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As Barack Obama looks through papers, his eight-year-old daughter, Sasha, spies on him from behind a sofa.

The photograph, released by the White House, was taken by Peter Souza, whose brief is to document the Obama presidency.

Mr Obama has said that one of the greatest benefits of working in the White House is having his family living in the same building.

Despite its spontaneous feel, the image evokes obvious – and possibly intentional - comparisons with famous pictures of a three-year-old John F Kennedy Jr playing under the same desk as his father sat working at it.

The photographs were taken a month before President Kennedy's assassination in November 1963.

Earlier this year, the White House released pictures showing Mr Obama, watched on by Caroline Kennedy, peering into the same section of the desk from which her young brother looked out 46 years ago.

The boy would often play under the desk – presented by Queen Victoria to President Rutherford Hayes – and liked to pretend that its kneehole panel was a secret door.

Mr Obama has said that one of the greatest benefits of working in the White House is having his family living in the same building.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Iraq legacy for Afghan campaign

As the debate continues about increasing troops in Afghanistan, questions are being posed over whether an alternative strategy should be pursued to sever local support of the Taliban. Hugh Sykes in Baghdad reflects on the lessons that could be learned from the experience of British forces in Iraq.
On the day United Kingdom troops hauled down the Union flag in Basra earlier this year, a British brigadier burst out of his office and shouted at one of my BBC colleagues: "That Hugh Sykes - get him in line."

He then stormed off without explaining what he was upset about.

But I suspect he had heard a report of mine broadcast after I spent four days in Basra city itself, wandering about, asking people what the British had achieved there.

Most of them said not much had been achieved.

Everyone I spoke to complained that the infestation of competing militias in Basra was only really tackled after the British had retreated to their airbase out in the desert.

They told me they believed that the militias were only truly neutralised by an Iraqi military operation called the "Charge of the Knights".

One man told me the British presence at bases in the city had actually made the militia problem worse, by acting as a magnet to the men with guns, with numerous civilians caught in the crossfire.

When I was there earlier this year, the city certainly felt calm.

Market quest

Desperately seeking evidence of some positive legacy of nearly six years of British occupation, I asked the bookseller for directions to the fish market that had been reconstructed by British forces. It was one of the projects UK Ministry of Defence press officers had often told me about with pride.

"Fish market?" he pondered, "what fish market?"

I asked several customers in the bookshop the same question. No-one knew what I was talking about.

Well the fish market does exist, but it is a tiny detail in a broken city. And people do not seem to know about it.

Cash incentive

I spoke to some of the young men that he had employed as labourers. One told me that he had been in the main local Mehdi Army militia before getting this job.

"I needed the money," he said.

In Kabul, a young man started sobbing as he told me about his life.

"Why is my country so miserable?" he asked.

"What have you done for us over the past eight years? If the Taliban come to see me now, I'll join them."

Back in Basra, six years ago, walking around the city centre, British Captain Dan Guest told me that some of the young unemployed men there had to survive on a few dollars a month.

Then he told me that going rate for an insurgent to mortar a British base was $25 (£15.6).

"It's a no-brainer," he added.

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