Sunday, April 22, 2007

An Resident Of Baghdad See's Things This Way..

    From Daily Kos

Letter from Baghdad

by Amory Blaine   Sat Apr 21, 2007

Mowfak is a Sunni, probably an ex Ba’athist.  He is a gentle man, polite, always smiling.  I have known him for a few years; yesterday, we had a long chat.  He is despairing.  He sees no solution for the disaster that has befallen his country.  He has sent his family to a neighboring Arab country, his big house in an upper middle class neighborhood of Baghdad abandoned.  The whole neighborhood is abandoned. 14 families on the street, 4 Sunni,10 Shia, all left together, driving across the desert in a convoy.  They all still live together, 14 families in one apartment building, on the outskirts of an Arab capital, recreating in exile their prewar neighborhood.

Mowfak’s father, a professor educated at a top western university, built the house back in the 1960s.  It was a neighborhood of academics. No one asked or cared if their neighbors were Sunni or Shia.  The 70s were a golden age in Baghdad.   The country was rich, flush with oil money.  The government invested in roads, education, infrastructure.  The Ba’athist regime, of course, was brutal, dictatorial, crushing of dissent but apolitical Iraqis saw their lives get better.  The future was bright.  The regime was explicitly secular, students received scholarships to study in the west and they happily brought their western knowledge, their western ways back to Iraq to build their country.

The golden age ended with the invasion of Iran. If you ask Iraqis why Saddam went to war, they look at you and tilt their heads.  If you say, "Do you think the Americans wanted Saddam to attack Iran?" they reply "Of course". This belief is not implausible.  America had just been humiliated by the fall of the Shah, the taking of the American embassy, the failed rescue attempt. And America had supported the Ba’ath Party in the 1960s when it competed with the Iraqi Communist Party for power.  We certainly backed Iraq during the war, as did Kuwait, as did Saudi Arabia.

The war was a disaster for Iraq. Not only did millions die but the oil money that had been going to improve the lives of rural and urban Iraqis now was being spent on armaments.  Kuwait had been sending money to support Iraq against the Persian (and Shia) threat but when the war ended, so did the subsidy.  Oil prices had fallen, Kuwait was drilling oil that Iraq thought was theirs. Iraq asked for $2 billion. Kuwait refused.  It is under this background that Saddam made his next great mistake.

He went to the American Ambassador April Gillespie and explained his objections to Kuwaiti policy.  She famously replied that the United States took no position on inter-Arab border disputes.  Saddam took that as a green light to invade.

And so the 90s were worse than the 80s for Iraq.  Sanctions starved the middle class, cut them off from the West that many of them identified with, that they saw as part of their cultural heritage.  The Ba’athist elite, of course, did not suffer as much.  By isolating the country, sanctions actually increased their power within Iraq.

In the days before the American invasion, many Iraqis thought it would improve their lives.  Few supported the regime; most were happy to see it fall.  A General told me, "Why do you think the invasion was so fast?  We did not fight.  We parked our tanks and pointed the turrets into the ground."  In Mansour, a neighborhood now under insurgent control, the American soldiers were indeed greeted with flowers.

Our mistakes are well known.  Let us list some of them anyway:

  1. Disbanding the army, leaving armed men with no way of making a living.
  1. Deba’athication, forcing the educated elite who would have happily administered the country for us out of their jobs.
  1. Not providing security during the anarchic days after the fall of Baghdad.
  1. Imposing a neo-liberal free trade regime on a country that had been isolated from the world economy, causing an upsurge of food and manufacturing imports from China and Iran thus devastating domestic industry and agriculture, dramatically raising unemployment.

Who has won? The fundamentalists, both Sunni and Shia.  Who has lost? The Westernized secular educated middle class, people like Mowfak, who had hoped we would bring prosperity to their country. The exile of the best and the brightest Iraqis will cost their country for a long time. I asked Mowfak if his friends would come back, if order were restored, if there were peace.  He said, "No, they will not return." He said  "What peace? There will be war here for a generation." He said, "When the Americans leave, then you will see a slaughter."

Mowfak is bitter.  He said the worst thing the American have done, the very worst thing, is that they have turned people like him, the educated elite, people who drank whiskey and read Shakespeare into fundamentalists.

Every time I come to Iraq, it is worse than the time before.  In all likelihood, it will continue to get worse.  Iraqis now fear that when the Americans leave, the Turks, the Saudis, and the Iranians will invade.



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