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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Totalitarian Iraq

I crosspost some of my posts to Christianity General, an online forum that I -- believe it or not -- help moderate. It's actually a forum that's a good mix of lefty Christians, Jews, Atheists, and the people who hate lefty Christians, Jews, and Atheists.

Anyhow, I crossposted yesterday's post, "It's the War, Stupid," there and got a quick reply by what may very well be one of only a handful of British fans of the occupation of Iraq.

It turns out that I should "cheer up" about the occupation and I'm just being needlessly pessimistic. To back up her claim, she cited a Guardian story about a busload of refugees returning to Baghdad. Never mind that the story's about 800 people returning and later goes on to reference over 1.5 million refugees in Syria alone, surely I could see that any change for the better was an improvement?

I came up with what I hope was a pretty decent analogy:

Imagine a patient with cancer. While in the hospital, the patient develops the flu. A couple days later, the patient shakes the flu. Is the patient getting better? No. These are two different conditions. Losing the flu doesn't make for a healthy patient -- you've still got the cancer to deal with. The patient is no better off than when they came into the hospital.

The cancer is the occupation in general and the violence that it generates. The flu was the violence spike following the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, which set off a series of sectarian reprisals and counter attacks. That spike's winding down. Or seems to be, anyway.

And here's what that cancer looks like -- at least, from one perspective:

New York Times:

In a newly released survey, American journalists in Iraq give harrowing accounts of their work, with the great majority saying that colleagues have been kidnapped or killed and that most parts of Baghdad are too dangerous for them to visit.


Almost two-thirds of the respondents said that most or all of their street reporting was done by local citizens, yet 87 percent said that it was not safe for their Iraqi reporters to openly carry notebooks, cameras or anything else that identified them as journalists. Two-thirds of respondents said they worried that their reliance on local reporters -- including many with little or no background in journalism -- could produce inaccurate or incomplete news reports.

A big part of the problem is that what little peace there is in Iraq is purchased with a level of security that any honest observer would have to call totalitarianism. McClatchy's Leila Fadel tells how keeping two appointments in the Green Zone takes up an entire day.

Baghdad Observer:

Forty minutes of traffic to the Green Zone is followed by four pedestrian checkpoints. Two are body searches, two are just badge checks. At one checkpoint pedestrians are asked to walk through a spaceship looking X-ray machine. The elderly Iraqi woman in front of me starts to cry when she is asked to spread her legs and arms and step inside the machine.

"I'm scared," she says between sobs.

When I'm done there a dog sniffs my camera, cell phone and recorder for explosive substances.

It goes on from there, including one incident involving a bomb-sniffing dog detecting traces of explosives on a car that had passed through an area that had experienced a recent explosion. "For over two hours we wait," she writes. "The car is checked out and found to be of no harm... A full day out and barely anything accomplished."

Kind of hard to live anything close to a normal life that way. Fadel had two interviews to conduct -- that was it. How are you supposed to do all this and go to a job every day? When would you sleep?

Outside the Green Zone, "safety" and "relative peace" looks like this:

Inside Iraq:

Yesterday noon, an American squad from the United State Army (about ten to twelve) broke in Al-Mansour preparatory school for one reason or another. We don't have the right to ask them why they came to the school. The soldiers spread in different spots of the school walking towards the back yard which is used as a soccer field. Most of the students were in their classes when the squad came, but still there were many students in the yard who were terrified to see the American soldiers with their guns. One of the students was upset to see the soldiers and he threw a stone and hit one of them. Three soldiers surrounded him kicking him with their boots for some minutes on different parts of his body.

A teacher at the school said the squad captain told him "next time if students throw stones, we will use our machine guns not the boots." Let's pretend for a moment that this level of totalitarianism is entirely necessary. If it is, then who's going to do this when we're gone? If this is what it takes to keep bombings down to two or three a day, then what's going to happen when these people are on their own?

Of course, I don't believe that it is necessary -- that was Saddam's argument for his own oppression. Where there is something approaching a functioning government in Iraq, that government is a police state. Those prep school kids are just lucky they were dealing with the Army and not Blackwater -- those guys' heads are all screwed up by steroid abuse. That school would've been a smoking ruin.

Is this who you want to be? Do you want to be the nation responsible for this police state? This is the "relatively peaceful" Iraq. This is the great progress we've made. This is what Iraq looks like when people say it looks good -- it doesn't look much different from Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Except, of course, with car bombings and shootings. And this is the new, improved Iraq. It was worse a month or two ago and there's really no reason to believe that it won't be again.

And President Bush has committed to continue doing this until the world stops turning. If we were to follow his vision, we'd remain as Iraq's security force from now until forever, enforcing this police state. We're building the largest embassy in the world there. When it's finished, it'll be about the size of Vatican City. We're never, ever going to leave and our Viceroys will sit in a stronghold greater than any palace Saddam Hussein built.

Sound like a good idea to you?


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