Friday, October 07, 2005

Expect more soon on the issue of mass executions and forced relocations going on in Iraq (ala 1982 in Bosnia). A few things are beginning to surface regarding this issue. It's a substantive and sensitive topic that is currently putting some Iraqis at risk to tell. CJ

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Here's my first op-ed after returning. It should be published in Dallas and San Antonio:

Iraq Struggles to Recover from ‘Hurricane Bush’
by Charlie Jackson

Iraqis view the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita with chagrin as the story unfolds on their television screens. “No wonder Iraq is such as mess,” said my friend Mahmoud as we sat in the family room of his home in Baghdad. “America seems to have few plans for its own people and much less for us.”

In my third visit to Iraq I have gauged the after effects of the war and progress, or lack thereof, of reconstruction efforts. What I found disappointed me and is entirely at odds with the general view from Washington. There is too little progress and growing anger and American incompetence.

Electricity for most of Iraq is limited to 16 hours per day, more than two years after US forces stormed into the country. Baghdad’s al-Dora power plant is in great need of repair but little money is available even at peak operating status, and only produces a fraction of the power needed for this city of six million. Private generators hum throughout the city as residents and business try to escape triple-digit temperatures.

Highways are clogged with cars that must circumvent bridges and roads closed by U.S. forces and checkpoints every few miles. Sometimes all vehicles are forced to the other side into incoming traffic because of U.S. convoys occupying the road ahead. It can take hours just to travel only a few miles. Lines at gasoline stations are long, sometimes requiring cars and trucks to wait overnight for a fill-up.

Thousands of Iraqis have been driven from their homes due to fighting in areas like Ramadi and Tal Afar. Others are being forced from neighborhoods and villages in patterns of “ethnic cleaning” reminiscent of Bosnia and Kosovo. Public buildings are ransacked and become vacant shells for criminal activity.

Hospitals and morgues are overwhelmed with Iraqis injured by bombings, shootings, and other attacks. Lack of medical supplies, poor operating conditions, and no medicine mean that many patients die unnecessarily and infant mortality remains high. Doctors and medical professionals are fleeing the country to escape being killed or kidnapped for ransom.

Schools continue to operate on half-day schedules due to overcrowding. While pay has greatly improved for teachers and administrators, students often lack desks, textbooks, and basic supplies.

Water, sewer, and telephone systems are being repaired and upgraded and some areas of Iraq’s infrastructure – devastated by two decades of war and sanctions – have been rebuilt. However, the economy is hampered by lack of security, transportation roadblocks, inadequate commercial power, and regulations imposed by the U.S.

Fighting between various groups – Multinational forces and Iraqi nationalists, foreign insurgents, criminal gangs, “black ops” groups – drives Iraqis indoors and creates a climate of fear and distrust throughout the country. No one knows if they will suddenly become part of a bomb attack, kidnapping, or assassination.

U.S. forces and civilians contractors have increasingly retreated into “safety zones” and rarely venture beyond the walls of their concrete fortresses. International agencies such as the United Nations, Red Cross, Oxfam and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have all but abandoned the country for the time being.

Iraq has only slightly improved from the immediate destruction and chaos of the March, 2003 operation “Iraqi Freedom”. Many years of reconstruction and hundreds of billions of dollars will be needed before the country reaches the levels of prosperity it enjoyed in earlier decades.

As I watched t.v. and thought about my family and friends who were evacuating from the Houston area, I worried about how the Gulf Coast would recover from the effects of this season’s hurricanes.

My friend Mahmoud turned to me. “In America you have one Katrina and one Rita and understand they are terrible” he began. “In Iraq we have ten such storms that occur every day. We call them ‘Hurricane Bush’.”

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