Talisman Gate

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

State of Wobbliness

Copyright 2005 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC
All Rights Reserved
The New York Sun

August 9, 2005 Tuesday


LENGTH: 1158 words

HEADLINE: State of Wobbliness

BYLINE: Nibras Kazimi is an Iraqi writer living in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at nibraska@yahoo.com.


Ladies and gentlemen, Project New Iraq is about to fail. Too bad, since an Iraqi success story would avert many future disasters in the West.

And yes, it was a noble goal to overthrow Saddam and liberate the Iraqi people, and no, it did not make the bad guys hate you even more, since that is not emotionally possible: Their hatred is so great that they intend, over the next decade of turmoil, to burn the oil under their feet just to spite you - the oil that would feed and clothe their children.

On Sunday, demonstrators in the southern town of Samawa clashed with Iraqi police forces, leading to at least one fatality. Only a year and a half ago, they welcomed Allied forces deployed there with "Welcome Mr. Japan" signs written in mangled English. Those demonstrators were not out to support Muqtada al-Sadr. They were not out to denounce the concept of federalism. They were not clamoring for more sovereignty. They demanded water, a couple of more hours of electricity, and no more iron shavings in their rationed flour.

Two days earlier, a similar demonstration of several thousand souls with similar demands in Karbala demanded that their native son, Prime Minister Ja'afari, resign his post. Farther south, Basra's natives are seething with resentment as their easygoing town turns further and further into an Islamic city-state where heavily accented Iranian intelligence officers get to decide whether out-of-town visitors can check into hotels.

Maybe it is unrealistic to ask for much across all of Iraq given the ferocious intensity of the murderous insurgency, but at least for the line south of the towns of Musayyeb on the Euphrates and Suweira on the Tigris, where things have been relatively calm, one would have expected to see some changes for the better two and a half years after liberation. Sure, no one is piling poor Shias into mass graves any more, but how would one explain the anger in Samawa?

Here is a prediction that pains me: Expect riots in Baghdad. The anger and resentment in the capital is immense. Once people fall into the habit of thinking that tomorrow will be even worse than today, then that defines failure in a grand experiment like Iraq.

The reasons for all this are very complex, but it is immoral at this point to engage in sterile academic arguments as to who is to blame. Right now, a dehydrated nation demands water, electricity, gasoline, and all the other basic things.

The fundamental paradox now is that the Americans are not leading the process in Iraq while at the same time not allowing the elected government to lead. There are two crucial elements to this conundrum: security and corruption.

The people in the streets are angry because there is no accountability for the miserable failure of governmental performance on both security and corruption. A week ago in the Friday sermon, one of Ayotallah Sistani's most influential spokesmen posed this pertinent question: Where does the Iraqi Intelligence Service get its budget from, and who does its chief, General Mohammed Shahwani, answer to? The answer to both questions is the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia, but no one in the Iraqi government is supposed to know or challenge the legality of this open secret.

America's security policy in Iraq, which came into shape while Ayad Allawi was prime minister, is still in place. Its main theme was to woo the Ba'athists back into power. The result was that the insurgents somehow came up with better planned attacks by acting on leaked sensitive information. This policy, one of whose hallmarks is Shahwani's outfit, has clearly failed. But did anyone learn anything?

The current elected government ran on a platform of de-Ba'athification Plus but is being stymied at every turn. Here is a bizarre Mexican standoff: The rules for the Special Criminal Court that is supposed to put Saddam on trial specifically state that no Ba'athist, of whatever rank, is allowed to hold a job in the tribunal. The de-Ba'athification Commission proceeded to fire the Ba'athists, but a rearguard action by the American embassy, as well as editorial melodrama in the New York Times, halted the process. It's the law, stupid! Those who gave testimony against Saddam and went into a witness protection program got phone calls from the insurgents telling them that their act is up.

And just who is being held accountable for the corruption under Allawi's government? Hundreds of millions of dollars went missing, and it was all widely reported. But did anyone go to jail? What lesson are current state bureaucrats supposed to infer from that failure to act? At least now, the government has put in place some regulations that make it a little harder to carry tens of millions of dollars in cash out of Baghdad Airport. But given the lack of accountability, some ministers and their cronies are just getting more creative in circumventing these regulations. Some of the schemes that I'm hearing about are indeed ingenious, and funnily enough those embezzlers are proud enough to openly gloat about their deftness. Great! They have to work harder to steal. Now that's progress.

Against the backdrop of governmental paralysis in doing something-anything-about security and corruption, Iraq is having its most important historical moment: the crafting of a constitution that defines the identity and future of the country. But this historical contract is being forged in the Green Zone; an artificial bubble of comfort that bears no resemblance to the rest of Iraq. The rest of Iraq wants the government to provide basic services now and can spare little attention to the rhetoric that will shape their future.

Ja'afari is sitting in this Green Zone much too content with his title while twiddling his thumbs and mouthing ornate gibberish. Anyone who has followed his career over the decades would never refer to him as a dynamic personality and can-do guy. To cover for his shortcomings, his aides are whispering to their party cadres that the Americans are deliberately sabotaging and paralyzing the government in order to bring back Allawi in the next round of elections.

The legal mechanism for delaying the constitutional debate and getting on with fixing or at least appearing to fix the problems of security and corruption is there for the taking. Everyone involved should make full use of the six-month extension: Ja'afari must be sacked, Ba'athists must be purged, and thieves must go to jail.

At least then the Iraqi people can see some movement in the right direction. Instead, the Americans, by hurrying along the process, have the haunted look of those trying to cut and run. The bad guys are ecstatic and see it as Somalia all over again. But the fact remains the same: Iraq must succeed, because if it doesn't, those bad guys will. Success can be only measured by how Iraqis wake up in the morning and look forward to better times; finding water in their taps to wash their faces would be a good start.