Saturday, November 18, 2006

Iraq: Stuff happens

Stability and democracy were the goals for Iraq but the cruel law of unintended consequences has come into full force. Warnings were given and ignored. Incompetence and corruption prevailed while sectarian violence and crime have spiraled out of control

This from Hugh Sykes at the BBC:
I met a man in his home. He was using wireless internet.

They did not have that under Saddam.

As he clicked his mouse to open a document, he inadvertently returned to a website that he had just been visiting - hard core, full frontal, naked, young men.

They did not have access to that under Saddam.

It reminded me of a Baghdad cinema that I visited shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein. It had faded posters in the lobby of Top Gun with Tom Cruise.

I was compiling a report about entertainment in the new Iraq. I slipped into the auditorium to collect some sound effects for the radio report.

It was not Top Gun. The music was climaxing. So were the naked men and women on the screen.

"Did you show films like this when Saddam was in power?" I asked.

"No, never," he replied.

Crime wave

The vortex of violence in Iraq was also, presumably, not an intended consequence of the invasion.

The intense crime wave which disfigured daily life in Baghdad and Basra and other Iraqi cities in the early days of the occupation has evolved into car bombs, roadside bombs, suicide bombs, sniper attacks, drive-by shootings and sectarian killings.

There have been mass abductions, minibus ambushes with the victims found dead in a field or floating in the Tigris river, torture followed by murder, severed heads left in cardboard boxes and hundreds of bodies found dumped in the street - often partially eaten by dogs.

Bombs have exploded in crowded markets, main shopping streets, mosques, churches, police and army recruitment centres, even buried under football pitches where children with no shoes play soccer in the dust.

Stray bullet

The invasion was called Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Ask 10-year-old Mohammed what he thinks of Iraqi freedom.

Mohammed was playing in the garden behind his house one evening after sunset. His father found him on the ground, moaning, with blood coming from his neck.

A stray bullet hit Mohammed and went through his spinal cord.

At first, he was paralysed from the chest down, but able to move himself about in a wheelchair. Now his arms are also paralysed.

Mohammed's father - and many others I have met - say life was better under Saddam Hussein.

Brutal and terrible, but nowhere near as bad as it is now.

Iraq has become Hell.

The horrors are so searing, so frequent that fear is a rampant virus, destabilising normal life so that even a trip to the shops or the walk to school are tainted with deep anxiety.

Is there a suicide bomber on this minibus? Is that parked car a bomb? Is that bag in that bicycle basket somebody's vegetables or explosives?

Under Saddam, they say, you knew where the "red line" was. Now there is no red line.

Chaos warnings

"Stuff happens," the outgoing American Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, once said about the anarchic disorder which developed in Iraq after the invasion.

But they were all warned - by opponents and by friends alike - that "stuff" would happen.

A Pentagon adviser and former US ambassador, Peter Galbraith, foretold "chaos" and "a breakdown of law and order".

General Eric Shinzeki, former army chief of staff, advised that security in Iraq could only be maintained after the invasion if America committed between 300,000 and 400,000 troops. He was slapped down by his superiors and accused of being "wildly off the mark".

A prediction by an Arab friend of mine, made before the invasion had begun, sounded a clear warning bell to anyone who cared to listen.

"If the Americans do this," he said, "there will be such a wave of suicide bombings and attacks on Americans that you will not believe it."

Endless nightmare

The Baghdad government now estimates that the number of Iraqis who have been killed since the invasion in 2003 is 150,000.

This year, the death toll has been about 100 every day - 3,000 a month.

That's 36,000 known dead in a year. The Iraqi government estimate feels about right.

In April 2003, as looters rampaged through Baghdad and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis found themselves without work, a man in a crowd said to me:

"We were dreaming of freedom. They have stolen our dream. What use is freedom of speech if I cannot work or feed my family or walk safely in the street?"

The stolen dream has now become a terrifying, endless nightmare.

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