Thursday, April 29, 2004

Back in ES, still obsessed with Iraq

I am back in El Salvador, where STISS took over the cathedral yesterday, burned some vehicles downtown, and reminded Salvadorans of a past they'd rather leave behind; and where the FMLN is getting ready to expel or punish a few dissidents for speaking their mind (and, okay, for throwing around a few chairs at the San Salvador party headquarters a few weeks ago); and where there's still no word from Tony Saca as to who will comprise his new cabinet come June 1.

But Iraq is still on my mind. Here's a revealing couple of paragraphs from an interview published yesterday in the Chicago Tribune with Northeastern Illinois University accounting professor Yass Alkafaji, an Iraqi-American who was in Iraq from late January until very recently, serving the Coalition Provisional Authority as the director of finance for the Ministry of Higher Education.

Q. What is your take on the mood of the Iraqi people?

A. They are thankful to the U.S. for getting rid of Saddam Hussein, and they are content that the military needs to be there. But after that, they are divided between how long should the U.S. military stay and whether they are doing a good job or not. The U.S. military presence is very visible, and they [the soldiers] are really scared, so their posture is very offensive. They see Iraqis, and they put guns in your face. They move in convoys, and they tell people to get away from them. When the convoys are in a traffic jam in the middle of Baghdad, that is the most dangerous thing. So they shout at people to get out of the way, and they drive up on the sidewalk of some stores. That creates a lot of hard feelings for the Iraqis.

Q. What about the economic and employment situation with ordinary Iraqis?

A. Most of the people are not informed of what the U.S. is doing because they don't see the visible improvement of their livelihood, especially those who don't have a government job . . . I think there is still a lot of confusion about who is the good Iraqi and who is the bad Iraqi. I think [the U.S.] has shown to the rest of the world that we are really ignorant when it comes to dealing with other cultures. We have a great military power, but when it comes to building nations we have no idea. You can see the tension in the clashes between the British and Americans in the palace. The Americans will say `do this or do that' and the British will just be shaking their head. But the British have a much longer history in the Middle East, and they know how to deal with the Arab mentality. They feel very marginalized.


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