Security as a policy

An Iraqi policeman, Bagdad (AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye)
What does the opposition in Iraq want?

One day, Ali addressed his sheikh: “Oh, honorable sheikh, I was walking through the market, and I ran into Death there. It shook its finger at me. I’ve been unable to allay my fear since then. Allow me to leave and go to Basrah.”

The Sheikh nodded. Soon he was walking through the market, and he also met Death there. “Why did you threaten my friend Ali? He was so scared he left for Basrah.” And Death replied: “I was very surprised that he was just walking through Baghdad, while I had an appointment with him in Basrah.”

In Iraq, one can “meet death” anytime and any place. Today, its schedule is very tight, and it has no time to walk through markets.
“We don’t know what could happen any moment.”

People were using such phrases to describe their perception of life to me.
Many of them had miraculously survived blasts and shelling. Many of them witnessed their family members being blown up into tiny pieces. On the road to Karbala, there is a special cemetery for those whose bodies were torn into pieces.

Therefore, this parable is a sort of a remedy: death will make an appointment with everyone; it’s just that nobody knows where it will be.

Most residents, except for the contingents headed by General Petraeus, know this parable. But General Petraeus is the one who has been developing ways of providing life security in Iraq. This is the paradox of the Iraqi situation. Sometimes this story is told not about Basrah in the South, but rather about Samara in the North. Today, these two famous cities are considered very dangerous. Personally, I didn’t make it there, as all drivers that my acquaintances talked to refused to take me there even for a good fee.
In Iraq, if they refuse to drive you somewhere even for good money, it means this really is dangerous.

Security as an election program

People who don’t scold the authorities are very rare in Iraq. I met two people, both related to the former Prime Minister Maliki. He had lost the election, therefore by now my acquaintances had become the opposition.

Thus, most Iraqis are the opposition. Quite a number of people hope that the new authorities will change something. At the same time, there are absolutely no political ideas in Iraq. All this is happening against the background of 298 political parties that the authorities are so proud of, as the main and the only sign of democracy.

People have a rather basic demand regarding all politicians and political parties: to stop the destruction. Nobody knows how to do it though. Whoever achieves this will become a hero. It’s a paradox that anyone falling greedily on power never has a plan of improving anyone’s life other than their own, and that of their family.

Most people that I talked to in Iraq are united by a longing for security. This was the only thing they were willing to participate in the election for. Not for the sake of an abstract democracy or a victory of their candidates originating from their tribes; but rather for the sake of security which MAYBE their newly-elected would provide somehow.

“How can they provide it?” I would ask.
“This is true; so far, the deputies have been maintaining their own security only,” such was the sad reply of former deputies and ministers, of illiterate and professors, of security guards and partisans. And then they would continue rambling on security being their priority, and other things being secondary.

The good old days

Iraqi people wait eagerly for a calm life to return. They remember that just some seven years ago, life used to be calm. They remember its pace and its smell. Like in small American towns.
For many, it is voiced as “Like it was under Saddam”.
Some want for their previous life back, but without Saddam. Others are concerned that the new authorities have too many new “Saddams”, but they are lacking order and security.
This is exactly what Azhar Al-Sheikhly says: “It’s not that politicians don’t have programs; but their programs are all the same. They all keep talking about the same thing: that we need security.”
When I talked to Azhar, she was the opposition. As a result of the election, she is now a part of the future ruling party.

Just a short while ago, Azhar was the power; she was the Minister of Women’s Affairs under former Prime Minister Jaafari (2005-2006). During this recent election, she was running next to Ayad Allawi, the first interim Prime Minister of the invasion authorities.

At the election, Allawi won 91 seats, and Maliki’s bloc won 89. It may seem from a distance that the democracy is obvious; that these people won their seats through a struggle.
However things are much more prosaic. They both are Shiites; all they were competing in was their allegiance to Americans.

Iraq’s Parliament has 325 seats altogether. Azhar Al-Sheikhly was among few who had been elected for their deeds.

She is a famous woman in Iraq; she is educated; she is a professor of political science and a former Prime Minister of Women’s Affairs. She has organized assistance for widows and she has been teaching various professions to young women to help them survive in the destroyed country.

Now she will enter the Parliament. What does it mean? She will again have several cars, security guards and US$12,000 a month to maintain her own security. In this country, not everyone has $3 to spend daily.
Most women rely on themselves only. In Baghdad, hardly anyone leaves home unarmed. Female students are even encouraged to carry weapon. However, just seven years ago this used to be a society of people who were more or less provided with food, jobs, medical services and education. And weapons weren’t needed.

“What’s the most important thing now?”
“Security, for sure.”
I asked Azhar how to achieve security in the country. Not only for deputies.
She gave me a charming smile and read out points of her excellent program that was hardly any different from others. Nonsense as a political tribute.

Religious fabric of society

Iraq is a religious country. When a bus from Syria enters Iraq, all women passengers put scarves on their heads and take them off on the way out only. The only women who don’t cover their heads are Christians and those brought up by Saddam’s old regime. The same applies to length of their skirts.
I have read American papers about some Iraqi women in mini-skirts. I haven’t seen them. Just like in issues of democracy, Americans have wishful thinking about daily life in their invaded countries. The longer they stay in Iraq, the less democracy there is, as well as women in short skirts. The more damage, the more large-scale it gets.

Sunni and Shiite partisan groups are the most powerful opposition in the country.
Americans either pretend not to see them or to label them Al-Qaeda. One day, they are trying to find an approach to them, and then they suddenly switch to purging. They’re putting pressure on Iraqis to make them agree; but with their actions, they destroy all agreements.

I talked to a young engineer. He is a Sunni. He is 27 and he has a job, numerous family members and a young wife, whom he forbids from working. A degree of his hatred toward Iraq’s politicians is compared to feelings of his peers toward politics in Russia or Europe.

He mocks all manifestations of the modern “democratic Iraq”. He doesn’t believe in elections. He is shocked that the Sunni deputies were just thrown off the candidates list under some made-up pretext.
No, he isn’t a fan of Saddam; he just feels ashamed for the current state of the country which I see. He doesn’t like the way streets look, with all filth and concrete fences. He is embarrassed that he cannot invite me in to meet his family, because they have little space and many people; they have no light or water; and it would be threatening if neighbors saw a foreign woman visit them.

He doesn’t want to escape; he is waiting for the invasion to end; only then will a talk on politics be possible. However he doesn’t really believe that Americans will leave his country alone. He despises today’s rulers of the country.

I talked to a technical student. He is 20; his hometown is Fallujah. None of his several dozen family members went to vote. Compared to what life used to be like in 2004, he sees today’s situation as more optimistic. His optimism vanishes however, as soon as we start talking about specific details of living. Their house has been destroyed. There is neither money nor means for fixing it, as he cannot even bring building materials to his place. He’d have to undergo numerous extensive inspections to bring them to his residential area.

Checkpoint chaos


Today, checkpoints located every 100 to 500 meters throughout Baghdad and everywhere outside Baghdad are the only visible measure of achieving security. Devices for searching for explosives and metal items in cars were purchased in Great Britain. A scandal broke out in the previous parliament when it turned out that the equipment was fake. Nobody was convicted for it; and nobody is rushing to supply new metal detectors to Iraq.

So far, the only thing that checkpoints have achieved is huge traffic jams. Sitting in this traffic is really uncomfortable, as you’re sitting in a car like helpless cannon-fodder.

Every morning in Baghdad, nobody knows how long it will take them to make their regular trip, whether it’s 15 minutes or several hours. Nobody knows when it will end, or how to make this situation at least begin to improve.

There’s only one novelty in Baghdad: several street lamps on solar batteries located in some places; since the city doesn’t have electric power, but it does have a curfew and ration stamps.

In Iraq, many people have decided to wait for the time when Americans leave the country. That’s when the real Iraqi politics will begin.

Nadezhda Kevorkova for RT