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NY Times on the Surge and the Situation in Iraq

John on September 8, 2007 at 10:56 pm

Not a complete failure says the Times, but probably only a temporary reprieve. Of course it’s almost impossible to imagine any other perspective coming from the Times. They have too much capital invested in failure. And this piece is clearly designed to leave the impression that such failure is inevitable. Case in point…

On the first page of the six page report they quote an Iraqi actor named Haidar Minathar:

“These improvements in the face of the general devastation look small and insignificant because the devastation is so much bigger,” said Haidar Minathar, an Iraqi author, actor and director. He added that the security gains “have no great influence.”

This isn’t the first time Haidar has received prominent placement in US reporting on the war. In 2005 he was quoted by the LA Times complaining about the state of the Iraqi film industry:

“Money. It’s all about money,” said Heider Minathar…

But going back a bit further, Minathar was quoted at length in this 2003 piece for Time magazine titled “Out of the Wreckage.”

the end of the Saddam regime is a mixed blessing for Minathar. What he fears now is not prison but poverty. Although his plays were sometimes banned for poking fun at the old regime, he refrained from overtly attacking it; after all, like many actors, he was dependent on it for his living. The government tolerated his more subtle ribbing and didn’t see him as much of a threat. It even kept him on a monthly salary of $150 — generous in a state where teachers made only about $10 a month. With that support gone, Minathar doesn’t have the funds to put on his shows. He’s been elected the head of the new Iraqi Theater Artists’ Union and has approached the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (now the Coalition Provisional Authority) to try to get actors the same $20 payments made to other government employees. But so far he’s struck out. “Saddam Hussein, who was so oppressive, still gave the actors salaries. And the Americans won’t — is that possible?” he asks.

Lack of money isn’t the only hurdle facing Iraqi theater. Minathar has a list of complaints: “How can people come to a play when there’s no gas, no transportation and no security when it’s time to go home?” So he spends his days idling with other actors in the looted and burned al-Rashid Theater, where the banter is sometimes drowned out by the clatter of passing tanks.

Earlier this month Minathar’s new play premiered in the northern city of Sulaymaniya, where the autonomous Kurdish government is funding some performances. “I was always trying to get people to protest against the regime,” he says. “But now the regime is gone so I have to find something new to protest.”

One begins to get the impression that Mr. Minathar is a complainer by nature. He was unhappy with his lot under Saddam, unhappy with his lot after Saddam, and so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that he’s unhappy with how things are going now. In fact, I suspect that if the US pulls out all of its troops, say next year, we could return to Iraq a few months later and find that Mr. Minathar is still unhappy about how things are going.

Beyond these rather shallow attempts to bad mouth progress, it does seem that the picture of sectarian conflict presented by the Times’ piece is an all but intractable situation. There is simply more Sunni-Shia hatred for one another than there is hatred of the tyranny, death and poverty that will inevitably descend on Iraq once left to its own devices.

If we fail in Iraq it will be Islam itself that is ultimately to blame. The rest is details.It’s the sectarian divide that makes the political situation such a mess. It’s the sectarian divide that motivates the militias. Of course years of sectarian stress created by Saddam’s rule and the Iran-Iraq war add a political dimension to the issue. But the inescapable conclusion seems to be this: If we fail in Iraq it will be Islam itself that is ultimately to blame. The rest is details.

The big picture of factional maneuvering presented by the Times results in a nation afraid to step out into the streets. That smaller scale reality is offered elsewhere by one of the contributing reporters to the surge piece, Iraqi correspondent for the Times Ahmad Fadam:

My name is Ahmad Fadam, I’m a father of two, Mohammed, he is almost 8 years old, and Mais, and she is almost 7.

Mohammed, my son, has just finished his first year at school and I can say that the past 8 months was difficult for him as it was for me. His school is just 3 blocks away from where we live. It seems so close, but still I can not send him alone. I have to walk or drive him to school every day because I can not guarantee what might happen. He can get kidnapped or shot. These are the things that we, the parents, worry about. The possibility that our kids might get run by a car or get lost became unimportant to us. What is important is the daily violence in the city.

And even at school, the daily violence became the biggest concern. Teachers sometimes cannot come to school and the same for the students. Sometimes the headmaster sends the kids home earlier than usual because of violence around the school.

Fear became part of our kids’ lives. They are afraid when they go to school, when they play, when they eat and sleep, and even when they go out with their parents. I remember that my daughter Mais was with me one day while I was heading to the market. We saw this car on the side of the road and the driver was dead, he was shot in the head, and my kid saw that.

She said to me, “Dad, this man is dead, right? Who killed him?” Imagine that I have to answer such questions to my kid, so I asked her “how do you know that he is dead?” and she said, “there is blood on his head, he was shot”. Death became something that even small kids know about. They even know what killing is and imitate that when they play. They insist that we buy them toy guns to play their game. Of course there is no more police and robbers game, there is Americans and terrorists now, and someone has to act dead at the end of the game.

That is why we are afraid for our children. First we don’t want them to get hurt, and second, we don’t want them to see such things. We stopped taking them anywhere, no amusement parks, no swimming pools, and even if they want to go out and play in the street, we have to keep watching them until they finish. There was a mortar attack against my neighborhood once, and I had to carry both my kids and run like crazy away from the explosions. God knows what might have happened to my children on that day if I wasn’t there — just because they were playing in the street.

The security situation might be better, but it still sounds intolerable. That said, I’m still concerned that whenever we eventually pull out of Iraq, the situation for Mr. Fadam’s children will go from bad to much, much worse very quickly. For this and other reasons, I still think a precipitous pull out of US troops is the wrong move.

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Category: Islamic Jihad |

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