What Iraqis see (and think)

Monday, January 01, 2007 at 12:26 PM

The right wing commentators can harp on the supposedly pure motives of our efforts in Iraq, and they may even be successful in convincing Americans, or some of them, of their sincerity.  But nothing good will come out of Iraq if the Iraqis don't buy it.

And "don't buy it" appears to be the verdict from Iraqis, if you wander through the available Iraqi sources that are in English.

Check out this selection of Iraqi opinion on America's motives, intentions, and desires.

1. From a guest editorial in an Arab newspaper (emphasis added):

America's True Intentions in the Mideast
Hassan Tahsin, Guest Contributor
US President George Bush is apparently reluctant to accept the recommendations of the bipartisan report on the US invasion of Iraq prepared by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. The president is particularly unhappy about its recommendation to pull out US forces from Iraq in 15 months.
Those who are close to the president accuse the [Iraq Study Group] report of being biased against the administration because it refers to the Iraq policy as a failure. The White House argues that a president in power knows better about the complications in Iraq than an inquiry committee does. One may ask then why the president agreed in the first place to set up a committee to inquire about what is happening in Iraq?

In his attempt to dodge the pressures from Arab and other countries for the US to pull out from Iraq, the new US Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke like Condoleezza Rice who said to her Middle Eastern audience, according to a report of the Associated Press, that the war, which has cost $350 billion in cash and the lives of 2,987 US soldiers so far, is a good investment because a stable Iraq will pave the way for the birth of a new Middle East. In other words the US will not hesitate to do anything to pave the way for a total US presence in the region.

After his first visit to Iraq, Robert Gates said "Let the friends and foes of the United States know that America would remain in the region for a long time armed with a new strategy." Now it is abundantly clear that the US is determined to control the Middle East at any cost. All the earlier claims about introducing true democracy and establishing peace were a few slogans that bought time while they implemented their real motive, which is to colonize and fragment the remaining countries in the region so that they can never become powerful.

One wonders what prompts the US to colonize Arab countries? It is certainly not to take control of the vast energy resources here. There is no reason why it needs worry about the supply of fuel because the West never in the past had had any difficulty in buying our oil, nor is likely to have any in the future.

There are people who believe that the US wants to keep Arab countries under its control in order to guarantee the existence and safety of Israel. Israel does not, obviously, need any outside help for its self-defense or aggression. It has built up a mighty military machine and amassed an arsenal of advanced weapons including nuclear warheads. It is ridiculous to suppose that Israel's problems with its neighbors are more important to the US than its own strategic interests. Israel is no more than a tool in the US strategic scheme to strike at the Arab countries that refuse to toe the US line.

In fact, the real motive for the US occupation of the Middle East is to stop the growing power of Muslims and weaken Arab countries, as well as putting an end to the increasing trend of people, particularly blacks, embracing Islam in the US and Western Europe.

The US should understand that it will be very tough to continue the occupation of Iraq, where tribal and religious interests count a lot. More than two-thirds of Americans are now gradually waking up to the realities and want the pullout of their soldiers from Iraq, as reported by the Sawa Radio recently, because they do not want their sons to die in Iraq and because they do not believe the White House spin-doctors.

2. From an Iraqi blog, posted in June of 2005, discussing possible "undeclared motives" for the US invasion; motive number 4 is "Creating a Haven for Investment":

There was certainly no shortage of legislation introduced almost immediately after the invasion to create a haven for foreign (primarily American) investment in Iraq. Almost unrestricted free trade was encouraged by regulations and a negligible amount of rules to regulate investment, to the extent that they were described by The Economist as "the wish list of foreign investors."

Privatization to an unprecedented extent was initiated (but failed). Anyone who was familiar with the extent of state ownership of enterprises in Iraq would have realized the magnitude of `economic shock' that those measures constituted.

[Even to generally `right'-leaning people in Iraq, privatizing the `ownership' of the country's oil is almost unthinkable. Traditionally, oil and (for the past 6000 years) other underground minerals are universally believed to be public property. It makes sense to most people for the government to have revenue from oil for public spending instead of taxing people. This may explain why so many people in Iraq found Bremer's decrees and the talk to `privatize' oil so offensive... and reacted so violently to them.]

The creation of that haven for foreign investment can be viewed by many well-meaning people as a legitimate means of efficiently rebuilding a ravaged country. Indeed quite a number of sovereign countries go out of their way to lure foreign investment. Russia comes to mind. Dubai is a country being built along these lines.

But this essay is not about the rights or wrongs of such a policy; there is a wide range of well-debated opinions regarding those issues. It is about undeclared motives for the invasion of Iraq.

3. From the same Iraqi blog, discussing possible "undeclared motives" for the US invasion motive number 6 is "Intentional Devastation of Iraq": (emphasis added):

More Iraqis than people in the West may imagine subscribe to this belief. They range from illiterate peasants to university professors. This is by far the most `popular' theory in Iraq (outside Kurdistan) and has been so for more than a year. It borders on conspiracy theory but please bear with me a little to see things the way most Iraqis have been seeing them for the past two years!

To many people `intentional devastation' offers the only plausible explanation to what has been happening in Iraq over the past two years. A sample of the criticisms felt by many Iraqis:

  1. No sane Iraqi would accept the story about Saddam posing a threat to the United States. A good portion of them believe that he was for a long time an American stooge. (There's a conspiracy theory for those seeking one!)

  2. None would accept the excuses offered for securing only the Oil Ministry and letting all those looters on the loose rampaging all their institutions. No one can accept the excuse that the Ministry of Oil was protected by coincidence or because the Americans believed that it held records of the country's wealth. People's civic records, hospitals, municipalities, service departments, the country's irrigation network are also important! Report after report came in that the US boys were actually encouraging the looters and forcing doors open for them. I personally witnessed one such incident.

  3. The looting, criminal gangs on the loose, rapes, kidnappings and lawlessness! Any third-rate third-world general knows that for a change of regime to cause minimum disruption and chaos, a curfew for a few days needs to be imposed. In Iraq itself, that was done several times in the past century. Was it that difficult for the American administration to plan for? People had already made provisions at home for the invasion itself. We all remember Rumsfeld's dismissive remarks on the issue: How do you think Iraqis felt when, in the days of the looting of Baghdad, they heard the U.S. Defense Secretary saying that looting "isn't something that someone allows or doesn't allow. It's something that happens."... Or that "freedom is messy"?

  4. Few people realize the amount of damage that was incurred on Iraq's (the world's, really) cultural treasures during that mass and afterwards: It has been estimated that one million books, 10 million documents, and 14,000 archaeological artifacts have been lost... the biggest cultural disaster since the descendants of Genghis Khan destroyed Baghdad in 1258. Parts of Babylon's ancient ruins were destroyed (by the army!) Some of those books and documents lost or destroyed were immensely valuable human heritage. ... and all this despite clear warnings (before the invasion) from UNESCO, the UN, the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute and the former head of the U.S. president's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property, Martin Sullivan. In the words of Venezuelan writer Fernando Baez: "It is a paradox: the inventors of the electronic book returned to Mesopotamia, where books, history and civilization were born, to destroy it."

  5. No one in his right mind would accept the reasons given to disband the army on the grounds that it was Baathist. There were so many defectors over the previous years that the US administration must have had a fair idea of the amount of discontent with the regime in the army. Indeed, they used some of those defectors to build and promote their case for the invasion! All military cadets were forced to become Baathists. Yet, many were only Baathists in name.....

  6. Why was the police force disbanded? Iraq had several uniformed police services. The traffic police had nothing to do with politics or oppression. Most of those on the street now are the same ones of the previous regime, re-employed. So why were they disbanded? There was also the anti-Crime police who knew many of the criminals and could have been useful in combating them. (Some people even took it upon themselves to take their records home to preserve them.) There was the non-political Border Guard Corps, etc. etc.

  7. There was the insensitive behavior of American soldiers. They certainly acted like a conquering army which made the case for winning the hearts and minds of people or having the welfare of Iraqis at the heart of the campaign... extremely unconvincing to the average Iraqi. Even today, two years after the invasion, the American patrols are avoided by ordinary people like the plague! They are seen as dangerous as those forces of darkness killing people at random.

  8. The laughable efforts made to restore services (minimum basic services like electricity water and refuse collection) and the unbelievable excuses made to explain the failure in doing so (to this date) are simply seen as pathetic. As far as I know, no insurgent or terrorist organization has taken it upon itself to attack refuse, yet nobody seems willing to collect it. There was plenty of money spent pretending to do that though!

  9. The ongoing "liquidation" of Iraqi academics and professionals. University professors from almost all disciplines (from Accounting to Zoology) belonging to all denominations (Arab, Kurd, Muslim, Sunni, Shiite, Christian, Atheist) and all political orientations (Baathists, Communists, Islamists, Secularists...) have been intentionally targeted and killed systematically over the past two years. There has been no sectarian or political pattern whatsoever. In most cases no ransom was involved, as these people are mostly not well off. Specialist doctors have also been targeted, sometimes for money and sometimes without apparent reason. Many have been explicitly instructed to leave the country. This has created so much public ill-feeling towards the American management of Iraq. The absence of any clear group to blame for these systematic killings only adds fuel to conspiracy theories. The only reason people find is the intentional devastation of the country.

10. There was also the reliance of the administration on totally corrupt so-called `imported' politicians. Some of those were already convicted on criminal charges. The US administration surely knew about them! In fact, they `promoted' the most corrupt among them. These people led to a new wave of corruption to an unprecedented level. Those people were also entrusted with designing the political process and guide the country to a new age of Democracy! We can all see the results of that.

11. Most `indigenous' Iraqis have come to believe that the democratic process was designed to enhance sectarianism and ethnicity. The result was that people were made to vote for lists that were Kurdish, Shiite or Sunni. This was seen as a wicked effort to divide the country and encourage civil war. In the darkest of Saddam's years there was not so much sectarian polarization of the country. The sectarian militias of various groups have been allowed to maintain their identities and paramilitary structure... outside the new Iraqi armed forces!
12. The administration's repeated assertions that the US army will stay until security is restored and their adamant refusal even to consider discussing a timetable for withdrawal are only seen as an excuse since their presence was the main cause of insecurity.

The list could go on... and the items and grievances would not be exhausted. Personally, this essay has been one of the most difficult for me to write objectively and concisely!

Talk of poor planning and incompetence is simply dismissed. No reasonable person would believe that the American planners could be so stupid. Few people believe that the US army, the most powerful in the world, would be so incompetent.

There have been numerous counter-arguments and excuses put forward over the past two years to these items. These arguments and excuses may or may not have been convincing to the American public... but please remember that in this essay, I am looking at things from a purely Iraqi perspective. All those arguments have not been convincing to Iraqis in the slightest. And, from what I read, the rest of the world doesn't seem to think much of them either. It simply doesn't do!

4. From an English language version of an Iraqi newspaper:

Official says U.S. lying about reconstruction

By Fahem al-Isami

Azzaman, December 13, 2006

The United States does not tell the truth about the reconstruction projects it executes in the country, the governor of the southern province of Diwayniya said.

Khaleel Hamza said U.S. generals in charge of reconstruction exaggerate the sums of money they spend and the number of projects they carry out.

Hamza was reacting to a U.S. army statement regarding the projects it has implemented in the province.

"They (U.S. occupation troops) must verify their statements with documents and evidence otherwise we shall not allow them to make such irresponsible remarks," Hamza told Azzaman.

He said U.S. troops do contribute to the implementation of certain project but they usually exaggerate their contribution and do not tell the truth.

"They (U.S. troops) prevent the implementation of strategic projects that are of benefit to the provincial population at large," he said.

For example, he said, U.S. generals in charge of reconstruction would announce a certain project which they claim will cost millions of dollars but "on close examination we find that a particular project for which they say they have allocated one million dollars is worth less than $300,000."

The governor also charge the troops of pursuing what he described as "unsound operations and methods" in implementing their projects.

Azzaman [the newspaper] tried but failed in its bid to get U.S. occupation troops' reaction.

What do you think the odds are that the the White House & friends understand this 180 degree difference in perception between US planners and Iraqi citizens?

If they don't they are unlikely to come up with any "new" plan that draw ordinary Iraqis in, and, in fact, are likely to come up with a plan that will quickly deepen the existing Iraqi feeling that they are enduring horrible bloodshed and destruction of their country solely to serve the purposes of a massively powerful foreign nation.