Security in Iraq: Relatively Speaking
- Security in Iraq: Relatively Speaking
by Dahr Jamail
February 3rd, 2009
If there is to be any degree of honesty in our communication, we must
begin to acknowledge that the lexicon of words that describes the
human condition is no longer universally applicable.
I am in Iraq after four years away.
Most Iraqis I talked with on the eve of the first provincial elections
being held after 2005 told me "security is better."
I myself was lulled into a false sense of security upon my arrival a
week ago. Indeed, security is "better," compared to my last trip here,
when the number of attacks per month against the occupation forces and
Iraqi collaborators used to be around 6,000. Today, we barely have one
American soldier being killed every other day and only a score injured
weekly. Casualties among Iraqi security forces are just ten times that
But yes, one could say security is better if one is clear that it is
better in comparison not to downtown Houston but to Fallujah 2004.
Compared to days of multiple car bomb explosions, Baghdad today is better.
Is it safer? Is it more secure?
Difficult to say in a place when the capital city of the country is
essentially in lock-down and prevailing conditions are indicative of a
police state. We have a state in Iraq where the government is
exercising rigid and repressive controls over social life (no
unpermitted demonstrations, curfews, concrete walls around the capital
city), economic (read - the 100 Bremer Orders that were passed under
the Coalition Provisional Authority - all of the key laws over
economic control still in place), and political life of the citizenry.
By definition, a police state exhibits elements of totalitarianism and
social control, and in today's Iraq, we have plenty examples of both.
The Oxford American Dictionary defines security as "The state of being
free from danger or threat."
I visited the Dora area of Baghdad, which is completely walled off
with thanks to US occupation forces. Umm Shihab, a tired-looking woman
selling vegetables in the local market, told me, "Our sons are still
in jail and we want them released. We want the government to lift
these walls. Why do they keep them?"
Walking around Dora, I wondered how anyone could feel secure
surrounded by so many soldiers, police and weapons.
I did not, and I am certain neither would you. But then we are
American and our notion of security is different.
Armed with a media permit, we were allowed to drive along the empty
streets of Baghdad on the Saturday of the elections. What struck me
during the drive, and later at a polling station, was that there was
no escaping the feeling that anywhere, anytime, a bomb could be
detonated. It was omnipresent, as was the fear of being kidnapped.
This latter threat, though vastly diminished as compared to a year
back, is still real. As Western journalists, we are worth a pretty
packet of ransom.
But I am able to travel, gather information and file stories, when
earlier I could never be sure that I would be able to make my way
alive from the airport into the city, so let me assure you, Iraq today
is certainly better than it has been since the first year of the
For the provincial elections on January 31, traffic bans were ordered
in Baghdad and other major cities. Security forces deployed on the
occasion include hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Police and Army
personnel, over 130,000 US military personnel and an estimated
The closely monitored frontiers with Iran and Syria were sealed off
completely. A nighttime curfew was implemented at 10 p.m. Friday and
remained in place till roughly 6 p.m. Saturday.
Stretching from the foothills of the lower Kurdish-controlled north to
the Persian Gulf in the south, double-ring security cordons surrounded
thousands of polling sites located in schools, offices and civic centers.
The illogical question that rears its head each time I push it back
is, "What does a 'secure' country need that kind of security for on
election day, or for that matter on any other day?"
I would like to mention here that through the entire period of my
four-year absence I have maintained regular correspondence with my
friends and contacts in Iraq, and therefore have had accurate
information all along about the totally abnormal life that the average
Iraqi has been living. Yet, witnessing it on arrival has left me reeling.
I'm surprised at myself for being surprised that the situation is as
unbearable as it continues to be. As a succinct summary after a week's
stay, I have this to offer: The situation in Iraq has not changed
except to worsen. What the passage of four years of occupation during
my absence has brought to the people of Iraq is greater displacement,
more economic degradation, extreme desperation, untreatable sickness
and a near-total loss of hope.
What does this do to the psyche of a normal human being?
And yet, "God willing, these elections will help us, because we need
more security," said Ahmed Hassan after he voted on Saturday, "The
Iraqi people are tired. We want to be able to relax."
You may wonder what for him and his fellow Iraqis would constitute
security. Perhaps like us in America; to go through a day without
negotiating streets filled with armed men, military hardware, and U.S.
military helicopters and jets roaring overhead.
Or is that too much for them to expect as so many millions of my
fellow Americans stand mute witnesses to:
The long, long war (that) goes on ten thousand miles from home.
So, men are scattered and smeared over the desert grass,
And the generals have accomplished nothing.
Li Po (Circa 750)
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