Friday, December 29, 2006

Reporter's Account of Life in Baghdad

George W. Bush continues to insist that he knows best. The evidence over the last four years is not reassuring. Reporters who have been away from Iraq for a while are often the best witnesses of the chaos that now dominates Iraq, and particularly Baghdad. Here's a story from Hannah Allam of the McClatchy Washington Bureau (formerly the famous Knight Ridder Washington Bureau so many of us depended on in the early months of the war (note that it's still the same url)):
When I was last here in 2005, it took guts and guards, but you could still travel to most anywhere in the capital. Now, there are few true neighborhoods left. They're mostly just cordoned-off enclaves in various stages of deadly sectarian cleansing. Moving trucks piled high with furniture weave through traffic, evidence of an unfolding humanitarian crisis involving hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced Iraqis.


On one of my first days back, I took a little tour with my Iraqi colleagues to get reacquainted with the capital. We decided to stay on the eastern Shiite side of the Tigris River rather than play Russian roulette in the Sunni west.

Even on the relatively "safe" side of the river, a dizzying assortment of armed men roamed freely. In the space of an hour, we encountered the Badr Organization militia, the Mahdi Army militia, the Kurdish peshmerga militia, the Iraqi police, interior ministry commandos, the Iraqi military, American troops, the Oil Protection Force, the motorcade of a Communist Party official and Central Bank guards escorting an armored van.

We drove through one of my favorite districts in hopes of visiting shopkeepers I knew. But they had fled, leaving behind padlocked doors and faded signs for shops whose names now seem ironic rather than catchy: "Nuts," "Ghost Music," "Once Upon a Time."

I asked my colleagues to arrange meetings with old Iraqi sources - politicians, professors, activists and clerics - only to be told they'd been assassinated, abducted or exiled.

Even Mr. Milk is dead. The grocer we called by the name of his landmark shop in the upscale Mansour district was kidnapped and killed, along with his son, my colleagues said. The owner of a DVD shop where I once purchased a copy of "Napoleon Dynamite" also had been executed.

It's a long article. She goes on to explain that the Iraqis don't have abstract conversations about whether there's a civil war or not—it just is. Read the first three paragraphs which tell an anecdote about how arbitrary the times have become.

"Surge forward" in the middle of this chaos? John McCain, for one, doesn't have any idea of what he's talking about if he thinks 20,000 to 30,000 can help or make any sense of all the divisions and factions and points of contention within Iraq. If his friend, George W. Bush, is leaning towards a "surge" in forces and adopts that option instead of confronting his failures, it will just prolong the fiasco.

A long time ago George Washington said we needed to avoid foreign entanglements. The world has changed much since his time and it's not always possible to stay on the sidelines. There are times when a country must act, particularly when asked. But surely we can modify what Washington said: at the very least, we should avoid cultural entanglements when the way is not clear. George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisers went off to change Iraq without knowing much about the country or the people, without even being curious and realistic about how the Iraqis would respond to our presence and ideas. We should stop pretending we know what we're doing when we impose ourselves on others. And when the motives are not clear.

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