Tuesday, May 17, 2005


By William Fisher

I long ago stopped believing anything our government told us about Iraq. Now, like millions of other Americans, I have stopped believing what our mainstream media tells us about Iraq. What has become a substitute for a credible and holistic picture of what is really happening in this tortured country is a pair of bookends: at one end, endless images of car bombs exploding, with commentary from journalists who are mostly unable to leave their Baghdad hotels; at the other end, the feelgood press releases from the White House and the Pentagon.

So now I get my news from a few knowledgeable Iraqi and other bloggers and from the emails I receive from trusted friends who work there.

Below is the email I received this week (names and locations have been deleted to protect their safety):

This new government has proven nothing thus far except its own incompetence. From my exile in (Iraqi city deleted), a distant but well-connected vantage point, two things about this government are noteworthy.

First it is unable to control security. The bickering and backstabbing that went
into cabinet selection gave new life to the insurgency, demoralizing the
population at large and the security forces in particular. Al-Jaafari, the Prime Minister and the head of the more moderate portion of the Sistani group, promoted for Defense Minister Sunni politicians and former military people who had legitimacy amongst large sections of the Sunni Arab population.

All his nominations were vetoed by the more hard-line Shiites of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The real power in Iraq right now lies with Abdel Aziz Al-Hakim, the turbaned head of SCIRI and Sistani.

Some Iraqis disagree with me. They would say that SCIRI's power derives from Iran, and it is that country that is really controlling (or not controlling) the country.

But the important final question is, if the security forces fight, who are they fighting for? A united Iraq, or a derivative of Iran? This is an important point, and it could be one reason that Iraqi forces' performance has deteriorated in recent weeks.

Second, if you cannot keep the country safe, you may as well have a witch-hunt. With Ahmed Chalabi in the lead, that oh so honest and pure politician from Nasariya, the new government has decided to prevent all former ministers from traveling pending investigations into corruption.

All of us know who was corrupt in Allawi's government -Transport, Defense, Electricity, Interior and others.

But this new government is determined to intimidate and harass all who were associated with Allawi. For example, on Wednesday, eight armored vehicles filled with armed police officers drove up to the home of a former minister (name withheld), with the intent of making an arrest.

The former minister told them emphatically, "get out, you will have to kill me to take me from my home". They backed down, the former minister made some phone calls and the episode ended.

The allegation was that the former minister did not properly nominate ministry staff for international delegations. The allegation could very well be true, but what is all the fuss? I have met the former minister several times and doubt that this person would be capable of deliberate malicious intent, but as a bureaucrat with little experience, I do not doubt that things could have gone awry.

The Baathist purge office has been reactivated, again under the guidance of
Chalabi, and this cannot accomplish anything except make the insurgency worse. The average Iraqi does not care about mid-level Baathists, they care about peace, and if peace is contingent upon keeping or hiring a few Baathists with ties to Saddam, that is an acceptable contingency.

The two elements to the witch-hunt, the first against Allawi and the second against Baathists, make for palatable unease on the street (we have to remember that in general people liked Allawi, but they could not vote for him over
Sistani). Combine the witch-hunt with suicide bombers and the optimism of
the last months is gone.

I am now at my most pessimistic. Never did I think it would get this bad.

Below is yet another desperate email message (in broken English) from one of the NGOs we work with. (Name withheld) was suppose to meet with us yesterday, but there was a bomb in his neighborhood, yet again at a recruitment center, the day before.

hi (recipient withheld).

I want to inform you that an distortion and pumb explosion happent in Hawija today cause to kill many young men from my region and my village and some of them were from my cosion that was made by terrors and I was closer from the event. I want to say you that I am so sad for 100 young men from hawija city whom came to produce themself to thier country by our device. Finally, all (Arabain, Kurdish, Turkmen amd other) cry for this work and declare our sadness in this dark day. our greeting for (name withheld) and other staff in your org.

accept my regards
(name withheld)
Boss of (organization deleted)

I receive these types of messages every two or three days. By now one would think that I could read them with dispassion, that I would not react with tears in my eyes. I cannot. You can read about this bomb in Hawija on CNN, but read these few humble sentences, understand it, and weep.

And yet, we keep going. This week I had my teams from (locations deleted) come for a work planning session. Their commitment to improving the lives of Iraqis is beyond my expectations. We will involve 500 farmers in maize wok this summer and several hundred in Najaf and Diwaniyah in rice. And that is just the start. We have plans for livestock, tomato, cucumber, apples, dates, extension, integrated pest management, and tractor repair (I hope to sign a $9 million contract with the local distributor of (manufacturer’s name deleted) this week). My guys are thrilled that we have plenty of resources for them to use to do just about anything that helps agriculture. Their smiles and optimism in the face of undeniable risks is almost incomprehensible to me, and it helps to restore somewhat my faith in the future of Iraq.

If we could get the politicians to be as committed to development and progress as my guys the country would be in much better shape. But alas, we have Chalabi, the crook, and Al-Jaafari, the weak, a recipe for nothing good.

It would be a good idea to remember this message next time Mssrs. Bush and Rumsfeld tell us how we’re winning this war.