The streets of Baghdad

Submitted by martin on 3 December, 2003 - 11:50

Baghdad today: unchecked gangsterism and crime. Robberies, rapes, kidnapping, abductions. Death on the streets every day.
Sixty or 70% unemployment. The electricity now works, on and off, but the phones don't, except for calls within a few particular areas of Baghdad.
The schools are falling apart, some of them having three separate shifts of students in the same classroom. No books, no equipment.
The pressure is eased only by many students - especially girls, scared by the street violence - not going to school any more.
Amidst all this, the American soldiers, scared, nervous, uncomprehending, unable to speak the language, intervening erratically and often brutally.
So Ramzi Kysia, an Arab-American pacifist who has spent most of the last two years in Iraq, told a meeting in London on 24 November.
Ramzi has been working with a group of Iraqi students to help them set up their own paper and website. Yes, he said, before the war Iraq was a hideous dictatorship. Five separate secret police forces terrorised the people and prevented any debate or discussion.
Now there are 110 newspapers in Baghdad and over 70 political parties.
But two things define the US occupation: "absolute arrogance" and "incompetence".
He described going to the US occupation offices. "It's a different world in there. It's like being back in America. They have air-conditioning, they all have mobile phones, they have everything they want. I don't know where they are living, but it is not in Iraq. They don't talk to Iraqis, except a very small elite, mostly of returned exiles".
Ramzi had raised a grievance with a US official. "OK", said the official. "Call me and we'll fix a meeting". Ramzi had to remind him that this was Baghdad. The phones don't work, and no-one outside the occupation authorities is allowed to have a mobile phone. You can't phone.
A lot of the issues look different close up.
Privatisation of the economy? "They give contracts to these American firms. They set up offices in the Republican Palace, but don't dare go outside. After a while they find an Iraqi middleman who will do a bit of the work for them, and give him a bit of the money".
Contracts to American firms? "The German firm Siemens had been rehabilitating the power grid. After the war they were out of Iraq for two and a half months while the Americans tried to give the contract to an American firm. Finally they had to back down and bring Siemens back. Two and a half months delay in getting the power restored".
A 15% flat tax rate. "The neo-conservatives think it's great, and the liberals think it's terrible, but actually it's a fantasy. No-one is paying any taxes".
When the USA took over Iraq they disbanded the regular police. Ramzi is an anarchist, no fanatic of law and order. But he believes that disbanding was disastrous.
"Gangsterism took hold, and it's very difficult to root it out now".
Too late, the USA is trying to reconstitute a police force - using officers not from the old regular police, but from the old secret police.
Ramzi does not have a neat political answer.
"It's easy and emotionally satisfying to say: end the occupation now! And certainly I can't support this occupation. But I don't think most people in Iraq would support the slogan".
People in the West should be active her. "George W Bush and Tony Blair lied to us. They lied to us over the most serious thing possible, to take us into a war. We have to call them to account".
Most of all it is "critical that ordinary people in the West and ordinary people in Iraq begin to talk to each other".
Trade union organisation is difficult. Ramzi had worked with the journalists' union and with the Union of the Unemployed of Iraq.
The UUI, he said, has done good and brave work, and has mobilised a much larger circle of people than its initiators, the Worker-communist Party of Iraq, whom Ramzi named as the only party he'd been able to work with to some degree.
Yet the main growing political force is the Islamists. "Iraqis have been through decades of dictatorship, three wars, and 12 years of sanctions. In those conditions they turn to religion. And often the mosques are the only people who can introduce any sort of order and organisation in the communities".

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