Ravenman I was opposed to the war when Bush was gearing up. I had some friends who refused to work on any development projects in Iraq out of protest. To me, that attituded seemed to punish the Iraqi people twice, they need assistance regardless of what you think of the war.
When I first came to Iraq in the summer of 2003, I was a bit surprised. People did in some cases greet the troops as liberators. I was free to move around and I met a lot of Iraqis who were supportive. I thought to myself that maybe I was wrong and that the US would be able to pull it off.
But I think two decisions have doomed the effort: the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and the failure to stop the looting. The Iraqi Army was available to be reconstituted and put to work on repairing roads, bridges, etc. I think disbanding them (with their weapons, btw) was a disater and turned hundreds of thousands of armed men loose into society.
Not stopping the looting was the other disaster. When Saddam fell, everyone was kind of holding their breath to see who was in charge. When the looting went on and US troops did nothing to stop it, it sent the signal that no one was in charge and fueled the anarchy. Most of what I do is just trying to get things to their pre-looted state, forget about making progress beyond that.
I think that the best case scenario now is for a kind of Saddam Lite, by that I mean a dictator who allows some access to the outside world and doesn’t torture quite as much as his predecessor. I think a complete breakup of the country is more likely.
My feelings on the war in 2003 were that I thought it was a bad idea, but if the US is going to do it, they better do it right. I think the occupation has been hampered by incompetence at the top and that the US didn’t have enough troops and now I don’t even know what ‘winnable’ would mean in this context.
My problem with the press coverage is more for its lack of sublety. I just don’t think they give much depth to help people understand what’s really going on beyond that stuff is blowing up. I don’t think things are going better than the press would have you believe. I think things are going very badly here and we might be past the point of fixing it.
As for trinkets, most of what I see are knockoff rolex watches and zippo lighters. Maybe a bottle of sand?
Sorry for the long answer to the short question.
NurseCarmen as I said above, I think things here are pretty horrible. If anything, I wish people could get a better, more nuanced understanding of how bad things are. I read about that photo on Dailykos and now he has a generic picture of the Baghdad skyline up on his website instead. I want to try to get into that hotel and take the same picture now because a couple of the buildings in his picture taken last year are bombed out now. Kind of a before and after.
Sal Ammoniac I leave my compound during the work day to visit sites, but it is crazy dangerous and when we are home from work we are buttoned up. We use our Iraqi staff for a lot of the verification and site visits and we then follow up with site visits from other staffers. We are also subject to outside audit.
It is a very difficult place to work to be sure and verification is an issue. So is building things that then get blown up again. To do this work you have to be philosophical. Personally, I think of it as throwing spageghetti at a wall, some sticks, some doesn’t.
The best thing about my experience is the Iraqi people. Our national staff are risking their lives to get something built. A lot of the people we provide assistance to are amazing. I meet teachers who haven’t been paid working in schoolhouses without windows or toilets, or doors, or anything to educate kids. Doctors with hardly any facilities who are responding to 3 or 4 car bombings a day. There are people here putting everything on the line to try and make things better for future generations, if that’s not positive, I don’t know what is.