Friday, January 02, 2009

Iraq New Year


1st Lt. Matt Vigeant, far right, and his Iraqi translator check the documents of an Iraqi driver pulled over near Sadr City, last May. Tina Susman / Los Angeles Times.

Anthony Shadid, a Washington Post reporter, wrote one of the first and most accessible accounts of the early phases of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Blog post about it here.

Today he offers a description of contemporary Baghdad, as the Status of Forces Agreement nominally ends the occupation and returns the country to Iraqi sovereignty. (Does anyone remember that the US nominally transferred sovereignty back to the Iraqis once before, on June 28, 2004, as Coalition Provisional Authority proconsul Paul Bremmer scurried out the door?)

Shadid describes the mood among residents -- both hopeful and wary.

This war's end feels more truce than treaty, more respite than reconciliation. There is no revival or renaissance, no celebration. It manifests itself most in the simple lifting of a siege.

In a roundabout once known as Ali Baba Square, water occasionally flows from a bronze fountain portraying Kahramana, the slave girl who outwitted the 40 thieves of "A Thousand and One Nights." Boys play pool on tables lining the lazy Tigris River. Trucks along Abu Nawas Street bring flopping fish destined for plates of masgoof, an Iraqi specialty.

In Firdaus Square, where Hussein's statue once gave way to American tanks whose barrels read "Beastly Boy" and "Bloodlust" and U.S. soldiers blared Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" over Humvee speakers, two students, Hussein al-Abbas and Amjad Abdel Hamza, took pictures of each other near the swings and park benches.

"For the memories," Abbas said.

Behind them, a poster reads: "Law builds the nation."

Fragile is the term American officials rely on to describe this Iraq, and indeed, it is that. At this moment, the country feels as though it could recover, economically if not physically, blessed by oil reserves that are potentially the largest in the world. Crumbling, it feels as though it could just as well remain a powerless, pliant country buckling under its own weight, dependent on a United States that seems determined to dictate its future.

Go read it all.

For McClatchy reporter Dulamy, Baghdad is a broken, fearful city and also home, where daily life somehow goes on.

Yesterday, a taxi driver agreed to take me to a west Baghdad neighborhood, as we arrived he stopped his car not far away from the main street of the block and told me: "I can't, forgive me."

He explained that he has a family and don’t want to take any risk. I told him I am coming to this neighborhood on daily bases [sic] with many drivers but he said he can not trust the situation.

The neighborhood was, and still for many, a fearful place after all fighting against the American troops, Iraqi troops, sectarian killings, crimes and displacement. I had to step down and to take another taxi.

...

It made me think again and again why people don’t trust the new situation but how can people trust the situation enough when blast walls are still surrounding neighborhoods? When there are more than 260 checkpoints inside Baghdad? How can people trust the new situation when dozens of main roads, tunnels and bridges are still closed? When military convoys still filling the streets and not allowing tens of cars to approach them or pass them? ...

It will be a better situation when officials (all officials) start touring Baghdad with less than 20 soldiers and bodyguards and less than five military vehicles guarding them by blocking all the roads as they pass by. Imagine, we have a parliament of 275 members, and a cabinet of more than 30 ministers, three members in the presidential council, advisors, provincial councils, governors, heads of municipality, judges, deputy ministers (each ministry has several)…etc, you can do the math.

I will say Baghdad is a better place when it will be better than it was prior to 2003 in terms of security, municipality, electricity, transportation and other fields.

Again, read the whole thing.

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