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http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com Saturday, October 25, 2003 Madrid Conference... So the Madrid Conference is over. Half of the people here weren’t really aware it was going on anyway. No one seems to bother with stuff like that anymore because we have more pressing affairs to attend to. I, personally, spent the last 4 days cleaning out the pantry in preparation for Ramadhan. I’d pop into the living room every once in a while to catch a glimpse of the conference and what was going on in it. Always, there was Aznar’s big teeth and Palacio’s big hair. What struck me in particular was how lavish the whole conference looked. I wonder how much was spent on it… how many schools it could have renovated… how many clinics it could have provided with medication... But that’s not reconstruction, of course- clinics and schools are luxuries what’s really important is making sure the CPA, Governing Council and ministerial cabinet are all housed comfortably in the palaces and hotels they call home. The most embarrassing part of the conference was watching Muwafaq Al-Ruba’i grovel for international funds for the reconstruction effort. He batted his lashes, spoke softly and kept dragging ‘the Iraqi people’ into his speeches- as if the Iraqi people would actually ever see the uncountable billions that somehow enter the country and are spent before you can say ‘reconstruction’. I must be sounding ungrateful, what with the $33 billion dollars being agreed upon, but the idea of being financially indebted to America, the IMF and the World Bank somehow has the appeal of selling ones soul to the devil. It sounds like, in conclusion, more debt upon debt. It’s not that I want everything to be donated to the country, but I think that our oil revenues should be able to cover a substantial part of rebuilding Iraq. I also think that many of the countries have every right to ask for their money ‘back’ at some point in the future… I'm sure the Japanese could use their $5 billion for something useful at home. One good thing is that the money is going to be under UN supervision. Christian Aid have done a fascinating report on some ‘missing billions’. Apparently, there are $4 billion that have gone up in smoke and Bremer & Co. can only account for $1 billion. The report does some explaining on how the CPA spends the money and what committees are gone through. The PDF report asks the CPA to give a ‘transparent account’ of how the billions were spent.But that’s ridiculous- I mean, who can keep track of $4 billion dollars… I’m sure Ahmad Al-Chalabi can tell you first-hand that all those zeros are difficult to manage. And what is $4 billion anyway?! First off, there are all those snazzy suits being worn by our governing council- I haven’t yet seen Al-Chalabi in the same suit twice… the silk ties, Rolex watches and leather shoes. (I can tell you that canary yellow ties are the rage in men’s fashion because just about every minister/ council member has worn one by now) There are rumors that each new minister makes around $40,000 a month. For $40,000, you can build a large house in an elegant area in Baghdad. For $40,000, you can build, and fully furnish, a school. For $40,000, you can stock up a storage room in a hospital. For $40 K, you can feed 80 Iraqi families for a month *lavishly*. (Or you could buy 400 used Sony Play Stations- as my younger cousin calculated) And then you have the extra expenses of the Governing Council- meals and abode, of course. The majority don’t live in houses because they have homes and families abroad. They live in various hotels like Baghdad Hotel, Al-Rashid, and Palestine Hotel… some of them reside in palaces. One minister, they say, even sends for his staff to meet at the hotel because he refuses to visit the ministry itself. Employees at the ministry know him as ‘il shabah’ or ‘the phantom’ because no one beyond his deputy ministers has ever seen him in the flesh. There’s also the little matter of the Interim Government jetting about, all over the world… traveling from one place to the next. Every time one of the Puppets is rotated, they make it their immediate business to leave the country. It’s ironic how the Iraqi people hear about the majority of the major decisions (like selling off the country) through foreign media networks and sometimes through a voice-over, translating to Arabic. To see them shaking hands and kissing feet, you'd think our immediate concerns are Iraq's diplomatic affairs outside of the country and not the mess *inside* of it. Then you have the food and beverages necessary to keep our interim government alive. There used to be $5,000 lunches (which the International Herald Tribune claim were reduced). Now $5,000 lunches may seem like no big deal for 25 people in New York or Paris… but $200 per person is… beyond belief in Baghdad. Pre-war, the best meal in Iraq wouldn’t cost you more than $30 per person (and there were only a handful of people who could afford a meal like that). Even now, restaurant food is quite cheap, albeit a bit risky. A friend of an uncle, who is privy to certain purchases made by the CPA and Governing Council, says that millions each month are spent on… water. Yes. Apparently our Iraqi Council and interim government deems the water we drink not worthy of their thirst. I can understand worries about the quality of the water, but even the troops drink and eat off of vendors in the streets. So when people here heard about the Madrid conference… well, it’s hardly going to make a difference to the average Iraqi. People are very worried about the fact that the Food-for-Oil program ends next month. Some say that the ‘husseh’ or ration that makes up a substantial part of the average Iraqi diet will probably be continued until January. People will literally starve without rations. Already the ration has been reduced and the quality of the what remains of it is just terrible. I wanted to write up a paper and send it off to Madrid suggesting a “Ransom Fund”. I’d like to suggest opening up a special fund for the families who have people abducted. It is becoming incredibly common to hear about a man, woman or child being abducted and ransom as high as $250,000 being asked. The standard price is $25,000, but for wealthy families, $250,000 is not uncommon. Wealthy Christian families have been particularly vulnerable to abductions of late. One man had to sell his home and car to pay his son’s ransom because his money was all tied up in various projects. And who are behind these abductions… common criminals, sometimes… other times they are Al-Sadr’s goons or SCIRI’s thugs. The SCIRIs are often politically motivated in their abductions and the money is said to go to supporting ‘Badr’s Brigade”, the SCIRI militia. More and more lately, the CPA has been complaining of the militia- but what did they expect? Giving them power in the first place was wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s safe to say that no matter HOW much they promise otherwise, an armed extremist is going to mean trouble. A militia of armed extremists is going to mean chaos- especially when you allow them to enforce ‘security’ in volatile areas. Al-Sadr has been making waves in the south and Baghdad. He is frightening and I don’t think his influence should be underestimated. He easily has over a million followers (some say it’s up to 4 million) and they practically revere him. It’s not him personally that makes him so important with his followers, it’s the fact that he is the son of a famous Shi’a cleric who was assassinated in 1999. While the majority of the middle and upper class Iraqis want a secular government, Al-Sadr seems to resonate with the impoverished, currently jobless men in the south and in some of Baghdad’s slums. Currently, the CPA believe he was responsible for Al-Kho’i’s assassination back in April. Others suspect that he might have been responsible for Al-Hakim’s death a couple of months ago… detaining him is going to be a major problem because his followers will make sure to wreak havoc… judging from the last few months, they’ll just strike up a deal with him. - posted by river @ 9:45 PM __________________________________ Do you Yahoo!? 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