Saturday, October 30, 2004
System of Government
Where Do We Want to Go? (ii)
This may seem to be a frivolous issue to most people in America and the West, but it is not obvious to all people under the present environment in Iraq. Many people feel that the present state of chaos, lawlessness, armed militias, presence of terrorists and the prevailing wave of criminality, kidnappings, beheadings as well as the disintegrating civil service and public utilities… all require a strong and firm hand of leadership.
I have not seen many such arguments made in public. But in private, many people argue that a "benevolent tyrant" (!) may be the only hope of picking up the country from the present, seemingly hopeless state of chaos. These people argue that such strong leaders as Franco in Spain and Mustafa Kamal in Turkey for example managed to ultimately lead their countries into democratic systems of government.
I have outlined this argument as an alternative for the purpose of completeness of the debate but, frankly, I cannot see much chance of it leading to stability except through oppression and brutal force.
Besides, since the country is under occupation at present, any such figure will by necessity have to be a "puppet" in one form or another. The best we could hope for would be someone like General Musharraf or General Pinochet! To me, this is not a very appealing option.
My own belief is that there is no possible solution to the multitude of problems in Iraq other than democracy.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Territorial Integrity of Iraq
Where do we want to go? (i)
So far in this blog I have always referred to Iraq as a single entity, which I believe it is. However, there are numerous voices that have been advocating, before and after the invasion, the break-up of the country into three regions: Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite.
My position is quite clear on this one.
• The territorial integrity of the country is enshrined in all UN resolutions concerning Iraq.
• There is an international consensus regarding this issue. There is not a single international dissenting voice.
• There has been domination of parts or sects of the country over others, but not a domination of a country by another.
• Iraq is not an artificially "fabricated" country (like so many people seem to think) with a danger of falling apart. Following settlement after the last ice age, the world's civilization was born in Iraq through early city-states. The country was unified by Sargon of Akkad (Agade) in 2400 BC (that's 4400 years ago!). There were many periods following the fall of the many civilizations this country has witnessed where Iraq disintegrated again and again into several regions, but never along those lines now advocated. All Iraqis are part of this long history. People (especially in "young" countries) sometimes tend to under-estimate the importance of this very important historic bond.
• Purely practical reasons (regardless of preferences or aspirations):
o Turkey, Iran and Syria will never accept any scheme that may lead to the establishment of a Kurdish state in the future. They will use all means to resist it. Turkey may even go to war to prevent that. Since 1991, Iraq's northern region was practically autonomous, but it was never encouraged to separate, precisely for this reason.
o A Kurdish state cannot economically survive without oil-rich Kirkuk. But Kirkuk has sizable Arab and Turkman populations. It is contested. This is a recipe for bloody strife.
o Baghdad is, in Iraqi terms, quite cosmopolitan. It has about 25% of the population of Iraq reflecting the whole country. There can never be a solution to Baghdad within these schemes.
o The US will never consent to a Shiite separate entity in the south. Given the present theological regime in Iran and the Shiite populations in Bahrain, the Ahsaa eastern province of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the Gulf would be a Shiite "lake". Given the enormous amount of oil reserves in this area, the conclusion is obvious.
With these factors in mind, I can see no benefit to anybody, Iraqis, neighboring countries or the USA from the disintegration of Iraq.
To be fair to the US administration, no hint in this direction was made by any US official during the past two years that I am aware of.
An important point often overlooked when designing schemes for Iraq is that there are numerous other religious and ethnic groups in this country which do not fall into the above-mentioned categories. All these people need to have their rights preserved.
In conclusion, we need to guarantee equal human, religious and cultural rights to all Iraqis regardless of ethnicity or religious beliefs within a unified country.
I hope that this is a reasonable objective to aim for.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Some of Our Losses
Where are we now?
We both have lost a lot.
1. Human Lives
You have lost more than 1100 of your boys and girls - dead, and more injured.
We have lost God knows how many soldiers and civilians, women and children (Nobody has bothered to keep an official count until June. Estimate: 20,000 – 30,000 dead)!
For both of us, the rate of killing shows no sign of decreasing. It is in fact increasing.
2. Money and Things
You have lost more than 130 billion dollars of your tax money. [The actual figure may be less, as some of that money went back to America in salaries and contracts to American corporations – but as public money, it's lost].
We have lost what is more than money. Our entire infrastructure, already in bad shape due to poor management, previous wars and UN sanctions… is now completely devastated. Most utilities and public services are below their pre-war levels. Unemployment is said to be around 70%.
3. Anxiety and Discomfort
So many Americans must have gone through much worrying and anxiety over the safety and well-being of their loved ones fighting thousands of miles away in a strange land.
Iraqis have gone through worse. We seem to spend our time worrying not only about ourselves and where the next blast or shell is going to be, but also about our children in school! On top of everything else, Iraqis have been though a great deal of suffering and discomfort during those 18 months. As a trivial example: just try and go for a year and a half without a single night of full sleep. Our entire future is so uncertain.
If you think you are safer now. Think again. I assure you that you are not! Does the average American honestly feel safer? Is America's arch-enemy, Al Qaeda, any weaker now that your army is fighting it on our soil not yours? A few days ago, Zarqawi was reported to have declared his allegiance to Osama!! Just yesterday, another 'expert' was saying that Al Qaeda is now operating in 62 countries around the world. What will it take to convince the average American that his administration has made an error of historic proportions in the global war against terrorism?
The situations is so bad in Iraq that most people (including people who had lost loved ones under Saddam) now think that they were better off under that regime, bad as it was. Will you think about that for a minute? I know that it sounds unbelievable, but there is some logic in it: Saddam's violence was "directed", the present violence is more "random" – there is no safe place and there is no safe course of action!
Iraq is now a haven for all sorts of criminals, terrorists and extremists. We have a new unreasonable violence directed at mosques, churches, schools, hospitals, scientists, clergymen, doctors, rich people, poor people, children, aid workers and people at random - a violence that makes no sense.
5. Standing and National Pride
America has lost its moral standing in the world. America is also now seen as an evil power by hundreds of millions (probably billions) of people all over the world. It is believed by many to be after world domination by force, oil and money for its politically-connected corporations.
America's politicians, the intelligence agencies and the US army are seen as incompetent and/or immoral to say the least. [Yes, I know that there are more decent people in these establishments than bad ones. I am trying to describe how these institutions are seen by most people who, in Iraq, the USA and elsewhere, tend to generalize and cast people into convenient stereotypes]
[If you are not aware of this yet, you should be! Try and find out what other people are saying about America. It's all there.]
Iraqis are seen as murderous, beheading gangs. They are seen as mad people who do harm to people working with the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations to help them. Ordinary, decent, God-fearing Muslims are seen as terrorists.
Iraqis are seen by many Americans as an ungrateful lot. Many resent the sacrifices (in blood and in money) America has made for these undeserving people.
What was done was done. It will be discussed, debated, contested and analyzed for a long time to come… but it cannot be undone.
The problem is: It's not over yet.
The irony is: Many Americans do not realize the magnitude of the problem.
The question is: For how long can we both sustains such losses?
Friday, October 22, 2004
Iraq: Seeking Solutions
Seeking Solutions (1)
In a series of posts I intend to discuss possible solutions to the mess we (Iraqis and Americans) are in at the moment. Here is an overview:
My starting position in the coming discussions will be based on a set of premises. I feel that I have to state my basic assumptions clearly and explicitly (Regular readers must have become familiar with them by now. I hope they will forgive the repetition).
1. Iraqis have lost all faith in America (Yes, America. Most people do not distinguish between the country and its government). I can't blame them, and (if you have been reading my posts for the past five months without too much blind hatred)… neither should you! I have alluded to some of the reasons for this in previous posts. There are many more that I did not mention. To be practical, we have to accept this as a starting point.
2. Any more declarations of good intent or promises of democracy or justifications in terms of the fight against world terrorism… will not work.
3. The US army is seen by the overwhelming majority (more than 82% last May, now more) of Iraqis as an occupying army. Most nations resist occupying armies. It will therefore be increasingly resisted.
4. The majority of ordinary Americans do not wish, in principle, to do the Iraqi people any harm or to do any unnecessary damage to Iraq.
5. Democracy as a system of government has a long list of defects and weaknesses, but it is still the best available system by far.
6. The majority of people in Iraq, as elsewhere, are decent, peace-loving and moderate. They just have a different (but not an evil) value structure.
Plan for coming posts - Overview
I will be attempting to address a number of nagging questions:
• How did we get here?
Many posts in this blog and my other blog US Mistakes in Iraq tell some of the story! I will not discuss these further.
• Where are we?
I will recount a summary of the major losses incurred by both Iraq and America so far.
• Where do we want to go?
I will then try and define our objective for Iraq. With Saddam gone and the threat of WMD non-existent, the remaining declared intention is leading Iraq to stability and democracy. But what is democracy? Are we sure that we all mean the same thing when we talk about democracy? I will not discuss "other" objectives such as world domination, oil, religious crusades and other "undeclared objectives"… not that they don't exist, but I hope I'm talking to people and not governments!
• How do we get there?
In this part I will try and discuss the options available. Those that I can think of at the moment are:
1. Maintaining the present course.
2. "Bombing the living daylights out of them".
3. Withdrawing immediately.
4. Building Rapid Democracy in Iraq.
5. Finding a solution through international cooperation.
I would be grateful for any suggestions regarding this plan. I will try hard to keep my posts short, but frankly I am not sure (in fact I doubt) that I will be successful in that! I can only do my best.
I would like to ask readers to comment on the specific issues discussed in each post so that we may have a "focused" debate.I know that it is not easy, but please try to stick to the issue being discussed.
I have had to learn some rudimentary HTML to be able to signal the number of comments for each post under the "Recent Items" in the side bar on the left. Regular readers can then monitor any new comments to the post of interest.
Monday, October 18, 2004
I have generally refrained form responding to your abuse and dismissive disregard for the suffering of people or the lives of little children, but I will now allow myself this little rebuke:
If you require innocent victims to have a certain nationality to be worthy of your empathy, there is something wrong with your humanity.
I cry in passion
I yell to the void
To people devoid
Of all compassion
I holler in vain
A plea to reason
It is not treason
To be humane
It is not insane
Or out of season
You need no reason
To be humane
The UN sanctions continued of course and led to more damage.
There was much suffering, unreported by the media of course. Neither was the humiliation felt by most people.
Amid those ruins stood Saddam, defying what everybody else thought, claiming victory!
It was said that an old man once grumbled loudly in a bus: "If this is the state of the victors, may God help those who lost the war. I wonder how they are managing"! I don't know whether it was a true story or a constructed joke.
I realized later that Saddam was right! He was victorious… because he remained in power.
Twelve years later, President George W. Bush, stood on May of last year, also claiming victory!
Eighteen months later, thousands of US soldiers are dead and injured and more dying every day, billions of his country's money down the drain, no weapons of mass destruction found, no link with Al Qaeda found, the battle on the ground is going into a dead end, the US army stuck in a quagmire of blood, freedom and democracy not in sight, Al Qaeda is stronger than ever, US reputation around the world worse than ever…
Yet, President Bush is still claiming victory.
I wonder if this man is also right!
Friday, October 15, 2004
Security or Freedom?
This sounds fair and of a high moral tone.
But, what was the first thing Americans sacrificed for their security after 9/11?
Some of their freedom and personal liberties!
I can't complain about that. It is your country and it is your choice. (Anyway, there doesn't seem to be a consensus in the States. Americans are still debating that issue.)
But if you have a closer look at the patronizing rhetoric about freedom and the price that has to be paid for it, you will find that most it comes from pro-administration Americans. And this is where the irony lies. It is the same administration that is seeking measure after measure to improve your security at the expense of your freedom. Yet, here they are telling us that we have to endure the lack of security for the sake of freedom! Do I detect some double standards?
There are Iraqis who prefer "freedom from occupation" to security (and I'm not talking about terrorists here). And there are Iraqis who prefer some security to freedom. The American army (directed by the administration) is killing the first group and pro-administration Americans are scolding the second.
We need to make things honestly clear regarding the causes of the present bloody strife. Are your boys fighting in Iraq for our freedom or for your safety, or for both?
Are we sacrificing our security and the safety and of our families and risking the lives of our loved ones for your safety… or for the mirage of a freedom based on the word of your administration that they will succeed in this campaign?
Security and freedom. Most Iraqis and Americans would naturally like to have both. Wise old Benjamin Franklin! Someone quoted him a couple of posts back. Under the present course, we both now stand to lose much of both.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
What I can't understand is the feeling of immense hostility towards these long-trusted friends. I was amazed by a BBC radio report during the fever leading to the war on Iraq that some canteen in Congress changed the name of "French fries" on the menu to "Freedom fries"! This is not only silly and unbecoming of such a sober institution, but it reflects a violent mood. Remember Secretary Rumsfeld's sarcastic remarks about "old Europe"?
What is the matter with these countries? Don't they fear terrorism as much as you do? Are they just trying to appease terrorists without thinking of the consequences of giving in to terrorism?
What has changed? Has France suddenly become a terrorist appeaser? Has Germany become a fanatic nation again bent on destroying the USA? Aren't France, Germany and Spain still democracies?
Has America ever considered the possibility that these countries may have a different point of view on these issues? A difference of opinion? Isn't this what democracy is all about?
They let you down in an hour of need? Is it conceivable that they did not think that it was an hour of need? Is it possible that they couldn't help you do something that they thought was wrong? That they simply weren't convinced?
The theme of Europe drifting or even "succumbing" to the Left keeps recurring. Does anybody really believe that? I can see no drastic shift in Europe's political spectrum during the past 10 years. Even if there was such a drift, don't Europeans have a right to choose their own governments within the democratic system? Does that warrant so much loathing?
They may have their own interests in mind when taking this position. There may be fears about control of oil sources. There may be some conflict over control of the slowly emerging European super-power. These countries and the US have always had conflicting interests regarding spheres of influence and resources for decades. Why are they suddenly reasons for such fierce animosity?
Have Americans ever considered the possibility that many of them are hysterically frightened to an irrational extent, to an extent that makes them see enemies in friends and allies? Have Americans considered the possibility that some vested interests are playing on this fear? Is someone trying to drive a wedge between America and its traditional allies? Why?
Friday, October 08, 2004
Iraqis Blame America
At the beginning of the conflict, I was once asked by someone in the countryside about the Americans - what they were like and that sort of thing. I tried to describe your lot to the best of my limited knowledge. Among the things (good and bad!) that I said, was that these people come from a society that has the highest respect for law and order; they generally considered lying a shameful thing to do; they regarded a person's dignity as something almost sacred; they cannot condone stealing public money… and corruption in government was almost unknown to them.
[During that discussion, and as a conclusion, I said something like "I expect that we will not have much collective free will for some time to come but you should live more comfortably". Someone remarked: "That sounds like an improvement! I don't have much free will at the moment anyway".]
You have no idea how many times I was reproachfully reminded of those words. My word was compromised… and that represented a significant loss to me.
Lately, when asked about the ugly and the meaningless things happening in Iraq: prisoner abuse, Fallujah, Najaf, random arrests and killings, bombings, lawlessness, terrorism, lies, corruption, "puppeteering", empty promises and now aerial bombardment of towns … my answer has been: look into your own heart!
One reason is probably escapism on my part… to avoid exposing my own nagging bitterness and nightmares. Besides, decent people anywhere instinctively know what is right and what is wrong if given the facts. And the facts in Iraq are making very loud noises!
But the main reason is, in fact, that I cannot even begin to talk about centers of power, neocons, undeclared intentions, incompetence and things that I have been talking about in this blog. Nobody is interested anymore!
Talk of 9/11 and the enormous effect it had on America invariably brings cries of outrage. Many people cannot understand that their suffering -equally important to them - is caused by the suffering of others or, worse, by fear of possible suffering.
More enlightened beings argue thus: America is a democracy. The government is selected by the majority of the people. People control the government. That means the government reflects the will of the people. Therefore the American people approve of all this!
The problem is that the answer coming back is not favorable to America. You can blame them as much as you like, but America is seen as evil by most people in Iraq today. Pure and simple! I honestly don't know whether that can be rectified now. That depresses me. But I am sure of one thing: it will not be rectified by more bombing and killing.
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
Bombing the Living Daylights
This post is an attempt by a "primitive" person from a "pre-historic" country to understand 25 years of international politics regarding Iraq.
I intended to dedicate it to Bill O'Reilly of Fox news who is so mad at the ungrateful Iraqis that he wants to "bomb the living daylights out of them". However, a comment poster tells me that the man is insane. So, instead, I am dedicating it to his sane employer, Fox News.
Saddam: Bad - An evil tyrant who oppressed his own people.
Khomeini: Bad - A clergyman who wanted religion to reign over state.
Kuwaiti regime: Bad - Undemocratic lot who do not give women equal rights.
Osama Bin Laden: Bad - An international terrorist and mass murderer.
American administrations: Good - Democratically elected governments!
Saddam went to war against Khomeini.
Kuwaitis helped Saddam.
America helped Saddam.
It was a long, ugly war that lasted 8 years.
For 8 years, Iran bombed the living daylights out of Iraqis.
During and after the war some Iraqis gave Saddam trouble.
Saddam avenged himself and bombed the living daylights out of Iraqis.
Saddam turned against Kuwait.
Saddam invaded Kuwait.
America helped Kuwait.
America attacked Saddam.
To liberate Kuwait, America bombed the living daylights out of Iraqis.
Iraqis revolted against Saddam.
America gave Saddam permission to fly planes.
America gave Saddam license to bomb the living daylights out of Iraqis.
America helped Osama fight the Soviets.
Osama beat the Soviets.
Osama turned against America.
Osama attacked America.
America declared war on terrorism.
America turned against Saddam.
To depose Saddam, America bombed the living daylights out of Iraqis.
America occupied Iraq.
Terrorists poured into Iraq.
They hid in towns amid the population.
America had to fight them.
It was a war on terror. America bombed the living daylights out of Iraqis.
Osama attacked America in Iraq.
He has no planes but still he bombed the living daylights out of Iraqis.
With Iraqis now free, they needed democracy.
Democracy meant elections.
US elections are coming up too.
But there was too much violence.
The administrations had to do something.
To prepare for elections, they are bombing the living daylights out of Iraqis.
Players - current status:
Saddam is alive in a prison cell, writing poetry and tending some trees.
Khomeini died of old age peacefully in bed. His theocracy in Iran is flourishing.
Kuwaiti regime is back in power, undemocratic as ever.
Osama is alive and free, living the life of his choosing.
America: Lost 8000 dead and injured and some 130 billion dollars in tax money.
Iraqis: Lost millions of dead and injured; their country in chaos and in ruins.
But the fools are ungrateful for all their freedom and democracy.
They are ungrateful for all the good things America did for them.
Sunday, October 03, 2004
Is it possible that people in America do not know of what probably will be labeled as the major incident of this whole campaign so far that united the feelings of most of the Iraqi people against the American Army? It left no doubt in the minds of most people that this was a conquering army and not a liberating one.
I was watching a TV program at the time and the reporter asked Brig Gen Mark Kimmet (then US Army spokesman) what he would say to people watching that massacre. The general replied crisply: "Change the channel" [Probably in reference to Aljazeera, a TV channel that was giving live coverage of events]. I remember thinking that that was a silly thing to say.
Is it that the American people watch a "different channel"? Apparently the US administration wants us to do so; witness the evacuation of news crews from inner Najaf during the last crisis. The offices of that particular station (Aljazeera) were closed for a month (then the closure order extended indefinitely) prior to the escalation of events recently.
This may prevent Americans from following the details of what is happening, but not Iraqis. We have our own channels. Fallujah is less than 50 miles from Baghdad; Najaf is only about 100 miles away. Also, Najaf is holy to most Iraqis, Shiites and Sunnis… and word travels fast in this country. People in Iraq are not tiny isolated islands; they continuously interact with others. This is one channel nobody can switch off.
Is it possible that the administration want Iraqis to watch the same channels as the American public, so that we can listen to things like:
Bill O' Reilly, leading news commentator on Fox TV stated:
"I don't have any respect by and large for the Iraqi people at all. I have no respect for them. I think that they're a prehistoric group that is - yeah, there's excuses. Sure, they're terrorized, they've never known freedom, all of that. There's excuses.
"I understand. But I don't have to respect them because you know when you have Americans dying trying to, you know institute some kind of democracy there, and two percent of the people appreciate it, you know, it's time to - time to wise up.
"The big lesson is that we cannot intervene using ground troops in the Muslim world ever again. What we can do, is bomb the living daylights out of them, just like we did in the Balkans. Bomb the living daylights out of them. But no more ground troops, no more hearts and minds; ain't going to work. They're just people who are primitive."
I didn't believe it at first either. Do a Google search. I thought there were laws in the US against saying things like that. Is it possible to say something like this in the US and still be employed as a news commentator by a major news channel? I wonder what Gen Kimmet has to say about that?
Have you been following the news from Iraq lately? Well, his bosses have been trying hard to do as the man said… "Bomb the living daylights out of them."