Riverbend / Girlblog from Iraq – 2006-02-03 23:32:51
(January 18, 2006) — January 17, 2006 marks the 15th commemoration of the Gulf War in 1991 after Iraq occupied Kuwait (briefly) in 1990. (Or according to American terminology, after Iraq ‘liberated’ Kuwait in 1990.)
For 42 days, Baghdad and other cities and towns were bombarded with nearly 140,000 tons of explosives, by international estimates. The bombing was relentless- schools, housing complexes, factories, bridges, electric power stations, ministries, sewage facilities, oil refineries, operators, and even bomb shelters (including the only baby formula factory in Iraq and the infamous Amirya Shelter bombing where almost 400 civilians were killed).
According to reports and statistics made by the “Iraqi Reconstruction Bureau” and the ministries involved in reconstruction, prior to the 2003 war/occupation, the following damage was done through 42 days of continuous bombing, and various acts of vandalism:
• Schools and scholastic facilities – 3960
• Universities, labs, dormitories – 40
• Health facilities (including hospitals, clinics, medical warehouses) – 421
• Telephone operators, communication towers, etc. – 475
• Bridges, buildings, housing complexes – 260
• Warehouses, shopping centers, grain silos – 251
• Churches and mosques – 159
vDams, water pumping stations, agricultural facilities – 200
• Petroleum facilities (including refineries) – 145
• General services (shelters, sewage treatment plants, municipalities) – 830
• Factories, mines, industrial facilities – 120
…And much, much more — including radio broadcasting towers, museums, orphanages, retirement homes, etc. While the larger damage — damage to dams, bridges, warehouses, ministries, food silos, etc.— was done by warplanes and missiles, the damage to smaller facilities was caused largely by vandalism in the south of the country and in areas like Kirkuk.
In the south, it was mainly the work of the “intifadah” which was initiated by the ‘tawabin’ or “The Repentant” who infiltrated the south from Iran and found supporters inside of the country. (Many of the ‘Tawabin’ are known today as Badir’s Brigade.)
What happened in the south in 1991 is similar to what happened in Baghdad in 2003- burning, looting and attacks. The area fell into chaos after the Republican Guard was pulled out to different governorates for the duration of the war.
Meanwhile, the US was bombing the Iraqi army as it was pulling out of Kuwait and the Tawabin were killing off some of the Iraqi troops who had abandoned their tanks and artillery and were coming back on foot through the south.
Many of those troops, and the civilians killed during the attacks, looting, and burning, were buried in some of the mass graves we conveniently blame solely on Saddam and the Republican Guard- but no one bothers to mention this anymore because it’s easier to blame the dictator.
But I digress — the topic today is reconstruction. Immediately after the war, various ministries were brought together to do the reconstruction work. The focus was on the infrastructure — to bring back the refineries, electricity, water, bridges, and telecommunications.
The task was a daunting one because so many of Iraq’s major infrastructure projects and buildings had been designed and built by foreign contractors from all over the world including French, German, Chinese and Japanese companies. The foreign expertise was unavailable after 1991 due to the war and embargo and Iraqi engineers and technicians found themselves facing the devastation of the Gulf War all alone with limited supplies.
Two years and approximately 8 billion Iraqi dinars later, nearly 90% of the damage had been repaired. It took an estimated 6,000 engineers (all Iraqi), 42,000 technicians, and 12,000 administrators, but bridges were soon up again, telephones were more or less functioning in most areas, refineries were working, water was running and electricity wasn’t back 100%, but it was certainly better than it is today. Within the first two years, over 100 small and large bridges had been reconstructed, 16 refineries, over 50 factories and industrial compounds, etc.
It wasn’t perfect — it wasn’t Halliburton… It wasn’t KBR…but it was Iraqi. There was that sense of satisfaction and pride looking upon a building or bridge that was damaged during the war and seeing it up and running and looking better than it did before.
Now, nearly three years after this war, the buildings are still piles of debris. Electricity is terrible. Water is cut off for days at a time. Telephone lines come and go. Oil production isn’t even at pre-war levels… and Iraqis hear about the billions upon billions that come and go.
A billion here for security… Five hundred million there for the infrastructure… Millions for voting… Iraq falling into deeper debt… Engineers without jobs simply because they are not a part of this political party or that religious group… And the country still in shambles.
One of the biggest, most complicated and most swiftly executed reconstruction projects was the Dawra Refinery in Baghdad. It is Iraq’s oldest refinery and one of its largest. It was bombed several times during the Gulf War and oil production came to a halt. After the war, it is said that the Iraqi government negotiated with an Italian company to reconstruct it but the price requested by the company was extremely high.
It was decided then that the reconstruction effort would be completely local and the work began almost immediately. Several months later, during the summer of 1991, when the Italian experts came back to assess the damage, they found that the refinery was functioning.’
Riverbend / Baghdad Burning
(February 02, 2006) — Iraqi election results were officially announced nearly two weeks ago, but it was apparent from the day of elections which political parties would come out on top. I’m not even going to bother listing the different types of election fraud witnessed all over Iraq- it’s a tedious subject and one we’ve been discussing for well over a month.
The fact that a Shia, Iran-influenced religious list came out on top is hardly surprising. I’m surprised, however, at Iraqis who seem to be astonished at the outcome. Didn’t we, over the last three years, see this coming? Iranian influenced clerics had a strong hold right from 2003. Their militias were almost instantly incorporated into the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense as soon a move was made to create new Iraqi security forces. Sistani has been promoting them from day one.
Why is it so very surprising that in times of calamity people turn to religion? It happens all over the world. During tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, blockades, wars- people turn to deities… It’s simple- when all else fails, there is always a higher power for most people.
After nearly three years of a failing occupation, I personally believe that many Iraqis voted for religious groups because it was counted as a vote against America and the occupation itself.
No matter what American policy makers say to their own public- and no matter how many pictures Rumsfeld and Condi take with our fawning politicians- most Iraqis do not trust Americans. America as a whole is viewed as a devilish country that is, at best, full of self-serving mischief towards lesser countries and, at worst, an implementer of sanctions, and a warmongering invader.
Even Iraqis who believe America is here to help (and they seem to have grown fewer in number these days), believe that it helps not out of love for Iraqis, but out of self-interest and greed.
Shia religious parties, like SCIRI and Da’awa, have decidedly changed their tone in the last year. During 2003, they were friends of America- they owed the US their current power inside of the country. Today, as Iraqis are becoming more impatient with the American presence inside of Iraq, they are claiming that they will be the end of the ‘occupiers’. They openly blame the Americans for the lack of security and general chaos. The message is quite different. In 2003, there was general talk of a secular Iraq; today, that no longer seems to be an option.
In 2003, Jaffari was claiming he didn’t want to see Iraqi women losing their rights, etc. He never mentioned equal rights- but he did throw in a word here and there about how Iraqi women had a right to an education and even a job. I was changing channels a couple of weeks ago and I came across Jaffari speaking to students from Mustansiriya University— one of Iraq’s largest universities, with campuses in several areas in Baghdad. I couldn’t see the students— he might have been speaking with a group of penguins, for all I could tell. The camera was focused on him— his shifty eyes and low, mumbling voice.
On his right sat an Ayatollah with a black turban and black robes. He looked stern and he nodded with satisfaction as Jaffari spoke to the students (or penguins). His speech wasn’t about science, technology or even development— it was a religious sermon about heaven and hell, good and evil.
I noticed two things immediately. The first was that he seemed to be speaking to only male students. There were no females in the audience. He spoke of their female ‘sisters’ in absentia, as if they had absolutely no representation in the gathering.
The second thing was that he seemed to be speaking to only Shia because he kept mentioning their ‘Sunni brothers’, as if they too were absent. He sermonized about how the men should take care of the women and how Sunnis weren’t bad at all. I waited to hear him speak about Iraqi unity, and the need to not make religious distinctions- those words never came.
In spite of all this, pro-war Republicans remain inanely hopeful. Ah well- so Ayatollahs won out this election- the next election will be better! But there is a problem…
The problem with religious parties and leaders in a country like Iraq, is that they control a following of fervent believers, not just political supporters. For followers of Da’awa and SCIRI, for example, it’s not about the policy or the promises or the puppet in power. It’s like the pope for devout Catholics- you don’t question the man in the chair because he is there by divine right, almost. You certainly don’t question his policies.
Ayatollahs are like that. Muqtada Al-Sadr is ridiculous. He talks like his tongue is swollen up in his mouth and he always looks like he needs to bathe. He speaks with an intonation that indicates a fluency in Farsi and yet… he commands an army of followers because his grandfather was a huge religious figure. He could be the least educated, least enlightened man in the country and he’d still have people willing to lay down their lives at his command because of his family’s religious history. (Lucky Americans- he announced a week ago that should Iran come under US attack, he and his followers would personally rise up to Iran’s defense.)
At the end of the day, people who follow these figures tell themselves that even if the current leader isn’t up to par, the goal and message remain the same- religion, God’s word as law. When living in the midst of a war-torn country with a situation that is deteriorating and death around every corner, you turn to God because Iyad Allawi couldn’t get you electricity and security- he certainly isn’t going to get you into heaven should you come face to face with a car bomb.
The trouble with having a religious party in power in a country as diverse as Iraq is that you automatically alienate everyone not of that particular sect or religion. Religion is personal— it is something you are virtually born into… it belongs to the heart, the mind, the spirit- and while it is welcome in day to day dealings, it shouldn’t be politicized.
Theocracies (and we seem to be standing on the verge of an Iranian influenced one), grow stronger with time because you cannot argue religion. Politicians are no longer politicians — they are Ayatollahs — they become modern-day envoys of God, to be worshipped, not simply respected. You cannot challenge them because for their followers, that is a challenge to a belief- not a person or a political party.
You go from being a critic or ‘opposition’ to simply being a heathen when you argue religious parties.
Americans write to me wondering, “But where are the educated Iraqis? Why didn’t they vote for secular parties?” The educated Iraqis have been systematically silenced since 2003. They’ve been pressured and bullied outside of the country. They’ve been assassinated, detained, tortured and abducted. Many of them have lost faith in the possibility of a secular Iraq.
Then again… who is to say that many of the people who voted for religious parties aren’t educated? I know some perfectly educated Iraqis who take criticism towards parties like Da’awa and SCIRI as a personal affront. This is because these parties are so cloaked and cocooned within their religious identity, that it is almost taken as an attack against Shia in general when one criticizes them. It’s the same thing for many Sunnis when a political Sunni party comes under criticism.
That’s the danger of mixing politics and religion- it becomes personal.
I try not to dwell on the results too much- the fact that Shia religious fundamentalists are currently in power- because when I do, I’m filled with this sort of chill that leaves in its wake a feeling of quiet terror. It’s like when the electricity goes out suddenly and you’re plunged into a deep, quiet, almost tangible darkness — you try not to focus too intently on the subtle noises and movements around you because the unseen possibilities will drive you mad…
– posted by river @ 1:34 AM