Commentary: Iraq One Year Later - Thank You America!

By Ken Joseph Jr.

Baghdad, Free Iraq - I for one am sick and tired of the near constant naysaying about the situation in Iraq. In spite of all the rhetoric and in the face of all odds Iraq is doing quite well, thank you!

  The stores are full! The exchange rate has more than doubled in the past months! Traffic is like New York! We just got cellphone service! It feels like Hong Kong or London or New York - the buzz is back!

 I was there a year ago, very much against the war until my uncle looked me in the eyes and with a look that I can still remember - terror stricken lest he be overheard - said `We live in hell! Look at my grandson - he studies about Sadaam every day! What is that? My Son - he goes to work every day in a prison with no inmates, with nothing to do. Look at my two other grandchildren? Look at them!! Look what he has done to them` he said as he gestured across the room to my two cousins who were for all appearances insane - one constantly crying out the other staring blankly into the ceiling.

 It was not until after the war that I learned that my other cousin, living in the same home didnít have a regular job for a reason - she had been in prison under Sadaam for 15 years - for refusing the advances of one of his men.

 He continued `Nobody wants war, but what have all the people who talk about peace done for us? Eh? We have waited for 12 years. Sadaam is still here! Look at us! We live like animals! We have food, a place to live, the basics of living but we do not have the most important thing a human being needs - freedom and hope!`

 `Let the war come! We welcome the Americans! Let them bomb him! Sure, there will casualties. Don`t  Don't Donít Donít tell us about casualties - nearly one million of our young men have died! Donít tall us about war! Donít tell us about bombing! We know! We have lived under it for 35 years!

 Let the Americans bomb us! We know them - they will not purposely and unnecessarily bomb us - but it is war! I am happy to be one of the causalities if we can finally be rid of this nightmare and my grandson can have hope!. Bring it on! We are waiting - hurry!`

 It was these words and nearly identical ones from Iraqis from all walks of life, Shia, Sunni, Christian, Kurd - when they could speak without an Iraqi official nearby that convinced me I had made a mistake.

 I am sick and tired of those who seem to speak for the Iraqi people - first before the war and now a year later! How dare they speak for those who do not have a voice - those they have never met!

 The situation became so bad just before the war - literally one year ago that when I left Baghdad the talk on the street was of those who were going to commit suicide en masse if this time help to rid them of Sadaam did not come.

 `Of course we want it to be done peacefully - but those who talk about Peace refuse to do anything! We cannot live like this any longer` was the simple view of literally every Iraqi that was not in some way connected to Sadaam you talked to.

 Finally, the Iraqi people have been given a voice and they have expressed themselves exactly as I have for a year said they felt - according to the newly released ABC/BBC poll I have just been sent a copy of and in spite of a situation on the ground where it is not politically correct to say anything positive about the Americans and the British, sick and tired or the constant attempts to characterize them and angry at the terror that threatens their long awaited return to a normal life the Iraqis have spoken out!

 Quoting from the poll `Overwhelmingly, Iraqis are optimistic about the future and believe their lives are better now that Saddam Hussein has been removed from power. In large numbers, they are also eager to see the establishment of a functioning democracy.

 I hate to say `I told you so` but I have for a year done my best to express this feeling, the feeling from the average Iraqi.

 For the first time in their lives they can talk freely, talk on the telephone without being listened to, surf the internet, watch normal TV - most of all live without fear!

 The poll goes on:

*   Iraqis Believe Life is Better Now and Optimism is "Extraordinary".
"Fifty-six percent say their lives are better now than before the war,
compared with 19 percent who say things are worse (23 percent, the same).
And the level of personal optimism is extraordinary: Seventy-one percent
expect their lives to improve over the next year."

*   Satisfaction is High in All Regions of the Country. By a 70 to 29
percent margin, Iraqis are upbeat about day-to-day conditions in their
country. This is sentiment broadly shared in all regions of the country.

*   Plurality Say Military Action was Justified. By 48 to 39 percent, Iraqis
say that the coalition was right to enter their country.

*   Democracy the Clear Choice of Iraqis. When asked what type of political
system they would prefer, democracy emerged as the clear frontrunner over "a
strong leader for life" and an "Islamic state." 

 How more bluntly can you put it! Iraq is not a `quagmire`! Iraq is not a `disaster`! The liberation of Iraq was not a `failed policy`!! The liberation of Iraq has succeeded fantastically!

 The nerve of people to speak for others without any understanding of what they are saying! I saw it firsthand when I was in Iraq before the war! When I told the various peace activists that in fact the Iraqi people when spoken to away from the government minders wanted the war they refused to believe it!

 It is those same people that continue to put forward the lie that the Iraqi people were against the war and are against the Coalition on the ground now.

 As I have said all along their greatest fear? That the Americans will leave! Get it? Their greatest fear now is that the Americans will leave!!

 Nobody is saying things are perfect! I was three doors down from the Bombing of the Coalition headquarters! I took off from Baghdad airport to an explosion under our left wing! I missed the bombing of the UN headquarters trough a fluke and on and on.

 Iraq has moved from a terror state to an average developing country. You have to be careful - there are good areas and not so good areas, we have our problems - but so is it in any regular country! The point is that Iraq has now joined the rest of the world!

 Welcome to crime, traffic, lawsuits, raunchy television, and all the other `baggage` of freedom, democracy and the rule of law!

 On behalf of the Iraqi people who have finally expressed themselves in poll after poll their message is very simple. `Thank you America for liberating us! Everybody else talked about it - but only you had the guts to do it with us! We will forever be grateful! Please stay with us until we can get back on our feet again and join the rest of the world! Please donít leave too soon before we are ready or things could become worse than they were`.

 At the same time, we must not betray the trust, love and hope that we have!

 The desire for a democratic country must not betrayed!

 Nothing could be worse that to come this close to victory and then abandon it just before it truly comes to fruit! The view of the regular Iraqi people is as I have said all along and clearly reflected in this and other polls quite simple - they are desperately against a July 1 handover and against any such handover until the basics have been completed.

 They are also desperately against the language of the recently completed temporary Constitution which states `Islam is the Official Religion of the State.`

 A secular constitution wit no mention of religion or ideology with local autonomy, free and fair elections, a stable and democratic government.

 Then and only them will they be for a limited stand down of the Coalition forces.

 Am I a peace activist turned conservative? Nope - simply a man of God that tries to follow the truth wherever it leads and isn't that what we are all supposed to do?

 I was wrong once and do not intend to be so again!

 The word from the Iraqi people on the ground one year after the beginning of the war? `Stay the course! Do not handover the Government on July 1! Donít impose on us a constitution that says `Islam is the official religion of the state`

 We ignore the will of the people at our great peril!

 At the end of a conversation they will look both ways and say it quietly because these days it isn't optically correct to say so but they do. `God Bless America` they say `Thank you for saving us!`

 Take that all you naysayers! Stop speaking for the Iraqi people! I live with them! They are my family! How dare you!

 As Hekmat Hakem one of the members of the Iraqi Constitutional Committee puts it `We suffered for 35 under the terror of Sadaam. We are not going to lose this chance for freedom and a future! 

Let the Americans be by their side! Let the dominoes of freedom roll across the region and the world! The Americans did the right thing in Iraq according to those who count the most - the Iraqi people!

 Don`t let them down!

Ken Joseph Jr, is an Assyrian who are the indigenous people of Iraq, was in Iraq before the war under Sadaam and is currently writing a book on his experiences there entitled `I Was Wrong` and directs

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