September 13, 2004


Life in Baghdad: Better and worse: Polls show Iraqis optimistic for longer term, worried now. (Howard LaFranchi, 9/14/04, CS Monitor)

Life in Baghdad today is a picture of better and worse, of richer and poorer - with a sense of insecurity seeming to unite everyone. Before the war, fears for one's life were for the politically repressed. Now, that fear, like the political system, is being democratized. The latest studies of economic, political, and social development show Iraq teetering between halting progress and disaster. "On a good day, I think Iraq is on the verge of takeoff," says Hussain Kubba, a successful Baghdadi business consultant who now also works with the new economy ministry. "But on bad days I think we're only headed for more chaos."

The mix of enduring optimism and uncertainty manifests itself in subtle ways. For example, rich and poor families in Iraq's capital that once held wedding parties in hotels now hold them at home. New births are soaring. The school year does not start until October, yet already families are discussing how to safely transport children to school.

"We used to start school in September, but now it's October, and we are told it's because they aren't ready to ensure the children's safety," says Bushra Mohammed, who also sits outside Faqma's ice cream shop with a fast-melting scoop of vanilla. Giving her nieces a treat her unemployed brother cannot afford, Miss Mohammed says some families are even debating whether to send the kids to school at all, at least at the beginning.

"We are living in a huge chaos, like an earthquake that leaves everything upside-down," says Sadoun al-Dulame, whose Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies regularly surveys Iraqi public opinion. "We are formulating a new society, rebuilding Iraq politically, socially, economically, even psychologically. No wonder so many people are bewildered and reactions are so hard to predict."

Mr. Dulame's own surveys show that if you ask Iraqis about security they will tell you they are worse off today - but that if you ask them about the economy, most say things are better than before the war. Many salaries are higher, though there are more unemployed.

One consequence of what many here simply call the "confusion" of the postwar era is that Iraqis, while holding to an optimism about the long-term future, aren't sure what to think about the present.

The consensus seems pretty sensible: the present is uncertain but the future bright.

Peace breaks out in Saddam's home town: American forces feel relaxed enough to travel in open-top vehicles and pause kerbside for an ice-cream. (Toby Harnden, September 14, 2004, The Age)

Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town and the spiritual heart of his despotic regime, is now a rare island of peace.

While forces elsewhere in Iraq are forced to call in air strikes, US soldiers patrol in open-top vehicles. In talks they take off their body armour, and Lieutenant-Colonel Jeffrey Sinclair, the local US Army commander, makes a daily patrol on foot.

When Colonel Sinclair took control of Tikrit in March, he could hardly leave base without a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) being fired at his convoy. "We took our hits like everyone else," he said.

Now, the town of 30,000 is being held up by the US Army as an example of how to conduct successful counter-insurgency operations.

Major-General John Batiste, 1st Infantry Division commander, said pragmatism, effective intelligence gathering and avoidance of "kinetic operations" - combat - when possible explained why Tikrit was peaceful. The British have used similar tactics in Basra.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 13, 2004 6:50 PM

Both stories mention ice cream.

Coincidence, or code ?

Posted by: Michael "The Dog Barks at Midnight..." Herdegen at September 14, 2004 12:33 AM