Anonymous / from Baghdad – 2004-05-09 12:56:03
The author, who sent this message anonymously, served in the Peace Corps in the early days and has spent his life in international business and lived all over the world. He has been working in Iraq for over a year, trying to build a business.
THE ONE YEAR TRAINING PERIOD is now over in Iraq. After one year of “playing at country-building” the situation has gotten worse by the hour. Every day is another twist and turn in trying to democratize Iraq. This noble experiment is turning into our worst nightmare. Signs of another Viet Nam are everywhere.
Start with the horrendous number of American and allied losses in April compounded by daily insurrections in Faluja and Najaf and you have civil war. Any nation liberated of a powerful dictator must have structure if it’s to succeed as a member of the international community. Iraq has nothing but fragments created by civilian administrators overseen by a strong US military. Those interests conflict with each other and are leading all of us down a path of no return.
Since the beginning, a struggle for control of Iraq has been ongoing between the US State Department and the Defense Department. It’s obvious to all of us on the ground in Iraq, and should be noticeable to everyone outside the country that Powell and Rumsfeld are at odds with each other. Add a strong vice president and a bible-toting president and what you have is “innocence abroad.” Stir in factional rivalries in Iraq along with religious differences and you have chaos.
The year past has seen a lot of money spent but very little to create jobs and opportunities for the vast majority of Iraqis. Most are still poor and hungry. Southern Iraq from Basra to Diwaniya are some of the poorest areas I’ve seen anywhere and I’ve been to Haiti, Somalia and streets of Manila. Nothing compares to the poverty and lack of any future development.
Compound this with the images on TV and over the internet of US brutality and you have the “spark” that can and will ignite this region. If we ever wanted to strengthen the terror movements in the Islamic world, then showing naked men hounded by a US female soldier is it. These images will remain for a long time no matter what the US does to try and diminish the impact. The damage was done.
There is hope, but only if US national policy changes fast. We cannot turn over nation hood at this time. We must wait and implement a strong civil service with a mandated President and Vice President running the show. The US must bring the world into the fold and start acting as a partner and not an occupying power.
Even as early as yesterday, General Abizaid told us in a press conference that the US is still the occupying force in Iraq. This doesn’t sound like “country building” to me. We need to separate the role of establishing a government to a civilian authority under the auspices of a joint group headed by Washington. We have to ask the military to retreat to its bases and be on call when and if trouble arises.
Iraq needs its own army and police force administered by those they know and trust, not raw recruits with no experience. We then have to abandon the huge contracts let to major US companies and bring money to bear on the areas which create the most benefit. Private industry will do the rest. It will find ways to build hotels, power plants, new factories, etc.
What this new joint group must do is allocate the $18.5 billion where it’s most needed and do it through the Peace Corps, USAID, CARE, OXFAM and other agencies willing to go into these villages and towns and start living and working together with the Iraqis.
Today, it’s “us and them” and, as I said before, “them is winning.”
We also need a change in Washington… quickly. Either the current administration re-invents itself or is voted out of power in November. The choice is up to the President and eventually to the American people. In the meantime, Iraq resists daily and our men and women are being reduced to fodder and worse.
The one-year experiment in country-building has taught everyone what the next step should be. Let’s see who has the courage to make it happen?