Monday, July 12, 2004

One square kilometer.

There’s an Iraqi proverb that says “when two Iraqis sit together to talk then politics will be there”. This saying was famous during the period of pluralism Iraqis lived before the 1958 military coup and shortly after.

This saying remained suitable in all times as Iraq was, and still a zone for international conflicts that had an impact on our psyche and on our ways of thinking.

Whenever we start a conversation about something we find ourselves somehow dragged into politics, the current events and the political history of Iraq.
This rule applies also to my house, where many friends gather every night to spend some time in chatting after a tough day of work. My group of friends includes people from different segments but still I don’t doubt the good will and nature of any of them.

Although our points of view regarding the change in Iraq vary from one to another, we all believe that getting rid of Saddam was a beautiful dream that has become a reality we live in and we all believe that the transition to a new life requires sacrifice but I feel that some of them have started to lose patience when they face a problem, which is a daily routine.

As in Baghdad’s extremely hot weather these days and when the electricity goes out the house becomes hot as hell which makes you curse even yourself and I don’t blame anyone for feeling so, since we have beared a lot and we know we have probably years before electricity in Iraq becomes stable and impatience remains an original part of human nature even if a better future was obvious and awaiting remains a burden that all humans share their hate for.

But when pessimism reaches an abnormal level then I’m totally against it and I’ll fight it strongly because it will hinder work and spread despair which is the last thing we need these days.
Yesterday the course of discussion lead to a debate about the economy of Iraq and if there was a hope for it to recover and also what has been accomplished since the end of the war. Was there really a reconstruction or not? And at what rate this process is going ? Is it at the desired pace?

As friends, conversation went among us nice and rational; there was optimism and there was constructive criticism with some exceptions. Our friendly meeting included two generations; ours and my father’s (the generation that ruled Iraq for 40 years and took the chance of three generations without allowing any to take its place). As the discussion heated up , one from the old generation burst out saying “nothing happened but the worst, the war destroyed us, our fortune was robbed and the ruins are everywhere. We haven’t seen in our lives a situation worse than this...” and went on in a criticism that was so bitter to reach the grade of despair which as I said I’ve always considered as a destructive attitude that achieves nothing but hindering, delaying and even destroying our efforts to pursue our future plans. He was parroting Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah.

I became really angry, however I waited for him to finish then I asked him if I could answer. “Sure I want to see how you’re going to answer” he replied, putting a challenging face.
I said:
-you claimed that Iraq’s fortune was robbed an that you didn’t see a real change or any reconstruction and I will answer you with a picture that you have to see everyday because it’s within a circle of one kilometer around your house and you have to see this picture every morning while you walk out of your house for whatever business you want to do.
He looked at me and said:
-What do you mean!?
-Ok, let’s start with the first thing you see when you get out of your house . The first building you will see is that of the law institute for higher studies which was destroyed after the 9th of April. Was it destroyed by an American bomb? No, it was destroyed by criminals who carried out Saddam’s plan in “burning Iraq before handing it to the Americans” joined by some selfish people and other ignorant and simple Iraqis who didn’t understand that soon after the 9th of April all the state belongings that were Saddam’s have become all-Iraqis’ belongings. Alright, this institute was rebuilt few months later and now it functions in a way better than before and help to create a new law system that is honest and independent and to me this is another and more important addition.

Ok, now let’s move for few tens of meters and you can find the publishing house that used to publish Uday’s hateful newspaper (Babil) this one also was not destroyed by American missiles and we all remember how the thieves left it as mere walls with the vents missing their robbed air conditioners. Ok, what happened later; it’s working now with full power after it was reconstructed and now it’s printing Al-Sabah news paper that you buy every morning. To me this one was also rebuilt twice; once as building and equipments and once as a trust worthy press instead of the pathetic old propaganda machine. Now I’m going to move for only another ten meters to find the (open educational college) where teachers improve their teaching methods, this one, uncle was also not destroyed by American bombs but by the same way as the former two buildings and now we can see that it was soon reconstructed and a few days ago they celebrated the graduation of a new bunch of their students.

Ok, let’s take a look at the adjacent building which is for the transport department in the ministry of trade. We watched that building being robbed in the same way. Do I have to remind you sir that this building was rebuilt and it’s back to work?
I don’t think I have to; you see it every morning.

I’ll move for another 50 meters and cross the street where lies one of the former evil military institutes that was used to train professional butchers; it wasn’t a target for American missiles but was robbed by some sick people who left it as ruins, and you know uncle how the American unit in charge of this area turned it into a residency for students who come from other governorates to study in Baghdad. Now they have air conditioning, hot and cold water and decent bedrooms.

Ok I’m still walking within this single kilometer that you see every day and I’ll walk for another 100 meters to find the ministry of labor and social affairs; this building was not destroyed by American missiles but the thugs attacked it and ruined and robbed everything they found in it. Don’t you see this building every day with its new look after it was rebuilt and started to function again.

I’ll walk for a couple hundreds of meters in another direction to take a look at the beautiful building of the ministry of financial affairs; looting and fire caused more damage to this building than what a missile would cause, look at it now and enjoy its new look without Saddam’s portrait that was covering a whole side of the building.
Here my father tried to interrupt me but I insisted on going to the end with my speech and I added addressing everyone:
I didn’t exceed an area of one kilometer-that we all see and pass by every day-in this round. I have mentioned a lot of things but I also forgot a lot more like all the schools and public clinics that were rebuilt within this area. Now, do you still have doubts about where our oil money went?
And I’m not talking about the whole country here, have you asked yourselves why the exchange price is 1500 now instead of 2200 in Saddam’s days?
And do you think that a 100 times raise for some employees salaries doesn’t represent a part of the money you were talking about? Don’t you notice the private businesses that are starting and those that are booming?
Here one of my friends turned to our pessimist guest asking him “haven’t you turned an old dirty shop into a network gaming hall?”

Here I turned back to my father’s friend:
Isn’t this an addition to your country? And I see that you’re carrying a cell phone that rings every now and then, don’t you consider this an addition? Don’t you see that goods in Baghdad’s streets are being stockpiled and shown on the sidewalks because stores can’t hold all that stuff. Isn’t this telling you something?
Here I end my speech uncle and I’m not going to mention freedom of speech, pluralism and more than 200 newspapers and a satellite dish for nearly every house and hundreds of internet cafe’s to bring you hundreds of views instead of one.

You’re looking with one eye closed and this will do us no good , we need two eyes, two ears and an open mind if we wanted to locate mistakes and find solutions during this phase.
Giving up and whining is no criticism, it’s destruction.
If you had the chance to make some calculations for what was spent till now I’m sure that you’re going to find out that oil revenues were not enough and I’m sure that someone had given us a hand!.
I wonder who would that be? Russia? France? Germany? Or probably Syria? No, no wait, it must be Iran, right?
Then I told myself: if some Iraqis, living in Iraq, watching the changes being done under their noses fail to see the truth and still depend on the media to tell them what’s going on in their own country then how can we blame people who live thousands of miles away for thinking similarly!?

By Mohammed.

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