MOSUL, Iraq — At times the shoots and leaves of the new (hopefully) democratic order in Iraq can partially obscure the deeply entrenched psychological effects of three decades of brutal totalitarian rule. A series of successful elections have gone off well and a sort of amnesia about the past, egged on by desire for a peaceful future, sets in. And then an Iraqi waste management businessman, completely open and willing to work with Americans, suggests litter bugs should be jailed or even shot. Suddenly you remember that this isn’t Peoria. It is Mosul.
En route to a joint patrol with Iraqi forces, Captain Ed Matthaidess of the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, made a slight detour to ask the aforementioned waste management businessman why $800,000 appropriated to him has not had a more pronounced effect on the trash-filled streets. Per usual, before any Iraqi will talk business a glass of chai must be in front of every guest and a cigarette in every hand that will accept one. Only in early Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart films is cigarette puffing more ubiquitous.
“If I live on Shifa Street and my trash was picked up today, how long will it be until it’s picked up again?” Matthaidess asked through an interpreter. “We’re getting complaints that it takes two or three weeks in some parts of the city.”
The man demurs. “Some people lie to you. You cannot trust everyone.” When this does not sate Matthaidess the man pulls out a Wal-Mart-esque photo album festooned with pictures of flowers and the words Beautiful Memories across the front in sprawling faux-elegant script. Inside, however, are not images from a wedding or company barbeque, but of men in orange jumpsuits throwing garbage into dump trucks. The supervisor smiles as if the album erases the discrepancy.
Matthaidess — a warrior now to some degree forced into the part of steward of American taxpayer dollars — doesn’t relent: “Right, but there’s still trash on the street and people are still concerned.”
Then the excuses begin. He needs a front-loader. He needs three bulldozers. The curfew is holding things up. No one is buying the 100 tons of trash bags on hand. There are too few workers. “Did you know that Saddam sent 28,000 sanitation workers into Kuwait, while we have so few?” he asked, as if some part of the mess Iraq made out of Kuwait was worth emulating. Finally, he said, the police need to start imposing stricter anti-trash measures. “People must be afraid of what the government will do if they litter,” he offers. “Jail or worse…That is all it will take.”
The truth is that the default position with regards to governance in many Iraqis minds is still a top down, command and control. Instead of firing squads and jail, Matthaidess suggests buying ad time on Mosul’s local television station to encourage neighborhood clean-up. A previously silent Iraqi broke into hearty laughter.
“No one watches Channel Mosul,” he said, gasping for breath. “We all have satellite dishes now!”
WE ARRIVE MIDDAY AT AN IRAQI ARMY compound and the officers greet us warmly at the door. More chai and cigarettes abound. Captain Matthaidess asked how things are in the area.
“Any guy is a bad guy, we got him before he can do anything,” the officer answered.
“All right, but are you being good to the people?” Matthaidess returned. “Are you building relationships with them? Are they beginning to trust you? Are they providing you intelligence?”
“We are making more friends every day,” the Iraqi said, grandly gesturing with both arms, as the Iraqi soldiers in the room cracked up. As in the garbage collector’s office, it’s not clear if the laughter is a cultural tic or if most Iraqis think the quote/unquote “American way” is more comedy than philosophy. Still, it’s a friendly relationship and Matthaidess makes small talk, asking the commander about his cousin, also an Iraqi Army officer. “How many kids does he have, again? How many wives?”
“He has one wife and is engaged to another,” the commander said, before pausing and waving his cigarette. “Kids? Twelve? Thirteen? I don’t know. I have ten of my own. I lose count of the others.” Pat Buchanan’s worst nightmare made manifest.
“I’ve got my hands full with one wife and no kids,” Matthaidess laughed (Pat Buchanan’s second worst nightmare made manifest), before adding, “We’ve got pretty different lives, but if we get into a fight with some bad guys, I’m not afraid because we got each other and we’re united.”
THE PLAN FOR THE DAY’S joint-op is agreed upon: Patrol a market in beautiful, but dangerous, old town Mosul conducting random searches for car bombs and contraband. American and Iraqi soldiers gather in the courtyard of the compound, surrounded by sandbags and swirls of razor wire. The Americans load up into ultra-armored Stryker carriers that regularly take IED blasts without loss of life or damage, while Iraqis pile into pick-up trucks, some of which look as if they couldn’t take a hair turn, never mind an Rocket Propelled Grenade.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?