I was very annoyed the other night to find the BBC having a ‘debate’ on Iraq ten years after the invasion as though there were any debate to be had about an enterprise of mass violence whose aftermath demonstrated, about as much as anything could, that there were worse things in the world than the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein if only on the grounds that if you know which way death is coming from, then you have a better chance of getting out of the way.
But anyway. Here’s a good article about the situation now that the foreign armies have gone and the fratricide has burned down to the embers, in circumstances of what might be called distributed authoritarianism under someone who on the whole prefers to rule by cunning than by force.
The new regime seems to have slipped in to the shoes of the former. Officials squat in the opulent residences of their predecessors, whose era they claimed they were ending. Almost no infrastructure has been built in Baghdad over the past 10 years, except the local government headquarters, the road to the airport and a few flyovers. Traffic police shelters at crossroads are stamped “gift from the town hall”, recalling the “donations” (makarim) of Saddam: a personalised substitute for what should be provided anonymously by the state. Public service salaries remain insufficient, driving employees to find supplementary sources of income, legal or not. High-level corruption is tolerated, documented and used as leverage when necessary. Pervasive social climbing, nepotism and incompetence are poisoning institutions.
The Republican Palace in the heart of Baghdad became the “green zone” when the US made it the nerve centre of the occupation, and it embodies the worst of the new order just as it did the old. This huge, fairly well secured area is an exclusive political arena, a place of privilege, and a world that does its best to keep everyone else out. A whole deck of access cards defines a new elite, and a position within its hierarchy. The closure of the Karrada-Mansour main road, which cuts through the green zone, forces ordinary people to make ridiculously long detours. It would be feasible to reopen it, but that is not the issue: the green zone seems to have become the inalienable privilege of a caste that values not having to answer to anyone.
The piece is good on the resilience of the Iraqi people, which I seem to recall is a feature in books and articles I’ve read about Iraq over the years. People kept their heads down under Saddam, made do and mended under the sanctions regime and are now ducking and diving their way through the new order. Of course, there was that descent into hell thing after 2003. That’s the bit the BBC is debating.