Robert Collier

Robert Collier reports on foreign affairs for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Recent Articles

The Man in the Iron Mosque

If the American jailers of Sheikh Mahdi al-Sumeidayih hoped to take the fire out of one of Iraq's most radical Sunni clerics, they might have been glad to hear the hesitant, almost beseeching tone in his voice less than a week after his release. "I told them that I do not support violence, that we have nothing to do with it," al-Sumeidayih told me, recounting the constant interrogations during his five months in custody, mostly in Abu Ghraib prison. "I said we are peaceful, we have nothing against the Americans. When they asked me to go on television to state my opposition to the resistance, I said, 'I can't, I couldn't, I'm caught between two fires. The resistance would kill my wife and children.'" He trailed off, gathered the skirts of his robe, swept out of his office, and made his way through the hundreds of worshipers waiting for him for the weekly Friday prayer service. He took the podium and listened silently to the opening ritual chanting of "Allahu akhbar" ("God is great")...

Democracy How?

It was a run-of-the-mill weekday in Samarra, Iraq, a large town in the heart of the Sunni Triangle. Guerrilla land mines had exploded that morning in several locations, leaving no U.S. casualties but several Iraqis killed by the American soldiers' return fire. The Americans said the dead Iraqis were guerrillas, townspeople said they were innocent bystanders, and the truth of the matter was hard to find. In front of the blue-and-white tiled walls of the Imam al-Hadi shrine, crowds of pilgrims and townspeople stepped around the charred and bullet-riddled skeletons of cars that had been caught in crossfire. Across the street, at the entrance to the clothing souq , or marketplace, 30 or so men clustered around me, yelling and denouncing the American occupation as I relayed questions through my translator. Suddenly the crowd parted and a middle-aged, powerfully built man came to the front, wearing the olive-green uniform and officer's winter jacket of the Saddam Hussein-era Iraqi army --...

Isolation Play

TEHRAN -- The U.S. failure to find weapons of mass destruction after the war in Iraq has dealt a severe blow to the Bush administration in its attempts to take a hard line on Iran at the United Nations. A resolution adopted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors in Vienna, Austria, on Nov. 26 gave the administration almost none of what it wanted -- namely, condemnation and punishment of Iran for its alleged work to develop nuclear weapons. Faced with unmoving European opposition, the U.S. delegation was forced to sign a document that in effect gives a new lease on life to the UN nuclear-weapons agency and opens the door to easing Tehran's diplomatic isolation. The Iranian government, deeply divided between the reformist President Mohammad Khatami and the unelected religious hard-liners who exercise most of the real control, now has desperately needed breathing space. The months ahead offer Iranian leaders the chance to bind Europe to Iran's side and defuse...