Iraq: The Reality

– I haven’t, to date, written anything about current U.S. Foreign Policy. It isn’t that I don’t care or don’t have opinions but it is, rather, that I think that the issues I generally blog about are going to cut a far deeper swath through our future than most current events or the squabbles between the Democrats and the Republicans here in the U.S. (whom I refer to as Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee since very little of what they yammer about as they oppose each other bears at all on the issues which I think are pressing, immediate and extremely dangerous to all of our futures).

– But, in spite of all that, I found the following article poignant and sad about what really happening on the ground in Iraq. I don’t have any good ideas of how to get out of this mess, and a great mess it is, but it’s worth reading just to realize what day to day life there is like behind all the impersonal statistics.

– And, this story does,after all, bear on my main Perfect Storm theme in that this sort of political chaos is likely to spread ever wider so long as inequality, ignorance and radical faith-based philosophys continue to dominate human affairs.

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Published on Thursday, October 12, 2006 by the Independent / UK

Iraq: The Reality

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was supposed to bring them freedom democracy and peace. But murder, kidnap and lawlessness have become the facts of life for the people of Iraq. In an exclusive extract from his new book, Patrick Cockburn describes the terrifying disintegration of a nation.
by Patrick Cockburn

A sense of utter lawlessness permeated everyday life in Baghdad as the war approached its fourth year in spring 2006. In his Memoirs of an Egotist Stendhal describes how, when he visited a city, he tried to identify the 10 prettiest girls, the 10 richest men and the 10 people who could have him executed; he would have had his work cut out in Baghdad. Veils increasingly concealed girls’ faces, the rich had fled the country – and almost anybody could have you killed. To give a picture of Baghdad, surely the most dangerous city in the world at this time, it is worth explaining just why a modern-day Stendhal would be in trouble if he tried to identify any of the three categories he mentions.

Iraqi women used to enjoy more freedom than almost anywhere else in the Muslim world, apart from Turkey. Iraq was a secular state after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958. Women had equal rights in theory and this was also largely true in practice. These were eroded in the final years of Saddam Hussein as Iraqi society became increasingly Islamic. But under the constitution negotiated with the participation of the American and British ambassadors and ratified by the referendum on 15 October 2005, women legally became second-class citizens in much of Iraq. About three quarters of the girls leaving their schools at lunchtime in central Baghdad now wore headscarves. The reason was generally self-protection. Those girls who were truly religious concealed all their hair, and these were in a minority. The others left a quiff of hair showing, which usually meant that they wore headscarves solely because they were frightened of religious zealots.

There was also a belief that kidnappers, the terror of every Iraqi parent, would be less likely to abduct a girl wearing a headscarf because they would suppose she came from a traditional family. This is not because of religious scruples on the part of kidnappers but because they thought old-fashioned families were likely to belong to a strong tribe. Such a tribe will seek vengeance if one of its members is abducted – a much more frightening prospect for kidnappers than any action by the police.

The life of women had already become more restricted because of the violence in Baghdad. Waiting outside the College of Sciences in Baghdad one day was a 20-year-old biology student called Mariam Ahmed Yassin, who belonged to a well-off family. She was expecting a private car, driven by somebody she trusted, to take her home. Her fear was kidnapping. She said: “I promised my mother to go nowhere after college except home and never to sit in a restaurant.” Her father, a businessman, had already moved to Germany. She volunteered: “I admire Saddam very much and I consider him a great leader because he could control security.”

Mariam’s father was part of the great exodus of business and professional people from Iraq. A friend suffering from a painful toothache spent hours one day ringing up dentists only to be told again and again that they had left the country. If Stendhal was looking for the 10 richest Iraqis he would have had to begin his search in Jordan, Syria or Egypt. The richer districts of the capital had become ghost towns inhabited by trigger-happy security guards. In some parts of Baghdad property prices had dropped by half. Well-off people wanted to keep it a secret if they sold a house because kidnappers and robbers would know they had money. “Some 5,000 people were kidnapped between the fall of Saddam Hussein and May 2005,” said the former human rights minister Bakhtiar Amin.

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