Unconventional Arabic Language Resources, Vol. 1

1950s DLI students sit riveted by another mind-blowing Arabic lesson.

In the military, within the language analyst community (government speak for ‘translator’), there is a phrase that sends shivers down the spines of most service-members. The phrase is… “language maintenance.” It makes the language retention process sound as interesting and thrilling as changing a car’s oil, which is probably why most military “language maintenance” materials are so damned boring. From my experience, most materials consisted of either a written article from Al Jazeera or BBC Arabic, or a 2-3 minute audio passage from the same sources. Bilateral trade agreements! Weather reports! The Joy! Now, these sorts of materials are certainly important – especially since the DLPT draws almost exclusively from them – but they can become stale very quickly, especially at the higher levels. It’s also understandable that since the personnel tasked with putting together materials for language maintenance are swamped with a million other tasks, they naturally reach for the same resources time and again. In that regards, I thought I’d list a few places where you can find Arabic Language materials that are both authentic and engaging.

Disclaimer: I like Arabic, but I love Iraq and Iraqi Arabic. As such, you’ll probably notice a certain bias towards materials related to Iraq. You just got to deal with it, yo. Also, most of these materials are probably in the 2+ and higher range of the ILR scale. If you aren’t there yet, you might not get as much out of these.

1. The Harmony Program Documents from West Point’s Countering Terrorism Center
These documents are probably some of the most unique documents of their kind on the internet. Documents captured from insurgents and terrorists across Iraq and Afghanistan were made available by the US Military to researchers at West Point’s CTC under the agreement that they were allowed to be publicly published. It doesn’t get more “real” than this. Want to read the letter that al-Qa’ida’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, sent to the former leader of al-Qa’ida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi? What about the form that al-Qa’ida required its soldiers to fill out if they were quitting jihad in Iraq? There are tons of different documents that you can pore over; all of them interesting and historical. The best part of all, however, is that every single Arabic Language document has an English translation accessible by clicking the “View English Translation” button in the upper right corner of the page. It not only provides a word-for-word translation, but adds context and background history on the who/what/where/when/why of each document. You almost don’t need your trusty Hans Wehr!

2. Baghdad TED Talks
Yeah, you read that right. Official TED talks… in Arabic… from Baghdad. This is actually very, very recent (last week). The footage isn’t actually up on the official site just yet, but you can still watch a replay of the livestream here.

3. Iraqiyah Confessions
These are pretty wild; there isn’t really any correlation to this practice on mainstream American TV. Basically, some of the most “infamous” of Iraqi terrorists and insurgents that are rounded up by US/Iraqi Forces are brought on TV for dramatic one-on-one mea culpas where they detail their sordid jihadi ways. One of the lengthiest interviews is one done with Munaf al-Rawi, the so-called “Wali of Baghdad,” who led al-Qa’ida in Iraq’s Baghdad operations and who was captured back in 2010 and sentenced to death this March. The entire interview can be found conveniently pieced together on my youtube playlist. There’s plenty more out there. I should note, some people might find it repulsive to dedicate 30-40 minutes listening to a terrorist talk, but I think most people will see the value. Maybe I’ll post a transcript some day for the non-Arab speaking folks out there?

4. al-Jazeera Sports
I have a theory that sometimes the best thing to do on certain days is just put on some Arabic in the background and let your mind absorb and work with the Arabic passively. Don’t worry about looking up words, don’t mess with trying to understand everything, just get in that messy stream of Arabic and let it wash over you like a warm shower. That’s right. And, in my opinion, the best way to do that is to put al-Jazeera Sports on. They generally have soccer (football lol) on at some point during the day and it’s super easy to just pull it up and watch some soccer for 30 minutes. This method is even more beneficial if you follow American sports, as a lot of the chatter between broadcasters is the same so it is fairly easy to figure out what they are chatting about after a while. al-Jazeera Sports streams live from this website. Enjoy!


Dar al-Hayat: Najaf Provincial Council brings a case against (Dar) al-Hayat after its reporter’s refusal to reveal his sources.


Najaf – al-Hayat

The Najaf Provincial Council decided to bring a case against a reporter from al-Hayat that (works) in the city, Fadil Rishad, after his refusal of the request by the council to give up information on the full names and addresses of those formerly in the Ba’ath party that had made statements to al-Hayat previously.

al-Hayat had published a report from Najaf in a number of its news outlets on the 23rd of this month titled, “Najaf’s Ba’athists fear the security apparatus and political militias.” It quoted unnamed former Ba’athists in regards to (their) security concerns, “Fear and panic have gripped Ba’athist families,” after threats that circulated from the local city government. Some of them mentioned that, “They have decided to flee the city after taking pledges from the security elements not to cooperate with armed elements.”

The Najaf (Provincial) Council issued had issued a report previously granting the Ba’athists a single day to vacate the province, following bombings that struck the city and left tens of people dead and injured.

After the report was distributed, the al-Hayat reporter was summoned to the headquarters of the (Najaf) Provincial Council where they requested that he divulge the complete information about the sources of his information and threatened to bring a case against him if he refused to disclose the sources.

The Press Freedoms Observer and the Association for the Defense of Press Freedoms announced their condemnation of the Najaf Provincial Council’s actions. The Press Freedoms Observer said in a report that, “(We) emphatically condemn what our colleague, Fadil Rishad, is having to deal with from the Najaf Provincial Council as well as its requests for (Fadil) to divulge his sources.” They added, “This is not a regional issue, and it goes against the freedom of expression that the constitution guarantees, as well as the democratic process in the country.”

Likewise, the Association for the Defense of Press Freedoms condemned the pressure that had been placed on the al-Hayat journalist in Najaf in order to compel him to divulge the names and addresses of his sources, and it believes that is a violation of the most basic necessities of a journalist’s work. The Association requested that, “The Najaf Provincial Council and it’s president, Shaykh Fayid al-Shamari, stop terrorizing journalists and raising cases against them using condemned criminal laws inherited from the previous regime that flies in the face of the constitution and international obligations to build a democracy and respect and strengthen freedom of the press.”

The organization mentioned that the Najaf Provincial Council had raised tens of cases in the past against international (media) organizations because of their use of quotes from members of the (Najaf) Provincial Council.


Al Jazeera: News Summary, 26 January 2010

(Intro Music)

(00:11) Hello, and welcome to this news summary.

(00:13) Iraqi Police said that at least 17 people were killed and another 80 injured in a car bomb explosion in front of the Criminal Forensics building belonging to the Ministry of Interior in downtown Baghdad. They added that most of the victims were members of the Police.

(00:31) The office of ‘Abd-al-Malik al-Huthi reported that his group completed its withdrawal from Saudi Arabian lands, while the spokesmen for Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defense has already said that the al-Huthis had already been pushed back by (the Saudis) from the land that they had taken.

(00:47) Lebanese authorities (announced) that hopes had diminished of finding passengers that survived the crash of an Ethiopian plane shortly after takeoff from the Beirut airport two days ago. Officials from the Civil Defense (force) indicated that the efforts are now focused on finding the bodies of the passengers as well as the black box recorder.

(01:08) The summit for countries neighboring Afghanistan began its activities today in the city of Istanbul, Turkey, with the participation by the Presidents of Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The summit is dealing with how best the summit’s participants can provide solutions to Afghanistan’s problems, as well as building bridges of cooperation between its neighboring countries.

(01:28) A French Parliamentary Committee called for a ban on the Niqab (Islamic head covering) in transportation offices and areas, nationwide. The committee’s report states that the Niqab displays a rebellion against the republic and freedom. The French Minister of Justice warned against a ban on the Niqab, and (he said) that there was no way to enforce it.

(01:50) Thus ends the summary, until next timeā€¦

(Exit Music)


Al Jazeera: 18 killed in new explosion in Baghdad


Smoke rises from the Investigations and Criminal Justice building.

This morning 18 people were killed and another 80 injured in a car bomb attack targeting the Iraqi Ministry of Interior’s Directorate of Investigations and Criminal Justice in Hayy al-Karada in downtown Baghdad.

Sources within the Iraqi Police said that a number of the victims were from their ranks, and they indicated that the Directorate’s building collapsed due to the explosion.

The sources added that the body count is expected to rise, especially since the targeted building normally has a large amount of people (in it) at that time.

A rescue team has already been successful at extracting a number of injured from the rubble of the building that had tens of employees in it before it collapsed.

From his point of view, a photographer belonging to the Reuters news agency said that ambulances and civil defense vehicles rushed to the scene of the incident, adding that the building had suffered vast damage.

It’s worth mentioning that Baghdad had witnessed a new string of car bombings yesterday despite intensified security measures. (The attacks) targeted three hotels and resulted in 36 dead and 71 wounded.

The two attacks came on the same day that the Iraqi Government announced the execution of ‘Ali Husayn al-Majid, the previous Iraqi Minister of Defense and cousin of the late Iraqi President, Saddam Husayn.

Likewise, these attacks also came just a few weeks before the Iraqi elections set for this coming March 7th and could represent a blow for Nuri al-Maliki’s government, according to observers.


Al Jazeera: Tens dead in explosions in Baghdad


A huge noise and a heavy cloud of smoke in the aftermath of the explosion.
Reuters news agency quoted police sources who confirmed that 36 people were killed, and at least 71 injured in three simultaneous explosions that rocked the center of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, in an area that includes a number of big hotels near the heavily fortified Green Zone.

The three explosions, which security sources said were carried out by car bombs, came minutes apart with the first occurring around 15:30 in the afternoon (12:30 GMT). An extremely massive reverberation was heard and clouds of dust and smoke were able to be seen in the sky.

The explosions were carried out at the peak of rush hour when employees are leaving their offices and when the streets are packed with cars and people.

The first explosion was located in Hayy Abu Nawwas near the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, and the other explosions were located at the Babil and Hamra’ hotels that are frequented by foreign journalists.

Cement blast walls collapsed on the ground.
Massive Damage

The images broadcast live from the scene by local television stations of the location of the explosion showed the cement blast walls collapsed on the ground and many cars completely destroyed.

These explosions come two months before the parliamentary elections despite the strengthening of security procedures in Baghdad after the explosions last August that were named “Black Wednesday” or “Bloody Wednesday”.

106 were killed and 600 wounded in a massive explosion aimed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance last August 19th.

Another 153 were killed and 500 wounded on October 25th in two explosions targeting the Ministry of Justice and the Baghdad Governor’s Office.

Most recently, on December 8th, 127 were killed and 448 were wounded in five successive explosions.


Dar al-Hayat: Incidents of Thallium poisioning in Basrah, Suspicions that an unknown group distributed it in the province.


Basrah – Ahmad Wahid

The Health Department in Basrah observed incidents of disease that it has described as “strange,” that ended in the death of two people and the poisoning of tens of others as a result of the spread of, “Dangerous substances and attempts to meddle with the health of the citizens by exploiting the national vaccination campaign in the province.”

The Health Department announced the death of two people due to poisoning by the substance “Thallium” that an “unknown group” spread in the Nazran area of the Abi al-Khasib district” in southeastern Basrah (490 kilometers south of Baghdad.)

The General Director for the Department, Doctor Riyad al-Amir told al-Hayat that, “The residents said that a team claiming that it was from the government distributed the deadly substance while saying that it exterminated rodents. The team was wearing clothes that were unlike those worn by teams from the Health (Department).”

He added, “We are trying to cooperate with the province’s security apparatus, the Agricultural Department, and the Basrah Provincial Council to understand the source of this deadly substance.”

He indicated that, “The insecticides that the (Health) Department’s teams were given by the Ministry of Health don’t have the deadly substance Thallium in them.”

He pointed out that, “This substance in banned internationally and is only sold to licensed health offices, nevertheless some who have gotten a hold of it have distributed it widely at a cheap price which has made it easily obtainable.” He added that, “The case is now in the hands of the security apparatus and there are criminal investigations searching for the truth of the matter.” He explained that, “The substance has caused nervous system illnesses and resulted in death.”

The rapid events have led to the use of a fast-response unit at Basrah area hospitals seeking to treat those injured by this poisoning. A doctor from the unit, Muhammad Talib, said that, “There has been 16 cases that have come in over the past two days.”

A member of the health committee in the Basrah Provincial Council, Sukna al-Maliki, explained that, “There is a committee being formed to look into the places that this substance was found.” He added that, “We have informed the border crossings to increase their vigilance to prevent the entrance of this substance which is internationally banned.” This has coincided with a national vaccination campaign in the province to combat polio, and led to health groups to issue a warning to only receive vaccination teams after confirming that they belong to the (Health) Department, so as not to have the citizens not reject these teams outright.”

Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rizaq, Director of the Mercy Health Clinic in Basrah, told “al-Hayat”, “Our clinic is packed with people seeking information even though there are traveling health teams. The residents are scared of the possibility that the mobile health teams doing vaccinations were infiltrated by saboteurs, and it has led to much panic.”


Al Jazeera: The death sentence for 11 Iraqis involved with the August explosions


The aftermath of the destructive explosion that targeted the Ministry of Finance's building.

Legal sources in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, said that today an Iraqi criminal court sentenced 11 Iraqis to death by hanging in the wake of the severe attacks that occurred last August in the country.

A spokesperson for the Iraqi supreme court, ‘Abd al-Sittar al-Birqdar, said that, “The accused were sentenced to death for the crime of planning and carrying out the violent bombings.”

The Iraqi Minister of the Interior, Jawwad Bulani, already emphasized last December in front of parliament that the accused would be executed.

Last August 19th, Iraq witnessed a series of explosions that took the lives of 106 people and left behind more than a thousand wounded.

The explosives, which had been rigged as multiple truck bombs, targeted the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the al-Salihiyah area and the Ministry of Finance in the al-Waziriyah neighborhood.

Security difficulties.

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, made assurances two days after the bombing that they would arrest those who undertook them, and quickly mentioned the discovery of “security violations.”

al-Maliki blamed those in the al-Qa’ida organization and the followers of the former Iraqi President, Saddam Husayn, and the banned Ba’ath party with carrying out these attacks.

However, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hushyar Zibari, spoke of cooperation between the Iraqi Security (Forces) and the bombing’s perpetrators.

It should be noted that the August 2009 bombings raised the question in the Iraqi street around how penetrated the security apparatus is (by bad elements). Meanwhile (the bombings) led to the breakout of a crisis between Baghdad and Damascus, whom al-Maliki had accused of letting the attack’s perpetrators slip through their borders.

Notes: For more information on the deadly August 19th bombings in Iraq, follow this link:


Dar al-Hayat: Widespread “preventative” security measures in Baghdad, the government denies taking precautions against a “Military Coup”.


Baghdad – Husayn ‘Ali Dawud

Yesterday Iraqi forces took “preventative” security measures that led to a lockdown of movement in Baghdad after most of the streets and bridges connecting Karkh and Rusafah were closed, not to mention the stopping of traffic and closing of a number of the southern, western, and northern neighborhoods in the capital.

The inhabitants (of Baghdad) were surprised yesterday morning by the Iraqi force’s imposition of the procedures, and they were prevented from going to their work amidst rumors of an uprising or military coup, not to mention a massive armed attack possibly resembling the severe explosions that occurred in Baghdad a few months ago.

The government denied yesterday that the prudent measures were a precaution against an uprising or military coup. In a joint press conference with the government’s spokesperson, ‘Ali al-Dabagh, that was broadcast on some of the media outlets, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense, Muhammad al-‘Askari, described the “coup attempt” as, “Hilarious conjecture. There are no military manuevers in Baghdad that don’t have the permission from the highest levels of authority in the country.”

He said, “There were military forces that had come to Baghdad to put on a military parade in honor of the founding of the Army, they were equivalent to a select representation of their divisions, yet they have all already returned back to their original bases.”

The former British Ambassador to Iraq, John Jenkins, had warned in his testimony last week in front of the British Gulf War investigative committee that Iraq was facing a military coup undertaken by officers in the army that still have allegiance to the Ba’ath part, but he recanted and took back (what he said) in regards to that.

A military (spokesperson) pointed out that, “Intelligence information from various locations and sources that was passed to the Baghdad Operations center about car bombs that were going to enter the capital, as such the (Iraqi Security) Forces undertook what is called a nullification or preservation operation to find those cars and thwart their effect.” He (also) noted that, “The operation wasn’t made known (in advance) so as not to miss the opportunity to (get) the terrorists and surprise them, and prevent them from doing what they want to do.” He indicated that, “So far, we haven’t found the cars or their type yet.”

From his side, al-Dabagh said that the Council of Ministers discussed the applicable security measures in the province of Baghdad and the possible threats and assured that, “The Council of Ministers calls on the citizens to understand the latest security measures demanded the imposition of a partial lockdown, more intense inspection procedures, and monitoring that targetted their security details and entourages, which led to the arrest of terrorists and the cooperation of citizens with the security forces.”

He indicated that, “The measures taken today were a result of important information from one of the citizens about car bomb assembly locations in Baghdad.”

The spokesmen for the Baghdad Operations Command, Major General Qasim ‘Ata described the security measures as, “Preventative and prudent.” He confirmed in a statement to “al-Hayat” that, “Intelligence information that we obtained indicated that terrorist groups intended to detonate car bombs this morning(yesterday).”

Hours after the security measures were rescinded, the Baghdad Operations Command issued a report announcing within it the arrest of, “25 individuals they were planning to undertake terrorist aggressions in the capital.”

The report explained that, “These people were arrested during raid operations undertaken by the security apparatus in various areas.” It added, “There were 200 kilograms of TNT discovered, 200 kilograms of C4, 250 liters of Ammonium Nitrate, and 60 mortar rounds.”


Al Jazeera: News Summary, 12 January, 2010

(Intro music)

(00:11) Newswoman: Greetings, and welcome to this news summary.

(00:13) An Iranian source for al-Jazeera says that a university professor specializing in nuclear physics named Mas’ud Muhammadi was killed by the detonation of an explosives-laden motorcycle parked near his residence in the northern part of the (Iranian) capital, Tehran. The source explained that Muhammadi worked for what is described as the (1m) of the province. The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that there were indications of (1m) by Washington and Israel in the assassination of Muhammadi.

(00:40) An al-Jazeera reporter stationed in Ankara reports that the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Israeli Ambassador to Turkey as the result of a similar action by Israel. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs had already summoned the Turkish Ambassador in protest of statements made by the Turkish Prime Minister in which he criticized Israel during a broadcast on a Turkish satellite channel.

(01:04) Local sources say that a website, Mu’atamar.net, belonging to the current ruling party in Yemen known as the General People’s Congress released a statement saying that around 20 people from the al-Huthi group were killed, and another 25 were arrested in a military operation undertaken by Yemeni counter-terrorism units.

(01:25) At least 14 people were killed and 32 others injured this Tuesday due to ongoing clashes in the northern part of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, between Sunni militias, groups belonging to the Somali government, and fighters from the al-Shabaab al-Mujahidin movement.

(01:43) Major General Qasim al-Musawi, spokesperson for Operation Furd al-Qanun(Law Imposition) in Baghdad, said that the emergency security measures undertaken in the city were done to protect the lives of citizens after information was received about a group of so-called “terrorists” intending to detonate car bombs (in Baghdad).

(02:02) Alistair Campbell, former advisor to Tony Blair, began his (1m) testimony in front of the investigative committee looking into Britain’s involvement with the invasion of Iraq. Campbell is the first big official questioned by the Chilcot committee which is expected to release its final report at the end of the year with the (1m) assessment.

(02:24) Until next time.

(Exit Music)

Notes: For more information regarding the ongoing Yemeni civil war and the al-Huthi group, follow these links:

For more information regarding al-Shabaab al-Mujahidin in Somalia, follow this link: