out of the shoe?

(Thanks to CNN Baghdad producer Mohammed Tawfeeq for sending this in from Tikrit!)

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Filed under: Iraq

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January 27, 2009
Posted: 1530 GMT


Listening to President barack Obama's interview on satellite news channel Al-Arabya, I was reminded of something Hisham Melhem – the man who conducted the one-on-one – told me a few weeks: "It is going to be very difficult for Mideast leaders to demonize someone whose full name is Barack Hussein Obama."

Indeed, the tone was conciliatory and President Obama made sure to mention the fact that he'd lived in a Muslim country and that members of his family are Muslim. A hand extended to the region. An "I understand you" from the Commander-in-Chief.

Though in recent polls, a majority of people in the Mideast do not believe anything will change with an Obama presidency, could a softer tone alone be a game-changer?

After eight years of a Bush presidency and an Iraq war that has made virulent anti-Americanism the norm in the Arab world, Barack Obama's statement that he has advised his Mideast envoy George Mitchell to "start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating" is a rhetorical leap that marks a clean break with the past.

But here is the wider question: how to achieve true, lasting peace, without involving all actors of the Mideast tragedy in the discussions?

Mister Obama's peace envoy is in the region right now speaking with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian and Israeli leaders, but will not stop in Syria and will not meet Hamas officials.

The issue here is not whether Hamas is legitimate or popular, but how any deal can hold as a result of negotiations conducted without them.

Since Egypt has acted as a mediator between Israel and Hamas in past agreements, it's not inconceivable that messages will somehow be relayed to the group through Cairo.

Would this be like trying to achieve peace in Northern Ireland by not involving the IRA's political wing? It's a question worth asking.

Meanwhile, the process will be slow: president Obama himself has lowered expectations ("it's going to be difficult",) violence is flaring up again in gaza and nothing tangible is expected to happen before Israelis select a new Prime Minister as a result of elections next month.

What are your thoughts on President Obama's interview on Al Arabya?

Thanks to all for commenting!

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Filed under: George Mitchell •Hamas •Obama

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January 22, 2009
Posted: 1455 GMT


The Obama administration has named former American senator George Mitchell to be special envoy to the Middle East, sources told CNN.

Internationally, Mitchell is best known for his work as the man who helped broker an agreement between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, a dispute, at times,  just as bitter as the one between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mitchell served as a Mideast envoy for the Bush administration, authoring a 2001 report that called for a halt to Israeli settlements and greater Palestinian efforts to crack down on terror.

What do you think of the Mitchell nomination?

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Filed under: George Mitchell •Obama

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January 17, 2009
Posted: 1902 GMT


To all who've been asking when they can watch my hour-long special "The Middle East Challenge," the remaining air times on CNN International are:

Saturday: 10pm EST, 4am CET

Sunday: 1am EST, 7am CET and 6pm EST, midnight CET

More times to follow.

The full documentary should be streamed online in the next few weeks.

Check out the full show description here.

Thanks for watching!

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Filed under: General

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Posted: 1723 GMT

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to announce a unilateral ceasefire to end the current gaza offensive,  sources have told CNN.

Israel will retain the right to respond to Hamas rocket attacks, according to a senior Israeli offiicial.


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Filed under: Gaza •Hamas •Israel

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January 16, 2009
Posted: 003 GMT

Is the United States starting to show impatience at Israel's offensive in Gaza?

The picture of civilian agony and buildings blown to dust might not be what the U.S. President wants the world to see on his last day in office.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni flew out to Washington tonight for meetings with her counterpart Condoleezza Rice. The goal: to forge a ceasefire deal – inspired by a recent Egyptian proposal – that would satisfy both sides.

The Americans and the Egyptians have been working harder over the last few days to come up with an agreement to stop the fighting.

There are two working days left before the inauguration of U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama.

Are we close to a ceasefire?

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Filed under: Gaza •Hamas •Israel

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January 15, 2009
Posted: 1456 GMT

CNN has confirmed that the building that houses Reuters and other media organizations has been hit amidst ongoing fighting in the area.

Reuters reports that non of its employees were injured. Abu Dhabi Television says two of its workers were injured and taking to a local hospital for treatment.

Below is the protest statement from the Foreign Press Association:

The Foreign Press Association is alarmed to learn of the heavy firepower currently being employed by Israeli forces against the building in Gaza City that houses the Reuters news agency and other international media outlets. Initial reports are that these attacks have caused injury and damage. We also note that IDF bullets entered the windows of the offices of the Associated Press in a different part of the city today. We call on the military to halt this fire immediately. These are buildings housing journalists working for international news agencies and must not be targeted. The buildings are well known landmarks and we assume the IDF and intelligence people also know this.

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Filed under: Gaza •Israel

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Posted: 1303 GMT


A central storehouse for relief supplies is ablaze right now in Gaza city.

The fire left black smoke hanging over Gaza City, and there was no way to control the fire, said John Ging, the head of operations in Gaza for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.

"It's a very big fire, and we're not able to get it under control at the moment," he said. With gun battles going on around the facility, "the emergency services are not able to get to us."

The compound was hit by shrapnel and tank fire during clashes Thursday morning, Ging said. Three workers were hurt, and the compound's warehouse and workshop were burning out of control within an hour and a half, he said.

"What we've had all night and into this morning is a relentless bombardment of this area by artillery fire, which is coming from kilometers away, and by tank fire," he said. He said staffers identified the source of the fires as white phosphorous shells, whose use is restricted under international law.

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Filed under: Gaza •Israel •United Nations

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January 13, 2009
Posted: 2357 GMT


It's hard to believe anyone was talking of a ceasefire in the pipeline a few days ago. Today, Israeli tanks rolled deep into Gaza City.

Overnight, Israeli officials say 60 targets were struck.

A few hours after the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pleaded for both sides to "just stop now," the Israeli military operation is in full swing.

Meantime, Hamas officials say they will not back down, and several rockets have been fired into Southern Israel.

In total, 971 Palestinians – a third children – have been killed in the offensive. Thirteen Israelis have died during the same time period, ten of them soldiers.

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Filed under: Gaza •Israel

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