August 14, 2010

He would have liked Iraq to become the fifty-first state

It's Impossible to Leave Iraq by Dimiter Kenarov
Esquire, August 2010

"In his forties, with silvery hair and a black mustache accentuated by a clean-shaven cleft chin, Sa'don resembles a man who could be either a war hero or a war criminal, depending. Although his rank is commissioner, he wears a U.S. Army sergeant major patch, and everybody addresses him as "Sergeant Major." He's short and fit, with the build of an anvil, a sharp contrast with other Iraqi cops, who are either too chubby or too gaunt for the job. He's obsessed with muay Thai boxing and all sorts of martial arts that involve breaking large stacks of bricks in front of large audiences. He can draw his gun in less than a second and hit a soda can sixty feet away, then clear the shell from the chamber and catch it midair. Before the American invasion, he worked as security detail for government VIPs.
'Do it again,' a voice yells from the sidelines. People are standing in a circle now, forming a small arena, like spectators at a street fight. The Americans have all taken out their fancy video cameras; the Iraqis shoot with their cell phones.
Beat up but still obedient, Anmar picks up the toy gun again and points it at Sa'don. In the next second he's lying down on the ground, his face contorted. Satisfied with his performance, Sa'don takes out a pack of Gitanes from the side pocket of his fatigues and lights up a cigarette.
Sa'don is good, a cop to the bone. What very few people know is that a few years ago U.S. troops shot dead his nine-year-old son while he was playing with a toy gun out in the street. Afterward they wanted to compensate him, but Sa'don refused. So many Iraqis had died in this war that he wasn't sure who to blame anymore. Plus, he really liked the Americans, despite the tragedy he had suffered. He thought of them as efficient and professional, not unlike himself. If he could choose, he would have liked Iraq to become the fifty-first state. 'Americans really know their stuff,' he says. 'If they were left alone, they could really build up this place.'" (p. 119-20)

"They come from all around Baghdad. Former cabdrivers. Former car mechanics. Former high school teachers. Former bakers. A few ex-soldiers. Every morning sixty of them show up at the main gate of Camp Liberty, ready for another day of training at the Criminal Justice Center, an American-run police academy tucked away in a shady grove of date palms and eucalpyti, stone paths and artificial canals. They are all Baghdad shurtas, hailing from the various police services: Patrol Police, local police, highway police. Some of them wear their blue police uniforms, but most come to training dressed casually--they don't want anybody out in the city to know they are cops. The sectarian militias disappeared a few years ago, but everyone knows they simply joined the Ministry of the Interior." (p. 120-1)

"He explains that in the Iraqi model, the police are seen by Iraqi politicians as a lever of power rather than a tool of public safety. It's a culture that breeds corruption from the top down. The Americans could train a hundred thousand more cops, a million before they leave for good, yet numbers would remain meaningless if national and local leaders continue to use the police as their personal armies to protect and consolidate power. The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense are near enemies, defending different political interests and fighting over control of Iraq's internal security. The new prime minister--the way he shapes the government once the U.S. withdraws--will determine whether the police forces Currier leaves behind will succeed or fail." (p. 132)

2 months later

"Currier remains stoic. 'The capability of the police has not changed,' he says. 'They continue to improve, but it has been difficult for them operationally, because the longer the government goes without having been seated, the more difficult it is for them to respond to the proper political authorities.' His voice is less assertive than it was a few months before. He's talking with greater deliberation than usual. 'It's a slow road when you're trying to put a country together,' he continues. 'I think we have a lot to be encouraged about. But we're not overly optimistic. The Iraqis could fail...'
He pauses, as if visualizing the words, then snaps back. 'We set them up for success. We gave them the tools they need to succeed, and they're going in the right direction, but it's really time for us to leave. I hope and I believe that the Iraqis are going to make it.'
Another pause.
'But they might not,' he says. 'There's always that chance. But we'll always know that we did what we could for them.'" (p. 133)

I hope one day I have the courage to write this kind of story. A part of me really really wants to, the other part, the much bigger part, is terrified. Esquire notes that, 'Dimiter Kenarov traveled to Iraq on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a nonprofit organization that supports international journalism on underreported topics.' It's unbelievable to me that the war in Iraq, arguably the biggest problem our nation has faced in the past 7 (?) years is an underreported topic. Kenarov did an OUTSTANDING job with this story and I'm really glad that some media source thought it important to inform the public on what the hell is going on there as our troops prepare to head out. The last excerpt I posted makes me so angry. We are setting them up to fail. I understand that we want our troops to come home--and I'm sure that the fact that I don't have a loved one overseas makes it much easier for me to say, that, at the same time, if we're not even sure that they're going to succeed, then, what the fuck? If we're going to leave we should be damn sure that they're ready for us to. We just wasted 7 years, billions of dollars and thousands of lives. But we all knew that from the beginning, didn't we? We knew this would fail. When is war ever a good idea? I just think that no good will come of us leaving now. It was too late and now too soon. My generation will have to deal with the repercussions for years to come.

I just found this post written by Kenarov for's Politics blog: "Five Things Obama Won't Tell You About the End in Iraq."

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