Monday, December 08, 2003

In case you missed the few dozen other bloggers who have linked to it, here's how we're liberating one town in Iraq:

As the guerrilla war against Iraqi insurgents intensifies, American soldiers have begun wrapping entire villages in barbed wire. ...

"This fence is here for your protection," reads the sign posted in front of the barbed-wire fence. "Do not approach or try to cross, or you will be shot."

It would appear that the Pentagon is taking a leaf from the PR departments of banks and cell phone companies who tell you that "to serve you better" they've got a new fee schedule where the price structure is somewhat different, but everything costs more. One wonders how some of these people are comparing the new regime to the old. It's difficult to tell -- particularly given the nature of the prior regime and the habits it ingrained. Here's how one Iraqi dealt with the Colonel responsible for that fence:

"Colonel Sassaman, you should come and live in this village and be a sheik," Hassan Ali al-Tai told the colonel outside the checkpoint.

The colonel smiled, and Mr. Tai turned to another visitor.

"Colonel Sassaman is a very good man," he said. "If he got rid of the barbed wire and the checkpoint, everyone would love him."

If the reporter who witnessed this thinks he knows what Mr. Tai really thinks of Col. Sassaman, he's a fool. And the same goes for pollsters. But here's what some of his fellow townspeople are complaining about:

In Abu Hishma, residents complain that the village is locked down for 15 hours a day, meaning that they are unable to go to the mosque for morning and evening prayers. They say the curfew does not allow them time to stand in the daylong lines for gasoline and get home before the gate closes for the night.

But mostly, it is a loss of dignity that the villagers talk about. For each identification card, every Iraqi man is assigned a number, which he must hold up when he poses for his mug shot. The card identifies his age and type of car. It is all in English.

"This is absolutely humiliating," said Yasin Mustafa, a 39-year-old primary school teacher. "We are like birds in a cage."

Is it too farfetched to believe that some of these people might actually prefer to be living under the old regime? And how bad are we blowing it to make Saddam Hussein look good by comparison?

In the meantime, the White House is nearly gushing leaks about the possibility of setting up some kind of Shiite theocracy. Tom Friedman recently promoted the idea, to which Salam Pax responds:

He makes it sound as if we are going for consolation prizes now: "You didn't get the Democratic Iraq Package, but hey... very soon you will be getting visas to Iran with no trouble at all".

And one wonders what the potential recipients of the "Shiite theocrat package" would think of it, either in comparison to the old regime, or on its own. One of Riverbend's first blog entries described already losing her job because she's a woman -- and the theocrats aren't even in power yet.

Since I keep on saying that a Shiite theocracy may be one of the better achievable options at this point, I suppose I should also acknowledge that it wouldn't be much bloody good for a lot of the people who would be stuck with it. It sucks. It really sucks. But it's better than a civil war -- and if we close off the one, then radical Shiite militias may very well give us the other. I wish it was "below average" among the feasible outcomes, but wishing isn't enough. You have to have a better idea. It's not so much that I haven't got one, as that Bremer & co. don't seem to either.


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