August 03, 2003

Iraq Watch Max Rodenbeck in

Iraq Watch

Max Rodenbeck in the NYRB. Most readers will find this a pretty gloomy read. I actually think, all told and looking towards the future, that it's pretty positive. Some key grafs:

"Slowly but steadily, Iraqi grievances are beginning to be addressed. The repair of infrastructure in Baghdad itself has lagged, but progressed elsewhere. In mid-July, Paul Bremer, the American proconsul who heads the Coalition Provisional Authority, initialed a half-year budget that doubles the expenditure level of Saddam's government. A rush of new goods and fresh opinions has begun to give Iraqis a taste of the potential rewards of freedom."

And:

"In Iraq today there are plenty of scenes to warm American hearts: Marines graciously losing soccer games or performing magic tricks for delighted street kids; civilians being treated with skill and kindness in American field hospitals. For most Iraqis, however, the experience of contact with the occupiers is one of small humiliations.

Still:

"They smash ours and then we have to watch them chatting away on their own," muttered a Baghdad matron within my hearing, seeing a foreign reporter laughing into his sat phone on a street corner in the upscale Mansour district. A friend "embedded" with US troops west of Baghdad was appalled to witness an officer tossing MREs to children: if you don't know how to use their flameless heat packets, it's easy to get scalded. In Mosul, I saw a worried father with his young son, trying to explain to an impatient American foot patrol that there was an unexploded bomb in his garden. "We're not authorized to leave the patrol route," was the answer I had to translate for the man. He would have to go to US headquarters in Mosul's fortified municipality building, stand behind coils of concertina wire with the daily heaving mob of citizens hoping for jobs or information, and shout for the unlikely attention of the blank-faced soldiers inside."

Back to some good news. Bremer has shown himself to be a talented, intelligent and sensitive proconsul so far:

"In late June, the most revered and authoritative Shiite spiritual leader in Iraq, Ayatollah Sistani, ended months of haughty disengagement from politics with a stunning rebuke to Bremer (whom he has refused to meet, even while cordially receiving Sergio de Mello, the United Nations' special representative in Iraq). Sistani's fatwa described as "fundamentally unacceptable" the idea that the Americans might appoint a constitution-drafting committee and called for national elections to choose delegates to a constitutional congress. Given the 15 million Shiites' cautious acquiescence to American rule so far, despite calls from radicals for active "resistance," the ayatollah's expression of impatience represented a serious challenge.

It is to Bremer's credit that he responded gracefully. In early June, he announced the intention to appoint a council of Iraqis to advise the occupation authority. By early July, this body was being described as having a governing, not merely an advisory, role. Its first meeting in mid-July was not entirely smooth, as members bickered over whether to term America "liberator" or "occupier." Yet at least it gave the impression of momentum for change. Meanwhile, some of the more unsavory early American appointees to figurehead governorships were removed. District and municipal elections were held in several cities, including Baghdad. At every level, newly installed Iraqi officials were beginning to be more visible.

The reforms have come amid other signs of a more enlightened approach. American officials now say it would be a good idea to consider trying members of the former regime before Iraqi courts."

Read the whole thing if time allows.

Meanwhile, check out Charles Glass' Syria sketch here.

Posted by Gregory at August 3, 2003 08:46 PM
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