Friday, May 30, 2003

From reading this blog, you probably wouldn't guess that I consider the development of the Anglo-British administration in Iraq as the most important developing story in the Middle East. I haven't said much about it because I'm not sure I have a lot to add about the snippets of information filtering through the media. However, I have made a couple of observations. The U.S. has clearly shifted from trying to set up a national government ASAP to working on restoring order and local rule. Given how ineffective the national government we set up over Afghanistan has been, this was probably a smart move. It does, of course, guarantee the irritation of those Iraqis who aspired to be part of the national government, as well as Arab public opinion which sees this as a humiliating imposition of foreign rule.

This Los Angeles Times story also has a number of things in it which I consider interesting brushstrokes which together show the sort of picture developing in Iraq today. One thing this does is get past the capital-centered coverage we usually get from the media to see what's happening in outlying areas. The villagers here were angry about the home searches and being disarmed. They also complained that Saddam's old police leaders were still in charge, and that the U.S. was behaving like an imperialist power. From the quotes, people seemed under the impression that gas prices were high because the U.S. was stealing oil.

The lack of cultural savvy on the part of American troops is also a problem. A construction worker named Esmael Rabee accused them of violating women's honor and dignity, in the context of forcing them to leave their home. The article didn't go into details, but they are imaginable. The media often touted how secular Iraq was; however, I remain skeptical about whether this applies outside the major metropolitan areas. Much of the country undoubtedly lives with very conservative customs which we're blundering into blindly.

The administration blames continuing problems on Saddam loyalists, and I'm sure there are still some of those wandering around, who will continue to be a convenient scapegoat for the shortcomings of the reconstruction effort. However, the real battle is no longer against them, but against the poverty and desperation experienced by people who have no real reason to trust the nation that patronized Saddam in the first place and which is now blundering around uncertainly trying to fix the lives it helped break.

Another story which interests me is what is happening in the smaller cities like Kirkuk and Mosul. I shall seek to learn what I can over the weekend.


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