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Kathy Kelly's bio
Kathy Kelly
Voices in The Wilderness
Baghdad

Recently, George Capaccio sent me observations sent to him by “a friend of a friend.” I sent them on to Ahmed Kharrufa. Ahmed has been sending letters from Baghdad since the Occupation began. When I arrived in Baghdad last summer he and his family befriended Cathy Breen and I. Here is Ahmed’s response to the observations.


Dear George,

Kathy asked me to give some comments to the letter you’ve forwarded her. I feel flattered that Kathy trusted my judgment that much, and I hope that I am worthy of her trust. I’ll do my best to comment on each point as accurately as possible.

But let me tell you very little about myself so that you can better evaluate my comments. I work in a private company and not for the government. I don’t have financial problems. And I never personally had a problem with the old regime (which does not mean that I wanted it to stay, on the contrary, having the old regime gone is the only good thing that has happened). And I have no relation whatsoever to any of the old or the new parties. So my comments reflects the way as I see things, which is hopefully correct and unbiased.

So below are my comments for each point in the letter.

>> Since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1st… The first battalion of the new Iraqi Army has graduated and is on active duty. Over 60,000 Iraqis now provide security to their fellow citizens. nearly all of Iraq’s 400 courts are functioning.

‘ve never felt more insecure. Though the security is improving by time (regardless of bombing and terrorists attacks. I am only referring to robbery and kidnapping), but still Baghdad is still far from being considered a safe city. I started using my (relatively new) car few weeks ago after having kept it in my garage for about 6 month. I still never go out alone though, and I know of many who have not returned to using their new cars yet. What counts is: it has been over 8 months now and it’s still far from being safe enough.

>> The Iraqi judiciary is fully independent.

y hope so, but no one is sure about that yet. Only time can prove whether our Judiciary system is really independent and just or not. And even then, one must wait till Iraqis say that their judiciary system is independent or not and definitely not the Americans.

>> On Monday, October 6 power generation hit 4,518 megawatts-exceeding the pre-war average.

ly I am not sure of the number for the pre-war average but let me give you some facts.

- Iraq’s power generation was about 10,000 MW before the first gulf war in 91.
- Now, Iraq’s power need is about 20,000 MW, and the 4,518 MW is only about a quarter of what we need. So at best we’ll have is about 6 hours a day during peak seasons.
- Before the war, Baghdad used to have an average of 18-24 hours a day in mid-summer and mid-winter. And it was almost full time during autumn and spring. Now, as an average, we have electricity of about 8 hours a day, and the best we had (for very short periods) is 12 hours a day, and that probably occurs when the weather is good or when some places have problems in the power distribution system, so their share will go to others. We have a saying in Arabic, "the mishaps of some, are the fortunes of others".
- The construction of any major power generation plant (in the range of a thousand Megawatt) takes from 3 to 5 years. And till this moment, no such action is taken or even considered. So we are not to expect any noticeable improvement for some years to come.

>> All 22 universities and 43 technical institutes and colleges are open, as are nearly all primary and secondary schools.

s true. But every now and then, a school gets a warning about a bomb, so many parents are afraid to send their kids to schools, and when they do so, they will be deeply worried. The laboratories of most of the universities were looted and new ones have not been prepared yet.

>> By October 1, Coalition forces had rehabbed over 1,500 schools - 500 more than their target.

ols, well Kathy replied to that very accurately in her reply and I quote

"Several articles have already been written about the poor quality of school rehabs. Loads of paint has been applied so that buildings look better from the outside, but inside there hasn’t been adequate rehab of plumbing systems, water systems, and insulation from rain."

oney were given to contractors without any form of monitoring. The contractors did some fixing, specially painting and stole the rest of the money. End of the story.

>> Teachers earn from 12 to 25 times their former salaries.

he extra money is being spent in ways that did not exist before. People are spending money to subscribe for few ampers to get some electricity from the large generators that can be found in many neighborhoods now. An Amper is sold for about $2-3 a month, so for the minimum useful amount of 5 Ampers, one will have to pay an amount of $10-15 a month (A teachers salary now ranges from $60-120 a month, maybe a little bit more). Those who are not willing to stand in the fuel queue will have to buy fuel in the black market for about 20 times its official price. The same for Kerosene. Many things like meat and vegetables are almost double their previous prices.

Only electrical equipment and cars got cheaper everything else got more expensive, eating the few extra bucks that were given.

>> All 240 hospitals and more than 1200 clinics are open. Doctors’ salaries are at least eight times what they were under Saddam.

d to get very very very very low salaries. Now they get very low salaries. My sister in law, who is a doctor, gets about as much as the cleaning man working in the same hospital and that’s about $120. There is a rumur that the salaries will be recalculated soon. Lets wait and see.

>> Pharmaceutical distribution has gone from essentially nothing to 700 tons in May to a current total of 12,000 tons. The Coalition has helped administer over 22 million vaccination doses to Iraq’s children.

ow about that. So I will not comment.

>> A Coalition program has cleared over 14,000 kilometers of Iraq’s 27,000 kilometers of weed-choked canals. They now irrigate tens of thousands of farms. This project has created jobs for more than 100,000 Iraqi men and women.

t as above, that is, no comment.

>> We have restored over three-quarters of pre-war telephone services and over two-thirds of the potable water production. There are 4,900 full-service connections. We expect 50,000 by January first.

ne lines that are working now, are basically those that have not been damaged in the first place. From those damaged, and after about 8 months, only about 15% has been restored. No one expected fixing the telephone service to take that long.

As for water, well its too vital. You didn’t expect the US to leave us without water? Or did you?

>> The wheels of commerce are turning. From bicycles to satellite dishes to cars and trucks, businesses are coming to life in all major cities and towns.

ething I’ve always wanted to comment on.

- Allowing tens of thousands of air-conditioners to come into the country (tax-free) when we have an extreme shortage in power generation is not a smart thing to do. (I don’t know if you know this or not, but a single air-conditioning unit consumes about 15 Ampers, while all our house consumes about 10 Ampers).
- Allowing about 500,000 cars to enter the country (tax free), when we have an extreme shortage of fuel is also not a smart thing to do. Picture this, - Shortage of fuel, - many main roads being blocked by the CPA for security reasons,
- Allowing about 500,000 cars to enter the country, 200,000 in Baghdad alone.

Is that something to be proud of? What happened is more shortage in fuel, more traffic jams because of the blocked roads, extra cars, and absence of electricity which means no traffic lights. I used to drive to work in about 20 minutes, now its takes from 40 to 90 minutes!

>> 95 percent of all pre-war bank customers have service and first-time customers are opening accounts daily. Iraqi banks are making loans to finance businesses. The central bank is fully independent. Iraq has one of the world’s most growth-oriented investment and banking laws. Iraq (has) a single, unified currency for the first time in 15 years.

definitely happy to finally have a decently printed currency.

>> Since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1st… satellite dishes are legal.

we needed something to spend our time with because no one dares to leave home after 9 PM.

>> Foreign journalists aren’t on 10-day visas paying mandatory and extortionate fees to the Ministry of Information for "minders" and other government spies. There is no Ministry of Information.

s something we are really grateful for. Really.

>> There are more than 170 newspapers.

pers, but not 170. Anyway, Iraqis are finally back to reading newspapers, because the majority of Iraqis had stopped doing so for a long time.

>> You can buy satellite dishes on what seems like every street corner.

st few months after the occupation, all Iraqis were either selling satellite reception systems, or buying them. That was the only thing going.

>> Foreign journalists and everyone else are free to come and go.

e afraid to come. Baghdad is no more a safe place for foreigners.

>> A nation that had not one single element-legislative, judicial or executive–of a representative government, does. In Baghdad alone residents have selected 88 advisory councils. Baghdad’s first democratic transfer of power in 35 years happened when the city council elected its new chairman. Today in Iraq chambers of commerce, business, school and professional organizations are electing their leaders all over the country. 25 ministers, selected by the most representative governing body in Iraq’s history, run the day-to-day business of government.

happen anywhere in the world, that the religion of the minister of each ministry, is determined before selecting the minister. Regardless of the ministers ability, the way they were chosen, arouse many question marks, let alone the exclamation marks. But something is definitely better than nothing.

The problem of each minister promoting those having the same religion as his or in his party over others, is a different story, and I don’t believe that the Americans are to be blamed for this.

>> The Iraqi government regularly participates in international events. Since July the Iraqi government has been represented in over two dozen international meetings, including those of the UN General Assembly, the Arab League, the World Bank and IMF and, today, the Islamic Conference Summit. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs today announced that it is reopening over 30 Iraqi embassies around the world.

giving us our very basic rights. Should we be grateful for that?

>> Shia religious festivals that were all but banned, aren’t. For the first time in 35 years, in Karbala thousands of Shiites celebrate the pilgrimage of the 12th Imam. The Coalition has completed over 13,000 reconstruction projects, large and small as part of (a) strategic plan for the reconstruction of Iraq. Uday and Queasy are dead - and no longer feeding innocent Iraqis to his zoo lions, raping the young daughters of local leaders to force cooperation, torturing Iraq’s soccer players for losing games…murdering critics. Children aren’t imprisoned or murdered when their parents disagree with the government.

nitely happy that Uday and Quesay are gone, but now the possibility of being blown up or getting caught in cross fire is much higher than getting into trouble with Uday and Quesay. Two terrorists are gone, but replaced by hundreds (note that I am not referring to the US army, but to those who kill innocent Iraqis and then claim to be the resistance)

>> Since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1st… political opponents aren’t imprisoned, tortured, executed, maimed, or are forced to watch their families die for disagreeing with Saddam. Millions of longsuffering Iraqis no longer live in perpetual terror.

s one of the reasons that is easing our pain.

>> Saudis will hold municipal elections. Qatar is reforming education to give more choices to parents. Jordan is accelerating market economic reforms.

eace Prize was awarded for the first time to an Iranian — a Muslim woman who speaks out with courage for human rights, for democracy and for peace.

AND LET ME ADD.

AND IRAQ NOW IS A COMPLETE MESS

To summarize:

Yes things are getting better, but very slowly. In fact it is so slow that we are not expecting things to get back to normal in months to come. We modified our hopes from few months, to few years and we are very sad to have reached this conclusion.

Till this moment, we are not even close to pre-war situation. Yes we can have satellite dishes, and we have many newspapers, but put all such stuff in on one side of a balance, and absence of electricity, security, and fuel on the other, and you tell me which side will go down.

The Coalition did a very lousy job. We are not asking them to admit it, but at least let them keep quite and not go bragging about it.

Some Iraqi said, and I quote “The Americans took the cotton out of our mouths and put it in their ears”. This is exactly what happened here.

I hope I’ve answered some of your questions, and excuse me if I sounded too sarcastic, but this is the way things are. The bare truth, unfortunately, is an ugly one. Sometimes I have a feeling of optimisms, but when I start writing, stating the facts, think about what I am writing, things change. If you know I what I mean.

PS: I wrote this message last Thursday, and was unable to send it till today (4 Jan 04). There is one update now. The fuel queues are decreasing and the problem is getting solved gradually. the number of cars reduced to the range of tens of cars instead of hundreds. Thank God

Finally, Happy new year. And may this year be better for all of us.

Sincerely yours,

Ahmed Kharrufa




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