Inside Politics in Iraq
This article belongs to Shooter's War column.
Creating democracy is a slow process. The government in United States was not formed over night, but the world was not watching on CNN when that occurred. Iraq has the world's attention as it struggles to embrace a democratically elected government out of the vacuum of the post-Saddam era.
A Qada is a meeting of regional representatives. Although it is not the same as a county meeting in the United States, it is similar to that in the area of people it represents. The world media reports the bad days in Iraq, but rarely takes the time to focus the lens on the normal days.
Abu Ghraib is known to the world for the prison that resides in this area. However, Abu Ghraib is actually the name of a region in Northwest Baghdad province, just outside Baghdad city.
I attended a Qada at the Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC) in Abu Ghraib. The CMOC was inside an Iraqi Army (IA) compound. The CMOC coordinates various aid agencies to help the Iraqi people. The meeting was held here because the Qada did not have its own location to work out of, yet.
Maj. Steve Espinoza, the Civil Affairs officer for the 1st Calvary, 1st Brigade brought me to the Qada to observe. He also brought along a diplomat from the US State Department and a US Aid worker to meet the members of the Qada.
The representatives from local Nahia's, which are the next smaller piece of government, aired their problems. One said that teachers from Baghdad have been hired for Abu Ghraib but are not showing up to work—and they being paid. This was a topic they wanted to solve.
Dahri Kamish Dahri, the chairman of Qada, spoke perfect English and often corrected the US Army's interpretor when an improper translation was made.
The Iraqis are still learning how to use their government, Espinoza told me. He said that they are used to receiving hand outs, from Saddam, from a King before him and before that, the Ottoman Empire. The Iraqis struggle to understand how democracy works.
The Iraqis often ask the US Army to solve all the problems. This is something that would create a dependence that would not help the Iraqis in the long run. They need to ask the people in their own government to help them with the problems, and those people in return must do their government appointed jobs and solve the problems the people ask them to do.
Some of the things that I have seen the US Army Civil Affairs help at are building schools, annexes to court houses, woman's centers, and community centers where Nahia's are held.
Espinoza likens the Iraqi democracy to a small child and said it needs time to grow before it can be fully functional.
Another member of the Qada said that they are short 1,200 teachers. Some of the schools, he said, are made of mud that soften in the rain, causing them to close. Fathers of the students pay salaries for teachers, he said. There is no sewage system at the school and the streets needed to be paved.
Threab Ahmed, another member had some harsh words for the government in Baghdad and compared them to dogs engaged in profane acts.
The area of Abu Ghraib has many farmers in it, Dahri said, but now they are suffering from major set backs, starting with access to water.
They need fertilizer, said one of the Qada members. "There not enough, so they go to the black market."
In Iraq, many things, such as fuel and fertilizer, are alloted by the government. The black market is sort of like our free market, except the prices are extremely high because the demands for these government regulated goods.
The conversation went back to water--the entire water system in Abu Ghraib has been under repair for over two years and is not complete.
The canals that feed the agricultural needs are to be cleaned up, another member said.
The list continued.
"People stealing water, making more shortages."
The area lacks tractors. Farmers with tractors rent them out to those without for a high rate of money.
Dahri said that many farmers have quit farming. The cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplants and other crops have stopped.
"They are cheaper to buy Syrian and Iran imports," he said. "The cost does not equal the market price."
This means no incomes for the families, he said.
On top of these school and agricultural issues, Dahri said that "The priority goal is security."
The Abu Ghraib area is making some progress stopping the insurgency was reported in the 14 May 2007 issue of the New York Sun (http://www.nysun.com/article/54368).
The US Aid worker, an American, who was fluent in Arabic, started to talk to the Qada.
Dahri interrupted him and said in English, "we all come from farmer's families."
Other problems were discussed, such as electricity, transformers, generators
the construction needs for the Qada to have a centralized meeting area with offices and facilities. One member of the Qada said that they had not been paid for a few months, and this was due to a poor relationship with the provincial government in Baghdad.
"We do not expect our issues to be solved in 3 months," Dahri said.
Mr. Adel Hassin Hawi, the local water director, briefed the Qada members on other water problems the area would face over the summer.
"There is not enough drinkable water," he said through an interpretor. "As summer comes there will be more of a water shortage."
He went on to describe problems with the water pressure—first floors rarely have enough pressure to get water through the pipe. Imagine the second and third floors, he said.
The major water project was a network of over 140 km of pipeline that was over budget and not completed after two years.
We have no idea when it will be complete, Hawi said.
The contractor did not get help from the local government, he said, and had troubles with insurgents killing his workers.
Hawi continued saying that the current water line has asbestos in it.
"This goes to many areas," he said, "and could cause cancer."
Some people called for new wells to be drilled, but some type of regulation did not allow new wells.
The interpretor next to me spoke very good English and would often add to the other interpretors translations.
Where did you learn to speak English, I asked.
He told me that he was pilot in the Iraqi Airlines. The Airlines only have one plane now, he said, and it is very old, and probably not safe to fly. The other planes were in Syria and Iran, and have not been given back.
Being fluent in English allowed him to work as an interpretor. He said he and his pilot friends were also looking for investors to rebuild the Iraqi Airline Industry.
Please make sure not to publish any pictures of the interpretors faces, he said. They are often targeted by death squads and publishing a photo where insurgents can find it, such as the internet, is a death sentence to the interpretor and often their family if they live in Iraq.
As the meeting continued for a few hours, people circulated out for smoke breaks. Other meetings I have gone to Iraqis smoked throughout the meeting. This was the first Iraqi meeting I have ever been to without chia being served. I imagine the changes were related to borrowing the meeting room at the CMOC for the Qada.
"Oil could one day be over," said chairman Dahri. He said they must not loose touch with farming because it will be very useful when the oil is gone.
"Since 1982 we have been through wars and are very creative at that," another Qada member said, as he launched into a speech, which was lost in translation.
Dahri said that the British designed the irrigation systems in Iraq that are still in some areas. In 1955, Iraq exported barley to France to make alcoholic beverages, he said. Dahri indicated that he wanted to get Iraq back on track so that they could become an exporter of agricultural goods rather than an importer.
Espinoza sat quietly through the meeting. His job, he said, was to follow the meeting and make sure that everything going on followed the framework set up by the Colonel he reports to.
The struggle the Iraqis face is learning how to use their own government and solve their own problems, he said.
"Nothing was really accomplished today," he said.
At least the Iraqis have identified the problems, and as chairman Dahri stated, security is the number one issue.
While in the hall way, I spoke with Dahri. I asked him what he thought about the situation in the US with Congress holding funds to Iraq.
He told me that a few years ago, many reporters from large newspapers came and wrote stories about what the issues were.
Now, he rarely sees anyone. I told him I was writing a story about Maj. Espinoza for the small town he is from.
"We need the support of Americans," Dahri said. "Even in a small town, they should have news of what is going here.