Wednesday, December 15, 2004


By William Fisher

One of my dearest friends is the director of a major project in Iraq funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). She emails me periodically to report on the situation there. Below is her communiqué from December 15.

“I have not been to Baghdad for almost two months. I am running this project through email and telephone, and from time to time my colleagues from Baghdad come to see me. They report, as does our security group there, that things are bad, lawless in some areas, and indeed lots of people are getting killed. It is hard sometimes to distinguish between insurgency and criminality. Baghdad has always bounced back - what's a car bomb or two? But the bounce these days is not as high and is slower in coming. The city is much quieter, though that could be from the lack of gasoline and electricity.

“There is a relative news blackout, which says to me that the good guys are really kicking butt or really getting their butts kicked. I suspect it is the former, though not uniformly so. Mosul is a mess, fighting continues in Fallujah, the two triangles (Sunni and death) just keep rumbling on, and the security reports are uneven in their forecasts and assessments. The best news is that large numbers of parties, include the biggest amongst the Sunnis have decided to contest the election. My Iraqi friends and colleagues are unambiguously excited about the elections, and while there is not the type of political debate that we have the US, I have a feeling that this election is going to more successful than one would assume based on what the situation looks like now.

“Yesterday, I made my first, and I hope it will be my only trip to pay my condolences to the widow of one of my employees. One of my guards, while off-duty, traveled to Mosul to purchase building material for construction of a new house. He was with a group of cousins and brothers. The group was approached by masked gunmen who inspected their IDs one by one. The gunmen found my guard's badge, so he was shot in the arm and dragged away. The cousins and brothers fled. A few days later my guard's brother found him lying dead in a street in Mosul. His name was Saed. His funeral was a few days ago and my deputy attended (as you know, funerals are only
for men).

“How pathetic the situation is. Saed's widow is but a girl, no more than 17 or 18 years old, with two little kids, a boy and girl. We sat on a carpeted floor, bare but for a kerosene heater in the center. I was offered a cup of sugary tea. Her brother-in-law, a high ranking Iraqi army officer, sat with us, as did Ahmed my security guy. The brother-in-law did what little talking there was. He described his brother as loyal and strong, dedicated to his family and tribe. Ahmed made a collection from the project staff, and accumulated a wild looking stack of multicolored Iraqi notes and US dollars. We had a goal of giving him his annual salary, $5000, and we succeeded with a little help from the project slush fund. I handed this to the girl without ceremony, and she accepted with but a hint of gratitude.The gesture made much more impact on the officer and the others in the village who came to witness the goings-on. We also offered to pay to finish the house that Saed was building. The brother-in-law officer assured me that the girl will be taken care of, in fact, she will probably become a wife of another brother.

“And on this same day, Paul Bremer got his Presidential Medal of Honor,along with (General Tommy ) Franks and (former CIA chief George) Tenet. Instead of receiving medals they should be the ones attending the funerals and handing over paltry sums to innocent Iraqis. This is why I am so angry. None of this had to happen.”

There is little one can add to this kind of crie de couer. Except to underline my friend’s last sentence: “None of this had to happen.” The list of those who should be held accountable is too long to publish here. But, as Harry Truman famously remarked, “The buck stops here” – which means George W. Bush.