Iraq, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- I have been shocked at the difference
between the Baghdad I found on my return and all the bad
news from the city.
the recent bombings, Baghdad looks dramatically different.
The stores are full of supplies. The streets are crowded
with people and cars. The buses are working and police are
on the streets, directing traffic.
night the streets are full of pedestrians, many families
with children. I am at a loss to reconcile what we see on
the ground with what is being reported.
"regular people" are much better off than they
were. Security has improved with Iraqi police everywhere,
telephones are starting to work, electricity, while off
and on, is relatively stable, the stores are full of food,
and, little by little, people are getting jobs back.
have been paid on time. The schools are working and people
for the first time have hope and a future.
I was here before the war what was most awful for people
was that they had no future -- nothing to look forward to.
For us who have never experienced that situation, it is
difficult to understand, but it is akin to being in prison
without the possibility of parole.
would look at me and say, "Sure we have food, a place
to live, a job. But can you understand what it is to live
with no tomorrow? It is like living in prison."
-- for the first time in 35 years -- they have a hope and
a future. What most impressed me was to see Iraqis really
hustling. They are thinking of starting companies and importing
especially young people, say that for the first time in
their lives they can travel overseas, surf the Internet,
make international calls, and watch satellite TV. It is
a wonderful time for the average Baghdadi.
is really happening is the movement of Iraq from a "police
state" to a "normal" country. During Saddam's
time, life in many ways was stable, crime was low, prices
we are in a time of dramatic change. People have to learn
to adjust to the "fringe benefits" of a free society.
These changes include higher prices, the need to work, room
for creativity, having choices, basic street crime, locking
doors -- and a range of TV channels.
is shocking for some -- especially the older people -- but
the very old and the young are excited. The very old because
they remember the good old days; the very young because
they're excited about all the new things, such as MTV and
who naysay everything are very interesting. The people are
very clear on who they are -- they all were connected to
Saddam. For the first time in their lives, they are going
to have to work; no more handouts. The easy life is over.
But the numbers are staggering. People estimate nearly 20
percent or more of the population was in some form on Saddam's
gravy train, some by choice, others by force. And nearly
all of the population had been getting free food, tea and
for the crime, they emptied the prisons so nearly 50,000
hard-nosed criminals are on the streets.
problem is just as it was before the war -- the outsiders.
I cannot understand why the United States has not done two
basic things: sealing the borders and setting up a TV station.
is no border check so Iraq is becoming the magnet for every
one that wants to get a chance to fight with Americans.
This is a great puzzle to me.
is happening, including the bombings, as far as people who
I talked to are concerned, is the work of foreign nuts --
the same people who were the only ones to fight for Saddam
at the later part of the war.
are coming from all over the world like they did in Afghanistan
to get a chance to fight Americans. I always remember how
in Jordan everybody loved Saddam, whereas in Iraq everybody
Iraqi people, in spite of all that is said, love the Americans.
They are deeply grateful and are giving the United States
the benefit of the doubt.
has happened as far as the general population is concerned
is what I term "the great letdown." People tend
to make the United States Superman. They think the United
States is all-powerful, the bastion of freedom, democracy,
thought that the United States would come in and with superhuman
power overnight transform Baghdad into New York and Mosul
into San Francisco.
is traumatic to realize that America is not God and is very,
very human. There is this gap between godlike perceptions
of Americans and the realization that they have limits and
cannot do everything overnight.
is why it is critical to get basic services up -- electricity,
water, and transportation.
all due respect, people in Iraq in general hate radical
Islam. They are secular. They do not want to see an Islamic
state. They do not want to become like Iran.
the same time, money and people from Iran, Saudi Arabia
and other places are flooding the country using intimidation
to accomplish what they cannot do by any other means. And
average Iraqi is concerned at what seems to be a U.S. position,
that is soft on Islam.
problem for Christians is very different. The Americans
do not appear to be requiring a secular constitution as
they did in Japan or a limited regional autonomy.
is a serious problem for us. They are already giving their
blessing to the dual system so common in Muslim countries:
the recent citizenship changes allow for a 2-year wait for
Arabs (read Muslims) and a 9-year wait for non-Arabs.
are beginning to feel that if the United States will not
demand that the constitution be secular with a strong prohibition
against religious involvement by the government and limited
autonomy, then we will have to pull Assyrian Christians
out of the country.
Ken Joseph Jr., an Assyrian, who initially was
against the war, was so shocked at his experiences while
in Iraq before the war as one of the few allowed in without
government "minders," he changed his mind. Following
the war, Rev. Joseph brought in the first post-war refugee
truck with 20 tons of water, food, medicine and satellite
telephones, and continues to assist on the ground in Iraq.