Moving the Cotton:
A Point Counterpoint on the Iraq Occupation


The following remarks by an Occupation spokesperson are commented on (in italics) by Ahmed Khurrufa, 32, an Iraqi friend of the Voices in the Wilderness (VITW) team in Baghdad. Source: VITW.

Since George Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1…the first battalion of the new Iraqi Army has graduated and is on active duty. Over 60,000 Iraqis now provide security to their fellow citizens.

But we’ve never felt more insecure. Though the security is improving (regardless of bombing and terrorist attacks. I am only referring to robbery and kidnapping), Baghdad is still far from being a safe city. I started using my (relatively new) car a few weeks ago after having kept it in my garage for about six months. I still never go out alone, and I know many who have not returned to using their new cars yet. It’s been over eight months now [since the invasion] and it’s still far from being safe enough.

Nearly all of Iraq’s courts are functioning. The Iraqi judiciary is fully independent.

We certainly hope so, but no one is sure about that yet. Only time can prove whether our judiciary system is really independent and just.

On October 6, power generation hit 4,518 megawatts (MW) – exceeding the pre-war average.

Unfortunately I’m not sure of the number for the pre-war average, but let me give you some facts:

• Iraq’s power generation was about 10,000 MW before the first Gulf War in 1991.

• Now, Iraq’s power need is about 20,000 MW, and the 4,518 MW is only about a quarter of what we need. So the best we’ll have is about six hours a day during peak seasons.

• Before the war, Baghdad used to have an average of 18-24 hours a day in mid-summer and mid-winter. And it was almost full time during autumn and spring. Now, as an average, we have electricity about eight hours a day.

• The construction of any major power generation plant (in the range of a thousand MW) takes from three to five years. So far no such action has been taken or even considered. So we can’t expect any noticeable improvement for some years to come.


All 22 universities and 43 technical institutes and colleges are open, as are nearly all primary and secondary schools.

That’s true. But every now and then a school gets a warning about a bomb. So many parents are afraid to send their kids to schools, and when they do so, they are deeply worried. Most of the university laboratories were looted, but new ones have not been prepared yet.

By October 1, Coalition forces had rehabbed over 1,500 schools – 500 more than their target.

As for schools, well, Kathy [Kelly] has replied to that accurately: “Several articles have already been written about the poor quality of school rehabs. Loads of paint have been applied so that buildings look better from the outside, but inside there hasn’t been adequate rehab of plumbing systems, water systems, and insulation from rain.”

Small amounts of money were given to contractors without monitoring. The contractors did some fixing, especially painting, and stole the rest of the money. End of story.

Teachers earn from 12 to 25 times their former salaries.

Inflation

True, but the extra money is being spent in ways that did not exist before. People are spending money to subscribe for a few amperes to get some electricity from the large generators that can be found in many neighborhoods now. An ampere is sold for about $2-3 a month. So for the minimum useful amount of five amperes, one will have to pay $10-15 a month. (A teacher’s salary now ranges from $60-120 a month, maybe a little bit more.) Those who are not willing to stand in the fuel queue will have to buy fuel in the black market for about 20 times its official price. The same for kerosene. Many things like meat and vegetables are almost double their previous prices.

Only electrical equipment and cars got cheaper; everything else got more expensive, eating the few extra bucks that were given.


We have restored over three-quarters of pre-war phone services and over two-thirds of the potable water production.

The telephone lines that are working now are basically those that had not been damaged in the first place. After about eight months, only about 15% of those damaged have been restored. No one expected fixing phone service to take that long.

As for water, well, it’s too vital. You didn’t expect the US to leave us without water…or did you?


The wheels of commerce are turning. From bicycles to satellite dishes to cars and trucks, businesses are coming to life in all major cities and towns.

That’s something I’ve always wanted to comment on.

Allowing tens of thousands of air conditioners to come into the country (tax-free) when we have an extreme shortage of power generation is not a smart thing to do. I don’t know if you know this, but a single air conditioning unit consumes about 15 amperes, while all our house consumes about ten amperes.

Allowing about 500,000 cars to enter the country (tax-free) when we have an extreme shortage of fuel is also not a smart thing to do. What has happened is more fuel shortage and more traffic jams thanks to no traffic lights due to absence of electricity. I used to drive to work in about 20 minutes; now it takes from 40 to 90 minutes!



Improved Banking

Ninety five per cent of all pre-war bank customers have service and first-time customers are opening accounts daily. Iraqi banks are making loans to finance businesses. The central bank is fully independent. Iraq has one of the world’s most growth-oriented investment and banking laws. Iraq has a single, unified currency for the first time in 15 years.

Well, we are definitely happy to finally have a decently printed currency.

Since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1:

• Satellite dishes are legal.

Thank God! We needed something to spend our time with because no one now dares to leave home after 9pm.

• Foreign journalists aren’t on 10-day visas paying mandatory and extortionate fees to the Ministry of Information for “minders” and other government spies.

• There’s no Ministry of Information.

That’s something we are really grateful for. Really.

• There are more than 170 newspapers.

Many newspapers, but not 170. Anyway Iraqis are finally back to reading newspapers. Many had stopped doing so for a long time.

• You can buy satellite dishes on what seems like every street corner.

For the first few months after the occupation [began], all Iraqis were either selling satellite reception systems, or buying them. That was the only thing going.

• Foreign journalists and everyone else are free to come and go.

But they are afraid to come. Baghdad is no more a safe place for foreigners.

A nation that had not one single element – legislative, judicial, or executive – of a representative government, does. In Baghdad alone residents have selected 88 advisory councils. Baghdad’s first democratic transfer of power in 35 years happened when the city council elected its new chairman.

Today in Iraq chambers of commerce, business, school and professional organizations are electing their leaders all over the country. Twenty-five ministers, selected by the most representative governing body in Iraq’s history, run the day-to-day business of government.

Did it ever happen anywhere in the world that the religion of the minister of each ministry is determined before selecting the minister? Regardless of the minister’s ability, the way they were chosen arouses many question marks – let alone exclamation marks. But something is definitely better than nothing.

The problem of each minister promoting those having the same religion as his is a different story, and I don’t believe that the Americans are to be blamed for this.

Uday and Quesay [Saddam’s sons] are dead – and no longer feeding innocent Iraqis to zoo lions, raping the young daughters of local leaders to force cooperation, torturing Iraq’s soccer players for losing games…murdering critics. Children aren’t imprisoned or murdered when their parents disagree with the government.

We are definitely happy that Uday and Quesay are gone, but now the possibility of being blown up or getting caught in a crossfire is much higher than getting into trouble with Uday and Quesay. Two terrorists are gone, but replaced by hundreds. (Note that I’m not referring to the US Army, but to those who kill innocent Iraqis and then claim to be the resistance.)

Since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1… Political opponents aren’t imprisoned, tortured, executed, maimed or forced to watch their families die for disagreeing with Saddam. Millions of longsuffering Iraqis no longer live in perpetual terror.

That eases our pain.

Saudis will hold municipal elections. Qatar is reforming education to give more choices to parents. Jordan is accelerating market economic reforms. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for the first time to an Iranian – a Muslim woman who speaks out with courage for human rights and democracy and for peace.

And let me add: Iraq is now a complete mess.

Yes, things are getting better, but very slowly. So slowly that we are not expecting things to get back to normal for months to come. We modified our hopes from a few months to a few years and we are very sad to have reached this conclusion.

Till this moment we are not even close to the pre-war situation. Yes we can have satellite dishes, and we have many newspapers. But put all such stuff on one side of a balance, and the absence of electricity, security and fuel on the other, and you tell me which side will go down.

The Coalition did a very lousy job. We are not asking them to admit it, but at least let them keep quiet and not go bragging about it.

As one Iraqi said, “The Americans took the cotton out of our mouths and put it in their ears.”