Iraq Journal: What Does the Future Hold?

by Rick McDowell

Iraqis are increasingly uncertain of what lies ahead as US-appointed administrators arrive to establish ministries and a new government. To gain a better understanding of individual expectations, we asked a number of Iraqis to respond to the following questions:

• What does the future hold for Iraq?
• What kind of government do you want?

The similarities of the responses are striking, as most Iraqis can’t see beyond the immediate crisis. There is a lot of fear, uncertainty, and ambivalence. We are reminded that Iraq’s civilian population has been under the yoke of a brutal regime and has seen their fortunes spiral downward. Iraq is a country of 25 million people, with almost as many viewpoints. Increasingly, people have asked us to omit their names in our reports, for fear of what may lie ahead. Below is a sampling of responses to our cursory interviews.

Professor at the College of Technology
What the future holds for Iraq is a difficult question. It is like searching for a black cat in a dark room. We are afraid of the future. Maybe we’ll have a good government, but only if we can share in building it. There will be many problems if others build our government. The Americans don’t know what we want, only the Iraqi people know. I believe Iraq needs a federal government, which is inclusive of the views and beliefs of the many sectors of society.

Homemaker
I don’t know about the future. One month ago, I thought it would be good. But with all of the killing and stealing, I don’t know anymore. I know there is no place in this world that is perfect. The United States has electricity, but it also has drugs and crime. I would like to see a government that is educated and wise and benefits the country and not just itself. A king could rule Iraq if he were a good man, like Iraq’s former king. Jordan has a good government under the King. I think there are too many political parties. Everyone wants to rule, but no one party can rule Iraq because we are larger than individuals and political parties. Maybe the parties can unite and rule, but I don’t believe Iraqis and Arabs can unite and work together. The educated Iraqis have left Iraq, while those who stayed are people who can only imitate and have nothing inside of them.

Former employee of the Foreign Ministry
The future is not clear, but if Americans continue to do nothing, I fear things will worsen. The United States keeps promising the Iraqi people that they will establish a government, but up until now, there is nothing. I think the long-term will depend on what happens in the short-term. If the situation remains as it is, and public services are not restored, both nationalist and religious resistance will increase. I think the future government will be a republic—a representative government with ethnic and religious groups loyal to Iraq—serving in the interest of the country.

Attorney
The future is not clear to me. We are afraid and worried. The Americans must do something. I’m a Christian, but I realize that Muslims will lead our country. I hope we do not have a theocracy. I hope for a secular state with a partial democracy. I say a “partial democracy” because we are not used to freedom or the responsibilities necessary to run a government. It is not easy to practice democracy and freedom. We could lose our balance.

Hotel clerk
The future will be much better. The Saddam regime and its criminals are gone. I believe that the new government will be made up of good people who will help the Iraqi people. I think we need time, maybe one or two years, before conditions improve. I hope we can retire from war, and in its place have good schools and healthcare. There will be many changes in the future. The Iraqi mind will change. I prefer that a king rule Iraq.

Iraqi administrator in a relief organization
What do we want? Only peace! I cannot see the future, for it is too far away. Maybe Iraq will become “Palestine, Part Two.” My two children cry all night. They cannot sleep because it is too hot and we have no electricity. We are only trying to get through the day. It is not what we expected. Everyone was happy on the day the Americans arrived, but it has become like a bad movie. I only want to live in peace.

Shopkeeper
The future is darkness. All we want is peace, now and in the future. We want to live and work in peace, nothing more. I have no knowledge about government. Iraqis have no politics. Maybe, we can have peace without a government.

Since 1996, Rick has led or accompanied fifteen delegations to Iraq. Now an American Friends Service Committee Iraq Country Representative, he traveled to Baghdad and other Iraqi cities in early May 2003 with a humanitarian assessment team. He is currently back in the US for a brief vacation and speaking engagements before returning to Iraq in mid-September.