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[casi] From Riverbend

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

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